New Luxury-Laden Chieftains

Indian Motorcycle, under the Polaris Industries umbrella, has been pushing hard to increase its footprint since its relaunch in 2013. The demise of Victory Motorcycles (also owned by Polaris) should lend new impetus to this effort as resources are freed up, but the dynamic duo I want to look at today began life long before this shakeup. I’m talking about the two new additions to the Chieftain lineup; the “Limited” and the “Elite.” Indian took its boulevard bruiser “Chieftain” and steered it even further toward the customized end of the spectrum with a number of aesthetic changes that change the attitude significantly. This is an important move for the factory as it expands its range of top-end rides to square off with its long-time foe Harley-Davidson. Let’s see how it all pans out, shall we?

Continue reading for my review of the Indian Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite.

  • 2017 Indian Chieftain Limited & Chieftain Elite
  • Year:
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    Thunder Stroke® 111
  • Displacement:
    111 cubic inches
  • Price:
  • Price:


2017 Indian Chieftain Limited & Chieftain Elite
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Overall, the look of these rides remains the same, but as with so many other things, the devil is in the details. The changes start right up front with a switch from the fat, 16-inch front wheel to a custom-looking 19-inch wheel. Gone as well is the classic skirted fender and traditional headdress ornament in favor of a clean, chopped-down fender that does nothing to impede the view of the contrast-cut rim.

The fairing retains the slick front lines and power-adjustable windshield of the base model, but drops the hideous chrome headlight trim for a monochrome look that definitely looks less gaudy and pretentious. On the top-end Elite model we see the Pathfinder LED headlights and passing lamps. These things definitely outperform the other available options to provide greater visibility to the rider, and greater visibility of bike and rider to the world.

Indian kept the recessed-in turn signals and short-stem mirror standoffs so the front end remains clean looking despite all the fat. At the saddle, exposed stitching replaced the studs and conchos for a cleaner look, but the p-pad retains its width for passenger comfort. Hard monochrome bags follow the fetching sweep of the rear fender, and the taillight, well, I’ll just call it interesting and leave it at that.

Stashed away within the inner fairing is the Ride Command system that provides all the important engine info alongside the roadmap GPS for unerring navigation, a tire-pressure monitor and Weatherband radio. The Limited comes with a 100-Watt stereo system that’s good enough for most occasions, but the Elite doubles down with a whopping 200-Watt system for those times when you really want to share with the rest of the class. Additionally, the top-line Elite rolls with hand-laid graphics that make each a unique work of art, and sport billet-aluminum floorboards for even more of that custom flair.


2017 Indian Chieftain Limited & Chieftain Elite
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Indian builds the family on a cast-aluminum frame, and while I’m sure this does manage to save some weight, these bikes are still beasts with a wet weight over 850 pounds. Rake is surprisingly short at only 25 degrees, but trail falls out at 5.9-inches long which is fairly typical. What isn’t so typical is the tripletree arrangement: the steering head is actually forward of the fork tubes where they ride in the clamp, and that lends the bikes an agility that belies their great bulk. In this, Indian definitely gets a leg up over H-D in cornering ability, and is much closer to the carving performance normally associated with the Honda Gold Wing.

Cast wheels mount the Dunlop hoops with an American Elite 130/60-19 up front and Elite 3 Multi-Compound 180/60-16 in back. I gotta say I ain’t feeling it, and these bikes would look great with some chrome-lace rims and gangster whitewalls, but there’s always the aftermarket for all that stuff.

Suspension is pretty vanilla with nothing beyond the obligatory rear preload, but the components work with the frame geometry to bring the seat down to an impossibly low 26-inches high. Folks, this is almost as low as a Softail, and this low-slung stance and lack of a touring trunk keep the center of gravity low for easy handling regardless of heft. The factory runs 300 mm discs all around with dual front brakes and ABS protection as part of the stock equipment package.


2017 Indian Chieftain Limited & Chieftain Elite
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Now for the piece de resistance: the beating heart. Yeah, the bike as a whole brings a lot to the table, but it’s still just the stage upon which the main players plies its craft. The Thunder Stroke 111 sports a massive 3.976-inch bore with a 4.449-inch stroke for a total of 1,811 cc with a mild, 9.5-to-1 compression ratio. A ride-by-wire throttle works with the 54 mm throttle body for seamless control, and although it does come with a mile-eating cruise control, Indian stops short of the rider modes and traction control normally associated with electronic throttles. That’s OK, ’cause its main competitor does too.

There can be little doubt that this is probably the most beautiful V-twin in the world right now, and I love the “Flathead” look that ties right into the brand’s history, but it ain’t just a showpiece at the end of the day. The Thunder Stroke cranks out a punishing 119.2 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm, so yeah, there’s plenty of grunt for downshiftless passes at nearly any speed or rpm range, just twist it and hang on. A gear-type primary drive carries the power from crank to clutch, and a six-speed tranny sends the power to the rear wheel via belt drive. Thankfully, Indian stuck to its air-cooled guns, because let’s face it; one simply does not defile such a ride with a big, ugly radiator hanging off the downtubes.


2017 Indian Chieftain Limited & Chieftain Elite
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Much like H-D, Indian has never been bashful about the price, and these rides certainly are no exception. The Chieftain Limited rolls in Thunder Black for $24,499, while the Elite commands a staggering $31,499 in beautiful Fireglow Red Candy with marble accents. In May 2017, Indian announced new colorways for the Limited, offering solid colors Silver Smoke and White Smoke for $24,999 and two-tones in Star Silver over Thunder Black and Wildfire Red over Thunder Black for $25,699. Oh well, if they were cheap everyone would have one, yeah?


2017 - 2018 Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide
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2017 Indian Chieftain Limited & Chieftain Elite
- image 713553

For this kind of ride, there can be but one choice for the head-to-head: Harley-Davidson’s CVO Street Glide. This is a battle between some true American heavyweights, both literally and figuratively, between brands that have been foes for over a century, so let’s get started.

Right off the bat they both carry that fat boulevard bruiser look that is proving to be very popular not just in the States, but across the globe. Full front fairings with chopped-down windshields lead the way, but H-D adds fairing lowers for some leg protection where Indian runs naked engine guards. Seat height on the CVO is comparable at 26.3-inches, laden. H-D also runs a similar steering geometry with 26-degrees of rake and a 6.7-inch trail, but I can tell you the H-D isn’t quite as nimble in the curves. That’s hardly a deal breaker since these bikes are supposed to be comfortable in the straights above all else, but there it is anyway.

Suspension is likewise comparable with little in the way of adjustment, to the shame of both companies. C’mon guys, other builders have dynamic suspension already, would it kill you to throw us a bone with some manually-adjustable damping values at least? Dual front brakes and ABS are constant across the board, as is the sound system, but Harley packs quite a bit into its Infotainment package that Indian doesn’t quite match.

The CVO is one of the few bikes to get Harley’s Twin-Cooled Milwaukee-Eight this year, a 114 cubic-inch monster that pushes a total of 124 pound-feet of torque, even more than the 119 from the Thunder Stroke, but why split hairs? Anything over 100 pound o’ grunt is plenty, and that slight differential won’t even be a blip on your heinie dyno. Unsurprisingly, as high as the $31,499 sticker is on the Elite, the Street Glide is even prouder at $37,799. Meh, what’s another six grand when you’re already spending enough money to buy a small house?

He Said

“Gotta say I really like these rides. I like the look of the front fairing, even if it did take time to grow on me, and the engine is a work of functional art. Sure, I’d change a few things such as the wheels and the handgrips, but hey, the aftermarket has to eat, too. Indian is really starting to bring considerable pressure to bear on H-D, and this family proves it. The ongoing battle is certainly proving to be interesting, to say the least.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, "I’m not sure I’m digging the exposed wheel. Without the valenced fender and war bonnet, it just doesn’t feel like an Indian to me. The Elite, though, is a beautiful bike. Each bike is individually hand painted with hand-laid marble accents, so it certainly can compete with the King of Paint, Harley-Davidson, and definitely looks like — appearance-wise and spec-wise — that it is intended to go up against Harley’s CVO line. Still, I really like that Thunder Stroke 111 engine."


Engine Type: Thunder Stroke® 111
Displacement: 111 cu in (1811 cc)
Bore x Stroke: 3.976 in x 4.449 in (101 mm x 113 mm)
Compression Ratio: 9.5:1
Electronic Fuel Injection System: Closed loop fuel injection / 54 mm bore
Primary Drive: Gear Drive Wet Clutch
Drive/Driven Clutch: Wet, Multi-Plate
Final Drive: 2.2 : 1
Peak Torque: 119.2 ft-lbs (161.6 Nm)@3,000 rpm
Gear Ratio (Overall):
1st: 9.403 : 1
2nd: 6.411 : 1
3rd: 4.763 : 1
4th: 3.796 : 1
5th: 3.243 : 1
6th: 2.789 : 1
Suspension: Front - Type/Travel: Telescopic Fork / 4.7 in (119 mm)
Front Fork Tube Diameter: 46 mm
Suspension: Rear - Type/Travel: Single Shock w/ Air adjust / 4.5 in (114 mm)
Brakes/Front: Dual / 300mm Floating Rotor / 4 Piston Caliper
Brakes/Rear: Single / 300mm Floating Rotor / 2 Piston Caliper
Wheels/Front: Cast 19 in x 3.5 in
Wheels/Rear: Cast 16 in x 5 in
Tires/Front: Dunlop American Elite 130/60B19 61H
Tires/Rear: Dunlop® Elite 3 Multi-Compound 180/60R16 80H
Exhaust: Split dual exhaust w/ cross-over
Wheelbase: 65.7 in (1668 mm)
Seat Height: 26.0 in (660 mm)
Ground Clearance: 5.6 in (142 mm)
Overall Height: Limited: 54.6 in (1388 mm), Elite: 57 in (1448 mm)
Overall Length: 98.7 in (2506 mm)
Overall Width: 39.4 in (1000 mm)
Rake: 25°
Trail: 5.9 in (150.0 mm)
Fuel Capacity: 5.5 gallons (20.8 liters)
GVWR: 1385 lbs (630 kg)
Weight (Empty Tank / Full of Fuel):
Limited: 817 lbs (371 kg) / 849 lbs (385 kg)
Elite: 831 lbs (377kg) / 863 lbs (392 kg)
Standard Equipment:
Limited: ABS; Cast Aluminum Frame with Integrated Air-Box; Cruise Control; Driving Lights; Highway Bar; Keyless Start; Power Windshield; Genuine Leather Seats; Remote Locking Hard Saddle Bags; Tire Pressure Monitoring; 100 Watt Stereo with AM/FM, Bluetooth, USB, Smartphone Compatible Input, and Weatherband.
Elite: LED Lighting, Chome Billet Driver & Passenger Floorboards; Adjustable Passenger Floorboards; ABS; Cast Aluminum Frame with Integrated Air-Box; Cruise Control; Driving Lights; Highway Bar; Keyless Start; Clear Flare Power Windshield; Genuine Leather Seats; Remote Locking Hard Saddle Bags; Tire Pressure Monitoring; 200 Watt Stereo with Saddlebag Audio, AM/FM, Bluetooth, USB, Smartphone Compatible Input, and Weatherband
Gauges: Fairing mounted instrument cluster featuring analog speedometer and tachometer, with fuel gauge, range, odometer and current gear. 15 LED telltale indicators; cruise control enabled, cruise control set,neutral, high beam, turn signal, ABS, check engine, low tire pressure, battery, low fuel, security system, low engine oil pressure and MPH or Km/H unit designation.
Ride Command™: 7" Touchscreen including realtime clock; ambient air temperature; heading; audio information display; vehicle trouble code readout; Vehicle Status (tire pressure, voltage, engine hours, oil change); Vehicle Info (speed, fuel range, RPM, gear position); Dual Trip Meters (fuel range, miles, average fuel economy, instantaneous fuel economy time, average speed); Ride Data (heading, moving time, stop time, altitude, altitude change); Bluetooth connectivity for phone and headset; Map/Navigation
Color / Graphics:
Limited: Thunder Black, Silver Smoke, White Smoke, Star Silver over Thunder Black, Wildfire Red over Thunder Black
Elite: Fireglow Red Candy w/ Marble Accents
Limited: $24,499, Colors: $24,999, Two-Tones: $25,699
Elite: $31,499

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