Sleek Styling And Ride Modes For Sportier Performance

Indian Motorcycle updated its base-model Chieftain ahead of MY2019 along with the rest of its bagger family in order to present a sleeker, more-modern face to the world. Attention was paid to the aesthetics to include changes to the body panels, front and rear, as well as the saddle. New technology also sees the light of day with entertainment power and comfort features that are meant to help America’s oldest motorcycle brand compete with the second-oldest domestic marque. Some of that gadgetry is geared to make the powerful 111 cubic-inch even more user-friendly and attractive in this great arms-race with its traditional foe Harley-Davidson. Today I’m going to take a look at the new Chieftain and see how it stacks up against one of H-D’s baggers.

Continue reading for my review of the Indian Motorcycle Chieftain.

2019 Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Design

2019 Indian Chieftain
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No matter which way you look at the 2019 Chieftain, you're bound to see something that sets it apart from the previous iteration.

Although the individual style changes are rather subtle, collectively they change the look quite a bit. It all starts out with the revised barn-door fairing up front. The fairing still carries the same hemispherical overall shape, but the factory pared away the pimp lights and their housing bumps from the fairing to make for a more dramatic lower line where it swoops up to meet the handguard area, not entirely unlike Harley’s Batwing fairing. Not only does it look cool, but it pushes less air for better penetration and, potentially, better gas mileage.

Atop the cyclops headlight there’s a heavy brow that leads right up to the fairing vent and the chopped-down windshield. A color-matched fender leads the way with the classic Indian-head ornament and a flare at the trailing edge but little else in the way of classic references since the sides are cut down to be the opposite of the old-school skirted fenders. Out back, the saddlebags followed suit with a new shape that drops the dome-shaped lid in favor of a flatter one, and the bags themselves benefit from a hardening of the chines that replace the soft corners with more abrupt ones.

The changes at both ends combine to suggest a modern approach to the design, rather than blind devotion to history, and lend the Chieftain a more performance-oriented look meant to draw in some new riders at the same time it culls some from H-D’s support base. That is a necessary step, since any net-new riders looking to get on two wheels nowadays are more performance- and tech-oriented by nature, and the rest of the motorcycle world is already several steps ahead of the U.S. builders.

Indian does, however, put out a solid infotainment system that was on the receiving end of a buff this year with a 100-Watt stereo system that rocks (literally) separate tweeters and cones so you get clearer sound with a less-muddy midrange. Inputs include an AM/FM receiver, Bluetooth and USB port, so you can pipe in your tunes from just about all the usual places, and due to the speed-sensitive volume control, you can set it and forget it since the audio system will automatically adjust to compensate for wind/engine noise under way, and the lackthereof at stops.

The LED winkers are new too, as is the Rogue gunfighter seat that streamlines the flyline at the waist, so no matter which way you look at the 2019 Chieftain, you’re bound to see something that sets it apart from the previous iteration.

2019 Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Chassis

2019 Indian Chieftain
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Good straight-line stability with a compromise between tracking and cornering, so don't be taking on a Gold Wing on a twisty road, 'cause it's gonna' make you look bad.

Indian builds its frames as a proper skeleton should be built; as a double-downtube/double-cradle that fully supports the engine, rather than the other way around. No, the big V-twin ain’t no stressed unit, and neither is the tranny or the primary-drive case. Tubular-steel members make up the bones and contribute to the 822-pound wet weight, but you had to know it was going to be hefty; it’s obviously not an exercise in subtlety.

Rake and trail measure out at 25-degrees and 5.9-inches respectively to give the Chieftain some straight-line stability at highway/interstate speeds with the obvious trade off between tracking and cornering, so don’t be taking on a Honda Gold Wing on a twisty road, ’cause it’s gonna’ make you look bad.

The seat rides at a low 25.6 inches off the ground, and that puts the tarmac within easy reach of all but the shortest inseams so you’ve got an easy time when you deploy your training wheels. Wheelbase is typical for the genre at 65.7-inches, and the contact patches themselves are nice and beefy thanks to the 130/60-19 tire up front and 180/60-16 out back, and that plays right into the safety considerations with backup from a stock ABS system.

The business of braking falls to the all-around, 300 mm discs with dual four-pot calipers up front and a two-piston anchor in back, so there’s plenty of braking power to be had. A set of 46 mm forks buoy the front with an air-adjustable monoshock out back. That’s sufficient, but falls short of buyers’ growing expectation of fully-adjustable suspension at both ends.

Front Suspension/Travel: 46 mm Telescopic Fork - Cartridge Type/4.7 in (120 mm)
Rear Suspension/Travel: Single Shock w/ Air adjust/4.5 in (114 mm)
Rake/Trail: 25° / 5.9 in (150 mm)
Lean Angle: 31°
Wheelbase: 65.7 in (1668 mm)
Front Brakes: Dual / 300 mm Floating Rotor / 4 Piston Caliper
Rear Brakes: Single / 300 mm Floating Rotor / 2 Piston Caliper
Front Tire: Dunlop® American Elite 130/60B19 61H
Rear Tire: Dunlop® Elite 3 Multi-Compound 180/60R16 80H
Front Wheel: Cast 19 in x 3.5 in
Rear Wheel: Cast 16 in x 5 in

2019 Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Drivetrain

2019 Indian Chieftain
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New for 2019, the Chieftain has Ride Modes and Rear Cylinder Deactivation.

Naturally, the bike is but a setting for the gem that is the powerplant. Americans do like their big V-twin engines, it’s true, and Indian is generous in that department with 1,811 cc tucked away in its fabulous-looking Thunder Stroke 111. I mean, this is a gorgeous engine.

The massive jugs run with a 101 mm bore and 113 mm stroke, slightly undersquare, and they’re capped by sidevalve-looking heads that even sport stylized rocker covers mimicking the cooling fins on the old flatties. Parallel pushrod tubes drive the point home even more, and the two-into-two exhaust finishes the look. Compression ratio clocks in at 9.5-to-1, so mid-grade gas will take care of business, and a closed-loop injection system and throttle body manages the induction.

This all works with the Ride Mode function – new this year — that delivers a trio of power curves, Standard, Tour, and Sport, that you can dial in for preference and conditions. Additionally, there’s a new Rear Cylinder Deactivation system that kills the spark to the rear cylinder whenever the bike is idling at a standstill. Obviously, this should reduce the heat washing up from the engine in stop-and-go traffic, but I have to wonder if it’s worth the effort for “normal” riding. Oh well, it is what it is, and it cuts the rear cylinder’s ignition back in as soon as you crack the throttle to provide seamless operation.

As you might expect, the torque numbers from this mill are rather impressive with 119 pounds o’ grunt that max out at a low 3,000 rpm. That’s some real stump-pullin’ power right there folks, even with its not-inconsiderable bulk factored in.

Engine: Thunder Stroke® 111
Bore x Stroke: 3.976 in x 4.449 in (101 mm x 113 mm)
Displacement: 111 ci (1,811 cc)
Compression Ratio: 9.5:1
Horsepower: N/A
Peak Torque: 119 ft-lb (161.6 Nm) @ 3,000 rpm
Drive/Driven Clutch: Wet, Multi-Plate
Electronic Fuel Injection System: Closed loop fuel injection / 54 mm bore
Exhaust: Split Dual Exhaust w/ Cross-over
Gear Ratio: (1st) 9.403 : 1, (2nd) 6.411 : 1, (3rd) 4.763 : 1, (4th) 3.796 : 1, (5th) 3.243 : 1, (6th) 2.789 : 1
Transmission/Final Drive: 2.2 : 1
Transmission/Primary Drive: Gear Drive Wet Clutch

2019 Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Pricing

2019 Indian Chieftain
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MSRP puts the Chieftain at $22k, and I hope you like it in Steel Gray.

Indian lets loose of the base-model Chieftain for $21,999, and you can get it in any color you like, as long as you like Steel Gray. No other colors or trim packages are available for the base Chieftain at this time, though the factory has a robust accessory and sound-system line so you can make the bike your own, right off the floor.

Standard Equipment: 7" Touchscreen Display; Power Windshield; Vinyl Gunfighter Seat; Selectable Ride Modes; Rear Cylinder Deactivation; ABS; Cruise Control; Keyless Ignition; 100 Watt Audio System with AM/FM, Bluetooth, USB, Smartphone Compatible Input, and Weatherband
Color: Steel Gray
Price: $21,999

2019 Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Competitors

2019 Indian Chieftain
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2018 Harley-Davidson Street Glide / Street Glide Special
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There really isn't much difference between the two except for a little tech and price isn't even a decider here.

Yep, here we are at the head-to-head, and I can’t imagine using anything but H-D’s Street Glide as my measuring stick, so here we go. Harley’s Batwing fairing leads off with a similar, but somewhat smoother, look than what the Chieftain brings to the table. The fender, single headlight and whacked windshield all fit into the same mold, as do the hard bags and saddle. So visually, there really isn’t much to choose between the two.

Indian runs a 7-inch touchscreen against 6.5-inches on the Street Glide, but both provide pinch-and-drag functionality, even in wet conditions or with gloves on. In other words, it’s a draw here. Power is comparable, but Indian ekes out a win here with its 119 pound-feet against 111 from Harley. Yeah, it’s marginal, but there it is all the same.

There don’t appear to be any winners at the checkout. Harley varies the price of its Street Glide depending on color, but the range goes from $21,289 to $22,489 with the Chieftain riding about in the middle of the range. Neither brand is known for using price as a selling point, all that wonderful union labor no doubt, so both companies and the consumer lose at the register.

He Said

“Gotta’ say, I’m digging the new looks! I hated the old fairing, and I like the reduced one so that’s a win-win for me. Riding modes is huge too, and it gives Indian a leg up over the MoCo, though that’s going to kind of wash out once Harley’s traction control filters down to its two-wheel rides from the trikes. Until then, the Chieftain enjoys a bit of a tech edge that should appeal to the newest generation of riders.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “Yes, you can still get the ’classic’ Chieftain in the Chieftain Classic, but I think what we have here in this newly redesigned Chieftain is Polaris sliding some of the popular styling and features from the defunct Victory line over into the Indian lineup. This year, the Chieftain lines are sleeker with beveled edges, which are very reminiscent of the Victory styling. So I think we’re going to be seeing more of this: a “classic” variant and a Victory-ized variant. Is that a bad thing? Probably not. Different strokes for different folks and why wouldn’t Polaris want attract those old Victory buyers to their Indian lineup?”

2019 Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Specifications

Engine & Drivetrain:
Engine: Thunder Stroke® 111
Bore x Stroke: 3.976 in x 4.449 in (101 mm x 113 mm)
Displacement: 111 ci (1,811 cc)
Compression Ratio: 9.5:1
Horsepower: N/A
Peak Torque: 119 ft-lb (161.6 Nm) @ 3,000 rpm
Drive/Driven Clutch: Wet, Multi-Plate
Electronic Fuel Injection System: Closed loop fuel injection / 54 mm bore
Exhaust: Split Dual Exhaust w/ Cross-over
Gear Ratio: (1st) 9.403 : 1, (2nd) 6.411 : 1, (3rd) 4.763 : 1, (4th) 3.796 : 1, (5th) 3.243 : 1, (6th) 2.789 : 1
Transmission/Final Drive: 2.2 : 1
Transmission/Primary Drive: Gear Drive Wet Clutch
Chassis:
Front Suspension/Travel: 46 mm Telescopic Fork - Cartridge Type/4.7 in (120 mm)
Rear Suspension/Travel: Single Shock w/ Air adjust/4.5 in (114 mm)
Rake/Trail: 25° / 5.9 in (150 mm)
Lean Angle: 31°
Wheelbase: 65.7 in (1668 mm)
Front Brakes: Dual / 300 mm Floating Rotor / 4 Piston Caliper
Rear Brakes: Single / 300 mm Floating Rotor / 2 Piston Caliper
Front Tire: Dunlop® American Elite 130/60B19 61H
Rear Tire: Dunlop® Elite 3 Multi-Compound 180/60R16 80H
Front Wheel: Cast 19 in x 3.5 in
Rear Wheel: Cast 16 in x 5 in
Dimensions & Capacities:
Fuel Capacity: 5.5 gal (20.8 L)
Ground Clearance: 5.1 in (130 mm)
GVWR: 1,385 lb (628 kg)
Overall Height: 54.5 in (1,385 mm)
Overall Length: 98.7 in (2,506 mm)
Overall Width: 39.4 in (1,000 mm)
Seat Height: 25.6 in (650 mm)
Weight (Empty Tank / Full of Fuel): 790 lb (358 kg) / 822 lb (373 kg)
Electricals:
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 MHP or km/h unit designation.
Infotainment: 7" touchscreen display with real-time clock; ambient air temperature; 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); Bluetooth Status for phone and headset; Ride Mode selection
Lights: Halogen
Details:
Standard Equipment: 7" Touchscreen Display; Power Windshield; Vinyl Gunfighter Seat; Selectable Ride Modes; Rear Cylinder Deactivation; ABS; Cruise Control; Keyless Ignition; 100 Watt Audio System with AM/FM, Bluetooth, USB, Smartphone Compatible Input, and Weatherband
Color: Steel Gray
Price: $21,999

Further Reading

Harley-Davidson Street Glide

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See our review of the Harley-Davidson Street Glide.

Honda Gold Wing

2018 - 2019 Honda Gold Wing / Gold Wing Tour
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see our review of the Honda Gold Wing.

Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Classic

2019 Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Classic
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See our review of the Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Classic.

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Read more Indian Motorcycle news.

All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source: indianmotorcycle.com, harley-davidson.com, honda.com

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