New Styling, New Engine: It’s a Whole New Indian

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Indian Motorcycle rolls into MY2020 with a net-new bagger family that also boasts an all-new powerplant with some serious ride-quality and safety features as the icing on the cake. The “Challenger” range marks a new era for America’s oldest motorcycle manufacturer with impressive power numbers and a look that’s borrows from the past even while it reaches for new territory and, I’m sure the factory hopes, an expanded buyer base. Fixed fairings, new electronics, and a powerful engine are the hallmarks of this machine, and it’ll be interesting to see how it performs in the market against its longtime domestic foe, Harley-Davidson.

  • 2020 Indian Challenger
  • Year:
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
  • Displacement:
    108 cubic inches
  • Top Speed:
    125 mph
  • Price:
  • Price:

2020 Indian Challenger Design

2020 Indian Challenger
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2020 Indian Challenger
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Perhaps the largest visual update on the entire bike is the wide fixed front fairing that's clearly meant to appeal to the same rider base that appreciates H-D's “Sharknose” look.

The factory breaks new ground with its new Challenger range on a number of fronts. First off, it falls outside the usual naming conventions for the marque as it doesn’t carry a recycled moniker. Secondly, the name itself is indicative of this line’s purpose in life, to challenge The MoCo’s Road Glide on its home turf within the fixed-fairing bagger category. I suppose to be fair I should include the Star Eluder and Vulcan Vaquero, even though they’re actually imported Charlie-Davidsons.

Indian leads off with its newfangled front fender that straddles the design line with full coverage where it counts and cut-back sides to leave that big, beautiful front wheel plainly visible. Naturally, the iconic war bonnet ornament makes an appearance to tie the Challenger into Indian’s storied history, though it too is modernized with a bit of a new look.

Perhaps the largest visual update on the entire bike comes next in the wide fixed front fairing that’s clearly meant to appeal to the same rider base that appreciates H-D’s “Sharknose” look. (I ain’t one of them, but to each his own.) A cyclops headlight splits the night with DRLs for daytime safety and integrated turn signals that keep the front end looking clean, and it all comes with LED tech to ensure two-way visibility regardless of ambient light conditions.

Up top, the clear windshield completes the rider’s wind pocket, and it comes with push-button adjustability and an almost three-inch range so you can dial it in for your height and preference. One thing that remains the same is the seven-inch color TFT touchscreen that acts as an interface for the Ride Command feature, but it isn’t all digital as there’s a pair of round gauges for tach and speedo with the usual selection of indicator lights that handle the more mundane metrics. There’s a pair of small glove boxes at the outboard corners of the inner fairing below the pair of front speakers that make up half of the sound system.

As always, the Ride Command delivers the expected infotainment functions with weather, navigation and music on tap, and hand-free communications via a Bluetooth wireless connection. If you really like to share your music with the class, the factory offers a pair of optional sound system upgrades that are plug-and-play, because let’s face it; we don’t always listen to Metallica, but when we do, so do our neighbors.

A six-gallon, teardrop fuel tank gives the Challenger a classic look in profile, and Indian keeps to its habit of closing off the rear end with panels that join with the rear fender and secure, hard-side saddlebags to completely hide all the innards aft of the engine. LED lights finish off the gear in the rear and ensure your visibility to following traffic.

2020 Indian Challenger Chassis

2020 Indian Challenger
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2020 Indian Challenger
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2020 Indian Challenger
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The goal was a compromise between cornering and tracking stability to achieve an eagerness in the corners and still deliver low-stress travel.

A cast-aluminum frame on the Challenger forms the main structure in a downtube/cradle format that fully supports the engine and does not use it as a stressed unit like so many manufacturers like to do. One of the design goals for the engineering team was maneuverability, and to that end, the steering head is set for a rake angle of 25 degrees with 5.9 inches of trail for a compromise between cornering and tracking stability. This delivers an eagerness in the corners not unlike Honda’s famous Gold Wing, but still makes for low-stress travel, even in a crosswind.

Inverted front forks make for a beefy-looking and modern front end that delivers a cushy 5.1 inches of travel, but I confess I’m a bit disappointed at the lack of adjustability or even the DBV feature that H-D brings to the table. Out back, a hydraulically-adjusted monoshock takes care of business with 4.5 inches of travel for an all-around plush ride.

Dual four-pot calipers bite 320 mm front discs with a twin-piston anchor and 298 mm disc out back, and here we find the first bit of safety fandanglery. The ABS feature benefits from the Bosch IMU-driven “Smart Lean Technology” to deliver corner-sensitive intervention to prevent loss of traction due to overbraking. Cast wheels round out the rolling chassis with tour-tastic Metzeler Cruistec hoops to make the final connection to the tarmac in a 130/60-19 up front opposite a 180/60-16.

2020 Indian Challenger Drivetrain

2020 Indian Challenger
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2020 Indian Challenger
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2020 Indian Challenger
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This engine was built for performance, and in that category it delivers with 122 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque.

Now it’s time for the pièce de résistance; the all-new, water-cooled Challenger powerplant. Americans love their big V-twins, and Indian delivers the appropriate look with a 60-degree Vee. It sports a half-hearted attempt at looking old school with some vestigial cooling fins on the head, but falls far short of the Thunder Stroke in the visual charms department. That’s okay though; this engine was built for performance, and in that category it delivers.

What are we looking at here? Well, it rocks a 108 mm bore and 96.5 mm stroke for an oversquare/shortstroke configuration giving a total displacement of 1,768 cc (108 cubic-inches). Yep, that’s smaller than the Thunder Stroke engines, but the devil is in the details. This mill churns out some impressive numbers with a total of 122 horsepower at the redline and 128 pound-feet of torque that tops out at 3,800 rpm. Compression runs 11-to-1, which is about as spicy as one would expect on this kind of plant, so naturally it’s going to take nothing but the finest road champagne.

Induction control falls to a 52 mm throttle body, but the factory’s Smart Lean wizardry plays a part here as well with corner-optimized dynamic traction control and drag-torque (backtorque) control. A trio of Ride Modes – Sport, Standard, and Rain – provide push-button personality changes for the engine so you can dial in the power deliver to suit.

Top speed is an unknown at the time of this writing, but if the factory keeps to its usual practices, you can expect something in the neighborhood of 125 mph at redline in top gear. A gear-type primary drive and hydraulic-assist clutch couples engine power to the six-speed, constant-mesh transmission with a carbon-reinforced belt drive to make the connection to the rear wheel.

2020 Indian Challenger Pricing

2020 Indian Challenger
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2020 Indian Challenger
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2020 Indian Challenger
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MSRP is $22k, but you get a lot of bike for your bucks.

Indian is not one to use price as a selling point, but it’s safe to say that this is a lot of bike for the buck at $21,999. The base model comes in Titanium Metallic for its freshman year, and the factory offers quite a bit in the way of optional performance equipment and custom aesthetics that can potentially pump that sticker up significantly.

2020 Indian Challenger Competitors

2018 - 2019 Harley-Davidson Road Glide / Road Glide Special
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2015 - 2019 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero / Vulcan 1700 Voyager
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2020 Indian Challenger
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2018 Yamaha Star Eluder
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In the rather narrow field of fixed-fairing baggers, Indian's performance-driven Challenger comes out on top.

The look of the new Indian Challenger shoehorns it into a rather narrow genre, and the obvious competition is going to come from Harley-Davidson, Yamaha, and Kawasaki. No doubt about it, the fixed fairings make for a much different look than what you get from the traditional fork-mount/batwing-type barndoors, but variety is the spice of life, am I right? As for the similarities, I think we can agree that all of the above rock a similar look, though the imports are readily distinguishable from the homegrown machines at a glance.

With that in mind I want to grab a whole handful of sleds for this competitor section. First up is the Yamaha Star Eluder that rolled in MY2018 and carries over directly into the 2020 season. It has a voice-recognition infotainment feature that’s on-par with the Challenger’s system with traction control, ABS, and variable power modes that are better than nothing, but fall short for want of corner-sensitive performance. The Eluder carries a large, 113 cubic-inch mill with 126 pounds o’ grunt on tap, so it’s very close to the figures put up by the Challenger’s engine. The Eluder rolls for $22,499, and this is unlikely to buy it any business against the newest Indian bagger.

Kawasaki’s Vulcan 1700 Vaquero is another carryover from MY2019, and credit where it’s due, the overall look is closer to the mark. Long steering geometry makes for solid tracking at the expense of cornering performance, so it’s definitely going to be a bit more reluctant in the bends compared to the Challenger. The K-ACT II ABS feature provides protection that’s superior to garden-variety ABS, but still falls shy of the lean-sensitive Indian ABS. Engine electronics are plain vanilla with nothing in the way of higher ride-quality controls to cede another advantage to Indian. The $16,799 price tag is the lowest in the range, but it comes with the obvious trade off in fandanglery, and that will likely be off-putting to riders looking for some real luxury and safety.

Harley-Davidon’s 2020 Road Glide will be the bike to beat. Infotainment is a wash, but Harley misses the mark by keeping its higher ride-quality controls in the optional equipment list. Sure, it has ABS, but it falls short of the Challenger’s system. The Milwaukee-Eight 107 mill delivers 111 pound-feet of torque to fall short of Indian’s new engine in both displacement and power, and the stock engine controls are vanilla to cede another advantage to the Challenger. H-D gets a razor-thin win at the checkout with a starting price of $21,699, and to be fair, you can score the Reflex Defensive Rider System package that bundles all the ride-quality and safety gear for another grand to make it more-or-less equal to the Challenger, but for more cheddar.

He Said

“Gotta’ say I’m feeling this new Indian. It’s got power; it’s got ’lectronics; it’s got the look. This new engine is the most powerful V-twin currently available in a production unit, and I expect to see it in more bikes, perhaps as early as mid-year of this season. One thing is certain; I’ve been saying that both American marques need to step up their electronics game, and it seems that they agree and have ushered in a new era of technological wizardry.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “It certainly is a new look for Indian. The stretched bags and a hint of a swoop in the topline makes me think there’s a Victory designer on the team. The fixed fairing on the Challenger is more stable in the wind, but some folks find it distracting that the fairing doesn’t turn with the handlebar. It also keeps steering lighter because the forks aren’t weighed down by the fairing. With the ample performance of the new PowerPlus engine, the fixed fairing will make a positive contribution to handling and I can see the Challenger being a fun ride.”

2020 Indian Challenger Specifications

Engine & Drivetrain:
Engine: PowerPlus
Bore x Stroke: 4.251 in x 3.799 in (108 mm x 96.5 mm)
Displacement: 108 cu in
Compression Ratio: 11.0:1
Horsepower: 122 hp (90 KW)
Peak Torque: 128 lb-ft @ 3,800 rpm
Drive/Driven Clutch: Wet, Multi-Plate, Assist
Electronic Fuel Injection System: Closed loop fuel Injection / 52 mm dual bore
Exhaust: Split Dual exhaust w/ Resonator
Transmission/Final Drive: 2.379:1
Transmission/Primary Drive: Gear Drive Wet Clutch
Gear Ratio: 1st: 10.169, 2nd: 6.933, 3rd: 5.151, 4th: 4.105, 5th: 3.508, 6th: 3.017
Front Suspension/Travel: 43 mm Inverted Telescopic Fork/ 5.1 in (130 mm)
Rear Suspension/Travel: Single Shock w/Hyd adjust/ 4.5 in (114 mm)
Rake/Trail: 25° / 5.9 in (150 mm)
Lean Angle: 31°
Front Brakes: Dual / 320mm Semi-Floating Rotor / 4 Piston Radial Caliper
Rear Brakes: Single / 298mm Floating Rotor / 2 Piston Caliper
Front Wheel: Cast 19 in x 3.5 in
Rear Wheel: Cast 16 in x 5 in
Front Tires: Metzeler Cruisetec 130/60B19 66H
Rear Tires: Metzeler Cruisetec 180/60R16 80H
Dimensions & Capacities:
Fuel Capacity: 6.0 gal (22.7 L)
Ground Clearance: 5.4 in (137.3 mm)
Overall Height: 56.2 in (1,428.5 mm)
Overall Length: 98.5 in (2,500.7 mm)
Overall Width: 39 in (990.2 mm)
Seat Height: 26.5 in (672 mm)
Weight (Empty Tank / Full of Fuel): 796 lb (361 kg)/831 lb (377 kg)
Wheelbase: 65.7 in (1667.8 mm)
Top Speed: 125 mph
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; heading; audio information display; 100 Watt Audio System with AM/FM, Bluetooth®, USB, Smartphone Compatible Input, and Weather-band
Lights: LED lighting including Pathfinder LED Headlamp
Standard Equipment: Selectable Ride Modes: Locking Hard Saddlebags: Brembo brakes: 18+ Gallons of storage: ABS: Keyless Ignition: Chassis Mounted Fairing: Adjustable Fairing Air Flow Vents; Power Windshield: Adjustable Air Vents
Warranty: 2 Years, Unlimited Miles
Color: Titanium Metallic
Price: $21,999

Further Reading

Yamaha Star Eluder

2018 Yamaha Star Eluder—How Does It Stack Up To The Competition?
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See our review of the Yamaha Star Eluder.

Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero / Vulcan 1700 Voyager

2015 - 2019 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero / Vulcan 1700 Voyager
- image 716650

See our review of the Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero / Vulcan 1700 Voyager.

Harley-Davidson Road Glide/ Road Glide Special

2018 - 2019 Harley-Davidson Road Glide / Road Glide Special
- image 742004

See our review of the Harley-Davidson Road Glide/ Road Glide Special.

Honda Gold Wing / Gold Wing Tour

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

Indian Challenger Dark Horse

2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse
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Review Pending

Indian Challenger Limited

2020 Indian Challenger Limited
- image 869117

Review Pending

Indian Motorcycle

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Read more Indian Motorcycle news.

TJ Hinton
T.J got an early start from his father and other family members who owned and rode motorcycles, and by helping with various mechanical repairs throughout childhood. That planted a seed that grew into a well-rounded appreciation of all things mechanical, and eventually, into a formal education of same. Though primarily a Harley rider, he has an appreciation for all sorts of bikes and doesn't discriminate against any particular brand or region of origin. He currently holds an Associate's degree in applied mechanical science from his time at the M.M.I.  Read More
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