Indian’s New Sinister, Boulevard-Bruiser Dark Horse

Indian Motorcycle rolls into MY2020 with an all-new model family – the Challenger – that comes complete with a new look, powerful 122-horsepower PowerPlus engine and improved safety equipment to keep America’s oldest bike builder competitive against challengers domestic and abroad. The inaugural year sees a trio of packages ready for public consumption, but it’s the sinister, boulevard-bruiser blackout Dark Horse version we’re going to look at today. Like the rest of the Dark Horse category, it makes a visceral connection to the custom-life underbelly of American motorcycling and brings a showroom-custom vibe to the new Challenger line.

  • 2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse
  • Year:
    2020
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    V-Twin
  • Displacement:
    108 cubic inches
  • Top Speed:
    125 mph
  • Price:
    27499
  • Price:

2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse Design

2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse
- image 869221
2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse
- image 869231
The Challenger line ushers in a new era for Indian with a fixed snarknose fairing.

The Challenger Dark Horse ushers in a new era for Indian with a fixed fairing that calls to mind other machines such as the Vulcan Vaquero from Kawasaki, and of course, the Road Glide series from domestic giant Harley-Davidson. That’s not to say the factory abandons the details that define the Indian look, far from it, but it does explore some new territory.

The new goodies start out right up front with a revised version of the iconic war bonnet ornament on the high-sided front fender that takes care of the spray-control business but still leaves much of the 19-inch front wheel readily visible. Blackout fork stanchions and front rim set the tone below the fixed fairing that has its own black accents around the lights and at the outboard edges. Of course, said dark details are rather subtle on the Thunder Black Smoke model that rocks a black-on-black finish, but on the Sandstone Smoke version, they add a nice bit of contrast that makes the rest of the sheet metal pop visually.

A single central LED headlight splits the night with a set of daytime running lights set around the recessed turn signals to finish the forward lighting and ensure that you remain visible to the rest of the world regardless of ambient light conditions. The clear windshield is power adjustable, and it works with the frame-mount fairing to create a generous wind pocket for the rider, but the latter sports a pair of vent ports to ensure that the air stays fresh in the bubble.

Dual analog gauges display the speed and rpm count with LED idiot lights set in the face, but it’s the seven-inch color TFT screen that’s the star of the show as it acts as an interface for the Ride Command infotainment feature. Real-time navigation and weather features join hands-free phone functions and music options to keep you safe, connected, and entertained under way.

A six-gallon teardrop fuel tank defines the flyline with a custom flair due to its slightly stretched shape that calls to mind the swoopy look of the now-defunct Victory Motorcycles factory, and why not, since it also falls under the Polaris umbrella. The flyline plunges to the low-slung seat that rests your butt at only 26.5 inches off the deck. Not only does this inspire confidence at stops and provide plenty of leverage when you deploy your training wheels, but it works with the forward-control footboards and pull-back handlebar to define a comfortable, laid-back rider’s triangle.

Fold-up footpegs and a gunfighter-style pillion seat lets you share the fun with a friend but maintains that solo-ish look and clean rear end. Hard bags provide 18-plus gallons of secure dry storage, and like the tank, they have a bit of a stretched look to them to make another custom connection. The innards are hidden from view out back by the panels that have always set Indian apart from the earliest days of the marque.

2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse Chassis

2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse
- image 869242
2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse
- image 869227
2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse
- image 869245
The Challenger Dark Horse delivers an eagerness in the corners not unlike Honda's famously maneuverable Gold Wing.

A cast-aluminum frame provides the main structure on the Challenger Dark Horse and sets the stage with old-school geometry that also makes a connection to the factory’s storied past. The slope of the backbone suggests the same lines of the old rigid rear ends as well as the earliest swingarm models. The rake is fairly steep at 25 degrees from the vertical, and tracking stability comes from the 5.9-inch trail and 65.7 inch wheelbase. All together, the chassis delivers an impressive lean angle of 31 degrees to both sides, so the Challenger range delivers an eagerness in the corners not unlike Honda’s famously maneuverable Gold Wing.

I think the factory missed an opportunity in the suspension components as the inverted front forks come sans adjustment, and the only ride-quality tweak to be had is found in the hydraulically adjusted preload feature for the rear shock. Seriously guys; you could have at least gone the same route as the MoCo with Showa DBV stems, but there’s always next year, right?

Cast wheels round out the rolling chassis, and Metzeler Cruisetec hoops make the connection to the tarmac in a 130/60 up front opposite a 180/60. Dual 320 mm discs and four-pot calipers take care of stopping business up front with a 298 mm disc and two-piston anchor out back and ABS protection all around. Best of all, there’s a Bosch inertial measurement unit on board that measures the forces acting on the frame to deliver corner-sensitive protection so you don’t lose it in a turn due to overbraking.

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 / 320 mm Semi-Floating Rotor / 4-Piston Radial Caliper
Rear Brakes: Single / 298 mm 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

2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse Drivetrain

2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse
- image 869226
2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse
- image 869222
2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse
- image 869238
The real star of the show is the all-new PowerPlus powerplant that packs fewer cubes than either of the Thunder Stroke mills, yet delivers more of what makes that rear wheel go roundy-round.

The real star of the show is the all-new PowerPlus powerplant that packs fewer cubes than either of the Thunder Stroke mills, yet delivers more of what makes that rear wheel go roundy-round. It’s liquid-cooled with vestigial cooling fins on the heads that are more about looks than any cooling effect they may provide.

Over-head cams time the four-valve heads to do away with the pushrods that actuate its sister engines, and induction control falls to the dual-bore, 52 mm throttle bodies that are ride-by-wire controlled. The IMU-driven Smart Lean Technology feeds the engine-control system to provide lean-optimized traction control for yet another layer of protection. There’s a trio of riding modes that offer variable power delivery and a Drag Torque Control that prevents excessive backtorque from causing loss of traction at the rear wheel due to hard downshifts and engine braking.

What kind of power are we talking about? Well, the new engine churns out 122 horsepower with a whopping 128 pound-feet of torque to make it the gruntiest production V-twin available in a cruiser by a slim margin. Power flows through a slip-and-assist clutch and six-speed transmission, and the Challenger line can be counted on to deliver around 125 mph at redline in top gear.

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

2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse Pricing

2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse
- image 869223
2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse
- image 869241
2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse
- image 869244
MSRP starts at $27.5k for black and jumps to $28.3k for a choice of color.

As usual, the prices break down according to color choice. At the bottom of the range is the black-on-black Thunder Black Smoke model for $27,499. Both the Sandstone Smoke and White Smoke models roll for $28,249, and they come with generous blackout treatment as a mice bit of contrast against the hue on the sheet metal.

Standard Equipment: Ride Command with Navigation; Smart Lean Technology; 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: Thunder Black Smoke, Sandstone Smoke, White Smoke
Price: Thunder Black Smoke: $27,499, Color: $28,249

2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse Competitors

2018 - 2019 Harley-Davidson Road Glide / Road Glide Special
- image 869478
2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse
- image 869240
Like brothers from another mother, the fixed frame-mount “sharknose” fairing is a constant across the board.

There’s a large segment of riders who look at Indian’s Challenger line and see a Harley-Davidson Road Glide, so I decided to see how similar they really are and I grabbed the Road Glide Special for my head-to-head with the Challenger Dark Horse. Like brothers from another mother, the fixed frame-mount “sharknose” fairing is a constant across the board, so the general look is very similar.

The MoCo runs with a fixed windshield to potentially cede some comfort to the Challenger, and I gotta’ say, I prefer the way Indian integrates the front turn signals as opposed to the standoff bullet housings Harley prefers. H-D generously lays the blackout treatment on just about every shiny bit to be found, and in doing so, strikes that custom scene chord. Behind the fairing you’ll find H-D’s infotainment system that matches Indian’s Ride Command feature point-by-point, but Harley does fall behind in the stock electronics by reserving its Reflex Defensive Rider System as a $995 option, so if you want to match the Challenger’s safety and ride-quality electronics, you’re going to have to cough up that extra cheddar.

Showa DBV forks float the front end with a marginally superior ride to the Indian’s stems, and the emulsion shocks out back rock the obligatory preload adjustment, but I have to gig both manufacturers because adjustable forks are way too common and affordable to be left on the shelf in my opinion. Harley goes with stretched saddlebags for a similar custom look, but the fuel tank is fairly standard with none of the swoop the Challenger brings to the table.

ABS is standard across the board, but only Indian offers a corner-optimized version as part of the stock package. As for power, H-D drives its Road Glide Special with the air-cooled Milwaukee-Eight 114 that cranks out a generous 123 pounds o’ grunt to fall just a few pounds short of the PowerPlus, so it’s safe to say that both bikes are sufficiently powered, to say the least.

Ever the King of Paint, Harley offers its entry in twice as many color choices with concurrent price adjustments that start out in Vivid Black at $27,299 and range all the way up to $29,399 for the top-shelf paint packages to bracket the Challenger’s sticker.

He Said

“At the end of the day, I guess the Challenger does look pretty much like the Road Glide, but I count that as a sign that both marques got it right. American riders want what they want, and if a company wants to be competitive, they’ve got to build to their market, so here we are. Is it a copy? No, but it is a bike that was designed to appeal to the same sort of buyer. Personally though, I don’t like the fixed fairing, and it will be interesting to see if Indian puts together a fork-mount batwing bike with the same engine and tech in the foreseeable future.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “It’s no surprise that, as a liquid-cooled engine, the PowerPlus puts up some really impressive performance numbers. It’s also no surprise that the Challenger is taking clear aim at the Road Glide. It looks like a nice enough bike, but sometimes it seems like Polaris is making it too obvious that its designers are taking major cues from Harley models. I wish they would do more on their own, but I guess imitation is the most sincere form of flattery and both of these marques are responsible for the look that we view as “American-styled” cruisers. The Challenger is a break from the Indian norm with a fixed fairing, which some folks like better for touring than a fork-mounted fairing for stability in the wind and lighter handling.”

2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse 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
Chassis:
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 / 320 mm Semi-Floating Rotor / 4-Piston Radial Caliper
Rear Brakes: Single / 298 mm 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
Electric:
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; map/navigation with real-time traffic and weather; Bluetooth® status for phone and headset
Lights: LED lighting including Pathfinder LED Headlamp
Details:
Standard Equipment: Ride Command with Navigation; Smart Lean Technology; 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: Thunder Black Smoke, Sandstone Smoke, White Smoke
Price: Thunder Black Smoke: $27,499, Color: $28,249

Further Reading

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.

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.

Honda Gold Wing / Gold Wing Tour

2018 - 2019 Honda Gold Wing / Gold Wing Tour
- image 742336

See our review of the Honda Gold Wing / Gold Wing Tour.

Indian Challenger

2020 Indian Challenger
- image 868878

See our review of the Indian Challenger.

Indian Challenger Limited

2020 Indian Challenger Limited
- image 869117

Review Pending

Indian Motorcycle

ALLYN IMAGES: DO NOT DELETE
- image 794320

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
About the author

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

Press release
What do you think?
Show Comments
Motorcycle Finder: