Now Equipped With Indian’s New Thunder Stroke 116 Engine

Indian Motorcycle rolls into the 2020 model year with a host of new features, and the new Chieftain Elite serves as the flagship bagger model, delivering some of the best gear the factory has to offer. Hand-painted sheet metal in a distinct color combination heralds the coming of this aptly-named elite machine. Not only does it rock with a premium sound system, it rolls with a new engine that boosts displacement up to a total of 116 cubic-inches. Indian also upgraded the Ride Command system with a new quad-core processor and Indian’s new Connected Services feature that further improves an already top-shelf system. It all comes with the usual bad-itude that has always come stock on Indian’s baggers.

2020 Indian Chieftain Elite Design

2020 Indian Chieftain Elite
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2020 Indian Chieftain Elite
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2020 Indian Chieftain Elite
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Each bike is hand-painted over a painstaking 25-hour process and since hand-painting is usually part of a limited edition run, in this respect, Indian brings a top-shelf finish to the every-rider category.

As usual, the factory does a great job of melding the old with the new on the Chieftain Elite, and right away that’s apparent in the full-length but cut-down front fender that hails back to the ’20s and the classic war bonnet fender ornament that takes us back to the earliest years of this American marque. Cast wheels add a modern touch between chrome fork lowers, and up top, classic beer-can fork skirts do their bit to touch on the ’40s while serving the practical purpose of keeping the inner fork tubes clean and free from seal-destroying grit.

The classic fairing shape looks like it just got back from the fat farm with a trimmer look that omits the driving-light section for a look that’s not entirely unlike Harley-Davidson’s new Batwing fairing, so it fits right into the American market. As for the palette, Indian clads the Chieftain Elite in Wildfire Red Candy over a high-gloss and sparkly Thunder Black Vivid Crystal, and each unit is hand-painted over a painstaking 25-hour process to make each bike unique. It’s worth pointing out that hand-painted units are usually part of a limited edition run, so in this respect, Indian brings a top-shelf finish to the every-rider category.

Vents in the face of the fairing relieve the vacuum behind the glass to help minimize that wearisome head-buffet effect, and the windshield comes with push-button adjustability so you can easily dial in the height to suit. Inside the fairing wings you’ll find the forward pair of weatherproof speakers on either side of the seven-inch Thin Film Transistor touchscreen that acts as an interface for the Ride Command system along with round analog gauges for the speedo and tach. A matching pair of speakers are mounted in the lids of the hard sidebags to deliver the goods from the 100 Watt sound system. The system comes with an AM/FM receiver, Bluetooth connection, and USB charger. Additionally, the system will network with your smartphone to use it as a portable jukebox so you can pipe in your favorite tunes, and if you spring for the helmet-mounted headset, you can field hands-free phone calls on the road. Detailed trip information, weather, and navigation rounds out the infotainment features, and buyers of new 2020 Chieftain Elite can look forward to a two-year Connected Service plan free of charge.

The 5.5-gallon fuel tank defines the flyline as it gently slopes down to the low saddle that slings your butt at only 25.6 inches off the ground for excellent rider-machine integration and easy access to the ground, even for riders with shorter inseams. The pillion’s gear is rather understated and low-profile with fold-up footpegs and a sort of Mustang-style seat that peters out over the rear fender in such a way that it contributes to a solo look, which is entirely befitting of a bagger. All around LED lighting ensures that you can see and be seen, and the rear lights ride on a classic light bar over the down-low plateholder that finishes the gear in the rear.

2020 Indian Chieftain Elite Chassis

2020 Indian Chieftain Elite
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2020 Indian Chieftain Elite
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2020 Indian Chieftain Elite
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Far from stodgy in the corners, this bike is maneuverable and eager to dive into the turns.

Welded tubular-steel members make up the double-downtube/double-cradle frame that delivers an old-school look on the Chieftain Elite while it supports the new engine and protects the cases with its bottom rails. A beefy steering head sets a rake angle of 25 degrees that works with the 19-inch front wheel for 5.9 inches of trail over a 65.7-inch wheelbase, and this gives the Chieftain Elite a lean angle of 31 degrees if you have the nerve for it. Far from stodgy in the corners, this bike approaches the Honda Gold Wing in its maneuverability and eagerness to dive into the turns.

Rwu front forks run with a 46 mm inner tube diameter for strength but deliver a vanilla ride with no adjustments at all. In the rear, air-adjustable shocks deliver a plush ride like only air can, and the suspension travel measures at 4.7 inches up front and 4.5 inches out back. Cast wheels alternate blackout and polished aluminum for a bit of bling under way, and the 19-inch front wheel is accompanied by a 16-inch rear with Dunlop Elite hoops in a 130/60 opposite a 180/60.

Dual, 300 mm discs and four-pot calipers slow the front wheel with another 300 mm disc out back that has a twin-piston anchor and all-around ABS protection as part of the stock package.

Front Suspension/ Travel: 46 mm Telescopic Fork/ 4.7 in (119 mm)
Rear Suspension/ Travel: Single Shock w/ Air adjust/ 4.5 in (114 mm)
Lean Angle: 31°
Rake/Trail: 25° / 5.9 in (150 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

2020 Indian Chieftain Elite Drivetrain

2020 Indian Chieftain Elite
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2020 Indian Chieftain Elite
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2020 Indian Chieftain Elite
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With the new Thunder Stroke 116 engine, you can count on low-stress cruising and a machine that has something to give at any point in the rev range.

Now for the star of the show. Indian’s new Thunder Stroke 116 engine packs in another five cubic-inches over its 111 version for a total displacement of 1,900 cc. That’s right folks, the new mill is pushing two liters for your riding enjoyment. It delivers a whopping 126 pound-feet to beat even Harley’s Milwaukee-Eight 117, even if only by a single pound-foot (claimed, on both accounts). Best of all, it develops this great grunt at a low 2,900 rpm, so you can count on low-stress cruising and a machine that has something to give at any point in the rev range.

The 103.2 mm bore and 113 mm stroke give it a compression ratio of 11-to-1 – premium gas country – but that’s the price for that stump-pulling torque. Like the previous generation, the Thunder Stroke 116 is fairly essential with closed-loop fuel injection in a single, 54 mm throttle body, and a variable Power Mode feature as the only ride-quality control. One thing that is unique to the marque is the Rear-Cylinder Deactivation feature that kills the rear jug when you’re idling at a stop in a bid to reduce the heat wash felt by the rider, and it makes the transition onto the new lump.

As always, the visuals are beyond compare as the factory took steps to channel the look of yesteryear with faux cooling fins on the rocker box covers and parallel pushrod tubes that mimic the old flathead engines, and this particular lump sports red tubes to further accentuate the look. Not that top speed should matter that much on such a bike, but you can count on 115 mph if you wind it all the way to the rev limiter in sixth gear, which is the top gear in this particular transmission.

Engine: Thunder Stroke® 116
Bore x Stroke: 4.063" x 4.449" (103.2 mm x 113 mm)
Compression Ratio: 11:1
Displacement: 116 cu in
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, 2nd: 6.411, 3rd: 4.763, 4th: 3.796, 5th: 3.243, 6th: 2.789
Peak Torque: 126 ft-lb (168 Nm) @ 2,900 rpm
Transmission/Final Drive: 2.2 : 1
Transmission/Primary Drive: Gear Drive Wet Clutch

2020 Indian Chieftain Elite Pricing

2020 Indian Chieftain Elite
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2020 Indian Chieftain Elite
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2020 Indian Chieftain Elite
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MSRP on the 2020 Chieftain Elite is $35k, a luxury price for a luxury ride.

Base price on the 2020 Chieftain Elite will set you back a total of $34,999, but if you’re into the customizing game, the factory provides ample opportunity to balloon the sticker with a full range of accessories.

Standard Equipment: 7" Ride Command® Touchscreen Display with Navigation; Power Windshield; Highway Bars; Vinyl Rogue Seat; Tire Pressure Monitoring; Remote-locking Hard Saddlebags; 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: Thunder Black Vivid Crystal/Wildfire Red Candy
Price: $34,999

2020 Indian Chieftain Elite Competitors

2020 Indian Chieftain Elite
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2019 Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide
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Harley's RDRS system packs an electronic punch, but you'll pay for that at the checkout counter to the tune of more than five-grand in price difference.

It’s hard to imagine going overseas for a suitable competitor for the Indian Chieftain Elite, so I went for some Milwaukee iron in the form of the CVO Street Glide. To be fair, Harley-Davidson has a bit of a hole in its lineup, but since Indian brought its A-game, I figured why not go for the top shelf all the way around.

Harley leads off with a similar full-length fender on the CVO Street Glide that rocks cut-back sides to leave a generous view of the front wheel but is rather plain against the iconic war bonnet that decorates the Chieftain Elite. The Batwing fairing is also pared down with a chopped windshield to complete the protection though it’s fixed in height and thus, falls short of its adversary.

H-D’s Boom! GTS Infotainment System hits all of the same high points as Indian’s Ride Command feature as far as calls, weather, navigation, and entertainment goes, and it blasts your tunes through a quartet of speakers. Harley noses ahead in the electronics with its Reflex Defensive Rider Systems that come stock on CVO models and brings corner-sensitive traction control, ABS, and backtorque-limiting features to the table to leave Indian behind.

The Milwaukee-Eight 117 is a skosh larger and a skosh weaker with a one pound-foot deficit against the Thunder Stroke 116, but I’m gonna’ call it close enough to be a wash all around. Indian scores big at the checkout against the CVO Street Glide’s $40,539 price tag, and there’s the trade off for the fancy new ride-quality controls Harley has introduced this year.

He Said

“It’s clear that Indian is trying to compete against H-D on every front, including the battle for the King-of-Paint title. The Chieftain Elite has a lot going for it, but man, you’ve got to appreciate hand-laid paint, even if the paint booth went a little overboard with the sparkle particulates. That said, Indian really hits the American market with the right blend of features, looks, and classic references with this model, and it lets loose of it for a significant amount less than H-D’s top bagger.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “You says Indian is trying to compete. I say it is stiff competition. It’s an American manufacturer delivering that classic and iconic American look. No lie, the Chieftain Elite is a beautiful motorcycle and the new Thunder Stroke 116 is a work of art. The throttle is super responsive and power delivery is smooth and predictable. If you want a real thrill, twist the throttle on this 116 in “Sport” mode. Oh yeah.”

2020 Indian Chieftain Elite Specifications

Engine & Drivetrain:
Engine: Thunder Stroke® 116
Bore x Stroke: 4.063" x 4.449" (103.2 mm x 113 mm)
Compression Ratio: 11:1
Displacement: 116 cu in
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, 2nd: 6.411, 3rd: 4.763, 4th: 3.796, 5th: 3.243, 6th: 2.789
Peak Torque: 126 ft-lb (168 Nm) @ 2,900 rpm
Transmission/Final Drive: 2.2 : 1
Transmission/Primary Drive: Gear Drive Wet Clutch
Chassis:
Front Suspension/ Travel: 46 mm Telescopic Fork/ 4.7 in (119 mm)
Rear Suspension/ Travel: Single Shock w/ Air adjust/ 4.5 in (114 mm)
Lean Angle: 31°
Rake/Trail: 25° / 5.9 in (150 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)
Overall Height: 56.7 in (144 cm)
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): 804 lbs / 836 lbs (365 kg / 379 kg)
Wheelbase: 65.7 in (1,668 mm)
Top Speed: 115 mph
Electrics:
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: Ride Command with connected services on 2020 model year bikes includes a complimentary 2-year trial for connected features from the vehicle sales date (after which, fees apply). 7" Ride Command® 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; vehicle status (tire pressure, voltage, engine hours, oil change); vehicle info (speed, fuel range, RPM, gear position); current ride data (distance, moving time, stop time, altitude, altitude change); trip meters; ride mode selection; screen brightness; vehicle trouble code readout.
Lights: LED Headlamp/Tail/Brake/Turn Signal
Details:
Standard Equipment: 7" Ride Command® Touchscreen Display with Navigation; Power Windshield; Highway Bars; Vinyl Rogue Seat; Tire Pressure Monitoring; Remote-locking Hard Saddlebags; 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: Thunder Black Vivid Crystal/Wildfire Red Candy
Price: $34,999

Further Reading

Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide

2019 Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide
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See our review of the Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide.

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 Motorcycle

ALLYN IMAGES: DO NOT DELETE
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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

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