What is it?
The Indian Chief Dark Horse is one of the highlights of the brand's sweeping nod to the 100th anniversary of the original Indian Chief, which made its debut in 1921. There are three models, each with two trims. Base models include the Chief, Chief Bobber and Super Chief, while the premium offerings are the Chief Dark Horse (subject of this review), Chief Bobber Dark Horse and Super Chief Limited.
Is it new?
Relatively. The full Dark Horse lineup began shipping to dealerships this spring.
What makes it special?
As the headline suggests, the most striking thing about this motorcycle is its blend of old and new — an aspect that is quite intentional on Indian's part. "One of the common threads of inspiration throughout the new Chiefs was reach back, pull forward," explains Ola Stenegard, Indian's director of industrial design. "Everything you want, but don’t wanna see! That old school, keep it simple vibe, but also the modern tech we all take for granted today."
Nowhere is this approach more evident than in a feature sitting right under your nose, between the handlebars: an elegant 4.0-inch-wide touchscreen that resembles the sort of analog gauge you'll find on many a decades-old bike. This doohickey supplies so much more than your speed, RPM and remaining fuel, though; it provides access to turn-by-turn directions, bike diagnostics and ride modes, while allowing you to take calls and switch up your music when paired with Bluetooth earbuds or a helmet-based headset.
"It's all packed up in a housing no bigger than a traditional analog speedo," notes Stenegard. "And when the bike is parked, you just see a clean blacked-out screen."
Additional modern touches include standard ABS, cruise control and three ride modes: sport, standard and tour. But you'd never guess any of that by glancing at the bike. Simple, sleek lines and smoky hues blend with a muscular V-twin engine and burly pipes to more strongly call to mind, say, the Indian Scout Bobber Sixty I dubbed a "caveman motorcycle" than an Indian Chieftain Limited decked out with all the trimmings.
How does it ride?
In a word: powerfully. From the moment I fired up the 1,890-cc Thunderstroke 116 twin-cylinder engine, I could feel the bike's beating heart, a raging beast itching to tackle the open road. As ferocious as the bike is, however, it's not unapproachable. A low seat height (26 inches) and a manageable weight (670 pounds wet) made it a snap for me to maneuver through tight city traffic and get out ahead of the pack.
I used the bike during the Meals on Wheels-style food deliveries I do in Brooklyn every Saturday morning — a solid test due to the combo of toting a huge backpack and navigating often-sketchy, potholed streets. Despite its semi-beastly size, I had no trouble scooting down narrow roads, parking in tricky spots and navigating bumpy terrain — the 5.2 inches of travel on the front forks were more than up to that particular challenge.
The highway really is where the Dark Horse thrives, however. I rode it from Manhattan down to the Jersey shore to watch the Euro final with some friends, and I was blown away by the ease with which I could move up and down through its six speeds — and, when the situation called for it, approach triple-digit velocity with a pretty effortless twist of the throttle. The trip is about 50 miles, and I'm pretty sure I set a personal record on the way down, arriving in less than hour.
Equally important, I had a hell of a fun time doing it. The drag handlebars, scooped seat and mid-mount foot controls create a rider-friendly geometry, allowing me to almost become one with the bike as I ripped down the Garden State Parkway. Would a windshield be nice? Maybe. But you can't claim to favor old-school styled bikes without cherishing the rush of wind on your exposed face.
"To be part of the team that was tasked with creating the 100th anniversary models of the new Chiefs was an absolute blast as well as a very humbling experience," reflects Stenegard. "You could almost feel the founders of the brand watch over our shoulders, making sure we did it right."
'Nuff said. Well, almost.
Anything else stand out?
While I have loved rumbling around on the Dark Horse, I would be remiss not to share a few caveats. None are dealbreakers, but they are worth mentioning.
As much as I dig the touchscreen, it's not perfect. The turn-by-turn directions feature is super cool, but it could not locate my buddy's place in Jersey. Only after trying a few nearby businesses was I able to hit on one it could find (thank you, Nicholas Creamery). It was also a frustrating challenge to get the bike, my phone and my earbuds to all sync up properly. I often found myself just leaving the bike out of the loop in order to listen to music while riding.
The exhaust pipes are badass. But like all pipes, they get hot. And the positioning of this particular set has proven problematic — because it's July in New York City, I've been riding this thing in shorts and I've singed the inside of my right calf multiple times on them, just maneuvering into parking spots. It ain't pretty. Editor's note: Like other motorcycle makers, Indian does not include shorts in its definition of proper riding gear, for obvious reasons. Wear sensible pants with this thing and you'll be fine.
Lastly, the only way to bring a friend along for the ride on this exact bike is to accessorize with a $200 Passenger Pillion and $180 Passenger Pegs. (Yes, you could opt for a Super Chief, which comes standard with a passenger seat — and also saddlebags, a windshield and floorboards, making it quite a different bike.)
To be fair, this final criticism is something of a compliment. This bike is so damn fun — it's just a shame to not be able to share a bundle of thrills a century in the making.
What's it cost?
The base price is $16,999 for the Black Smoke colorway. It rises to $17,499 for the Alumina Jade Smoke and Stealth Gray hues.
2022 Indian Chief Dark Horse
Base Price: $16,999
Powertrain: 1,890 cc Thunderstroke 116 twin-cylinder engine; six-speed transmission
Horsepower: 79 (approx.)
Torque: 120 foot-pounds
Fuel Capacity: four gallons
Weight (Empty Tank/Full of Fuel): 647 lbs/670 lbs