The term “factory custom” is a goofy one. Your ride is either off-the-line or made-to-order...how can it be both?
But a few years ago at Sturgis, I had a chance to rip around on a seafoam-and-cream stock Indian Scout that was so pretty, people kept asking where I got the paint job. Then this month, in a much more intentional way, Indian once again displayed its knack for releasing bikes that seem one of a kind.
Meet the brand’s sixth annual collab with a certain Tennessee whiskey mega-distillery: the 2022 Jack Daniel’s Limited Edition Indian Challenger Dark Horse, which is almost that — one of 107, to be exact.
I must admit, when I was invited to the big unveiling party and ride that took place at the distillery itself, I was skeptical. How could they dress up a motorcycle with liquor branding and not lean rather…gauche? But checking out the previous Indian x JD bikes, I was impressed with the understated styling. So I went down to Tennessee to see for myself — and while you surely have to be a huge fan of both brands to shell out $36,999 for the latest bike, there’s no question it’s a beauty.
Created (as always) in partnership with Klock Werks Kustom Cycles, the project takes the Dark Horse version of the brand’s biggest bagger, the 800-pound Challenger, and loads it with upgrades and unique whiskey-themed flourishes. While no one (not even the media) got to ride the actual bike at the event, I did get to throttle up a Challenger (more on that later), and spend some time admiring, examining and throwing a leg over the bike literally stamped 001 of 107. Here’s what jumped out...
On the technical side, one awesome feature is the Pathfinder Adaptive LED Headlight, through which 15 individual LED lenses sense the bike’s lean angle and tilt accordingly to dynamically illuminate the road ahead. Another is the Fox Electronically Adjustable Rear Suspension Preload which, when you enter the approximate weight of a passenger, adjusts the tension in the rear shocks for optimal performance. A third I appreciate is Powerband Audio —upgraded fairing speakers plus saddlebag speakers for 50 percent more volume than the stock offering. Oh, and of course, you get a liquid-cooled, 108 cubic-inch PowerPlus engine, boasting a class-leading 122 horsepower and 128 ft-lbs. of torque. Rowrrr.
On the visual side...oh my, where to start? Each edition of the bike is inspired by a different JD spirit. Last year's Roadmaster was themed around Gentleman Jack, for example — I shudder to think what happens when they get to Tennessee Apple — and this year’s is no exception. Taking its cues from the distiller’s bold, peppery Rye Tennessee whiskey, it features sparkling Rye Metallic paint with gold and green accents, a numbered Jack Daniel’s Montana Silversmiths badge, custom engraved rider and passenger floorboards and a genuine leather, Jack Daniel’s-stitched seat.
From a distance, you wouldn’t really notice the branding; even up close, it’s pretty restrained, with the logo on the gas tank and the seat being the most noticeable. There’s a rather cheeky PSA on the rear fender that reads “Drive Responsibly: Bottles & Throttle Don’t Mix,” but my favorite touch has to be the floorboards, which feature three stylized, silver stalks of rye — a subtle nod to the bike’s intoxicating muse. (Which, in my humble opinion, is the best spirit the brand sells, but that's neither here nor there.)
As I alluded to earlier, I did get a chance to get a sense of how it might ride, the morning after a pretty fascinating tour of the distillery — did you know Jack Daniel was killed by a safe? — and joining hundreds of brand enthusiasts and some very cool Indian ambassadors for the unveiling party, concert and barbecue. A couple hours past sunrise, the limited number of media on the scene saddled up some standard 2021 Challenger Dark Horses (a relative bargain at $27,999) and “joined” the annual ride from the hotel back to Jack Daniel’s for, yes, another barbecue.
I use quote marks because, in the interest of motorcycle journalism, we went rogue and took a rather scenic route, turning what could be a 60-mile trip into, oh, a 130-mile joyride. We still made it to the BBQ on time, but we also got to really put the bike through its paces, cruising long country roads, sweeping around curves and savoring the first signs of fall — solitary leaves occasionally kicking up as we zigzagged two-lane twisties.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve ridden a bike that big. They aren’t really my style, but I must say that if it’s yours, this one delivers. What stood out to me was incredible acceleration (both from a standstill and from 60 mph to 80), a hella-smooth ride and responsive handling — although you do have to be prepared to make wiiiiiiiide U-turns. I also dug the loud-ass speakers; I tuned into a country station (it seemed fitting) and rocked out to Garth Brooks and Faith Hill at half the max, and it still seemed plenty powerful.
If I have one knock, it’s one that kinda goes for all big bikes with hulking fairings. While they obviously offer a much different, more liberating vibe than a
cage car, you're still shielded so much more than you are on, say, a cafe racer. That makes it frighteningly easy to crank up the Alan Jackson, roll the throttle and zone out, even as your speed approaches triple digits.
That notion was brought home to me when I had a chuckle at a shirtless fella blissfully operating some heavy farm machinery, only to look up and spot a stop sign marking the T-ing of the road ahead. Braking sharply, I felt the ABS kick in — a reminder that with all these high-end performance features come some pretty reliable safety ones as will. Which is handy, because whether you're rolling around on a standard bagger or a one-of-107 Jack Daniel's special, you sure as hell don’t want to mar its majesty with so much as a scratch.