A cocktail of contemporary comfort with vintage notes. Brad Foster recently tested out the Indian Chieftain Limited 2018 on a 2000km ride from Alice Springs to Darwin. Here is his review.
Two years after Polaris Industries purchased the dormant Indian Motorcycle brand in 2011 it launched the all-new Thunder Stroke 111 engine at Daytona Bike Week in the U.S. There followed a collective sigh of relief from the legion of Indian motorcycle fans who had been praying that the oldest bike manufacturer in the world would rise once more.
Founded in 1901, Indian was a darling on and off the racetrack, and was early on the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world until a series of bad business decisions saw new manufacture of Indians disappear completely and the brand shelved.
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Indian owners were left to join socially-run rider groups and swap stories of how exceptional their bikes were with each other as the Harley Davidson brand grew ever-stronger.
Today, Indian Motorcycle is once again synonymous with the joy and freedom of expression of motorcycle riding but with the 21st century addition of greater safety, on-and-off-road support, and most definitely comfort.
The Indian Chieftain Limited 2018 pays homage to the retro-styled Indians of the past but with a whole new glovebox of special features that those who love taking medium to longer rides will enjoy with relish.
Its comfort for starters cannot be overstated, and is especially satisfying if you’re planning to have that special someone sitting right behind you.
Big foot rests, leather seats – that can be warmed in winter – lockable side panniers capable of fitting in a small bag or two, and a front visor which can be raised up or down at the touch of a button, combine to ensure rider comfort is the best it can be.
A six speed gearbox keeps the bike quiet at high speeds and there’s even cruise control if you’re feeling so relaxed on the open road.
Another big plus on this bike is the fancy-sounding Indian Motorcycle Ride Command System which has every piece of information about your bike that you could need on a large touchscreen display on the dash.
From Alice Springs to Darwin there is pretty much one road – The Stuart Highway – so there wasn’t a great need for the GPS except when I was looking for a hotel in the towns along the way. Then it worked a treat.
What was great on this trip was the tyre pressure display, which I had to adjust a few times courtesy of the hot weather, and the sound system. You can plug your phone into the bike and play your music which blasts out of the two high-quality in-built speakers. Volume adjustment is done at the touch of a button.
What was also cool was that the volume level increased the faster you went.
The other great thing was the electronic fuel gauge. Keeping tabs on fuel is pretty important when there’s often a couple of hundred kilometres between stations. Thankfully, with its big long-range tank, the Chieftain was just the bike for a trip of this kind.
With an 1811cc engine, getting up to speed on the open road isn’t a problem, and there’s plenty of torque for overtaking, even at 130kph – the speed limit on the Stuart Highway. Those massive road trains take a bit of getting used to, but the weight of the bike ensures that you stick to the road like glue as they thunder past you in the opposite direction.
The disc brakes ensure that stopping is nice and smooth and effortless.
Another plus was the keyless ignition. Toss the fob in your pocket and forget about it.
SUBHEAD – Time for a trade-in?
While I’ve ridden motorcycles for much of my life I’d never ridden anything this big before. As mentioned previously, it was just made for this kind of open road riding.
A week after I returned home I hopped onto my Honda CX500 for a quick Sunday dash and couldn’t believe how uncomfortable I was. The foot pegs felt like twigs, gear changing hurt my foot, the clutch was touchy, the brakes slow to respond, and there was no god-damn music!
I never thought I’d like a bike this big so much. But I did. I loved it. I’d been spoilt by riding a modern motorcycle that looked stylish and was jam-packed with creature comforts I didn’t even have in my car let alone my old Honda.
And, it was an Indian: a bike that has a history right back to 1901.
Now all I want to do is join one of the Indian Motorcycle Rider clubs and take off on day trips with the brand’s other devotees.
Type: Thunder Stroke™ 111
Bore x stroke: 101mm x 113mm
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Fuel system: Closed loop fuel injection/54mm bore
Peak Torque RPM: 3000rpm
Peak Torque (95/1/EC Nm): 151Nm
Price: $37,995 Ride away
Buy a new MY18 Chieftain and receive a fitted 116ci Big Bore Kit for free, valued at $5,250! The 116ci kit increases torque by 15% and HP by 20%. *T&Cs apply, see indianmotorcycle.com.au for more info.