Indian Chief Dark Horse: Not your regular cruiser

    A new generation motorcycle, this Dark Horse wants to steal your attention away from the ubiquitous Harley-Davidson.

    Published on Feb 15, 2022 07:00:00 AM


    Make : Indian

    The Merriam Webster dictionary defines a dark horse as “a usually little known contender (such as a racehorse) that makes an unexpectedly good showing”. Honestly though, those days are long gone. Since it came to India about eight years ago, Polaris-owned Indian Motorcycle has consistently proved that it doesn’t just make a viable alternative to the equivalent Harley, its bikes are often nicer to ride. This new Dark Horse is built around a brand new chassis, comes with an enormous 1,890cc V-twin engine and it has a whole lot to live up to.

    Viewing gallery

    The first impression is, well, a bit underwhelming. This is undoubtedly a muscular, handsome motorcycle with a great stance from the 19-inch front wheel and a nice ‘bobbed’ tail, but where has Indian’s unique sense of brand identity gone? The older Indian Chiefs were instantly identifiable with their locomotive style hooded headlamps, ‘war bonnet’ ornament on the front fender and gloriously exaggerated valanced fenders. The new one lacks any of that and with its small headlamp you could easily pass it off as any nicely executed custom cruiser. That’s a pity.

    There is an upside to this: while the Dark Horse has certainly lost some identity, it has also lost a few dozen kilos. This new chassis was built with weight saving and minimalism in mind, which is why you see the rear shock absorbers on the sides instead of hidden away in the middle.

    Quality wise, things are alright, apart from a messy jumble of wires and hoses around the steering headstock. Indian has always embraced technology and this one gets a nice circular TFT display. It’s touch sensitive and you can quite easily navigate between the many menus and modes, even with gloves on, although the animations can sometimes feel a little slow.

    Gentle canter

    Hop on, and you’ll be greeted by a typically-cruiser low 662mm seat. The foot controls are ‘mid-set’, but still more forward than your standard motorcycle. The real reach forward, however, is to the handlebar, and I found this quite tiring over a full day of riding – a more pulled back bar would be most welcome. The seat is nicely comfy, but this riding position can be a little tight for tall riders, with my hips feeling a little sore at the end of the day.

    New TFT display is touch sensitive, offers many options.

    On the move, the Indian feels like the lightest 300kg motorcycle I’ve ridden with a very well balanced and effortless feel. The suspension also continues to impress, and just like before, it does a better job of dealing with bumps and potholes than the equivalent Harley.

    Find a nice winding road and this Chief is most benevolent in indulging some fun. The (relatively) light and agile feel continues and the Pirelli Night Dragon tyres are some of the stickiest I’ve come across on a large cruiser. As is usually the case with such motorcycles, it feels like the Chief has a lot more to give, but the foot pegs slam down quite easily, which limits how fast you can corner the bike.

    What’s not as impressive is the braking performance. Part of the weight savings diet means that this bike now gets just a single 300mm front disc instead of two. Braking performance isn’t bad, especially if you bring in the equally sized rear disc, but it takes a little more effort than it should with a bike this quick.   

    Full gallop

    The Chief Dark Horse runs Indian’s Thunderstroke 116 engine which remains air-cooled even in the face of the latest emissions norms.

    It also has a cylinder deactivation system to help reduce engine heat, but aside from the small indicator on the TFT, I couldn’t tell when it was happening while idling at traffic lights.

    The 162Nm of peak torque available is simply immense, but that number is quite similar to what you’ll find with Harley’s 114 motor.

    How that torque is delivered, well that’s a different story. Unlike the Harleys, the Indian comes with three riding modes, Tour, Standard and Sport.

    The throttle response now feels a little more vague and artificial than before and perhaps that’s why I enjoyed the mellow Tour mode the most. Standard makes things quite a bit more responsive, but Sport comes as a bit of a shock.

    Even if you’re experienced with powerful sportbikes, the razor sharp throttle response in sport mode will slap you wide awake. I remember my eyes going wide and muttering ‘good lord’ the first time I felt the bike try to pull my arms out in Sport mode. But this mode is so explosive that you can’t realistically use it for more than a few minutes to shoot some adrenaline through the system.

    The Chief still has no traction control, but with this much weight and with such a long wheelbase, it feels nicely controlled and good fun when the rear spins up on Mumbai’s low grip roads.

    The safer bet

    The Indian Chief Dark Horse is certainly a more involving ride than a similar Harley-Davidson, like the Fat Boy 114. However, the original drawback of Indian’s limited dealer network continues. There are currently just six dealers in the country and that excludes the whole state of Maharashtra. If you want to buy one in this state, you can do so through Navnit Motors, but there is no showroom.

    You’ve always had to want to stand out from the cruiser crowd to choose an Indian over Harley’s rich community and its bigger after sales network. Unfortunately, the new Dark Horse’s more conventional styling may have just made it a bit harder to do that.

    Tech Specs

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