Ride Review: Indian Chieftain Dark Horse

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira

The Chieftain Dark Horse is Indian’s player in the Bagger space. As you can deduct from the name “Bagger”, bikes of this ilk come with panniers, or “Bags” if you will, and are designed for touring duty. Indian equip the Dark Horse with a handlebar mounted fairing to complete the long distance picture. This is most definitely a plains animal. It can, at a push, do the commuting thing, but in truth, this is not what it’s designers had in mind. Cast your gaze over the sweeping lines of this bike and you get taken aback by the sheer bulk of it. The fairing sweeps around the wide bars giving really good wind and weather protection. It is capped by an electrically height adjusted screen activated by a toggle on the right hand switch assembly, where the cruise control also lives. The front fender, with its trademark sweeping rear, rides atop a double 300mm disc equipped 130\60 x 19 front wheel. The discs are chomped on by 4 piston callipers. 46mm telescopic cartridge forks suspend the front of the bike, whilst a Fox rear air shock keeps the back wheel on the tar. The fairing and tank proudly bear the Indian war bonnet emblem. The tank is a full 20.8 litres which, allied to real world fuel consumption of around 16.5 Km/L, gives a range of around 340 kays. The single seat means you enjoy this experience ace up. The rear fender, flanked by sweeping panniers and underlined by twin full length tailpipes complete the picture. I know looks are subjective, but, for what it represents, I find the Chieftain Dark Horse absolutely stunning!. The matt black paint job offsets the highlighted engine accents magnificently.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira

To fill you in on the spec details: The rear disc brake is a single 300mm disc with a 2 piston calliper operating on a 180\60 x 16 rear wheel. Front fork travel is around 119mm with 114mm at the back. The Chieftain’s wheelbase is a lengthy 1668mm. Fully fuelled the Dark Horse weighs a hefty 378 Kg’s. Thankfully it carries that weight low down, and seat height is a lowly 660mm. Even the most seriously vertically challenged riders will be flat footed at the lights on the Indian. The power unit is the familiar, soulful, Thunderstroke engine. The big [1811cc] V Twin churns out a huge 161.6 Nm of torque at a mere 3000 rpm. Rider information provided by a 7 inch touch screen display is comprehensive. The display, which is directly in front of you, is flanked by a conventional speedo on the left, and a rev counter on the right. You can sweep through the display by moving your finger across the screen, or by means of a trigger type toggle on the left switchgear. Twin speakers for the sound system ride in the fairing wings, and radio functions are controlled via the touch screen or toggle switch, also on the left assembly. Now that you have the general layout of the bike, let’s see how it rides.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira

When all is said and done, it is often the motor that defines the bike. The Thunderstroke mill in this bike is a peach. From the moment that you let out the clutch, you surf towards the horizon on a huge wave of seamless torque. As soon as you gather speed the weight of the bike seems to fall away. For all intents and purposes you really only need 500 revs of the 5000 on offer. At 3000 revs the Dark Horse is cantering along at 128 kay’s an hour. Dip into that bottomless well of torque and you ease into a gallop, with 3500 rpm equating to an effortless 150. The Indian can obviously go faster, but why would you want to? To wring the bikes neck feels almost vulgar. This is a dignified Chieftain after all. 150 is relaxed, and has you covering ground at a good clip. The fairing slips the air around and over you, and you simply haul ass in comfort. It is literally the first bike that I have ridden where the fairing works so well that not one single bug managed to find its way onto my visor. Fuel economy is reasonable at this speed, and you can go a decent distance between fill-ups. Braking is solid and reassuring, with the peace of mind of ABS to keep things tidy. The long wheelbase and decent suspension makes the Indian stable at speed and planted in the sweeps.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira

You got to understand, you don’t just ride an Indian. The bike just reeks with over a hundred years of Indian heritage. There is a serious sense of occasion when you sling your leg across the bike and nestle into that sumptuous saddle. The wide open plains beckon and you chill out to the visceral mellow rumble that emanates from the belly of the beast. Your arms reach out to the wide bars and your feet chill on the foot boards. I would fit a backrest to the bike if it was mine. As the kay’s mount you tend to hunch your back in a way that can induce fatigue. The back rest would negate that. Cruising across the countryside at a relaxed gallop is a special experience. The big Indian gets a lot of admiring stares. Families in cars all rubber neck the bike as it rumbles by. And oh yes, the Chieftain has an awesome rumble. At speed, the pipes emit a sound like that of distant thunder. I would keep the pipes stock.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira

I specifically chose a route that would play to the strengths of the Indian. Sweeping through the long curves of Schoemans kloof on the way to Nelspruit, the bike was an absolute pleasure. Serene and stable through the high speed curves, the bike really came into it’s own. The road from White River to Hazyview was also special on the Dark Horse. Typically one dreads highways where you drone along aimlessly. On the Chieftain you set the cruise control and cruise along at speed, in comfort. Lovely. The suspension is supple and controlled. The deteriating South African roads can throw a lot of curved balls, however the Indian handled them all with aplomb.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira

The panniers are not quite as roomy as they appear. They are solidly mounted and close with a reassuring click. A rubber seal keeps dust and water out. Pack carefully and you have enough space for a weekend away. Longer trips may require a bit more luggage planning. To me, this type of planning and scheming just amps up the excitement and trip anticipation. Investing in a new Indian is going to change the way that you do life. Weekends become sweeter and holidays are planned around your next road trip.

I returned the Dark Horse to Indian’s Melrose Arch dealership. Browsing through the shop is like being in the ultimate man cave. No matter which way I turned, I laid eyes on something I coveted! Damn, there is something about Indian motorcycles that just has so much allure. Take yourself down to Melrose Arch and see for your self. Be warned, it could be life changing.

For more information visit: www.indianmotorcycle.co.za

(Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira).

My name is Dave Cilliers. I consider cars as four wheeled shopping baskets and only worth using as a last resort! For years bikes have been my primary transport. Racing, touring, commuting or just kicking up dust on African tracks, I have owned over 270 motorcycles and ridden millions of kilometres. I am happiest when sharing my passion for motorcycles with like minded people whilst traversing Africa in search of adventure.