Power to the People
The bad boy bagger in Indian’s lineup is getting a few touches for next year, all in the name of democracy.
Leaner, sleeker, meaner. That—in a nutshell—is what the 2019 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse is all about.
Part of a four-strong lineup including the standard Chieftain, Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Classic, the Dark Horse represents the gateway to a younger audience, one that Indian hopes to capture and keep for a lifetime.
“Over the last five years, as we’ve been engaging with both existing Chieftain customers as well as potential customers, asking them for feedback on what it is they like and don’t like about the range,” states Indian Motorcycle Product Manager, Josh Katt. “What we’ve heard repeatedly is this platform is incredibly capable, it handles like a dream, etc. But there was a decent-sized market out there that just didn’t like the classic styling. They described it as beautiful, retro, art deco—but it just wasn’t them.
Photography by Barry Hathaway
“They wanted something that was a little meaner, more aggressive, with harder and sharper lines. We gave that feedback to our design team, and set them a challenge of creating a Dark Horse that keeps the Indian DNA but also something that’s mean and sleek.”
In creating this new Dark Horse, Indian hasn’t strayed too far from their winning formula. It’s primarily a design update, as the 111 c.i (1811cc) air-cooled V-twin and is largely unchanged, as is the chassis with a slightly stiffer Fox shock in place for the ’19 model.
Starting at the front, the fender is still the same open unit launched last year with the brake calipers and discs exposed, although the ’19’s headdress is about 20 percent smaller. The front fairing has been slightly worked over, with more than a hint of Victory Cross Country style about it (which shouldn’t be surprising, considering the same company made both bikes). The fairing wraps around the seven-inch LED headlight, hiding behind it an adjustable windscreen that gives a surprisingly large amount of wind deflection for how high it rises.
“The big thing the designers did to help slim up the fairing was to pull the driving lights and turn signals out,” says Katt. “It takes a lot of the mass out of the fairing, and allowed them to kind of compact the fairing for a slimmer look.”
The seat unit gets a rework, with firmer padding and a sharper look, and the remote lockable bags have been given a once over—stretched and slammed, as Katt says. They’re the same volume as before, with one of the Indian staff (who will remain nameless) saying you can fit a 24 pack of your favorite beverage in each unit. “It’s a nice feature,” he says.
As for the suspension, the rear is an inch lower than in 2018 (think stretched and slammed), and although the engine is essentially the same as before, it gets two major revisions in the addition of the three ride modes of Touring, Standard and Sport, and rear cylinder deactivation—the first time used on an Indian.
The ride modes are something most modern motorcyclists will be familiar with, but are a first for Indian. Touring is the most sedate of the three and is the same as used on the previous three generations of Chieftain. Standard gives you a little more go with a near 1:1 connection from throttle to rear wheel, while Sport gives you the full berries, unleashing everything the 111c.i motor (or the 116 c.i accessorized motor—yum) has got to offer.
The rear-cylinder deactivation is due to complaints of the rider’s right leg cooking to a medium rare at the traffic lights. It’s got nothing to do with emission and everything to do with heat—like how cars have a similar feature—and works by killing the ignition on the rear cylinder once the ambient temperature reaches 59° or higher and the machine is at operating temperature and at standstill.
When it’s active, you’ll get a little light on top of the display, and if you’ve got a real sensitive butt you’ll notice a slight shudder as the ignition kicks back in but for the most part it’s very unobtrusive.
Inside the cockpit, you still get that whopping dashboard with the built-in Indian Ride Command/GPS unit as standard with the analogue speedo and tacho flanking either side, but the stereo system has come in for a proper workover. The audio team separated the tweeters from the mid-range speakers for better clarity, and a new dynamic equalizer now adjusts specific frequencies at different speeds to ensure optimum audio performance.
The base stereo is a 100-watt unit, but if you really want to let everyone know just how shit your taste in music is, you can go the Indian accessory catalogue and jam in the Powerband Audio set up, giving you up to 50 percent more volume than stock. In the Powerband set up, each speaker has its own amp, boosting the equalizer from five to nine bands with additional preset options and loudness control.
The Powerband option works brilliantly, yet I still don’t think you get as good a sound at anything above 40 mph than you do with a Bluetooth helmet set where the speakers are literally pressed against your ears. Plus, I have problems making friends as it is, so having complete strangers subjected to my horrid taste in music is not a good social tool. This didn’t stop one journalist in particular at this launch rolling into the photo/ lunch/ fuel stops or hotel with the Powerband system turned to 11 (it goes there, not just 10). He didn’t make any friends. Nor should he with his taste in music.
Two days of magnificent riding from Anacortes to Winthrop and onto Monroe in Washington State gave me the chance to explore almost every section of the Chieftain Dark Horse’s personality, and like seeing an old friend, I was glad to see everything I liked about the Chieftain when I last rode one in 2016 was still there.
The engine has plenty of torque, but that fact alone is not all that surprising. This is a motorcycle designed for big, comfy miles, and having such a capable engine beneath you should be a given. What is a nice surprise was the three modes gave genuine performance differences to the ride. I spent the majority of my time in Sport, simply because I liked the immediacy to the power delivery, but when I got lazy in the second half of day two, I switched it to the lowest setting of Touring and never wanted more. Throttle response in all three modes is excellent offering simple, unobtrusive delivery of torque.
But if you’re gonna splash that cash and make it rain like Friday night in da cluurrb, you owe it to yourself fit the 116-cubic inch, Stage 3 big bore kit. There’s nothing like more cubes when it comes to cursing, and the 116 doesn’t disappoint. There’s a claimed 20 percent more power from the Stage 3 unit, and I’d believe it because the Dark Horse fitted with the Stage 3 was quickly a favorite among even the most cynical of journo’s present.
The Stage 3 still gives you the three riding modes, however, the throttle response becomes a fair bit harsher in Sport mode, where the full power is unleashed. It’s easy to get used to, and if you fit a Stage 3 to your Dark Horse this won’t be a problem at all as you feed wave after wave or Indian horse (horsepower, not an actual horse, man) to its death via the Dunlop Elite rubber which, it must be said, could be better in the wet weather handling stakes.
Dry weather grip with the Dunlops was fine, but we encountered much of that crappy, sleety light rain that doesn’t really get you wet, but just makes everything greasy. The tires still gripped, but didn’t inspire much confidence in iffy conditions.
It’s easy to forget you’re riding a bike north of 700 pounds because the Dark Horse holds that girth remarkably well. It is low to the ground, mind you, and you’ll go scraping the floor boards easily if you go throwing it into corners with the kind of abandon afforded by lighter bikes. Progressive steering is the name of the game, and once in the corner and on line the Dark Horse tracked beautifully, especially in the dry.
Braking force is not great, but good. There’s plenty to haul you up but there’s not a great deal of feel at the front brake lever. Conversely, there’s a decent amount of halting force from the rear, but that seems to be the case for baggers in general, not just the Dark Horse. A better front-brake setup would be more befitting of a motorcycle costing some $26,000-plus.
My biggest gripe with cruisers is always, always the way the seat curves my lower spine. I’ve got a crap back with busted discs and slouching is my worst enemy (I use a stand-up desk as a result), but the Dark Horse’s re-profiled pew gave me two whole days of pain free cruising—something I’ve not said for many a big bike. The ride position is excellent for a taller rider, as you have plenty of room on the floorboards to move around and keep the comfort level high.
On that comfort topic, I rode most of the second half of day one with the Mid-Rise Handlebar Kit fitted, where the rider’s arms are stretched in line with the top of the dash. For a taller guy like me, the Mid-Ride kit was an absolute winner, and allowed me to hold myself up a touch more and keep the weight off my lower back. It also opened my chest up for better cooling and made me look like a badass, so it was a win for everyone.
On a serious note my two days of riding through the Pacific Northwest on the 2019 Dark Hose was a genuinely brilliant experience. This is a bike that works exceptionally well for its intended purpose, and if Indian puts better brakes and tires on the Dark Horse, it’ll be very hard to beat in the bagger stakes. The engine is a sweet little number (even better in 116 c.i guise), comfort is good, cornering stability and turn in is very good for a bike this size and weight, and the styling changes make for a bike more appealing to the younger set, which is probably guys my age (36) and up to 50.
Indian’s done a good job on the Dark Horse, but as the crew at Polaris tells, me, this is only the beginning.CN
||2019 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse ($25,999)
|Bore x stroke:
||101mm x 113mm
||Electronic fuel injection system.
||Telescopic fork, 46mm diameter, 4.7 in. travel
||Single shock 4.5 in. travel, air adjustable
||Dual 300mm floating rotor with four-piston calipers, ABS
||Single 300mm floating rotor with 2-piston caliper, ABS
||Dunlop American Elite 130/60B19 61H
||Cast 19 x 3.5-in. with tire pressure monitoring
||Dunlop Elite 3 180/60R16 80H
||Cast 16 x 5.0-in. with tire pressure monitoring
|Weigh (Dry, claimed)t: