First Ride Review : 2017 Indian Chieftain Limited And Chieftain Elite

A little bit goes a long way

Indian Motorcycle took notice of what was going on in the custom bagger world, implemented a few changes to the venerable Chieftain model, and came away with a couple of new models that are a breath of crisp air. That air is filled with an aggressive, contemporary stance backed by throaty exhaust notes that let everyone take notice you are rolling down the boulevard and owning it.

Honestly I was a bit dubious when I got wind of these "new" models a while back. I've heard and seen it before from all the motorcycle manufacturers. "We've made a few changes to the platform and now we have some new models." Usually one is hard-pressed to even notice the "change" with said new models apart from some chrome bits and some pinstriping.

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Indian Chieftain Elite (shown with Mid-Rise handlebars)

Photo: Ed Subias

My doubts were instantly thrown out the window when I got the opportunity to view the new Indian Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite. My jaw was slightly agape actually; never had I seen such a big alteration in the looks of a motorcycle with such little changes. Indian trimmed down the iconic valanced front fender, swapped out the 16-inch front wheel for a 10-spoke contrast-cut 19-incher, and upgraded to dual 300mm floating brake rotors controlled by four-piston calipers.

The result was a completely different look for the Chieftain and two new models, the Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite

The first thought that popped into my head was, "This is not my father's Chieftain." The Indian Brass were right when they mentioned that these two models were "a bold evolution of the Chieftain line."

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The Chieftain Limited retains the Chieftain's great low-speed agility.

Photo: Romero Garcia

One glance at the Chieftain Elite and your visual senses will go into overload as its Fireglow Red Candy coat will make your pupils dance as the light reverberates off the amazing finish. Each of the limited-edition (only 350 produced) Elites are hand-painted in a process that takes more than 25 hours for each bike. Indian is serious about its future offerings in custom paint, enough so that it purchased a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Spearfish, South Dakota. The Elite is the first fruit of labor for the very talented team in that facility. Since the paint scheme is so labor-intensive, each bike will be just a little bit different, making for a truly custom piece of rolling art.

Okay, Indian has the "show" part down for these new Chieftain models, but how do they "go"?

The Chieftain platform is known for its stable handing and torquey engines that are great for all-around riding. These models adhere to those traits with a little twist. The new 19-inch wheel and low-profile tire are basically the same height and width of its 16-inch predecessors, but steering felt noticeably lighter to me. This was apparent at low-speed, around-town riding and on initial turn-in on twisty back roads at spirited speeds. Very cool, great looks and an improved handling feel. The overall handling of both machines was typical Chieftain. They are a lot more maneuverable than they look and weigh. Low-speed flickability and solid-as-a-rock high-speed steadiness create a perfect balance for a go-anywhere, do-it-all bagger.

The Thunder Stroke 111 V-twin engine featuring 119 pound-feet of torque is unchanged for integration into these new models, which is not a bad thing. The Thunder Stroke is a great powerplant that is equally as comfortable chugging along as it is hard on the throttle with plenty of pull in all situations. In short, it's an ideal touring engine.

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The Chieftain Elite is quite the looker with its Fireglow Red Candy paint.

Barry Hathaway

We had the chance to hop on an Elite with some Indian-branded hop-up items available through Indian dealers. These parts were composed of a Stage 1 Exhaust, Thunder Stroke High Flow Air Cleaner, and Stage 2 Performance Cams. Indian claims a 10-percent horsepower increase and a 7-percent torque increase. I felt these numbers were very conservative as both felt like they were quite a bit more as I opened up the throttle and let it rip. These items were a blast to try and I was saddened to get off the bike. I was giggling like a child as I repeatedly whacked the throttle to hear the authoritative hearty roar of the 111 engine. I couldn't get enough of it. Although throttle action was not quite as crispy as stock, I felt the benefits far outweighed this slight glitch.

I also tried an Elite with some Indian Motorcycle accessory Mid-Rise handlebars. The rise and bed were of the mini-ape type of bars. They were great around town and and I felt like the king of the streets. It was a different story after some extend highway runs. My arms felt a bit more tired and sore than the stock offerings. I preferred the stock setup for all-around riding as they were more comfortable for my body.

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The Indian Chieftain Limited

Photo: Indian Motorcycle

Staying with ergonomics on the Limited and Elite, I thought both were actually a bit more comfortable than the basic Chieftain. This was mainly due to the sleeker saddle. A lower profile and being trimmed down gave me a little bit more room while still offering plenty of padding for all-day highway comfort.

Both bikes are lacking something in the foot control department that I actually think is a benefit. The absence of a heel-toe shifter unit is a saving grace for my size 12 feet. With just a traditional toe shifter, my boat-size boots have plenty of room to move around on the floorboards. With a heel-toe unit found on most touring bikes, my left foot is basically trapped into one wedged-in position on the floorboard. Not so with this setup. I think it would also benefit those with less Yeti-esque feet as they will have a plethora of ways to take advantage of the gracious space of the floorboards.

The Elite model offers a 200-watt audio system that feature 100-watt speakers integrated into the saddlebags and fairing with Bluetooth connectivity and smartphone-compatible input.

This system does nothing short of rock. After a quick and painless syncing to my smartphone, I cranked up some Ted Nugent and jammed down the highway. Most sound systems are barely audible at speeds about 60-ish mph. Not so with this system; I could swear that Uncle Ted was sitting on my back fender strumming out the thundering guitar riffs to the song "Great While Buffalo" as I hovered near illegal speeds. Thanks Indian!

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Here's the "little bit that goes a long way." Trimmed-down valance fender, 10-spoke contrast-cut 19-inch wheel, and dual 300mm rotors with four-piston calipers. This changes the entire look of the Chieftain into a much more custom, contemporary, and aggressive demeanor.

Photo: Indian Motorcycle

Both the Limited and Elite are outfitted with premium touring amenities such as antilock brakes, remote locking saddlebags, power-adjustable windshield, chrome highway bars, and Indian's Ride Command infotainment system. This system features an easy-to-view 7-inch monitor, AM/FM stereo, GPS, Bluetooth and smartphone connectivity, and is all easily controlled while wearing gloves. The Elite gets an upgraded Pathfinder LED headlight and driving lights, flare windshield, the previously mentioned 200-watt sound system, and billet floorboards.

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Indian Chieftain Limited

Photo: Romero Garcia

So what does this all mean? Besides the obvious jab at the vast Harley-Davidson Street Glide market, it shows that this is just the beginning for a re-focused Polaris and Indian Motorcycle company. The Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite raise the bar in the premium touring bike wars and is a bold evolution for Indian motorcycles in general. We can't wait to see what the Massachusetts company has coming out next.

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The Chieftain limited in Thunder Black paint.

Photo: Indian Motorcycle

Specifications
Price $24,499 Limited; $31,499 Elite
Colors Thunder Black (Limited); Fireglow Red Candy (Elite)
Engine 1,811cc, air-cooled, 49° V-twin
Transmission 6-speed/belt
Claimed Torque 119.2 lb.-ft.
Frame Aluminum double-cradle
Front Suspension Indian 46mm fork; 4.7-in. travel
Rear Suspension Indian shock w/ adjustable air preload; 4.5-in. travel
Front Brake Indian four-piston calipers, 300mm discs w/ ABS
Rear Brake Indian two-piston caliper, 300mm disc w/ ABS
Wheelbase 65.7 in.
Seat Height 26.0 in.
Fuel Capacity 5.5 gal.
Claimed Weight 817 lb. dry

More info at: indianmotorcycle.com

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The integrated speakers of the Elite's 200-watt sound system. This system rocks!

Photo: Indian Motorcycles

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Both the Elite and Limited feature lower-profile and trimmed-down saddles.

Photo: Indian Motorcycles

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The Elite's Fireglow Red Candy paint has to be seen in person.

Photo: Ed Subias

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The spacious and comfortable floorboards offer plenty of foot positions.

Photo: Indian Motorcycles

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The paint on the Elite really is as "custom" as it gets with each of the 350 produced being painted by hand.

Photo: Indian Motorcycle

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Both the new Chieftain models are as at home in urban environments as they are on the open highway.

Photo: Barry Hathaway

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The Chieftain in Thunder Black.

Photo: Indian Motorcycle