2017 Indian Chieftain Elite and Chieftain Limited Reviews | Two New Baggers From Indian
Changing up what we expect from Indian, the Minnesota-based brand makes a move into the custom bagger market with the new 2017 Indian Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite. Keeping with Indian’s strategy of mildly tweaking machines to create new models, these two new Chieftains are very slightly different from other Indian Chieftains, but the differences are significant.The big change, as Indian is not shy to point out, is up front. For the first time, a big-inch Indian comes with a 19-inch front wheel. That alone with the steering-mounted fairing and hard bags is enough to let you know these motorcycles are aimed at the bagger crowd.
The big shocker, though, it that these are the first Thunder Stroke 111 bikes with an open front wheel—yes, the signature full valanced front fender is gone, and replaced with an abbreviated piece.The new front end gives the 800+ pound bike a much lighter look, as well as showing off the 19-inch contrast-cut wheels. Oh, and Indian will remind you that there were open-fender Indians in the 1920s and ’30s, so they have not fully abandoned tradition.The Indian Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite are very similar bikes, though they do have a $7000 price tag gap.The top-end Elite gets an amazing paint job, which is performed by hand using high-end candy paint. Available only in Fireglow Red Candy, it has staggeringly intricate marble-style accents. Again, these are hand done, so the “marbling” is different on every single Elite. The pinstriping is also done by hand, and 25 man-hours are put into the entire process. While it looks good in photos, the results are something that truly needs to be seen in the sunlight.Other Elite-specific features include LED headlights and driving lights, a flared windshield, four billet floorboards, and a cranking 200-watt audio system. Take those extra features away—along with the exclusivity of having a bike with a production run of 350 examples—and you still have the very impressive Chieftain Limited.Despite replacing the 16-inch front wheel found on the standard Chieftain and Chieftain Dark Horse with a 19-inch front wheel, the handling doesn’t change all that much. The 19-inch Dunlop tire has the same 130mm width as the 16-incher, and the lower profile of the 19-inch tire diminishes the height increase. The rear 180 is the same across the Chieftains.Riding the 2017 Indian Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite is not particularly revelatory. Despite the larger front wheel, the two bikes are very much in the Chieftain, and Indian, mold. Two things stand out—stable handling and a controllable torquey motor.Even with the 19-inch front wheel, the tire footprint is generous, so the Limited and Elite feel completely confident as touring motorcycles. Whether you’re up in the twisties in the mountains or eating up miles on the open highway, the Indians always feel securely planted.Cornering is equally uneventful, as there is neither nervousness nor a hint of push. The Chieftains have a steeper rake than the Chief Vintage bagger (by four degrees), so they are as agile as you’re going to get from motorcycles that are is about a half-ton with a rider aboard and a 5.5-gallon fuel tank filled.Around town, the larger-diameter front wheel may feel like it gives the bike a bit of a lighter feel, partly due to the lower profile of the tire. I didn’t ride it back-to-back with a 16-inch Chieftain, but any difference is not earth shattering. As the Limited and Elite are more city-oriented than the other Chieftains, this makes sense. Certainly, both bikes are fun to ride in urban settings with the big motor doing its job effortlessly.The Power Stroke 111 has never been a fast revving engine, and it is soft off-idle. I think that’s perfect, as the power delivery makes the brutish motor easy to use and fully predictable. When you are on a big-inch urban tourer, the last things you want are surprises. Sure, it could rev faster and accelerate harder, but the power on tap is so generous that you never feel constrained by a passenger, luggage, or the steepest grades.Even though the focus is on urban bagger cool, the Indian Chieftain Limited and Elite are fully ready to tour. They have the full Indian infotainment system, with GPS, and customizable display. Cruise control is standard and intuitive to operate. Give the Elite a few extra points for the flared windscreen that adds just a bit more airflow protection when cruising at high speeds.I’ll make my standard complaint that although the Indian Chieftain Limited and Elite are equipped with floorboards, the gear-shifting mechanism is toe-shift only. I’m a big fan of heel-toe shifting on big tourers with ’boards, and I was constantly trying to upshift with my heel, to no avail. Indian says the toe-shift only design leaves more room for you to adjust your feet on the floorboards on long rides—I can’t dispute that, but I still miss using my heel during acceleration.The Elite has a sound system with additional speakers and amplification compared to the Limited, so you can hear it over the loudest road noise, as well as shatter windows when cruising down the boulevard. The Limited is no slacker when it comes to sound, unless you’re comparing it to the Elite or some wild custom installation.The suspension on the Chieftain Limited and Elite are a perfect match of plush action and nicely moderated damping. The motorcycles don’t wallow in turns, yet they still offer a deluxe ride on decaying urban roads, as well as truck-abused super slabs.When you crank it up to higher speeds, the ABS-equipped triple-disc brakes are excellent. Easily moderated at lower velocities, they stand ready to slow down the Chieftains quickly when necessary.Although the 2017 Indian Chieftain Elite and Chieftain Limited don’t seem like world-changing motorcycles due to their close kinship with existing Chieftains, they are a big deal. The styling takes Indian where it hasn’t been in 80 years, and it is aggressively moving into the growing custom urban bagger market. Indian didn’t compromise what makes the Chieftain line great, and these two new models simply give buyers a bit more to think about.Photography by Félix Romero García and Barry HathawayRIDING STYLE
Helmet: Arai Defiant Jolly Roger 2 Frost w/ Pro Shade System
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.