2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse Review: 21st Century Bagger
After years in the wilderness, Indian Motorcycle re-established its bona fides for period authenticity with the Indian Chieftain and Roadmaster lines. Indian stretched into the contemporary sporting cruiser realm with the Scout line and the FTR 1200.
With the release of the 2020 Indian Challenger three-motorcycle lineup, Indian is further extending into modernity with a performance-oriented bagger. We took a close look at the Challenger, and then we went on an extended ride along the California coast. Here’s what we found out.
1. There are three flavors of 2020 Indian Challenger—standard, Dark Horse, and Limited. The Dark Horse and Limited get a Bosch IMU with added safety features we will delve into soon, and a more sophisticated infotainment system. The Limited has higher-end finishes, highway bars, and speakers in the saddlebags.
2. The 2020 Indian Challenger is powered by an all-new PowerPlus motor that has modern architecture and performance. We did a rundown on the PowerPlus motor a week ago, so there’s no need to repeat ourselves. The quickstart guide is that it’s a liquid-cooled, oversquare, 108 cubic inch, 60-degree V-twin that pumps out 122 horsepower at 5500 rpm and a muscular 128 ft/lbs of torque at 3800 rpm. Instead of pushrods, the PowerPlus gets a SOHC valvetrain with four valves in each cylinder head.
3. The frame is a cast aluminum design, with roots in the Victory Ignition Concept motorcycle from 2015. Just as the PowerPlus motor recalls Victory—by no means a bad thing—so, too, does the chassis. The massive downtubes both protect and, to some extent, camouflage the radiator, while also adding undeniable rigidity to the chassis. Using technology from the under-appreciated, and subsequently defunct, Victory brand is a smart move by Polaris. It allows the expansion of the Indian name onto a quality modern platform without starting from scratch. Victory’s biggest problem was marketing, not technology or performance. I get a sense that Indian put a huge Indian headdress logo on the tank to leave no doubt exactly what brand motorcycle it is.
4. With the Chieftains doing business as touring motorcycles with fork-mounted fairings, the 2020 Indian Challenger opens shop as a bagger with a frame-mounted fairing. By lightening up the steering by taking the weight off the directing components and moving it to the frame, and matching it with a performance-oriented motor, the Indian Challenger takes its place as the sporting choice for touring in the Indian line.
5. The frame-mounted fairing also provides an unmoving mounting point for features such as the infotainment system (TFT screen and dual speakers), analog-style speedometer and tachometer, and dual storage boxes. It sounds like quite a bit, but it actually is a very clean dash. While the Indian Chieftains are ornate, the Challenger is sleek and uncluttered.
6. Without any doubt, the PowerPlus motor is a runner. There is no shortage of power on the 2020 Indian Challenger. It speeds right up to 100 mph effortlessly, which is especially welcome on steep hills on which various mobile roadblocks need to be dispensed. With 128 ft/lbs of torque and a motor that is much more willing to rev than the Indian’s Thunder Stroke powerplants in the Chieftains, the Challenger gives you the confidence on the open highway that you can put the motorcycle where you need it to be.
7. Indian gives you three modes for the PowerPlus engine. As expected, you get Sport, Standard, and Rain. Unless you really want a relaxed ride, the Sport mode is fine. Definitely, if water is falling from the sky, click it into Rain. The only downside is that Indian put the mode selection in the infotainment system, rather than easily accessible from a button on the handlebar. That discourages switching modes as needed on the fly.
8. Traction control is part of the IMU package on the 2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse. I never felt it engage, though it may simply be doing its job entirely transparently. This is a feature you want, just in case.
9. Fueling is flawless, and the power builds in an aggressively predictable manner. You’ll never feel a jerking or hesitation unless you have made an abysmal choice in gear selection and let the revs drop too much.
10. The six-speed transmission shifts smoothly, though the Polaris heel-toe shifter phobia remains in effect. I’m a big fan of heel-toe shifters on big touring motorcycles, though Indian does not agree. Fortunately, Indian does offer heel shifting as an option. I haven’t tried it, but it’s not the most elegant setup. It is just something you have to accept—Indian does not prefer heel-toe shifting. Even with the smooth-shifting, you will probably want boots with left toe protection.
11. Lots of horsepower requires plenty of braking force—the 2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse has it. The 19-inch front wheel gets a pair of 320mm discs, along with radially mounted four-piston Brembo calipers—not bad for a touring cruiser. The front brakes provide plenty of deceleration, though don’t overlook the 290mm disc on the rear wheel. I found myself preferring the rear brake, as it was working on a 180mm rear tire and slowed down the Challenger confidently and predictably. I like well-designed linked braking systems, and the Challenger keeps the braking operation of the wheels separate. Fortunately, the lever and pedal work great, as well as offering good feel, so it is not an issue.
12. ABS is standard, with the Bosch IMU offering up situational awareness to the braking system. The IMU knows when you’re going into a corner, and preps itself for the potential of loss of traction while braking. This isn’t something I was able to test, but I like knowing it’s there in case it is needed. I will have to rely on my faith in Indian, Bosch, and Brembo when it comes to the actual operation should a problem arise. Of course, riding to avoid problems is always the best policy.
13. Although the suspension is nothing special—only spring-preload for the Fox shock is adjustable—Indian got it right. Suspension travel is generous, so that helps keep things smooth, especially with a passenger. Sure, we would like to see semi-active electronic suspension on premium touring cruisers—and we will someday—but that will have to wait. In the meantime, even without any damping adjustments, there is nothing about the Challenger suspension that invites complaints. It sucks up road irregularities, and delivers a plush ride without wallowing in corners—high-speed or low.
14. The cast aluminum frame and resulting geometry make for an outstanding handling big bagger. The 2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse offers absolute confidence at almost any speed. Should you choose to go through a big sweeping turn with the speedometer showing triple-digits, the Challenger obliges without complaint.
15. Turn-in requires deliberate action, yet the stability is tempered with a sense of agility. The Challenger is a big motorcycle weighing in at 831 pounds with the six-gallon tank filled. Yet, thanks to an aggressive 25 degrees of rake and 19-inch front tire, the Challenger is a willing co-conspirator when it comes time to change direction.
16. I rode it on the impossibly tight Nacimiento-Fergusson Road that escapes the California coast from Cabrillo Highway, and excessive muscle was not needed. The Challenger goes where it is told with little complaint, and there is no sense of flex from the beefy inverted fork. Amazingly, that agility does nothing to reduce straight-line stability and confidence.
17. The Challenger’s purpose-built Metzeler Cruistec tires are flawless. They do all that they’re asked, and I was putting some serious questions to them in the twisties. The Challenger has an impressive amount of cornering clearance, so the tires get more testing than they might on other baggers. High speed runs on the freeway result in a drama-free ride, and rain grooves didn’t create any stability issues. There was nary an untoward moment from the Metzelers, though I didn’t have a chance to test them in inclement weather.
18. Ergonomics are spot-on, so the 2020 Indian Challenger encourages the rider to add a sporting dimension to the ride. Great power and handling are a terrible thing to waste, and the Challenger’s ergonomics make sure that you can wick it up comfortably, should the desire arise. The grips are a long way from the front end, yet there’s still enough feel to have cornering confidence, even when pushing the envelope a bit. The upright triangle doesn’t require any unnatural stretching of my 5’ 10” frame, and the 26.5-inch seat height welcomes almost everyone. While the seat initially feels austere, it has no problem keeping the rider content for over 100 miles between stops.
19. The frame-mounting fairing delivers in every category. There is plenty of wind protection, and the rider can customize the experience. In addition to a powered windshield with a three-inch range, there are also wind deflectors on the side of the fairing. I liked the windshield up on the freeway; it didn’t get in my main sightline as it quieted things down, especially during high-speed runs. In canyons and in town, I dropped it down to enjoy the airflow and view. The deflectors make less of a difference, but they are there for the persnickety rider. If you are an outlier, difference windscreens are available.
20. In brutal wind conditions, the Challenger holds its own. I unexpectedly rode into winds so severe that the sparked a brush fire and closed U.S. Route 101. With the CHP stopping traffic, I rode through the gusting winds twice. Although I was hit pretty hard by the crosswinds, the Challenger was remarkably unperturbed. I was certainly happy that I was riding a motorcycle with a frame-mounted fairing, rather than one mounted to the steering system.
21. The sound system is quite good. I ride with a full-face helmet, so my appreciation of external speakers is restricted. Still, I could hear the music and enjoy it. If you need it to be louder, you can either upgrade to the Challenger Limited, or get the PowerBand Audio or PowerBand Audio Plus options. The PowerBand Audio options claim to be 50 percent louder than stock due to amps integrated into the speakers, along with a nine-band equalizer (stock is five-band). The Plus option adds saddlebag speakers.
22. The Challenger’s Ride Command navigation system needs improvement. Motorcycle navigation systems lag behind Waze and Google Maps. Twice, Ride Command unilaterally decided to route me back to the beginning of my ride, rather than the destination. One of those goofs included sending me down a dirt road for a couple of miles. Fortunately, it was a good quality road that the Challenger handled nicely. Still, until the Ride Command software improves drastically, I wouldn’t depend on it. On the upside, the seven-inch TFT screen looks good. On the downside, it didn’t like my Joe Rocket gloves much, requiring excessive pressure to acknowledge my presence. Another positive—Bluetooth pairing was effortless. If you want more control over your playlists, hook your phone up to the USB port.
23. The saddlebags hold a total of over 18 gallons and are easy to use. They are top-loading and lockable, with push-button opening. The cargo space is useable, and comfortably accommodates a laptop and keep everything dry.
24. If you’re not addicted to tradition, the 2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse makes for a compelling bagger. There are plenty of features that make the Challenger a better motorcycle, yet causes pause for some—liquid cooling, overhead cam, oversquare configuration, power modes, IMU, aluminum frame, inverted fork, and minimalist styling. For those not wedded to the past, or are willing to take a peek into the 21st century, the 2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse is a rider’s bagger.
Action photography by Barry Hathaway
- Helmet: Arai Defiant-X
- Communications: Sena 10S
- Jacket: Joe Rocket Vintage Rocket
- Back protection: Alpinestars Nucleon KR-Celli
- Gloves: Joe Rocket Classic and Pro Street
- Jeans: Cortech The Primary
- Boots: Highway 21 Low Primary Engineer
2020 Challenger Dark Horse Specs
- Type: 60-degree V-twin
- Displacement: 108ci (1768cc)
- Bore x stroke: 4.252” x 3.799” (108 x 96.5mm)
- Maximum power: 122 horsepower @ 5500 rpm
- Maximum torque: 128 ft/lbs @ 3800 rpm
- Redline: 6500 rpm
- Compression ratio: 11:1
- Valvetrain: SOHC, 4vpc
- Fueling: EFI w/ 52mm dual-bore throttle bodies
- Cooling: Liquid
- Lubrication: Semi-dry sump
- Transmission: 6-speed w/ overdrive
- Clutch: Assist
- Primary drive: Gear
- Final drive: Belt
- Frame: Cast aluminum
- Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable 43mm fork; 5.1 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Spring-preload adjustable Fox shock; 4.5 inches
- Wheels: Cast aluminum
- Front: 19 x 3.5
- Rear: 16 x 5.0
- Tires: Metzeler Cruisetec
- Front: 130/50 x 19
- Rear: 180/60 x 16
- Front brakes: 320mm floating discs w/ radially mounted Brembo 4-piston caliper
- Rear brake: 290mm floating disc w/ 2-piston caliper
- ABS: Standard
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 65.7 inches
- Rake: 25 degrees
- Trail: 5.9 inches
- Seat height: 26.5 inches
- Fuel capacity: 6 gallons
- Curb weight: 831 pounds
2020 INDIAN CHALLENGER DARK HORSE PRICES and COLORS
- Thunder Black Smoke: $27,499 MSRP
- Sandstone Smoke; White Smoke: $28,249 MSRP
2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse – Photo Gallery