Just two years after Polaris Industries acquired the brand in 2011, with rightful fanfare Indian Motorcycles launched an all-new line of functional and stylish heavyweight V-twin cruisers and baggers.
Read our Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special vs Indian Chieftain Dark Horse vs Moto Guzzi MGX-21 bagger comparison review
Consensus was that the engineering and design teams had nailed it–the massive Thunder Stroke 111 engine with its heavy finning, parallel pushrod tubes and flathead-like downward-facing exhaust was a gorgeous interpretation of Indian V-twin tradition, and the teardrop gas tank and Art Deco valenced fenders on the bikes were a hit with enthusiasts. With 104 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheel the Thunder Stroke 111 was the powermeister until recently, too, and is still within 5 percent of the regular production leader.
Six model years later the Thunder Stroke Indians–Chief, Springfield, Chieftain and Roadmaster–have established themselves as solid alternatives to the competition, with bucket-loads of satisfying performance, comfort and style. On that last point, recently some Indian customers–Chieftain bagger fans in particular–have asked for an alternative to the bike’s traditional heavy-fendered look, something a bit leaner and more aggressive. Indian’s initial response was a larger 19-inch contrast-cut front wheel and slim open fender on the 2017 Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite.
They were enthusiastically received, so for 2019 Indian has pushed the envelope further by trimming and slimming the fairing and “slamming” the saddlebags on the new Chieftain, Chieftain Dark Horse and Chieftain Limited. The original fairing, bags and overflowing fenders return on the Chieftain Classic, but those sharper lines and harder edges on the restyled models give them a lighter, more performance-oriented appearance without sacrificing any luggage capacity or wind protection.
Check out our 2019 Indian Chieftain lineup first look review
The fresh look is completed by full LED lighting, new fork guards and attractive badging. A sleek new Rogue gunfighter seat and lower ride height in back also give the bikes a more low-slung appearance.
One of the Chieftain’s strong suits has been its rear suspension, which we’ve found compliant and comfortable for cruising with just enough tension for sportier riding. A new air shock design with different springs and more damping on the restyled 2019 models has an inch of additional sag to lower ride height without reducing the four inches of suspension travel. Between it and the thinner seat the rider definitely feels more bump shock in back, but overall the ride is still quite plush for a bagger, and the rear is now in better balance with the nicely dialed-in cartridge fork for brisk riding. And if you prefer the former shock, Indian says new and old are interchangeable.
Engine or ride modes are all the rage these days despite being superfluous on a lot of bikes, but on the 2019 Chieftains new Sport, Standard and Tour modes actually make sense, especially the latter two. All three provide full power, but Tour softens throttle response enough to make two-up riding a smoother experience for passengers (think fewer helmet bonks, or “turtle kisses”), important now that Indian has remapped the fuel injection to eliminate the lag off idle we’ve complained about in the past. Standard mode delivers brisk, crisp response without any abruptness and is where solo riders will likely spend most of their time. Sport notches up the response to instantaneous, not an improvement over Standard in my book but some may find it entertaining.
Excessive engine heat has been at least partly addressed for 2019 with Rear Cylinder Deactivation (RCD), which shuts off the rear cylinder in the big air-cooled, 1,811cc OHV V-twin at idle when it gets up to temperature and it’s warmer than 59 degrees outside. Harley has used a similar system for years, and it’s a godsend in slow-moving or stopped traffic. On the Indians the cylinder instantly reactivates when throttle is applied, so it’s virtually undetectable–in fact the Chieftain actually idles smoother with it on.
The new riding modes and RCD are activated via the Ride Command infotainment system, which has been updated with a more intuitive customization menu for the 7-inch touchscreen display. Turn-by-turn navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and scads of vehicle and trip info are all right at your fingertips. This year the bike’s 100-watt audio system also gets new speakers in the fairing and a customizable dynamic equalizer to compensate for road, wind and engine noise.
Combine these nice visual and audio features with keyless ignition, remote saddlebag locking, cruise control, tire pressure monitoring, highway bars and an electric windscreen, and the result is a quick, comfortable and convenient touring cruiser with a satisfying rumble and gobs of getaway power at your command.
I liked the Chieftain Limited well enough, in fact, that following its press introduction ride around Washington’s Cascade Loop, I strapped a waterproof duffel on the back and rode it more than 1,700 miles home to Southern California via the majestic Olympic Peninsula. Through driving rain in Oregon and over the winding coastal roads of the Redwood Highway in Northern California, the bike never missed a beat, and it was comfortable enough that even on the last 650-mile day I really only stopped for fuel and a few photos.
Excellent passing power without any energy-sapping vibes, smooth shifting through its six gears, confidence-inspiring ABS brakes and a highly functional fairing and windscreen contribute greatly to the Chieftain Limited’s touring aptitude. Generous cornering clearance and the sportier new suspension let you hustle the 827-pound fully-fueled bike around corners quite briskly, and despite its bar-mounted fairing it steers effortlessly and feels stable and planted in all but heavy crosswinds, which tend to waggle the handlebar a bit. Those long floorboards let you stretch your legs out or tuck your heels underneath you, a huge plus, and the new Rogue seat is well-shaped and provides some lumbar support, though longer-legged riders may wish they could scoot back farther.
I enjoyed mostly cooler weather on my ride, and when it did warm into the 90s in Southern Oregon the riding was primarily highway, so I never noticed much engine heat. This has mostly been a problem on the Roadmaster, with its fairing lowers that route the wind around your legs and the engine. So far even around town heat hasn’t been a real issue on the Chieftain, but I’ll get it out in some traffic on our next warm day and post an addendum to this story down the road.
Indian thoughtfully made the streamlined closeout panels between the saddlebags and rear fender easily removable, which exposes the saddlebag mounts in between and simplifies strapping luggage on the back. The watertight saddlebags are spacious enough for solo multi-day rides and lock with a key or remotely from the ignition fob or bike center console; a keyed steering lock is also provided.
Helmet: Shoei Neotec 2
Jacket: Joe Rocket Alter Ego 4.1
Pants: Olympia AirGlide
Boots: Tourmaster Epic Air
That new LED headlight is a powerful companion at night, and the mirrors are quite functional as well. Though it’s hard to keep from twisting the Chieftain’s throttle to reap its strong surge of torque and rumbling exhaust note, a restrained right wrist will net more than 40 mpg from the 5.5-gallon tank of premium, for a nice range of more than 220 miles. Two-up riders will also appreciate its generous 558-pound load capacity and long list of useful accessories like enhanced audio and performance packages, top trunk, fairing lowers and custom fit options like seats and handlebars.
While Indian has bowed somewhat to recent custom trends with that 19-inch front wheel vs. the former 16 and slamming this and that, if you ask me the new Chieftains look fantastic, and in the process Indian hasn’t sacrificed any of the handling, comfort and convenience that has made them such wonderfully long-legged baggers. When I jumped on the Limited this morning for the short ride to work, all I could think of was heading north instead and taking it to the limit….
Check out Rider’s Guide to New/Updated Street Motorcycles for 2019
2019 Indian Chieftain Limited Specs
Base Price: $25,999
Price as Tested: $26,749 (Ruby Metallic color)
Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles
Type: Air-cooled, transverse 49-degree V-twin
Displacement: 1,811cc (111ci)
Bore x Stroke: 101.0 x 113.0mm
Compression Ratio: 9.5:1
Valve Train: OHV, 2 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: NA (self-adjusting)
Fuel Delivery: Electronic fuel injection
Lubrication System: Semi-wet sump, 5.5-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Belt
Charging Output: 812 watts max.
Battery: 12V 18AH
Frame: Modular aluminum backbone w/ cast aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 65.7 in.
Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/5.9 in.
Seat Height: 25.6 in.
Suspension, Front: 46mm stanchions, no adj., 4.7-in. travel
Rear: Single shock, air-adj. preload, 4.5-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 300mm discs w/ 4-piston opposed calipers & ABS
Rear: Single 300mm disc w/ 2-piston pin-slide caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 19 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.00 x 16 in.
Tires, Front: 130/90-H19
Wet Weight: 827 lbs.
Load Capacity: 558 lbs.
GVWR: 1,385 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 5.5 gals., last 1.0 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 PON min. (low/avg/high) 32.8/40.5/44.0
Estimated Range: 223 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 2,300
Check it out….. they got rid of that ugly heavy front fender (though I respect it was retro, it just needs to stay in the museum) and those goofy bags that looked like some aftermarket almost fits all design.
Still needs a bit more work on that big plastic slab below the rider seat. Looks like a 1980 Gold Wing there.
Indian is finally moving the styling forward and from the review sounds like a good long distance performer. I’m interested now.
I like the new fairing, though I have no use for one. I like the wheels and front fender much better too. I’ll take the old rear bags all day, everyday. The tops flowed with the fender and the bottoms were flat. I could live with these new flat tops, but that swoopy bottom edge has got to go. They’re as dumb as HD’s droopy ones. Don’t buyers of these things actually pack bags and go places?
*Correction: Indian Motorcycles offers a TWO YEAR unlimited mileage WARRANTY with all new Indian Motorcycles. -Indian Motorcycles of Wichita
19 inch front wheel or 16 inch front wheel. The specs don’t match the article.
How can you in good conscious write this article and not mention that this bike is visibly just a love child of a Victory Cross Country and Street Glide? Indian did the worst thing possible and simple ripped off their competitors bike.
Mmm. Don’t see the comparison to the Vic, although I do see some to the Street Glide. But I think it’s better looking then either…
The rear bags look like Harley’s.
The gas tank is too small.
The fairing needs to be mounted to the frame, not the handlebars.
Indian needs to come out with a “Vision” type motorcycle which in my opinion was the best riding/handling motorcycle Polaris ever developed.
Yep, I own a 2011 Vision and it now has 92,000 miles on it traveling through 49 states and 8 Canadian Provinces.
I’ll be waiting for the four cylinder liquid cooled motor mounted on a tourer with a frame mounted fairing and 6-7 gallon gas tank allowing for a 250 mile range.
I HATE stopping for gas.
I am !00% with you on the Indian 4.
I bet you are excited about the Indian Raptor then!
Being a long term Indian fan I sorta have to side with Kevin. The faring and bags smack of HD but worse and what puts it over the top for me is loosing the skirted fender and the Indian fender head. My ride is 2015 Chieftain blue and cream and I draw many ooohhs and ahhhs where ever I go. Had considered trading up to get the Ride Command but no longer since the design change. What kicked off Indian demand is the “something different” but still” true to legacy Indian” and now going down the road you can’t tell Indian from HD. Just stupid to have the name Indian but look like HD..…..a real shame I think, coming from a purest.
I for one love options as long as it has two wheels. I love the old and the new styling on these Indians where one can pick and choose what he/she prefers. Three years ago I test rode my 16 Roadmaster in Lincoln, Nebraska in 27 degree December weather and loved every minute of it. It’s been sitting my garage since. So far we’ve averaged about 6500 miles a year and don’t foresee that dropping. Ride safe all.
Look at a StreetGlide and one of these. Following in the steps of Harley
I love the valanced fender on my 14 Chieftain. It sets it apart form other bikes. I know it was only used a few years on the original Indians, but when I think Indian it is the first thing I visualize. I am waiting for the 2019 Chieftain Classic to come out as it is supposed to look like the earlier years. If they have added the ride modes (although I wish they would have added traction control as well) I may be a serious shopper. The other thing I am not happy about is the lose of driving lights on the new fairing. Another reason I am waiting on the Classic.
I thinking about buying a 2019 Indian Chieftain,
I tried one out and I loved it
I’ve been a Harley guy all of my life
It seems like Indian copied the street glide and made it alittle better just like Toyota did to the American car company back in the 80s and 90s
But this time it’s 2 American motorcycle companies,gotta love it
I own a 2017 Chieftain Limited. Very happy with it. I owned many metric and HD bikes as well. I chose the Limited because of it’s unique looks, great ride, performance. I didn’t want to see myself at every corner on another black Street Glide also. This bike is nice though, I rode one. Too much of a SG copy imo. It really needed to be presented as a brand new model and it’s own unique name.
The Street Glide and the new Chieftain look as much alike as a 1957 Ford and 1957 Chevy, simular but not identical. You can get the Chieftain with either front fender and a aftermarket set of driving lights can fix any dark spots on the road. The comparison between the Victory and the Indian is completely wrong, the body work themes are no alike and the engine characteristics differ greatly. Quit your sissy nitpicking and remove your head from your ring gear. The Indian is a truly great motorcycle that has shaken the ground once dominated by only one other company, that is a feat all the Japanese companies and one German company have never been able to do. And already Indian has listened to its customer base and altered, modified, and improved a original design to stay relevant in the market. Congratulations Polaris for proving a beautiful and dependable motorcycle.
I bought a 2019 left over new last year after 8 years on a C-14. Totally different riding and I really enjoy it. The 111 has more than enough power for me..no regrets about not getting a 2020 with the 116. Comfortable. Decent handling and brakes….it’s not a crotch rocket canyon carver but still hustles good enough for me.
Love the sound system. Not inexpensive, worth every cent.