Of all the motorcycles Indian introduced last night to a packed house on Sturgis’ Main Street, the one that elicited the biggest response from the crowd was the 2014 Indian Chieftain. And for good reason. The sculpted fairing has a bold, aggressive design, blending the new and exciting with familiar cues like the signature Indian valanced fenders just below it. It was the one motorcycle its new Polaris owners introduced that deviated the most from the norm. Including a bagger in its initial offerings was a savvy marketing move by Indian Motorcycle. It continues to be one of the most popular segments and there’s numerous custom builders doing big things with them in the aftermarket. Just look at Paul Yaffe’s Bagger Nation.
Indian brass stated it has one goal in mind with the new lineup: To build the premier premium American motorcycle. As it moves forward to that goal, it pays tribute to the brand’s Springfield heritage and its long history that dates back to 1901. The first 1901 production models coming out of Spirit Lake will be numbered, and the new model launch includes plenty of firsts for the Indian brand. The cast aluminum chassis is a first on an Indian, the bike’s skeleton providing both the weight savings and rigidity Indian sought as it attempted to pull mass out of the frame. The progressive linkage system used on the Chief Vintage and Chief Classic is another first on an Indian Motorcycle. The 2014 lineup includes the first hard-faired bagger the company has produced, too.
The Thunder Stroke 111 engine powering the trio of 2014 Indian Chiefs doesn’t share any parts with other powerplants Polaris produces either. Its unit construction crankcase is comprised of two castings. It has large fins that not only help in cooling but feature the same finning and parallel pushrod tubes as Chiefs from the early 1940s. It has a 5.5 quart oil capacity to keep those almost four-inch pistons oiled up and drumming. And do they drum. Indian has worked hard to keep mechanical noise down so its exhaust note is the bike’s defining auditory signature. And I’ll admit, the bike does put out a powerful, throaty growl when you’re on the throttle as it dishes out the lofty claims of 119 lb-ft of torque at the 3000 rpm plateau. This figure exceeds company expectations as Indian initially was shooting to get power numbers in the 115 lb-ft range.
During Indian’s technical presentation on the bike, they said the Chieftain’s styling cues were drawn from Indians from the 1950s, bold bikes with distinctive lines. But the new version departs from the norm by being the first Indian
The posse gets ready to ride out of Dodge on the new 2014 Indian Chiefs.
The Thunder Stroke 111 engine is the crown jewel of the 2014 Indian Chieftain.
produced with a hard fairing and hard bags. Indian designed them not only with function in mind, but made them quickly detachable and with the ability to be remotely locked via the bike’s key fob. The saddlebags are big enough to stuff in my backpack, which holds my 17-inch computer.
The starting process is all-electronic with a key fob taking the place of a traditional key. As long as it’s within proximity of the bike, it will start up. You can turn it on by depressing a button on the tank or engage the electrical system by pushing the traditional handlebar mounted start button once, then press it again to turn the bike over.
Sitting in its leather saddle for the first time, it feels compact for a bagger. The Chieftain is fairly slim in the saddle and it’s easy to get both feet securely on the ground at stop. Its ergos are relaxed and upright courtesy of highway bars and floorboards. The Chieftain’s seat has a comfortable contour and Indian said it intends to adopt it on the other two models as well.
The motorcycle is well-balanced so it’s easy to control during slow speed maneuvers on overcrowded Lazelle Street. Despite its generous size, the fork-mounted fairing doesn’t weigh steering down. Between the wide fairing and the electronically adjustable windscreen, the tandem shelters riders well so there’s little buffeting. The four-inch power windshield is activated via button on the left handlebar. The Chieftain audio system pumps 100 watts of audio through two speakers mounted in the front fairing. The sound is clean and loud. The motorcycle also has the capacity to run your smartphone through it and link to music lists through Bluetooth.
The gear sets on the six-speed transmission have been engineered to quell mechanical noise, and after riding the 2014 Chieftain up to Nemo and through Vanocker Canyon, we’d have to say engineers accomplished their goal. Gears engage smoothly and quietly as its big, high capacity clutch doesn’t require a lot of spring force. The clutch lever is firm but not stiff and the throttle-by-wire system is dialed, so response to input is crisp. It’s so non-descript, it took me a little while to think about the functionality of the transmission because it was easing into gear so naturally. Considering the tremendous amount of torque the engine is doling out, this is no small feat of engineering.
The 2014 Chieftain has good ground clearance thanks to boards positioned high which allows for plenty of lean. It has both the tightest rake of the three new Indian models at 25-degrees and the shortest wheelbase at 65.7 inches. The combination adds up to a bagger that is more than willing to lean into the turns and track true once it gets there.
The engine is smooth yet powerful. Not punchy, but strong and consistent. We wanted to crack its throttle more but confess that traffic in Vanocker prevented us from getting the full monty. On the rare occasion we did get to open it up, it pulls with the authority you’d expect from an 1811cc engine. Vibrations in the bars are almost non-existent. In addition to the surface area of its cooling fins, it has an airbox built into the cast aluminum frame to help keep heat down.
We rolled up to Nemo from Rapid City and rambled through Vanocker Canyon on the 2014 Indian Chiefs.
The first Indian models produced by Polaris debuted Saturday night to a packed house on Sturgis’ Main Street.
The front brakes are powerful thanks to twin 300mm floating discs up front. Four-piston calipers put a strong squeeze without having to mash the lever hard. The units aren’t overly bitey but pressure is immediate and even. Braking duties get an assist from ABS that are part of the factory package, assisting the single 300mm disc out back.
Besides being attractively designed, the instrument console is placed intuitively, the round dial of its analog speedo easy enough to read at speed, as is the analog tach placed opposite it. Between the two dials is a digital readout with four different screens and plenty of information to toggle through. Among its functions are a clock and outside temperature gauge, radio, satellite radio, a plug-in audio device, range indicator, odometer, and tire pressure PSI readout. Cruise control comes standard and is operated via the right switch control.
The new Indian Chiefs have been the buzz of Sturgis. Every time we stop, someone will approach with a story about an Indian they owned and just about everybody has responded positively on the direction Polaris has taken.
“The original Indian was an everyman machine and these guys have brought that back,” said one gentleman we met called Ed Murphy, the unofficial “Mayor of Suches, Georgia.”
The 2014 Indian Chief combines classic cues with modern performance and technology. It will run your Bluetooth, tell you your tire pressure, has throttle-by-wire and ABS. It has traditional running lights in the fairing but features integrated LED turn signals too. Classic cues include the red hue the marque is known for, swooping fenders and a lit War Bonnet emblem on the front fender. Its crown jewel is its engine that sits like a mother of pearl within the six-piece modular frame. But it’s more than just a pretty face. It’s like a punch in the nose, which Indian just delivered to its competitors.