First Ride: 2014 Indian Chieftain

Reviews -


2014 Indian Chieftain

Indian Motorcycles, the brand that wouldn’t die, is finally back with a new lineup of bikes: The Chief Classic; Chief Vintage; and Chieftain. RideApart had the chance to spend some time with the 2014 Indian Chieftain, the first bike with hard bags and fork-mounted fairing officially produced from an Indian factory.

Photos © Polaris Industries and Jason Fogelson

What’s New


A quick round-up of Indian history, in case you haven’t been paying attention. Indian Motocycles (the “r” was added later) was founded in Springfield, Massachusetts (as Hendee Manufacturing Company) in 1901, predating Harley-Davidson by two years. For the first several decades of the 20th Century, Indian was arguably Harley’s chief rival on the road and on the race track. World War II dealt a blow to Indian production, and the company never fully recovered, going out of business in 1953. Many bikes wore the Indian brand in the decades that followed, with several abortive attempts to resuscitate the company through the end of the century. A serious run at building new Indians emerged in 1999 in Gilroy, California by the Indian Motorcycle Company of America, but they expired in 2003 after building a lineup of Harley clones with S&S engines and Indian styling. British capital firm Stellican Limited bought the rights to Indian and produced bikes in Kings Mountain, North Carolina beginning in 2006, eventually bringing out an expensive bike with a proprietary engine, the Powerplus, which had been on the drawing boards in Gilroy. In 2011, powersports giant Polaris bought Indian and relocated production to Spirit Lake, Iowa, where it also produces Victory brand bikes. After completing the run of Kings Mountain bikes with existing parts, Indian retooled for new production of 2014 models.

The new Indians are truly all-new, sharing no parts with the Kings Mountain bikes, and only nuts and bolts with Victory motorcycles.

The Chieftain is a touring motorcycle, sized and priced to match up with the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide. The new bike looks the part, with deeply valanced front and rear fenders, and a fork-mounted batwing front fairing. The big 111 cu.-in. Thunder Stroke engine acts as a visual anchor and a stressed member in the cast aluminum frame. Even a casual observer will have no problem differentiating the Chieftain from a Harley-Davidson – especially if they can read. A big Indian headdress is painted on each side of the gas tank, and the Indian head ornament dresses the front fender, lit from within for visibility after dark.

Fit and finish on my test bike, a late pre-production example in Springfield Blue, was superb. I’d expect production bikes to be even better.

This is a great-looking bike with fantastic presence, a great blending of Indian heritage with modern technology and bike design.

2014 Indian Chieftain
2014 Indian Chieftain

The Ride

There’s no physical ignition key, just a proximity key fob with two buttons: Lock and unlock, controlling the power locks on the hard bags. There’s an ignition cut-out tied in to the sidestand so you can’t ride off in gear with the sidestand deployed.

Chieftain’s instrument panel lives within the fairing, surrounded by a chromed bezel. An LCD rider information screen is flanked by two white-faced analog gauges: Speedometer on left, tachometer/gas gauge on right. Idiot lights – I mean “warning lights” – show up out of the blackness of the panel. The rider information screen covers a wide range of information, including a very useful gear indicator at the bottom of the window.

The fairing houses the technology hub. There’s Bluetooth built right in, so you can link your cellphone or MP3 player to the bike wirelessly. There’s also a semi-concealed storage compartment beneath the right wing of the batwing, complete with a USB connection and a padded pocket that will hold a smartphone, and there’s even a 12-volt socket on the dash. The windshield is electrically adjustable via a switch on the left hand control cluster. Audio quality is excellent, loud and clear enough to be heard even at highway speeds.

2014 Indian Chieftain
2014 Indian Chieftain


A few small complaints: At certain times of the day, it was impossible to read the settings in the rider information screen due to glare and reflection. I didn’t love the look of the international graphics on the accessory driving light switch and the power switch, both of which are quite prominent in view at all times. Also, a blank switch space on the tank, reserved for add-on heated grips, is a bit of an eyesore.

Clutch pull is reasonable, but a little heavy for smaller hands. The transmission is nice and solid. My test bike was a little stiff shifting when it was cold. Engine and transmission share a bathtub, so when the engine warms up, so does the transmission.

The Thunder Stroke 111 sounds great. The sound comes up to the rider from all around, the intake is on the left side. Throttle control is by wire, not by mechanical cable, though you’d never know it in operation. Indian doesn’t reveal horsepower figures. The claimed 119.2 lb.-ft. of torque comes on nice and low, hitting its peak at 3,000 rpm. The punch is available when you need it, with serious acceleration on tap in pretty much every gear. This engine goes as good as it looks.

Handling is very good for a bagger. I matched up my weight with the suggested air pressure before riding, adjusted the rear shock with the provided hand pump, and never felt the need to adjust it again. Because of a comfortably steep rake (25 degrees) and trail, the Chieftain feels stable at speed, while still maintaining relatively quick steering. There’s plenty of lean angle available for most riders, though aggressive riders should be careful – the floorboards are solidly-mounted, not hinged. When hard parts scrape, they really scrape, and leaning farther could lever the bike off the pavement in certain situations. You have been warned, show-offs.

Dual disc brakes on the front and a single rotor on the rear provide ample stopping power. Brake lines are steel braided. Non-linked ABS is standard, front and rear.

Read More – Page 2 >>

  • augustdaysong

    I had the opportunity to ride one at a demo day. I found the transmission not to my liking and it was very hard to shift, but I liked everything else about it. One of the nicest stock sounding bikes. Not at all overbearingly loud or gutless like some other brands. Just wouldn’t want to ride it in the city.

    • Jason Fogelson

      Cold shifting was a bit more difficult than I like, but I found that it smoothed out when the bike warmed up.

      I rode around and in Los Angeles on the Chieftain, and once I got comfortable with the dimensions, I was able to lane share and ride without worrying about the size of the bike. I know every review says that “the bike sheds weight as soon as you get above a walking pace,” but it’s really true with this one. Shoving it around in the garage was not much fun, but as long as I planned my parking ahead of time, it was fine.

    • appliance5000

      Just talking out my butt here – but , in the city, couldn’t you just put it in second and never shift again until you get where you’re going?

  • Send Margaritas

    These are very nice bikes. The look nice, handle nice, sound nice, stop very well, seem well made, and the motor has effortless power and real heart.

    I could see them seriously denting the similar HD model sales, if they addressed one issue. Indian really needs more stores!

    • Jason Fogelson

      Agreed, Send Margaritas. It’s a little bit of a chicken and egg situation — there has to be demand in order for dealers to invest, and there have to be dealers in order to feed demand. Hopefully, the marketplace will make this work.

      I think it will be a long time before Indian dents Harley sales — though each Indian sold is potentially a lost opportunity for Harley.

  • normax004

    So… when are they going to race JT ???

  • Mr.Paynter

    Too. Big.

    Cool that they’re back, and with a seemingly decent product but I personally have no interest in these behemoths!

    • Jason Fogelson

      I like big bikes, I cannot lie.

      • Mykola

        All my bagger brothers cannot deny.

    • appliance5000

      They’re about big – that’s why they exist. This is one big beautiful thing.

  • ThruTheDunes

    Just a couple of questions – 1. After looking at the seating, I would appreciate your opinion regarding how comfortable a passenger would be. I usually think of touring bikes as having a top case with a padded backrest for the passenger. Are there multiple seating options? I realize a top case would probably not fit with the classic look that Indian is going for, but the comfort of the other half is a necessary consideration. Any insights would be appreciated.
    2. What to you think the cure for the glare on the display is – does it need an anti-reflective coating? Is it just the angle of it? Does it need an automatic brightness adjustment (so it is visible in daylight but not blinding at night)? Do you see some type of user modification that would be easy to do?
    I love the blue, and the photos look great. Thanks for the write-up.

    • Jason Fogelson

      Thanks for the nice words. A few answers:
      The passenger pillion is generous, but not for long rides yet. There’s an accessory backrest/luggage rack on the way, and it will use the same mounting points as the saddle bags — no additional mounting kit necessary. I asked about a top box — nothing available yet, but I’d be surprised if one doesn’t show up soon.

      There’s a manual adjustment for the brightness display, which I played with a bit. It didn’t solve the problem for me — all I could see in bright sunlight was my own reflection. An anti-glare coating might help, or a visor. Either one would not be a difficult user modification. It also might not be a problem for all riders. I’m 6’2″ with a long torso and stubby little legs, so I might sit up higher in the saddle than most. Just something to look out for before you buy.

  • Chris Cope

    I had forgotten how much I like the look of these. I am really in love with the new Indians and would love to own one.

    • Jason Fogelson

      I’m sure they’d love to sell you one, Chris.

  • runnermatt

    I’m glad that Indian is back. I’m not really the cruiser sort, but if I had to pick one of the three available I would choose the Chief Classic. The Vintage is cool and I like the tan leather (esp. w/ the blue paint) instead of the traditional black, but I’ve always thought that fringed leather looked tacky. I like the technology of the Cheiftain, but I’ve always thought that fork-mounted batwing fairings look tacky as well, regardless of brand of bike.

    Now, the Indian that would be for me would probably be and ADV bike, maybe using the Scout name; or a sport bike to bring back the racing history. Granted, racing isn’t as much of selling point in the U.S. but it will be in emerging markets (Thailand, China, Indian, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc). Funny thought is what will Indians think when the bikes start being sold and built in India.

    • Jason Fogelson

      I didn’t mention in the review, but the fringe on the Chieftain is removable! Attached with Velcro, so you could easily dispense with it. I grew to like it, knowing I could get rid of it so easily.

      • runnermatt

        I didn’t even see the fringe on the Chieftain. I imagine it would be the same for the Vintage then (i.e. removable with Velcro).

  • runnermatt

    I do have a question that centers on the Indian name and how Native American “Indians” relate to it. With the recent controversy of the Washington Redskins name and the debate over whether they should change it; I wonder how Native Americans feel about Indian Motorcycles and the symbolism? I don’t think changing the name of Indian Motorcycles would really be an option at this point being that the name is really the only reason Polaris bought it. Is “Indian” considered to be offensive in the same way as “Redskins”? Less offensive? More Offensive? If so is there something Polaris and Indian motorcycles could do to improve relations with Native Americans? College Scholarships? Deep discounts for Native American’s who buy Indian Motorcycles or other Polaris products?

    I know, I know. I brought up a political issue.

    • Jason Fogelson

      I wonder the same thing, runnermatt. I don’t have concerns about the name, but I’m not a Native American. I can say that I am continually offended by the Fat Boy.

      • Piglet2010

        At least H-D is not making a “Fat Man” or “Little Boy” – yet.

    • dthorny

      As part Blackfoot indian, I love the brand and could care less about a media hyped PC name contest. Screw the liberal media. No one cares.

      • runnermatt

        Thanks for the reply. You make a good point about the NAACP’s name.

        • dthorny

          As for the Indian Chieftain, it’s THE top cruiser bike on the market already.

  • runnermatt

    The Indian and Harley competition thought got me thinking about revenue, profits, market share, etc. And I happened to be on another motorcycle website trying to find what “Leather Fringe” was called because I honestly couldn’t remember it was called “fringe”.

    Anyway, that website had stories pertaining to 3rd quarter numbers for Harley and Polaris. I’ll keep this short and talk simply profits. Harley goes first. Because of new bike and technology introductions and more efficiently operating factories Harley saw a 21% increase in profit from last year. Last year Harley’s 3rd quarter profits $134 Million worth of merchandise and motorcycles. This year 3rd quarter profits were $162.7 Million. Not too shabby.

    Polaris is gaining ground though breaking $1 Billion in revenue (to Harley’s $1.18 Billion) for the first time. Polaris saw a 24% increase (to Harley’s 21%) in profit for a 2013 3rd quarter of $116.9 Million. Last year’s profits were not mentioned in the article. The article went into percentages, but I won’t bore the majority of you.

    That said, I think Harley should be worried. Why? Because they sell one category of motorcycles and merchandise, nothing else. Granted they are the largest manufacturer, but Polaris sells quads, side by sides, snowmobiles, and motorcycles. Victory showed a 30% increase last year and Indian should show good growth once everything is up and running smoothly. Plus, Indian likely offers an opportunity for Polaris to expand into other motorcycle segments. Both companies have strong international sales, but from a business perspective I like Polaris diversified product offerings to Harley’s strong, but singular market offering.

    Just my two cents.

    • Jason Fogelson

      Did the article break down Polaris’ income by segment — motorcycle, watercraft, snowmobile, ATV, etc.? H-D is a behemoth in the US motorcycle market, and will barely feel a breeze from Indian for several years.

      • runnermatt

        It did a little. Article is on Motorcycle-usa. However, I found out the Polaris got out of watercraft several years ago. This was mentioned at the bottom of the article because Polaris had a “One-time non-recurring loss” from a lawsuit involving watercraft.

        You are right that it will take a few years for Harley to start feeling the effects.

  • HammSammich

    Not much about this bike fills my cup, but there’s no denying the beauty of that engine. I remain fairly skeptical about the Indian revival, but I would love to be pleasantly surprised with something for non-cruiser folks…

    • Ben W

      Same here. I hold out hope!

  • Speedo007

    Now that engine looks awesome! And peak torque at 3000rpm? Now please Indian, build a standard naked/street fighter with this engine! Tired of all these bikes that you need to revv the heck out of them to get the power. These V-twins are really brilliant and have loads of character. If not, let’s hope Yamaha make a new MT-01 (100lbs lighter)…

    • Wes Siler

      And therein lies your problem. This engine is far too heavy and far to physically large to fit in any sort of competent, non-huge cruiser type bike. That’s the trouble with these old-timey powerplants.

      • Speedo007
        • Robert Horn

          The Indian engine assembly is a LOT wider than the one in the Confederate linked above. I’m guessing a lot heavier as well.

          I wish it were otherwise.

          • Speedo007

            If Confederate can do it, I think Indian or Yamaha could pull it off. The reason the Confederate is so expensive is almost every piece in that engine is made with a CNC and bikes are made by hand in micro volumes. With Indian or Yamaha it would all be mass produced using casting and other highly efficient production techniques. I’m sure the Indian engine (or a slightly smaller version like an 1800cc) would fit nicely in a standard bike. To those that say these engines are too large, how does Moto Guzzi manage to fit a large v-twins laterally and BMW with it’s boxer engines hanging out on both sides…sure it would never be a daytona 675, but anyone that hasnt already tried an air-cooled push-rod v-twin, go and try one, you’ll understand how these engines make so much sens for street riding (when they are not installed in a poorly engineered bike like Harleys). It’s got a lot of character, torque from the get go, vibration and is smooth at the same time.

            • Robert Horn

              Buy a scale and tape measure and find out for yourself just how stupid big and heavy these engines are. I have – and listen to others who have as well. They are vastly bigger and heavier than the BMW or MG engines you mention. Sure, they are somewhat narrow at the cylinders, but stupid wide at the bottom. That’s the main reason why Confederate, Ecosse, and BTR (Curt Winter’s operation) go through the trouble and expense of making their own primary drive assemblies. The Over Racing racebike with the big Yamaha engine was still very heavy and not competitive at all.

              Oh yes – I designed and built my own air cooled pushrod twin sportbike (Evo Sporty 4 speed engine, 356 lbs ready to ride) over 20 years ago and owned several others. Tried designing and building a Big Twin version, but the primary drive problem was too much to deal with at the time. (Just for your amusement, a complete FXR engine/primary/transmission assembly weighs the same as a Honda CBX engine…) So yes, I know the appeal. And the problems. And the fact that if you really want one, either build your own or buy something insanely expensive.

              If Indian ever makes a Scout (I.E., something that could provide at least a little riding excitement), it won’t have this engine.

              • Speedo007

                Trust me, if I could build one, I would :) Indian are supposed to launch more models, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they don’t all look like this cause soon enough the baby boomers buying these won’t be there anymore and the younger crowds will have no interest in these (before another 20-30 years).

      • Mykola

        Didn’t the old Buell XB12s match up fairly closely numbers-wise with the Japanese 600 supersports?

        • Speedo007

          Indeed they tipped the scale at around 400lbs, their only problem was reliability, Ive read about some having changed 5 driving belts on their bikes among other things…But the concept was brilliant. It can be done correctly and I hope one day it is :)

  • John

    I rode out to Arlen Ness in Dublin, CA, to ride these. I’m mostly from the dirt bike world, but I’m looking towards street-bike specific machines next. I love the look of these Indians. Friends pooh-pooh the power, and direct me to the mods possible for HDs. But I can’t get these bikes out of my head. Sure, the transmission shifts like a tractor, and I felt like my great grandpa when I rode them. But there’s also something special about that beaut of an engine and those valenced fenders. It was an amazing feeling, cruising down the road on one.

  • eddi

    I’ve never been much into the Big Iron, but damnme that’s one beautiful tourer.

  • Mark D

    I hate to say it, but it looks great. I’d be more interested in the plain-jane version, though. I wouldn’t want to do any serious miles on a bike like this, and batwing fairings always looked weird to me. But a big, naked American v-twin is pretty cool, in a shakes-and-burgers kind of way.

  • Mark Vizcarra

    my vw has the same type of electronic dash. Funny to see it on a motorcycle. Anyways I hope is sells and become successful

  • Piglet2010

    How does the Chieftain compete with the Electra Glide (as mentioned twice in the article)? The Street Glide seems the obvious comparison, since both lack a stock top box and fairing lowers.

    • dthorny

      The Indian Chieftian has 111 CI engine stone stock, sounds great with the stock pipe with a sweet rumble similar to a Roadhouse exhaust. CC, Bluetooth connectivity for iPhone or iPod, ABS brakes, turns and corners on a dime unlike any cruiser I’ve ever ridden, has an adjustable windscreen that adjusts on the fly, 119 ft. lbs. of torque so hang on. Polaris hit a home run out the gate with this bike, beautiful styling chrome paint.
      I’m still drooling.

      • Piglet2010

        Yeah, but Polaris/Indian needs to add fairing lowers and a top box to compete in the full-dresser market (although there will likely be aftermarket options in the near future).

        Have you ridden the Triumph Thunderbird or Moto Guzzi California 1400 – they are usually considered the best handling traditional cruisers? (The Diavel does not count here.)

  • dthorny

    Test rode all three models a few months back in AZ and loved the Chieftain for the handling and fairing systemthe adjustable windscreen is awesome

  • dthorny

    Indian has more torque, internal wiring in the handlebars, ABS standard, cruise control standard, 111 cubic inch motor standard, more suspension, 1 oil to change vs 3 and a rich history.

  • dthorny

    Rides and handles like a dream for 850 lbs of chrome and Indian style. A great cruiser for a brand new bike. Well done Indian and I look forward to a new Chieftain, hopefully soon.