First Rides: 2016 Indian Cheiftan

Article and Photos By: J. Ken Conte

Originally Published In The November 2016 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine

One of the perks of being a moto-journalist is getting to ride different makes and models of bikes. Typically, these sojourns last from a few hours to a few days, and you get a sense of the bike but don’t really get to become one with it. But I spent over 80 hours on the 2016 Indian Chieftain and covered 4,000 miles—it hurt to see her go. It may sound cheesy, but that’s what happens when I get on a bike I really like: I don’t want to let it go. Even if there might be a few problems, I can overlook them. I look at my interaction with bikes as a relationship. My current kick-only rigid chopper is like the girlfriend you just can’t get rid of, even though you know she’s bad for you and might even kill you someday . . . but when you take her out, it’s good—really good—and any doubt evaporates. At least for the night. I flew to California for a tryst with a 2016 Indian Chieftain, and as soon as I swung my leg over that 111-inch frame and gunned it down the block, I knew I was going to like the riding position, power and overall comfort. It fit me with no customization.

My history with Indian is well O documented. I’ve owned more Indians then Harleys, and I’m partial to their styling and low seat height. I have never owned a Polaris-built Indian, but I’ve ridden several. There are a few features that stand out on this bike that I haven’t seen on competitors: the electronic windshield, fairing and remotelockable saddlebags. The windshield was great when fully upright: it took away all the bobble and made for a very comfortable ride. The fairing easily deflected wind and ate bugs all day long. The instrument cluster was small, and though I never could get my phone to sync wirelessly with the radio, it did seem to have ample sound on the highway when connected by USB. (The instrument cluster has been upgraded for the 2017 with an allnew 7-inch touch screen that looks great, and I can’t wait to try out.) The saddlebags locked with the simple push of a button, which is very convenient. When I stopped anywhere, it seemed like everyone around wanted to ask me what I thought about the bike. The power is ample, both from a dead stop and when passing. The dual Brembo ABS brakes up front and single in rear provided solid braking, even when loaded down with gear. While riding two up it was necessary, as always, to allow more room for braking. The ABS seemed to work without a hitch when you really needed to get on the brakes.

As I said before, the seating position was just right. I could sit flat-footed, and the center of gravity was perfect. I was unable to make the floorboards or exhaust drag no matter how far over I tipped in turns. I did play with the single FOX shock, which could be pumped up easily through a valve just below the seat. I found that it affected the ride significantly, and when I stayed on top of it, maintaining proper shock pressure, it really made the ride much more enjoyable, especially when going hard into turns. I rode this bike close to 4,000 miles, with several 12-hour days in saddle, covering well over 500 miles each day, and it performed flawlessly. I rode through hail and rain, on dirt, gravel and paved roads. I had no qualms—I was utterly confidant in the bike beneath me. I knew it would carry me through anything I threw at it. But then, on my way to a concert, it just shut off. No warning. Luckily, as a chopper jockey, I have encountered this regularly, and I just downshifted, popped the clutch and it cycle source – BETWEEN THE LINES SPEED MERCHANT RIDING GLOVES $109.95: I put these gloves through the paces on my long ride. They performed so well they are now my go-to when I need an overthe- cuff gauntlet-type riding glove in mild weather. The soft cowhide seamlessly formed to my hand after just a few hours of riding, and the tech touch right index finger made phone use a breeze. You can see more at www.thespeedmerchant.net. fired right back up. This happened half a dozen times on my way to the show that night—it was warm, but I’d ridden through the oven that is Death Valley with this bike. Could it be vapor lock? I unscrewed the gas cap, then screwed it back on with the customary two clicks. It shut off a few more times. It seemed to be a fuel injection or electrical issue. I arrived at the show and didn’t really worry about it. Later, after the show, I climbed back on and got the sweet summer evening ride I was hoping for, without a hiccup.

The next day I took it to a dealership for an oil change and asked them to check out the possible electrical issue and address a rattle. They did a great job, but they told me the electrical question wasn’t anything they’d seen and couldn’t identify what it was at that point. The mechanic said he cured the rattle by tightening some bolts in the fairing. I happily climbed on for the 350-mile ride to Sturgis and had a great trip, coming through significant weather without a hitch. Of course then, on a ride at dusk, the bike cut out on the highway with a passenger on the back (none other than Amelia Rose). It happened a few more times, with the electrical system completely cutting out and then coming back to life. You’d think this would leave me with a bad taste in my mouth—but it didn’t. I want to like this bike so badly. I want to give it the most glowing review. I want to love it . . . and I do. I just know it is one of those relationships that hasn’t quite blossomed yet. She’s still a volatile girlfriend: exciting as hell, but you have to stay alert. It may take some more work, but, one day, maybe even with the 2017, she’ll be flawless and unequivocally the bike for me. You can see more at http://www. indianmotorcycle.com.

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