10 Things We Love About the Indian Chieftain Dark Horse

Back In Black With a Focus On Customization

2016 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse bagger
If Johnny Cash rode a bagger, this would be it.Photo: Barry Hathaway

Indian Motorcycle says: "A bagger with undeniable presence." Motorcyclist Magazine says: "Yes, a presence like Johnny Cash, the man in black."

We spent the better part of the morning of the 2016 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse press introduction aboard the Battleship U.S.S. Iowa, now a maritime museum docked at the Los Angeles Waterfront in San Pedro, California. It was a fitting location considering that Indian motorcycles are manufactured in Iowa and the CEO of parent company Polaris was a Navy man.

2016 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse performance upgrades
The 2016 Chieftain Dark Horse next to the performance-upgraded model (right) underneath the 5-inch guns of the Battleship USS Iowa. Not only do the Stage 1 pipes and High Flow Air Cleaner increase performance, they add a little more black to the package.Photo: Brian Hatano

It's been a couple years since we've spent quality time with the Indian Chieftain. It was no surprise when Indian rolled out the all-new Chief-based bagger at the 2013 Sturgis Rally, and we were thoroughly impressed by the new Chieftain's power, stability, and smoothness at speed. Indian gave us all of the modern features we could want in a big touring-class bike along with surprisingly impressive handling and braking performance.

2016 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse
The blacked-out headdress and skirted fender add to the iconic Indian form.Photo: Barry Hathaway

The iconic Indian motorcycle is the perfect compromise for those who would love to have a genuinely old motorcycle for its traditional styling but, actually, demand the reliability and get-up-and-go of a modern machine. The Chieftain's 111-cubic-inch Thunder Stroke mill is the same smooth and powerful 49-degree V-twin used elsewhere in the lineup, with a claimed 119.2 pound-feet of torque. Prior to the ride, we asked Indian Product Manager Derek Meyer if we could expect anything different from the Chieftain in terms of power or handling dynamics that we first experienced in 2013. Meyer said that we probably wouldn't notice any significant changes, but that's fine by us since everything that we were impressed with then is back for 2016 ( click here to see our Chieftain First Ride from 2014 ).

2016 Chieftain Dark Horse
The Dark Horse adds a more customizable option to the Chieftain platform with a look that opens up the demographic to a younger market.Photo: Barry Hathaway
2016 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse power windshield
The Chieftain power adjustable windshield at its lowest position. Press the button on the left-hand control and it'll raise up four inches.Photo: Brian Hatano

The Chieftain Dark Horse is designed to be Indian’s most customizable offering in the bagger platform, similar to what you saw in the Chief Dark Horse cruiser. Indian spokesman Robert Pandya stressed that the Dark Horse is not a de-contented Chieftain model; you still get all of the premium touring features of the standard Chieftain including keyless ignition, power adjustable windshield, remote locking saddlebags, tire pressure monitoring system, anti-lock brakes, cruise control, 100-watt audio system with Bluetooth/USB input and smartphone compatibility, and an analog/digital dash with a command and control center that keeps rider informed of engine status and mileage.

2016 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse adjustable rear suspension
Indian provides an easy hook-up hand pump with air pressure gauge along with a reference chart on the inside of the side cover. No excuses for incorrect rear suspension settings.Photo: Brian Hatano

So what makes the Dark Horse stand apart from the standard Chieftain? Obviously there’s the Thunder Black Smoke (matte) paint job, but looking beyond the dark exterior at the details, you’ll see a color-matched black headdress and fairing bezel, a cut-down windshield that gives a slightly lower and more aggressive profile, blacked-out handlebars, black hand and foot controls, a solo seat, and a blacked-out engine with just enough chrome accents to set it all off.

2016 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse center console and power switch
The main power button is conveniently placed on the center console. The power latch toggle is on the right next to a dummy switch that can be used for the optional heated grip control. Only the right gas cap is functional.Photo: Barry Hathaway

Knowing that the Dark Horse is essentially an aesthetic package with no discernible performance or handling improvements that might distinguish it from previous Chieftains, the guys from Indian craftily brought out a few Dark Horse press bikes outfitted with the high-performance engine package consisting of the Thunder Stroke Stage 1 Slip-On Exhaust Kit ($700), Thunder Stroke High Flow Air Cleaner ($500), and Stage 2 Performance Cams ($500). They know how much we love more power! (Note: The Stage 1 Exhaust also requires Exhaust Tips/$199.99 - $299.99 and Exhaust Shields/$279.99.)

2016 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse
The Dark Horse Thunder Stroke 111 is blacked out with a little bit of chrome for contrast. The Stage 1 Slip-Ons come in matte black to make the Dark Horse even darker.Photo: Brian Hatano

Meyer said that the performance upgrades can be added in stages or all at once depending on the level of output you desire, and each upgrade comes with a specific dealer-installed tune depending on which parts are installed. The slip-on exhaust/air cleaner/cams combination is good for a claimed 10-percent increase in horsepower and a 7-percent increase in torque.

2016 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse
The Chieftain Dark Horse comes with a solo saddle.Photo: Barry Hathaway
2016 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse saddlebags
In case you're wondering, yes you can roll without the saddlebags. the brackets a hardly noticeable and the sides of the fender are finished to match the rest of the bike.Photo: Brian Hatano

The Stage 2 cams encourage a sweet, lopey idle that will give you a commanding presence at any stoplight, and the slip-ons add just enough bass to make you heard without being obnoxious. And after riding the standard Chieftain Dark Horse back to back with the performance-enhanced bike, our seat-of-the-pants dyno says the claimed increase numbers are accurate, perhaps a little conservative.

2016 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse gauges
Analog speedo and tach/fuel gauges flank the digital information center on the dash.Photo: Brian Hatano
2016 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse in Palos Verdes
The Chieftain Dark Horse is aimed at the red-hot custom bagger segment as another way to approach customizing.Photo: Barry Hathaway

The Chieftain Dark Horse is available at Indian dealerships now with an MSRP of $21,999.

10 Things We Love About the 2016 Chieftain Dark Horse

Price Point: For an MSRP of $21,999 you get a blacked-out Dark Horse with all the same premium touring features of the $22,999 Chieftain.

Power Windscreen: Easy-to-operate left-hand controls with glove-friendly buttons that let you drop it down for an aggressive profile in the city, and raise it up when you hit the highway.

Keyless Ignition: A large main power-on button centrally located on the center console is virtually foolproof. Blinks red if the remote key fob is out of range.

PIN Code Override: No worries should you accidentally lose the key fob. A user-selectable PIN code can be programmed at the dealer that will allow you to start the bike by toggling the turn-signal switch to enter your secret number.

Air Suspension: The Chieftain Dark Horse air-adjustable rear suspension is so easy to adjust… Just pop off the left side cover to expose the Schrader valve, attach the provided hand pump with integrated pressure gauge, and refer to the chart printed on the backside of the cover to set your pressure to the load you're hauling and/or your riding style,

Remote Saddlebag Lock: With the remote key fob in your pocket, there is no need to fumble around for a key to lock your saddlebags. Just hit the switch on the center console to lock and unlock the bags. Once you and the remote are out of range, the console switch is inactive and the bags remain secure.

One-hand Saddlebag Latches: Actually a thumb and forefinger are all it takes to unlatch and open the saddlebag lids. On the downside, the bags cannot accommodate a full-faced helmet, but that keeps the profile nice and slender.

Fender Skirts: If you love traditional form, there is no fender more distinctive than the skirted Indian fender.

Audio System: 100 watts of power on tap at the touch of a button on the left-hand control. And if that's not enough boom, you can add 100 more with the Premium Concert Saddlebag Audio Kit ($625) option. Requires the color-matched Concert Audio Lids ($400).

Accessories: The Chieftain lineup has more than 300 accessories available in the Indian catalog, more than half of which can be added to upgrade the Dark Horse theme and add some personalization.

Performance: The Dark Horse's blacked-out 111 delivers superb off-idle torque with fuel delivery dialed to perfection. The Chieftain's handling belies its 803-pound (claimed) dry weight and 65.7-inch wheelbase.

More Performance: If 119.2 pound-feet of torque from the standard Thunder Stroke leaves you wanting more, just whip out that checkbook and order up the next level of performance.

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION
A darkened, not de-contented version of the Chieftain with no functional changes.
RIVALS
[Harley-Davidson Street Glide][], [Honda CTX1300][], [Kawasaki 1700 Vaquero][], [Victory Cross Country][]/[Magnum][], [Star V-Star 1300 Deluxe][]
TECH
PRICE $21,999
ENGINE 1,811cc, air-cooled 49° V-twin
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/belt
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER n/a
CLAIMED TORQUE 119.2 lb.-ft.
FRAME Aluminum double-cradle
FRONT SUSPENSION Indian 46mm fork; 4.7-in travel
REAR SUSPENSION Indian shock adjustable for spring preload; 4.5-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Indian four-piston calipers, 300mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Indian two-piston caliper, 300mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 25.0º/5.9 in.
WHEELBASE 65.7 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 26.0 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 5.5 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 803 lb. dry
AVAILABLE now
MORE INFORMATION [indianmotorcycle.com][]
VERDICT
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Chieftain platform is a proven performer and Indian wisely carried it over to the new Dark Horse with the focus instead aimed at customizing and performance upgrades.

RELATED VIDEO: Two Iconic America Forms: Indian Chief/Chieftain and the CubCrafters Cub

Brian Hatano road tests the Indian Chieftain Dark Horse
Brian's gear:
Helmet: Schuberth C3 Pro
Jacket: Scorpion 1909 Vintage Leather Jacket
Pants: Scorpion Covert Pro Riding Jeans
Gloves: Alpinestars Bandit
Boots: Alpinestars Oscar Monty
Photo: Barry Hathaway