The 2020 Indian Motorcycle Challenger Is Here

Indian fires off a liquid-cooled bagger salvo.

Skeptical about Indian's new foray into the power bagger segment? For the single biggest spoiler alert about this latest salvo against The Motor Company, look no further than the name: Challenger. Yes, Indian Motorcycle's latest is lobbing a big old bombshell in Milwaukee's general direction, and—guess what—it's a banger.

Slow-shutter speed trickery aside, the Challenger’s 122 horsepower V-twin does have a way of blurring scenery.
Slow-shutter speed trickery aside, the Challenger’s 122 horsepower V-twin does have a way of blurring scenery.Barry Hathaway

Indian's new Challenger takes on its tried-and-true competition by breaking a few of the old-school rules. For starters, like the Scout, it sports a liquid-cooled engine, in this case an all-new liquid-cooled 60 degree V-twin dubbed PowerPlus. The 108 cubic-inch (1,768cc) mill produces a claimed best-in-class 122 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. Tied into a cast aluminum frame housing a big, fixed fairing, Challenger tips the scales at 796 pounds dry. Not quite the stuff of featherweight dreams, but hey, with a 65.7-inch wheelbase and 98.5 inches of length, outsizing the Road Glide Special it targets, all is fair in love and heavyweight cruisers.

The Challenger Dark Horse (left) gets blacked out trim; Limited (right) is chromed, with highway bars.
The Challenger Dark Horse (left) gets blacked out trim; Limited (right) is chromed, with highway bars.Barry Hathaway

Challenger packs a few modern bells and whistles, but don't expect BMW levels of sophistication here. Sure, the 7-inch touchscreen navigation/infotainment system is, according to Indian, the "largest on two wheels," with added value bits like traffic info and key bike metrics. But its interface is dominated by chunky buttons and a graphical interface that can be clunky. The standard keyless ignition, 18 gallons worth of weatherproof saddlebags, and cruise control are nifty, but also to be expected given the Challenger's $21,999 starting price. Included in all models is a power operated windscreen, twin 100-watt speakers, and LED lighting.

Indian’s so-called Rogue accessories collection offers blacked-out add-ons like mid rise bars. Your aerodynamic profile may vary.
Indian’s so-called Rogue accessories collection offers blacked-out add-ons like mid rise bars. Your aerodynamic profile may vary.Barry Hathaway

Step up to the Dark Horse ($27,499), and you get blacked-out details and so-called Smart Lean technology, which links the radially mounted Brembo brakes and traction control to a six-axis Bosch system for lean angle-sensitive settings. Pleasingly, the traction control can be easily disabled via switchgear, enabling ample deposition of those Metzeler tires onto pavement. The top dog Limited model ($27,999) switches the blacked-out bits to chrome and adds highway bars.

Though liquid-cooled, Indian’s new PowerPlus V-twin also incorporates rear cylinder deactivation at idle to reduce thermal overload.
Though liquid-cooled, Indian’s new PowerPlus V-twin also incorporates rear cylinder deactivation at idle to reduce thermal overload.Barry Hathaway

Challenger takes on two dramatically different visual personas: in profile, its styling, though somewhat interestingly angular in sections, is otherwise fairly standard issue bagger fare. Turn to its front end however, and you’ll see a genuinely fresh face, imposing and interesting and everything you’d hope for in a brand-new bike.

Challenger handles wide sweepers like these with ease; it’s the tight corners with elevation changes where it starts to feel out of its element.
Challenger handles wide sweepers like these with ease; it’s the tight corners with elevation changes where it starts to feel out of its element.Barry Hathaway

Riding the bike is, for the most part, a similarly contemporary experience. Sure, there’s 60-degree V-twin bark, even-paced and soothing with a more isolated, soft-mounted sensation compared to the Harley’s palpable pulse. But there’s also the liquid-cooled nature of the engine, which helps it maintain manageable temps with the aid of rear cylinder deactivation when required at idle. By killing the rear cylinder on demand, the piston essentially acts like an air pump, reducing the heat on the exhaust pipe and enabling a more temperate experience for the rider.

The electrically operated windscreen actuates via a toggle on the right gear, offering 3 inches of movement. No need to hold the switch; a double tap will move it all the way up or down.
The electrically operated windscreen actuates via a toggle on the right gear, offering 3 inches of movement. No need to hold the switch; a double tap will move it all the way up or down.Barry Hathaway

The PowerPlus engine’s torque makes for strong pulls off the line, but the engine’s real magic happens in the midrange, where it tugs ahead with gratifying thrust. Stay on the throttle as the engine wails towards the upper end of the tach, and the needle will happily bury itself well into the red zone, which terminates at 6,000 rpm.

Twin, radially-mounted 320mm Brembos do an excellent job of slowing things down.
Twin, radially-mounted 320mm Brembos do an excellent job of slowing things down.Barry Hathaway

Low speed handling is a straightforward experience, with the Challenger’s relatively low center of gravity making it easy to swing the bike through tight S-turns. Our first day’s ride through the more technical stretches of California Highway 1 along Big Sur revealed some scraping and bottoming out, but cranking up the preload on the Fox rear shock helped this 180-pound rider keep from scraping during much of day two’s ride.

Weatherproof saddlebags deliver 18 gallons of volume.
Weatherproof saddlebags deliver 18 gallons of volume.Barry Hathaway

Piloting the Challenger in its primary intended style offers seemingly everything you’d want in a bagger. Sure, the highway bars seemed far away for me (I’m 5 feet 11 inches with a 32-inch inseam), and the optional mid-rise bars are predictably awkward during tight u-turns and taxing over the long haul (hey, nobody picks these for their comfort). But the Challenger offers a comfy saddle, good wind protection, loads of power, and a progressive, easy-to-pull clutch. No major dynamic flaws arise, as long as you don’t mistake it for a sportbike and go tackling mountain roads.

Matte black somehow works well with California’s classic coastline— heck, it works just about anywhere.
Matte black somehow works well with California’s classic coastline— heck, it works just about anywhere.Barry Hathaway

Do as we did, however, thrashing the big American twin on the tight, tangled asphalt linking the Pacific Ocean to Fort Hunter Liggett, and the touring-focused Metzeler tires start to show their weakness, squealing under hard braking (which happens to be executed quite well by the radially-mounted four-piston Brembos), and settling into corners with uncertain footing. Granted, the Challenger isn’t intended to be flogged so assiduously on such challenging roads, a fact we fully acknowledge. That said, you can’t help but wonder what sticky rubber and a proper slipper clutch could do to further expand its performance repertoire.

A big, 7-inch screen offers plenty of digital real estate for nav display, customizable bike data (seen here), or a combination of the two.
A big, 7-inch screen offers plenty of digital real estate for nav display, customizable bike data (seen here), or a combination of the two.Barry Hathaway

After two solid days in the saddle, sampling optional goodies like the sonorous slip-on exhausts and even brawnier premium stereo, which imparts tunes loud and clear at highway speeds, it becomes evident that Indian has done their homework, and then some. The Challenger is powerful, capable, and pleasurable to cruise for hours on end. Sure, it comes with a big boy price tag (a 114 cubic-inch Road Glide Special rings in at a comparable $27,299). But considering its generous equipment list and sharply executed details, the Challenger reveals the depth and intensity of Indian’s intentions to dethrone their iconic American competitors.

Challenger loses some, but not all, of its distinctiveness in profile.
Challenger loses some, but not all, of its distinctiveness in profile.Barry Hathaway

Gear Box

Indian Challenger Price And Specifications

PRICE $21,999, $27,499 (Dark Horse), $27,999 (Limited)
ENGINE 1,768cc, DOHC, liquid-cooled 60 degree V-twin; 8-valve
BORE x STROKE 108.0mm x 96.5mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 11.0:1
FUEL DELIVERY Fuel injection
CLUTCH Wet multi-plate clutch, with assist
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/belt
FRAME Cast aluminum
FRONT SUSPENSION 43mm telescopic fork; 5.1 inches of travel
REAR SUSPENSION Single hydraulic shock with adjustable damping; 4.5 inches of travel
FRONT BRAKES Dual four-piston calipers, 320mm discs
REAR BRAKE Single two-piston calipers, 265mm disc
WHEELS Cast aluminum; 19 x 3.5-inch front; 16 x 5.0-in. rear
TIRES 130/60-19 front, 180/60-16 rear (Metzeler Cruisetec)
RAKE/TRAIL 25°/5.9 in.
WHEELBASE 65.7 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 26.5 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 6.0 gal.
CLAIMED DRY WEIGHT 796 lb.
WARRANTY 2 years, unlimited mileage
AVAILABLE Now
WEBSITE www.indianmotorcycle.com
Indian stays on-brand with their illuminated, fender-mounted headdress.
Indian stays on-brand with their illuminated, fender-mounted headdress.Barry Hathaway
There we go: Head-on, Challenger’s distinctive design language comes on strong. Full LED lighting doesn’t hurt, either.
There we go: Head-on, Challenger’s distinctive design language comes on strong. Full LED lighting doesn’t hurt, either.Barry Hathaway