2020 Indian Motorcycle Challenger Dark Horse Review MC Commute

A review of Indian’s up-spec V-twin-powered Dark Horse Challenger bagger.

Fresh to the boulevard for the New Year is Indian Motorcycle’s Challenger bagger. Positioned as a performance-oriented bagger-style cruiser, this Challenger ($27,499 as tested in the Dark Horse edition) picks up where the now-defunct Victory brand left off, giving motorcyclists a more macho alternative in the American-made V-twin segment.

We go for a spin on Indian Motorcycle’s up-spec Challenger Dark Horse in this review.
We go for a spin on Indian Motorcycle’s up-spec Challenger Dark Horse in this review.Indian Motorcycle

Editor’s Note: The 2020 Indian Motorcycle Challenger Dark Horse we tested was a preproduction test unit.

The Challenger’s heart is a new 60-degree PowerPulse V-twin with 108ci (1,769cc) of oversquare muscle. The liquid-cooled engine was developed in-house, by Indian, and backs up its meaty bark with 114 pound-feet of Metzeler tire-smearing torque at just over 3,000 revs.

The Challenger comes outfitted with a pair of electronically lockable hard cases that are capable of swallowing up to 18 gallons of gear. The bags aren’t wide enough to accommodate a full-face helmet.
The Challenger comes outfitted with a pair of electronically lockable hard cases that are capable of swallowing up to 18 gallons of gear. The bags aren’t wide enough to accommodate a full-face helmet.Indian Motorcycle

ABS-enabled triple disc hydraulic brakes keep speed in check, however the calibration of the rear brake’s ABS could be enhanced, as the back brake cycles excessively when applied with moderate pressure.

Going hard on the throttle unleashes 103-hp (as measured on the dyno) of acceleration, which makes for a more thrilling experience as compared to other traditional heavyweight cruisers. As opposed to a traditional cable throttle connection, the Challenger uses a ride-by-wire throttle setup, just like the FTR 1200 S street tracker. Conversely, the clutch employs a cable-actuated configuration which neither feels as smooth, nor as responsive as a modern hydraulic setup. Another gripe: There isn’t a barrel-style adjuster atop the clutch perch making routine cable tension adjustment a pain.

The heart of the Challenger is Indian Motorcycle’s 107ci (1,768cc) PowerPlus V-twin engine. This twin is good for 103 hp and nearly 114 pound-feet torque at the business end of the Metzeler back tire.
The heart of the Challenger is Indian Motorcycle’s 107ci (1,768cc) PowerPlus V-twin engine. This twin is good for 103 hp and nearly 114 pound-feet torque at the business end of the Metzeler back tire.Indian Motorcycle

Three selectable combined engine power and throttle maps are offered (Rain, Standard, and Sport). While we appreciate the adjustability, the throttle has a sweet spot. Here response is peppy, and well-metered, especially in the Sport setting. However, off idle there is a degree of throttle play before the engine responds. Not a big deal, but something that could be improved. The tactile functionality of the switch gear should be better too.

Indian Motorcycle’s Ride Command 7-inch touchscreen display works well. Its menu system is logical, and it’s loaded with a rich amount of features including trip analytics and the ability to pair a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone. The Dark Horse edition adds GPS navigation and IMU-powered traction control.
Indian Motorcycle’s Ride Command 7-inch touchscreen display works well. Its menu system is logical, and it’s loaded with a rich amount of features including trip analytics and the ability to pair a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone. The Dark Horse edition adds GPS navigation and IMU-powered traction control.Indian Motorcycle

Rev it out or short-shift through each of the six gears and the Challenger happily complies, delivering a smooth yet punchy experience behind its oversize fixed fairing. A standard electric-adjustable windscreen provides even greater protection from the elements.

The Challenger rolls on a 19-inch front hoop shod with Metzeler’s grippy Cruisetec tires. Sportbike-style radial-mount front brakes are also standard.
The Challenger rolls on a 19-inch front hoop shod with Metzeler’s grippy Cruisetec tires. Sportbike-style radial-mount front brakes are also standard.Indian Motorcycle

Make no mistake about it, this twin loves to spin, and rev it does, belting out an authoritative exhaust note that fills the cockpit. Vibration is muted at low rpm, but creeps strongly through the controls at higher revs. The buzz is powerful enough to open the latched front right storage compartment, where the USB input is located. Important note: Don’t leave the wireless ignition key fob in that pocket.

Indian is proud of its new 107ci engine adorning the powerplant with a plethora of logos. And they should be, with the engine delivering class-leading power output.
Indian is proud of its new 107ci engine adorning the powerplant with a plethora of logos. And they should be, with the engine delivering class-leading power output.Indian Motorcycle

With its 6-gallon fuel tank topped off, the 839-pound Challenger feels sizable especially at low speeds. A reasonably low center of gravity, a 26.5-inch seat height, and light steering feel keep it from feeling clumsy, yet it isn’t as composed at parking-lot speeds as other bikes this size.

Bold and beautiful LED lighting adorn the 2020 Indian Challenger. The bright lighting helps riders stand out on the road.
Bold and beautiful LED lighting adorn the 2020 Indian Challenger. The bright lighting helps riders stand out on the road.Indian Motorcycle

Conversely, at speed, the Indian’s cast aluminum frame delivers a taut ride. Ample ground clearance during spirited riding maneuvers is another big plus, as is grip from the Metzeler Cruisetec tires. An inverted fork and Fox-sourced shock provide upwards of 4.5 inches of suspension travel with damping that is neither too wollowy nor firm. Indian certainly did its homework, striking the right balance between sport-oriented handling and everyday comfort.

The 2020 Indian Motorcycle Challenger Dark Horse retails at $27,499. It’s a hefty price tag, considering its so-so build quality and fit and finish.
The 2020 Indian Motorcycle Challenger Dark Horse retails at $27,499. It’s a hefty price tag, considering its so-so build quality and fit and finish.Indian Motorcycle

Speaking of comfort, the saddle is one of the best we’ve sampled. It cups the rider’s behind near perfectly holding them in place during spirited riding. Yet, it remains plush and supportive during 100-plus mile tours. A wide handlebar and floorboards make it easy to stretch out on, however it would be nice if Indian included a touring-friendly heel shifter. Standard and ultra-precise cruise control is another welcome feature as are the lockable hard cases which swallow 18 gallons of gear.

Indian Motorcycle collaborated with Metzeler when developing the Challenger’s rubber.
Indian Motorcycle collaborated with Metzeler when developing the Challenger’s rubber.Indian Motorcycle

In addition to blacked-out styling pieces replacing chrome hardware, Dark Horse versions of the Challenger add traction control. Like most liter-class and above sized sportbikes, the system includes a smartphone chip-sized IMU. This gives the bike positional awareness, and can potentially mitigate loss of control by reducing engine power and brake pressure during certain riding conditions. GPS navigation inside the 7-inch touchscreen-compatible Ride Command display is also included. Curiously, heated grips are only available as an option.

This LED position light is a nice touch paying homage to Indian’s classic logo.
This LED position light is a nice touch paying homage to Indian’s classic logo.Indian Motorcycle

The color display is especially slick, with a logical menu system and rich feature set including ride metrics (i.e., distance/elevation traveled, rolling time, stopped time, etc.). It’s also easy to pair a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone, and the twin speakers belt out 100 watts of powerful sound.

In terms of raw performance, this Indian delivers. Its engine is fast, fun, and powerful, and the well-sorted chassis is equally apt to play. However, considering its rich history, the Challenger is missing the type of fit and finish we expect, especially considering its price tag. Still, if outright performance is the end game, for a bagger-style bike the Challenger gets it done.

Gear Box

Helmet: Shoei RF-SR

2020 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 108.0 x 96.5mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 11.0:1
FUEL DELIVERY Fuel injection w/ 52mm dual bore throttle bodies
CLUTCH Wet multiplate w/ assist
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/gear
FRAME Cast aluminum
FRONT SUSPENSION 43mm inverted telescopic fork; 5.1-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Single hydraulic shock adjustable for damping; 4.5-in. travel
FRONT BRAKES Dual Brembo 4-piston calipers, 320mm discs
REAR BRAKE 2-piston caliper, 298mm disc
WHEELS, FRONT/REAR Cast aluminum; 19 x 3.5-in. / 16 x 5.0-in.
TIRES, FRONT/REAR Metzeler Cruisetec; 130/60-19 / 180/60-16
RAKE/TRAIL 25.0°/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
CONTACT indianmotorcycle.com