There are days you ride a bike and just feel great
But there are those days you get to ride bikes and just feel so lucky!
This week the BikeBrewers team were invited to attend the Indian Motorcycle introduction of their new 2022 Chief ‘Dark Horse’ and the Chief Bobber ‘Dark Horse’. We were among the first three journalists to be invited to try them out on the twisty roads surrounding the village of Vielsalm in the Ardennes (Belgium), near the famous circuit of Spa-Francorchamps.
It took us a 350 km ride to get there from Amsterdam, but boy was it worth it!
To make sure we’d get an early morning start we were offered to spend the night at the magnificent Biker Inn ‘Baton Rouge’ just on the outskirts of town. A great way to spend time with the other lucky press representatives and share motorcycle adventures.
On a side note; if you are ever planning to treat yourself to a glorious ride on the twisty roads of the mesmerizing Ardennes, make sure to book at least one night at the ‘Baton Rouge’. The Innkeepers Ben and Hetty can provide great tips for routes in the area. Also Hetty is a mean cook and she will happily fill your empty stomach with excellent French cuisine.
Indian surging forward
In the recent past the 120 year old American motorcycle manufacturer (established in 1901) has been growing rapidly. Indian Motorcycle in 2020 proved to be more resilient to the crisis than a lot of the other brands. The brand managed to improve global sales from the previous year in spite of the COVID pandemic spawned economic slowdown.
Total sales have been 32.016, up 1.9% not far from the all time record in 2017.
Motorcyclesdata.com reports: “The American brand, owned by Polaris, has lost moderately in the United States, while growing up in Canada. However, the manufacturer is growing in several markets, like Australia, New Zealand (+44.5%), Russia (+65.1%).
However, the current center of volume growth is Western Europe where Indian Motorcycle scored an outstanding +27% (in the total of 27 countries) over doubling volume in Romania, Finland, Luxemburg, Croatia.”
The Benelux team has done an outstanding job in creating interest from a younger demographic which started off with the introduction of the FTR a little while ago. And with the advent of the new Chief they are bound to be moving from strength to strength, or rather from torque to even more torque!
We got off to an early start in the morning as scheduled. But it did not take a cup of coffee to wake up this time. The Indian team decided to mount the awesome powered ‘Thunderstroke’ 116 cubic inch (1890cc) big block. This is already used for their ‘heavyweights’ (see recent story on the Roadmaster)
Both the Indian Chief Dark Horse and the Chief Bobber Dark Horse have been fitted out with this engine. Each one is equipped with three rider modes; ‘touring’, ‘Standard’ and….(drumroll)…..’Sport’.
The latter deserves a more appropriate name. May we suggest ‘Wake Up Call’? Damn! Use this mode and you are fully awake right off the bat and there is no way you will doze off. The torque which is supplied from the basement of this machine is just amazing. It goes and goes and goes and is dragging the rider along in a state of pure unadulterated bliss.
In spite of all the fun it does make the bike respond more nervously to flicks of the right wrist, making it less suitable for urban rides and more for long twisty roads as shown in the pictures. However, If you feel like taking on a challenge to a traffic light sprint in town, it is very easy to quickly change the mode on the touchscreen while the light is still red.
You are bound to be the winner, no doubt about that!
Every picture deserves a fitting frame
Enough raving about the performance of the engine for now. Let’s focus on the design and especially on the frame.
The original ‘Chief’ was launched exactly 100 years ago in 1921. In those days it was designed by the celebrated Charles Franklin. He had made his mark as a dirt track racer, but was also an engineer. He was the guy who came up with the Scout as well as the Chief. Both machines boasted 61-cubic-inch V-twin, dual cams, low seats, and graceful lines Indian Motorcycle are so famous for.
Fast forwarding one hundred years. The head of design of the Polaris owned brand is now Ola Stenegärd, a Swedish guy with a tremendous track record and a lot of street cred. From the day he was born he was groomed to build and design motorcycle. His father taught him how to weld pieces of iron into useful objects and his mother was the one who taught him how to draw fine pictures.
He spent his time fine tuning his talents at the University College of Art, Craft, and Design in Stockholm, digesting more inspiration after that at the Southern California’s ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. He returned to UCACD to get his Master’s degree in Applied Art/Industrial Design.
He worked at SAAB and did some stuff for Öhlins Suspension. He then left Sweden and moved to the US where he started working for Indian before Polaris took the reins. He left two years later to create beauty at BMW and was re-hired by Polaris in 2018.
We have to thank him for re-inventing the Chief that we ride today. As he describes it ‘design is inspired or even dictated by the street’. It’s the guys in the sheds who churn out works of art which inspire Ola.
As with works of art and especially paintings, these require a fitting frame to enhance the beauty of the piece. That’s exactly how Ola looks at the new Indian chief. Being able to work with an engine that possesses a striking image, he decided to create a frame that amplifies its elegance.
It may seem contradictory to create a frame with customizing in mind. But this is how the Swede sees it. He wants to leave enough room to move creatively for those builders who really want to leave their personal mark on Ola’s pièce de résistance.
Now this is what we call forward thinking. Offering a tableau to builders to sink their teeth in will create a demand for accessories. And Indian is offering loads of them. Very smart.
After spending a full day on those lovely winding roads in Belgium we were asked which of the two bikes we preferred. This was the toughest question of the day.
The Indian ‘Chief’ Dark Horse has its roots in the ‘70’s. The most obvious signs are the alloy cas rims and the seating position. The footpegs are mounted in the center of the frame forcing the rider to a slightly more upward and sporty position. The size of the front tire is 19” with a 16” in the rear.
The Bobber version has spoked wheels and 16”rims in front and back. This bike comes with those fat tires you’d expect to see on a Bobber.
Going back to the initial question; after long deliberation we’d opt for the ‘Dark Horse’ option if Indian were to present us with a birthday gift. However, we would definitely mount the Bobber rims and tires and swap the standard seat for one of those magnificent ‘1920 solo rider saddle seats’ available in the Indian Motorcycle catalogue.
Riding solo we would also exchange the rear fender for one that is rounder and really ‘hugs’ the rear wheel. But that is just a matter of personal taste.
As much as we love the semi-ape hanger handlebars on the Bobber, we prefer the wider grip of the bars mounted on the Dark horse. The higher bars gave us the unpleasant tingling sensation causing your hand to feel like it is ‘sleeping’.
We love Ola Stenegärd and we need a bigger shed.
These are two new bikes you will not be able to ignore. Breathtaking is the best word to describe the sensation of riding them. Exquisite design combined with the prodigious power from the Thunderstroke engine will make heads turn wherever you ride.
They do not come cheap, but if we would have the cash to rebuild our shed and buy a brand new Indian Chief, we would not think twice about it.
Chief Dark horse specs (full specs)
Thunderstroke 116 engine
19”cast alloy front wheel
16”cast alloy rear wheel
Solo Bobber seat
digital gauge with navigation
mid mount foot controls
Chief Bobber Dark Horse specs (full specs)
Thunderstroke 116 engine
16” spoke wheels front and back
Solo Bobber seat
Mini-ape Hanger Handlebars
Blacked out finishes
digital gauge with navigation
Nacelle with large headlight bucket
Forward foot controls