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Indian Chief Dark Horse

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We’ve seen a bit of demise in SA, regarding cruisers with massive engines. I for one used to adore the Yamaha Star range of large capacity, low slung, cruisers. Cool names like Warrior, Raider, Roadliner and more have since left the showroom floors, for whatever disappointing reasons.

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However, the guys from Yamaha SA are now well and truly in command of the iconic Indian brand offering – yes you’ve guessed it, cruisers with large engines. So life in the big cruiser lane isn’t so bad after all. So to reinforce my belief in these pompous machines I managed to get my eager palms on this imposing Indian Chief Dark Horse, which most certainly has a colossal motor of note.

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The Chief’s Dark Horse engine is the biggest Indian produce with a capacity of 1,890cc, called the Thunderstroke (sounds a bit erotic too), or 116 cubic-inch in American. The 49-degree, two-valve, air-cooled cylinders have pistons that are 103mm wide and a stroke of 113mm, considerable to say the least. I had to search around to find horsepower claims that seem to be around the 80hp mark, which doesn’t sound a lot for a ‘1900’, right? But this unit is all about torque with 162Nm of the stuff delivered at only 2,900rpm, ideal for a spot of cruising around town. 

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You would think that two cylinders of this magnitude would vibrate like a pensioners massage chair, well you’d be wrong, well maybe a little at the top end of the rev range. It’s uncannily smooth for such an enormous V-Twin, especially whilst riding in this ‘fat’ torque zone, and with these aftermarket silencers fitted it sounds tremendous. The rear cylinder also deactivates when sitting at the lights to prevent your gentlemen parts glowing crimson, quite liked that clever feature.  

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The Thunderstroke is also extremely mechanically quiet, which enforces the engineering build quality from Indian. In fact all of their latest motorcycles enjoy this trait as well. One thing I did notice was the fueling was out a little at the bottom end, as the bike tends to surge back and forth around the 2,000rpm mark. Indian SA says this isn’t a problem as they’re aware of this and have new software to correct this issue, and we’re told, unleashes more power in the process.

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Talking of power, or modes to be more precise, there’re three of them. Rain, Standard and Sport, I preferred Sport for obvious reasons. All of which can easily be selected and adjusted, on one of the best I’ve seen, a round 4-inch touch screen instrument pod. This stunning little screen relays two displays to choose from. One is ‘clock like’ the other a more sporty option. It also has an integral GPS already installed by Indian that works well and is easy to use, but it can link to your phone for messages, Bluetooth, music, and the like. Predictably there’s all the usual information for ambient temperature, ride data, fuel range, and once again I really liked that compass feature also found on their FTR.

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One very notable feature that slapped me in the face was the suspension. Short stroke suspension units have always been a problem on low cruisers, because the lack of travel can make them bottom out sending violent shocks through the spine and teeth. This most certainly isn’t the case on the Indian Chief. The chunky 46mm forks and twin rear shocks are surprisingly first-rate, so I had to investigate more. To my surprise the transmission specialists ZF, found in many race winning vehicles of all types, make them. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of ZF making suspension components on any bike and they’re commendable on all counts regarding damping and spring choice. I expect to see more from ZF in the future that’s for sure.

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Even though the Indian Chief Dark Horse weighs in at 300kg, and has a 1,626mm wheelbase, it’s actually quite nimble, obviously limited by the 125mm ground clearance. Still there’s always something cool about scraping parts on the tarmac, right? The Pirelli Night Dragon tyres helped with these antics sitting on 16-inch wheels, both front and rear. The rear (thin for a big cruiser) 180-section tyre does assist with turning and direction changes too, better than opting for an unnecessarily wide tyre that’s arguably more for styling than function. You really can feel how much attention Indian has made in the design of this bike to make it ride so well.

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More significantly though is the attitude and stance of the Chief Dark Horse in this beautifully applied Storm Grey colour, offset nicely by the impeccably finished black engine. You only sit 662mm from the floor, however the mid-mounted controls made my six-foot height feel a bit cramped while leaning into the flat drag ‘bars. I’d certainly go for the forward mounted controls if it were my choice between the two footrest configurations.

Anyway, it’s low and powerful; ignore the 80hp claims because it’s exceedingly quick away from the lights due to the torque delivery. Just feed in the clutch and rip through the six-speed gearbox and it soon becomes apparent that you have a bit of a drag bike underneath your bum. On a wet or slippery road you have to be a bit careful though, as there’s no traction control to contain that 162Nm of mammoth torque. Or, on the other hand, lay rubber in every gear and smoke the rear tyre in a display of amazing bike control, maybe? Either way it’s an entertaining ride in slippery conditions.

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If you desire a big cruiser this Indian Chief Dark Horse has to be worth a look and this particular one if for sale at R380,000 because it’s a demo unit and comes with leather panniers, saving at least 50k in the process. It has the attitude, the image, the stance and it rides as well as it looks, where ‘some’ power cruisers most certainly do not. I enjoyed my time on the Dark Horse and it just made me feel so damn cool – say no more!

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To book a test ride on this bike, and others, go www.indianmotorcycle.co.za and to view their latest range and current special offers.

Images by:  Big Chief Sudoku.

Updated: 30th May 2024    

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