Review: The bold, blacked-out 2017 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse

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The Chieftan Dark Horse didn't disappoint

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Nothing says bad ass like a blacked out bike – even a flat black Vespa has attitude. Indian Motorcycle introduced its take on that look with the Chief Dark Horse last year and followed it up in 2016 with the Chieftain Dark Horse, a flat black bagger with sharp styling and plenty of stage presence.

We've had our hearts set on riding the Chieftain Dark Horse for quite some time and we got the chance at the recent Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. While having most of the same features and dimensions of the regular Chieftain, the blacked out look of the Dark Horse makes it a ride fit for an event like this, and after a couple of days aboard we weren't disappointed.

Unlike the Roadmaster with its big trunk and passenger compartment, or the regular Chieftain that comes with a passenger seat but the same fairing, the solo-seated Chieftain Dark Horse is for the rider who likes to peel off the miles alone.

While there is little physical difference between the Chieftain Dark Horse and the Chieftain, the 2017 models will differ because the new Chieftains come with the clever Ride Command System as standard equipment, but the Chieftain Dark Horse doesn't … and that's too bad.

It's not because we think more technology is necessarily better, but because the screen embedded in the fairing of the Chieftain Dark Horse that carries vital information not conveyed by the speedo and tachometer – like range, mileage, trip meter and tire pressure – is nearly useless in bright daylight on that bike. You literally have to take off your sunglasses and get as close as physics will allow to read the screen. Not recommended while moving.

We had an opportunity to mention this to Indian's engineering team during a lunch break on one of the day rides in the Black Hills outside of Sturgis, and they quickly acknowledged that had been a common complaint since the model had been introduced. They also pointed out that sunglasses with polarizing lenses don't help. So minimalist appeal aside, that does seem like something that should have been considered.

One feature we really appreciated was the electronically controlled windshield, which makes this bagger downright cushy in a way a tall windscreen can't. When set at full height it creates a near cone of silence around the rider. Consequently, it allows you to take full advantage of the 100 watt sound system, which comes in loud and clear at highway speeds.

With the windscreen down at its lowest point, you get that edgy blade effect that some bikers like – but at that height you also need to like bugs or whatever else might be flying toward you.

The 111 cubic inch Thunder Stroke V-twin is also a stand out on any of the Indians that come equipped with it. There are not enough "pulling like" analogies to convey the real sense of power you get when you peel back the throttle and feel the 119 ft-lbs (138.9 Nm) of torque kick in. It does tend to plateau early in the rev range, around 3000 rpm, but it's okay because that's where that engine seems to run at its most comfortable.

In two days of riding, we were able to put the big bike through varied riding conditions, from twisties to sweepers to flat straight aways. After riding several different big Indian models, including the Roadmaster and Springfield, it's amazing how the company has been able to create bikes that are really quite heavy and yet handle as if they are not.

While we didn't try to scrape the floor boards, we did dive into a few corners and were able to flick the bike back upright with little effort. Indian attributes the handling to a light weight cast aluminum frame designed specifically to make the bike be as stable as possible.

The Chieftain Dark Horse comes equipped with the same ABS system found in all of the Indians, except the Scouts. There's a dual 300 mm floating rotor with 4 piston calipers up front and a single 300 mm floating rotor with a two piston caliper set up in the rear, which is plenty to bring this 800 pound (363 kg) warrior to a safe stop.

For those drawn to black bikes, keep in mind that color attracts just about every piece of dirt and scuff mark out there. Late afternoon rain in Sturgis meant that while we picked the bike up clean as new, it didn't look that way after the first storm.

Indian has priced the Chieftain Dark Horse at a base price of US$21,999. If an abhorrence for chrome is your thing, the company does offer you the ability to cover or replace what few chrome bits there are on the bike with a set of blacked out pipes, exhaust tips and an assortment of trim pieces.

You could probably find blacked out bikes that cost less, but you wouldn't get the same features, performance or attention. This bike makes a statement, even if you find yourself in a rally, or parking lot, awash in bikes of the same color.

Product page: Indian Motorcycle

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