2015 Indian Chieftan
Unveiled as the flagship offering of a three-bike line-up for the 2014 model year, the Chieftain represented a few firsts for the Polaris-owned marque. For a start the name had never been used before. Yep, we’ve seen it on cars, tanks, trains and aircraft, but it had somehow escaped the clutches of generations of Indian Motorcycle marketing departments.
More importantly, it’s the first time the brand had used a fairing and hard panniers. Sure, there’ve been windscreens and saddlebags before, but the bagger represented another step up the touring bike evolutionary scale. The Chieftain’s position at the top of the Indian model range has since been relinquished to the Roadmaster, which is a name Indian has used in the past. It boasts a topbox, fairing lowers and a few other niceties to relegate the Chieftain back to bagger status.
Polaris resisted the temptation to assemble the Indian range from existing Victory parts, instead opting for close enough to a clean-sheet approach. The star turn is the Thunderstroke 111 (still not sure of that name) V-twin.
Referencing the bikes of the past – with the 1947 Chief named as the focus point – has gone close to being the company motto, as it’s central to the positioning of the brand.
Although there’s nothing to get the average tech head’s pulse racing, the Chieftain and its siblings win a lot of points is the standard fitting of ABS and cruise control.
The former is a very welcome safety net – particularly on a big cruiser – while cruise control is one of the things you didn’t know you needed until you use it. Then you’re hooked.
Speaking of things electric, there’s also a powered screen with a broad height adjustment, plus a reasonably powerful stereo with Bluetooth connectivity. Keyless starting is part of the package, along with an immobiliser. The Chieftain gains more comprehensive instrumentation than the Chief and Chief Vintage, with a twin-dial analogue speedo and tacho setup, separated by a digital display carrying a host of info including trip and fuel meters.
ON THE ROAD
The general plot for this test was to join the Iron Indian Riders for a run into the hills to play for a few days. A freeway dash is handy when you’re running late, but qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment. They’re typically heavily policed and crushingly boring, which is where the combination of a good stereo and cruise control make all sorts of sense.
A two-hour stint in the saddle to kick things off provided proof the bike is comfortable enough, with compliant suspension and decent upholstery. Though it’s a big motorcycle, it’s not what I’d call vast. At just shy of 189cm (6’3″), I found it good, but I have ridden roomier machines, such as the Honda Goldwing.
With the screen cranked up to max height, so I was looking through rather than over it, the stereo speakers in the fairing had enough of an air pocket to be heard. A pillion passenger gets less clarity. It would make more sense to me to run custom-made earphones that block external noise and work far better. They’re readily available through folk such as Earmold.
Score bonus points for the modest fuel use, at around 6.25 litres per 100km (16km/L) on cruise at a steady 110km/h. That means a 300km-plus range, which is respectable. The cruise control is simple to use and well-sorted, with no surging.
While the Chieftain is more than capable of cruising freeways, for me it starts to shine once the roads develop a few gentle curves.
Its sheer size and weight work against it around town, but it’s capable on a back road.
The six-speed shifter works well enough. You may notice some transmission whine, which is constantly present, but not particularly intrusive. The clutch is well-sorted with a decent take-up band.
Braking is good – decent feel and power – but not exceptional.
Throw a 65kg passenger on the back (combined with a 120kg rider) and you’ll find the suspension is still coping, though the performance envelope narrows a little.
With an accessory backrest and handrail shown on our test bike, the overall comfort picture for two people is pretty good.
If you’re shopping in the big cruiser/tourer/bagger market, the idea of a motorcycle priced in the mid-30s won’t come as a big shock. Some people buy Indian because it’s an alternative to Harley-Davidson, which is fair enough.
– Fat mid-range
– Nice handling
– Good brand
– Needs decent pillion grips
Read the full review in issue #253 of Motorcycle Trader.
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