2020 Indian Challenger: Building a Better Bagger!

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Barry Hathaway

With its new Challenger models, Indian Motorcycle has definitely shown that it is a strong contender in the heavy cruiser-bagger category. The Challenger was designed to compete directly with Harley-Davidson’s Road Glide models, and this introduction can be considered a shot across H-D’s bow.

“Our mindset was to leave no stone unturned and deliver a bagger that exceeds the standards in categories like power, handling, comfort, and technology,” said Reid Wilson, vice president of Indian Motorcycle. 

A large and aggressively styled frame-mounted fairing features distinctive LED lighting and an adjustable windscreen. A stylish curved gas tank leads back to a large seat and roomy hard saddlebags. There are actually three different Challenger trim levels: the base Challenger, Challenger Limited, and Challenger Dark Horse. The base model comes sans the navigation part of Ride Command and the Bosch Inertial Measurement Unit Smart Lean Technology stability control, but does have anti-lock brake system as standard. 

We attended the world launch of this new trio of Challenger models along California’s beautiful and winding Highway 1 Pacific coastal road. By the time we returned with about 350 miles under our seats, the Challenger had proven to be all that Indian claimed in the press briefing.

Powertrain and Performance

An all-new 108-cubic-inch (1,768cc) 60-degree V-twin with single overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, and liquid cooling provides motivation for the large machine. Hydraulic valve lash adjusters and camshaft chain tensioners reduce maintenance.

Horsepower (at the crankshaft) is factory rated 122 at 5,500 rpm, while torque is 128 lb-ft at 3,800 revs. The engine starts to pull at about 2,000 rpm and keeps on pulling harder and faster clear to redline. It’s interesting to note that while the redline on the tachometer is at 5,000 rpm, the rev limiter doesn’t stop the fun until 6,500 rpm. A soft-cut speed limiter holds top speed down to about 113 mph in sixth gear, although the engine definitely feels like it could reach around 120 mph in stock form. 

There’s always plenty of power on tap; it’s one of the most powerful baggers I’ve ever ridden. Riders can select one of three riding modes: Rain, Standard, and Sport. Each has preset throttle maps and traction-control settings. Both the Limited and Dark Horse models get a Bosch six-axis inertial measurement unit, which adds cornering functions to ABS and fully contributes to the traction control and drag torque control. ABS is standard on all models.

An easy-shifting six-speed transmission and clutch assist make changing gears easy. Neutral is readily accessed and overdrive sixth keeps highway revs down. Toothed belt final drive reduces noise and maintenance.

Chassis and Handling

Indian spent the extra money to provide a lightweight cast-aluminum frame, rather than a heavier steel one as found on most baggers and cruisers. A solid-mounted engine increases chassis stiffness. A stout 43mm inverted fork and hydraulically adjustable Fox single rear shock also break tradition in this category of bikes, delivering exceptional ride and handling along with high-speed stability. 

Radially mounted Brembo brakes with dual front discs and ABS provide strong reliable stopping power. Metzeler developed dual-compound tires especially for the Challenger, based on the Cruisetec series. They offer exceptional grip along with precise handling and stability. 

I was surprised by how heavy the bike feels coming off the sidestand, and it leans over rather steeply. However, even at walking speeds the steering feels light and the 800-plus-pound weight seems to melt away as speed increases. Out in the twisties it feels secure and solid, and it inspires confidence. The bike holds a line through the corners well, and it doesn’t beat you up over rough sections.

The effective combination of a strong, lightweight chassis; light, accurate steering; good suspension; grippy tires; and a fairly steep lean angle makes the Challengers fun on curvy roads, something you can rarely say about heavyweight baggers.

Features and Ergonomics

A large fairing with an adjustable windscreen having nearly 3 inches of travel, along with adjustable vents, provides good air control. By raising or lowering the screen it’s possible to change airflow considerably. A taller accessory windscreen is available. The handlebar is rubber-mounted to reduce vibration reaching the rider. The Challenger’s riding position offers a relaxed posture that should accommodate riders of most sizes. The rider’s seat, with its 26.5-inch (compressed) saddle height, was comfortable all day, which is rare for a stock saddle. Instruments and the control screen are feature-packed and intuitive for the most part. The audio system is loud and clear, the navigation is spot on and easy to use, and the large touchscreen is user-friendly.

Engine heat on the rider is negligible, as the radiator fan directs hot air downward rather than over the rider. This is truly appreciated on a hot day. Saddlebags are roomy and convenient to use, similar to existing Indian Chieftain bagger models. They should be sufficient for a multiday trip. The Challenger lineup is accompanied by a growing variety of Indian Motorcycle Authentic Accessories that allow riders to customize their bike.

Final Thoughts

Indian has introduced a bagger that outperforms everything in its class. It’s obvious that a lot of thought and planning went into these new models. Fit and finish, chrome, and materials are top quality throughout. 

Finally, here’s a bagger that can be ridden almost as aggressively as a sport-touring machine. Challengers combine potent engine performance with effective electronics, a competent chassis and suspension, plus excellent brakes and ergonomics. They are priced right for the market, too.

The MSRP for the 2020 base Challenger, available in Titanium Metallic paint, starts at $ 21,999, while the Challenger Dark Horse, available in Thunder Black Smoke, Sandstone Smoke, and White Smoke, starts at $ 27,499. The Indian Challenger Limited starts at $ 27,999, and is available in Thunder Black Pearl, Deepwater Metallic, and Ruby Metallic.