When it comes to touring on the Chieftain, let’s get the worst out of the way immediately. It needs more range. Though my observed fuel economy was a respectable 39mpg, I found myself stopping for gas every 150 miles or so at best. I think this is primarily the result of an overly conservative fuel gauge that turns the low fuel light on way too early. The listed fuel capacity is 5.5 gallons, though consistent fill ups with the low fuel warning light on would only amount to around four gallons. With that complaint out of the way, the Indian is, like the Triumph, a joy to rack up miles on.
I was afraid that the big air-cooled, 1,819cc Thunderstroke 111 engine would roast me like a duck in the Florida heat, but that turned out not to be a problem at all. Instead, riding the Thunderstroke’s waves of torque (Indian claims a peak of 119.2 lb-ft at 3,000 rpm) is an absolute pleasure. Whacking the throttle open results in impressive acceleration and a very pleasing note from the twin exhausts. One motorcycle enthusiast I ran into at a gas station called the engine’s design a “work of art,” and I couldn’t agree more. The engine and the bike look simply stunning, a fact confirmed by the amount of attention it received from strangers.
The Chieftain’s list of creature comforts is long, and when you’ve got a 600-mile day in front of you every one of them is welcome. Stephen especially enjoyed the audio system, which provides good, though not great, sound quality and automatically adjusts volume with speed. I was most thankful for the cruise control, which is a godsend for long stints on the freeway. The adjustable windscreen, the first housed in a batwing style fairing, worked well allowing me to tailor the amount of airflow I received. The hard saddlebags are kind of an awkward shape being long and thin, but nevertheless swallowed a useful amount of gear and camera equipment. The key fob is a nice feature that eliminates the need to fumble around for the key every time you get back on.
Clutch lever pull is a bit stiff and can be annoying when stuck in traffic, but the gobs of low-end torque allow you to effortlessly glide away from stoplights. Handling is good, though you’re constantly aware that the Indian is a huge machine (fully fueled weight is a pavement-crushing 848 pounds). In spite of its bulk, the Chieftain isn’t difficult to handle, and as the miles pile up the bike endears itself more and more to its rider. The telescopic front fork and rear mono shock do a great job of soaking up road imperfections, which results in comfortable and rock steady cruising. The Indian’s dual front discs with four-piston calipers and single rear disc with two-piston caliper are easy to modulate, and they provide adequate stopping power. ABS is standard and works seamlessly.
Since the Chieftain I rode was outfitted with an aftermarket Corbin saddle, I’m not qualified to comment on the stock seat. The overall comfort level of the Indian is commendable, however, and its cockpit provides enough room to stretch out and move around some. Aside from little nitpicks here and there, the Chieftain has proved to be one of the best touring motorcycles available—an admirable accomplishment in its first model year under Polaris.