Indian Motorcycles has reinvented the Chief, the bike that launched the company’s rebirth under Polaris in 2014. Gone are the flowing fenders and the aluminum frame seen since its debut in 2014. Instead, we’ve got a lean and stripped-down Chief for the 2022 model year.
Three Chiefs, actually, and each having two levels of finishes.
The new Chief is a handsome cruiser, with a clean and classy tank shape that teardrops into an alluring line that descends along the subframe and into the sharply angled dual rear shocks. Negative space above the front cylinder and behind the rear gives it an air of lightness, a huge departure from the former Chief. Its 64-inch wheelbase is three inches shorter than the previous model and just two inches longer than Indian’s Scout.
The basic Chief model follows a traditional cruiser layout, with a 19-inch aluminum front wheel and a 16-inch rear, held in place by a new steel frame that replaces the aluminum chassis of the first Polaris Chief models. A drag-style handlebar and mid-mount foot controls dictate a sportier riding position. It’s the lightest of the new Chiefs at 670 pounds with its four-gallon tank filled. Pricing starts at a reasonable $ 14,499.
The Chief Bobber subs in wire-spoke hoops, sized 16 inches in both front and rear, and it adds a taller “mini-ape” handlebar and forward-placed foot controls. Fork and shock shrouds also identify the Bobber, as well as a larger headlight bucket. The MSRP stands at $ 15,999.
And then there’s the Super Chief, which likely has the most appeal for RoadRUNNER readers. With a base price of $ 18,499, it takes the Bobber layout and adds a windshield and saddlebags, as well as a pull-back handlebar, large floorboards, and a plusher saddle with passenger accommodations.
For the record, Indian still offers several models using the older aluminum-framed chassis, including the Chieftain, Roadmaster, and Springfield.
Each Chief is motivated by a variation of the existing Thunderstroke 111 V-twin. That air-cooled 1811cc lump now features a new Bosch engine control unit (ECU) that has 10 times the fine-tuning capabilities of the previous Chiefs’, allowing further refinement and improved rideability.
Power addicts will want to opt for model variants with the 116 cubic-inch (1890cc) motors that offer 120 lb-ft of torque compared to the 108 lb-ft of the standard engine. In that case, you’ll want the Dark Horse versions of the Chief and Bobber (with blacked-out finishes) or the Super Chief Limited (with extra chrome and metallic paint).
Each new Chief has as standard equipment keyless ignition, full LED lighting, cruise control, three ride modes, and rear-cylinder deactivation to help keep the rider cooler while stopped.
The high-end Dark Horse and Limited Chiefs feature a customizable four-inch TFT instrument panel as an upgrade from the traditional gauge on the standard models. The round touch-screen panel can be linked to your smartphone via Bluetooth to offer turn-by-turn directions, play music, or display incoming call information. It also includes a USB charging port. ABS is standard equipment on these models; an $ 800 option on the others.
Indian invited us to sample all versions of the new Chief platform in the picturesque locales around Sedona, AZ. I beelined for the Super Chief Limited, the priciest Chief at $ 21,499.
The Super Chief is by far the most comfortable model. The handlebar draws back to meet your hands in a neutral position, and the floorboards offer a generous amount of room to adjust for foot-placement preferences.
The standard windshield is about perfect, high enough for good protection from the elements and without annoying buffeting. Its quick-release design makes it easy to leave it at home when wind protection isn’t necessary. The bike’s wide and supportive seat proved to be very comfortable, even though it’s placed quite low at 26.2 inches.
The Super Chief carries its 739-pound weight (with its tank filled) quite well, even if it’s not much lighter than Indian’s Vintage Dark Horse (754 pounds). It has a lazier steering rake angle than the Vintage, but this is offset by a shorter wheelbase, supplying surprising agility from an 1890cc cruiser. It turns in predictably and remains stable even past its 28.5-degree lean angle when the floorboards drag.
The Super Chiefs use 16-inch wire-spoke wheels with a tall front sidewall, which supplies more rubbery feedback from the front end, compared to the Chief’s 19-inch front tire. Instead of dual front disc brakes, the new Chiefs use a single 300mm rotor with a four-piston caliper. It provides only modest power and a wooden feel, despite the braided steel brake lines, although there’s more than enough clamping force to make the front tire chirp during heavy braking.
The Thunderstroke engine remains a peach, with a satisfying rumble shaking the bike at idle, reminding you there’s a big powerplant below. A light clutch pull belies the size of the motor, even if the engagement zone isn’t clearly defined by feel. The six-speed transmission shifts deliberately, if not breezily.
The 49-degree V-twin pulls ably from just 1,500 rpm and uses its grunt to strongly thrust the Super Chief any time past 2,000 rpm. Counterbalancers subdue vibration at cruising speed, like the motor is damped by marshmallows.
I found the throttle response from Sport mode a little too abrupt, settling mostly on the Standard mode for my preferences. Tour mode supplies docile engine response, which would be the optimal choice when carrying a passenger. Later, I rode the non-Limited Super Chief 111. Power is more than adequate, but it’s not quite up to the burly delivery of the 116.
Stylistically, the extra accoutrements of the Super Chiefs (windshield, bags, and passenger seat) results in a heavier-looking and busier profile than the non-Super Chiefs. The large gap below the saddlebags, between the exhaust mufflers, looks ungainly, but it’s there to keep your luggage from roasting. There are 9.7 gallons of combined capacity in the bags.
The Bobber version of the lineup is basically a decontented Super Chief, with the same 16-inch wire-spoke wheel combo and covers for the fork and preload-adjustable shocks. It adds a mini-ape handlebar and forward-placed footpegs.
The Bobber weighs 24 pounds more than the Chief, some of it coming from the old-school wire-spoke wheels that require inner tubes. The Chief’s 46mm fork ably sucks up bumps with 5.2 inches of travel. The shocks, with three inches of travel, struggle to absorb big, harsh hits. The seat, at 26 inches high, feels good initially but loses plushness after an hour.
The Chief’s ergonomics are dramatically sportier than the Super’s, with a drag-style handlebar that forces you to reach forward and mid-mount foot controls that position your feet below the knees. It’s an aggressive riding position that looks and feels cool, but the short seat-to-peg distance will feel cramped for those with long legs. No worries, though, as the Bobber’s forward foot controls are a simple bolt-on swap.
The cheapest Chief uses a 130/60-19-inch front tire instead of the 130/90-16, and the shorter-sidewall front tire offers superior feedback. Machined highlights in the front wheel add subtle bling. Despite three different foot controls in the Chief lineup, they all offer the same 28.5-degree lean angle before they drag.
We’ve learned over the past decades of cruiser development in the marketplace that the most adept motorcycles won’t sell unless they look cool. With respect to style, the beguiling new Chiefs have hit a collective home run. Their stripped-down appearance provides a nicely elemental visage, and their air-cooled motors sit proudly as a centerpiece, unencumbered by a radiator and its ugly plumbing.
As functional motorcycles, the new Chiefs offer less front braking power and reduced rear-suspension travel, and a little less lean angle and fuel capacity, too. But they really excel as lust-inducing eye candy, so we expect a lot of cash registers ringing at Indian dealers this year.
2022 Indian Chief
+ stunning good looks, glamorous air-cooled V-twin, made in America
– form over function, shorter suspension travel, merely adequate cornering clearance
Distributor Indian Motorcycle
MSRP $14,499 to $21,499
Engine air-cooled, 49° V-twin, 2-valve
Displacement 1811cc or 1890cc
Power 108lb-ft @3,200rpm;120lb-ft @2,900rpm
Transmission 6-speed, belt final drive
Wet Weight 670lbs to 739lbs
Seat Height 26/26.2in
Fuel Capacity 4gal
Fuel Grade premium
Color dependent on model