When Harley-Davidson killed their beloved “Dyna”, pitchforks were raised, barns burned, and a certain segment of the motorcycle community wondering what the hell they were going to do. It was tragic, and funny at the same time. I was on front lines, entrenched in a story about whether the transition was good, bad or ugly. When the dust settled, I felt like the only man standing. Harley’s twin-shock era had come to an end. Those days were behind us. And yet people, riders, continued to ask for it, to reminisce about their days of two-shock glory. It was a weird time if I’m being honest. I walked away from my “research” realizing that both the bikes I had been riding and the people I had been talking to were equally ill informed. Sure, the new Softail’s mono-shock platform was forward thinking, progress, but what were we sacrificing at that altar?
Indian took note of the outrage. They realized that the Motor Company had left a hole in the hearts of many motorcyclists. Those yearning for a simpler time. A big, twin cylinder motor, with two wheels and two rear shocks. The Dyna was dead, but the love lingered. Engrossed in their unveiling of the outright awesome Challenger, a liquid-cooled monster of a touring motorcycle, I’m surprised that Indian’s engineers had the time to re-develop their Chief line. Previously clad in wheel skirts, leather tassels and the longest wheelbase in the west, the Chief was anything but sporty. More of a low and slow kind of thing. But for 2022, Indian not only unveiled a re-designed Chief, but they completely changed the recipe.
The 2022 Chief is available in three iterations, with two variants of each to choose from. There’s the standard Chief and the Chief Dark Horse, the Chief Bobber and Bobber Dark Horse, and then the Super Chief and Super Chief Limited. Both the Bobber and Super Chief models are equipped with fork covers and a headlight valance, while the base model Chief and Dark Horse models have exposed suspension components and a single round headlight. The Chief, Dark Horse and Bobber can be outfitted with either forward or mid controls.
My test unit was a Stealth Gray Chief Dark Horse with mid control and the air-cooled 116 cui powerplant. The up-spec Dark Horse and Limited models are all equipped with Indian’s largest V-twin, while the standard models are powered by the tried-and-true 111 cui motor. The re-design of the Chief was intended to provide riders with a blend of new technology and old-fashioned aesthetic. The engineers were clear that aesthetics came first, then performance. But they didn’t skip on the tech bit, as the Dark Horse and Limited models feature a four-inch, colour, glove compatible, touchscreen TFT display that blends seamlessly with the classic appeal of the Chief. Living in a simple circular gauge cluster, the TFT display provides all the basics intel (RPM, engine temp, speed, etc.), along with turn-by-turn navigation thanks to Indian’s Ride Command system, as well as the ability to switch between ride modes (Standard, Tour and Sport) and control your connected Bluetooth devices. 21st century technology hidden in plain sight.
The 116 cui motor produces a monstrous 120 lb-ft of torque and an undisclosed amount of horsepower. It pulls off the line like a diesel engine spun up in the RPMs and carries power through the gears evenly. The gearbox is classic Polaris product, crisp and notable. There’s no guessing whether you got to the next gear. The 4.0-gallon fuel tank is good for roughly 320 km (200 miles), depending on how you ride, and the 26-inch seat height is as approachable as you can get. Full of fuel, the Chief Dark Horse tips the scale at 304 kg (670 lbs) but it carries its weight very well and manages to feel nimble and easy to maneuver. A single semi-floating 300mm rotor grasped by a four-piston caliper does braking duty up front, while the same sized rotor and a two-piston caliper manage the back wheel braking. It’s adequate, and did not suffer from much fade, even when bringing the 304 kg Indian to a halt from speed. Pirelli Night Dragon tires are wrapped around a 19-inch cast wheel up front and a 16-inch cast wheel at the rear. The Bobber and Super Chief models use 16-inch wire wheels at both the front and rear, however Indian tells me that the circumference is the same given the low-profile of the 19-inch tire.
I suppose the elephant in the room is the suspension Indian chose to use on the re-designed Chief lineup. A 46mm telescopic fork with 5.2-inches of travel is up front, and a dual-shock setup with adjustable preload and 3-inches of travel is at the rear of the Chief. Three inches might not seem like much — many would argue that while another American motor company has finally got around to including a mono-shock design on their big twin cruiser, Indian chose to go the old-fashioned route — I’ll argue that the Chief, in all of its variations, handled everything I threw at it, and more.
Our test ride took us from the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona to a Wild West ghost town outside of Wickenburg. The route wounds its way through the mountains westward towards the quaint town of Prescott where we imbibed in a late lunch before navigating Highway 89A south towards Wickenburg, descending rapidly in elevation. My mid-controls came into contact with the asphalt on many an occasion. The 26-inch seat height and 28.5-degree lean angle means that ground clearance is nominal. But peg feelers are there for a reason, and I quickly found confidence leaning the Chief all the way over. The 29-degree rake angle gives the bike a classic big twin cruiser look but isn’t extreme enough to make it handle like a wheelbarrow.
We stayed the night in Wickenburg and hit rain on our ride back. The route had to be modified, and many highway miles were consumed to get us to an In-N-Out Burger for lunch. I was pleasantly surprised how comfortable the Dark Horse was on the highway, given that the seat is so small the suspension travel equally so. The big motor could keep the Dark Horse well ahead of traffic, and the riding position was comfortable with the mid-controls. I am, admittedly, an old man at heart, and was envious of my fellow journalists who managed to snag a Super Chief with the forward controls, floorboards and a windscreen. But suffering for the sake of sex appeal is part of the program.
Overall, the 2022 Chief Dark Horse is a perfect blend of big motor, stiff chassis, enough technology, and an awesome riding experience. It offers riders the opportunity to have a simple, aggressive aesthetic, along with all the trimmings of a modern motorcycle, save for the suspension. But apparently that’s what the people wanted, and Indian was listening. So for all those still mourning the death of the Dyna, I’d urge you to take a look at the Chief Dark Horse and all it has to offer.
2022 Indian Chief Dark Horse
Engine/transmission:: 1,890cc, V-Twin/6-speed
Power/torque: 120 lb-ft
Weight: 304kg (fuelled and ready)
Warranty: 2 years, unlimited kilometres
Competitors: Harley-Davidson Low Rider S, Honda Rebel 1100, Kawasaki Vulcan 900, Suzuki Boulevard M109R
Links: Indian Motorcycle