Bikes we love

Indian Chief Dark Horse

So, mis amigos, what’s our collective opinion of the new Indian Chief Dark Horse? The bike was unveiled in Chicago and London last weekend and shows more than anything that Indian is starting to find its stride. 
Changing the aesthetics of a thing and calling it new is a time-honoured tradition in motorcycling, and, though many of us find it to be an annoying tactic, within a certain timeframe it can be seen as evidence that a manufacturer has both the demand and capacity to diversify. 
I suppose “timeframe” is the key word there. When Victory churns out the same thing over and over and over again, it can be seen as indication that the company is out of ideas and on the decline. Suzuki is even worse. But with a relatively new platform such as the Thunder Stroke 111 –– which has really only been around for a year and a half –– it makes sense for Indian to be making the most of it, to be offering it in any number of guises (a).
Basically what I’m trying to say here is that even though Indian has done something that generally annoys me, I’m not terribly annoyed in this case. And if I had anything approaching the amount of money needed to buy a new Indian, I definitely wouldn’t be annoyed at the Chief Dark Horse’s price. Somehow, throwing black paint all over everything has washed $2,000 off the price tag. In the United States, an Indian Chief Classic will set you back $18,999, whereas the asking price on a Chief Dark Horse is $16,999.
The numeral difference is the same over here in Her Majesty’s United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; the Chief Classic costs £18,499, the Chief Dark Horse costs “only” £16,499.
For that price you lose the novelty and difficult upkeep of a genuine leather seat, oil cooler and light bar found on the Classic. I’d like to hear a more technically minded person’s opinion of the absent oil cooler, but the other stuff I am quite happy to do without. Meanwhile, you keep ABS and cruise control and all the other things that make the Indian Chief the best vehicle I have ever ridden.
According to Indian, the Dark Horse’s blacked-out look and lower price tag is designed to help the company attract a slightly younger demographic. With its other big V-Twins it’s been aiming at riders who are 55 years old and older. Whereas with this model, according to Indian Senior Project Manager Ben Lindaman, “We’re targeting more around the 40-year-old.”

I’ll be 39 years old next month, so I suppose that means I am roughly the sort of person Indian is hoping to lure with this machine. If that’s the case, I’m not 100-percent sure Indian has succeeded.

The first thing I’m not sure about is the act of blacking out everything. That’s a trick that feels a little outdated to me. Perhaps “outdated” is not the right word to use on a motorcycle that so deliberately follows styling cues from the 1930s, but hopefully you get what I mean. It’s something that made sense a few years ago but doesn’t quite fit a bike being released in 2015.

I think “younger” riders are averse to excessive chrome, but not necessarily averse to colour. I think bikes like the Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight or Triumph Speedmaster or Victory Gunner strike a good balance.

Meanwhile, Indian has chosen to keep those damned studs on the rider’s seat, which I think is a bad call. I look at things like that (and fringe) and all I can think of is that scene in Police Academy when they go to the Blue Oyster Bar.

Though, having said that, one of the things I like/respect most about the Dark Horse is the fact that the absence of chrome seems to highlight just how unapologetic Indian’s designers were in being faithful to the brand’s famous art deco lines. It really is a mobile work of art, and, in as much, a declaration of style and taste. This is a bike that will not aesthetically appeal to everyone; the design seems to acknowledge that and almost flaunt it.

Also, I totally approve of the alloy wheels. I think they look better, they’re easier to clean, and they (presumably) make it possible to ride with tubeless tires.

With all this in mind, I find that if I look at it long enough, the Chief Dark Horse is a bike I can love. I’m not sure it quite possesses the je ne c’est quoi that would make me willing to bend myself over a financial barrell to own one –– that thing that makes me think, “Dear Lord, I need this thing in my life right now” –– but if I had the requisite money to hand I would happily part with it. If someone were to give me one, they would receive Christmas cards for life.

I have a number of friends my age who do earn enough money to buy a Chief Dark Horse, but none of them ride motorcycles. Indeed, when I’ve tried to cajole some of them into developing an interest in riding they’ve told me I’m an idiot. One of my friends said: “I would rather learn to speak Tagalog. Keep in mind I don’t know anyone who’s Filipino.”

For Indian’s sake, I hope that my own cross-section of people who are “around 40” isn’t representative of the whole. I’m eager to see Indian flourish and perhaps one day blossom into a full motorcycle manufacturer –– producing several different types of motorcycle. I often think that the Indian motorcycle I really want is the one they’ll be making 15-20 years from now. Think of the differences between the recently reborn Triumph of 1995 and the Triumph of today. Whatever Indian is producing in 2035 could be amazing.

For that bike to exist, though, these early steps need to succeed. So, if you’ve got the money please go out and buy a Chief Dark Horse. If you don’t like it, you can give it to me.

(a) I am most interested to see how Indian chooses to develop its Scout platform. I think there is a viable demand for using that engine in something that competes ergonomically/stylistically against the Triumph Thruxton, Bonneville or Scrambler.