After what feels like approximately 8 million years of slow-burn tease, Indian Motorcycle Tuesday finally pulled the cover off its high-powered Challenger bagger/touring model. Driven by the new 1769cc liquid-cooled PowerPlus V-twin engine that was revealed last week, this bike has me all kinds of excited.
BE MOTO COZY
Get a TMO Hoodie
Although, admittedly, it is expensive as hell. We’ll get to that in a bit, but first let’s focus on the good stuff. Like the fact the Challenger has lean-sensitive traction control and ABS, which Indian refers to as “Smart Lean Technology.” There’s also something it calls “Drag Torque Control,” which I’m guessing is similar to Ducati’s Launch Control feature designed to help out people who don’t know how to operate a clutch properly.
Don’t forget the Challenger’s monster of an engine, which Indian says produces ~122 horsepower and ~131 lb-ft of torque*. Add in three riding modes – Rain, Standard and Sport – as well as Indian’s laudable Ride Command infotainment system (which Indian says now features an “all-new quad-core processor for faster response”), not to mention Brembo brakes, a Fox adjustable rear shock, LED lighting and keyless ignition. Indian’s not messing around here. I genuinely feel this bike has the potential to be a game changer within the touring segment – a segment that dominates the American market and isn’t quite as small in Europe as sportbike-focused British journos would have you believe.
Apart from the engine, the first thing you notice about the Challenger is its chassis-mounted fairing. Because it is fixed fairing and because most people assume Indian sees Harley-Davidson as the brand it is chasing/emulating (increasingly I’m not sure that’s true), many people will see shades of the latter brand’s excellent Road Glide model. I can see that, but I also see a ‘genetic’ link to the Victory Cross Country, which is something I find charming.
– VICTORY SPIRIT IN INDIAN BIKES: A GOOD THING –
Polaris’ decision to drop the Victory brand a few years ago made sense. Indian is a more recognizable brand with far deeper and more emotional connection to riders and non-riders. It was inherently the brand that was going to sell better. If you’re Polaris, obviously you would want to put your best efforts into your best-selling brand, which then left a huge question mark about the purpose of Victory. If you’re putting less effort into a lesser brand the returns won’t be great.
But there were some good things about Victory and there’s no arguing that it helped paved the way for Indian’s current success. Without the 15 years of experience that Victory gave Polaris it’s possible (even likely) that this return of Indian would have been as short-lived and disappointing as all those that had come in the half-century before.
So, I don’t think Polaris/Indian should completely disavow Victory. In fact, I think it should incorporate the brand’s successes as part of the rich and growing heritage of Indian. And I think Indian has done that to a certain degree, with the recently updated styling of the Chieftain, the spirit of the FTR 1200, and now the styling and power of the Challenger. All these things are distinctly Indian in my opinion, fitting with the brand’s larger traditions and heritage, but they offer a respectful nod to Victory.
– • –
Awkwardly, I think the Challenger’s fairing also looks slightly like the front end of a Dodge Charger. At least it’s not a Dodge Challenger, I guess. Indian says the fairing has adjustable air vents and a 16-inch screen that’s adjustable by up to 3 inches (76.2 mm).
“The Indian Challenger delivers a new level of performance for riders who understand that the seemingly small details make a huge difference,” said Reid Wilson, who is my Facebook friend and vice president of Indian Motorcycle. “Our mindset was to leave no stone unturned and deliver a bagger that exceeds the standards in categories like power, handling, comfort, and technology.”
In classic Indian Motorcycle style, the Minnesota-based brand will be offering three flavors of Challenger: the standard Challenger, the Challenger Dark Horse and the Challenger Limited. Basically, the same sort of model split seen with Indian’s air-cooled big twin touring machines, the Springfield, Chieftain and Roadmaster.
Prices in the United Kingdom have yet to be announced but in the United States the starting price runs from $21,999 for the standard Challenger to $27,999 for the Challenger Limited. Using the Chieftain as a guide, it’s likely that the numbers will be vaguely similar in the United Kingdom (eg, the Chieftain is $21,999 in the United States and £22,449 in the UK), but with Brits paying more in actual terms (According to the current exchange rate £22,449 = US $29,057). It probably won’t matter either way, though, because Brexit will destroy us all and the only people buying Challengers will be those seeking to use them as mobile homes.
A (Pricey) Game Changer?
However you look at it, though, the Challenger costs a lot of money. And I’m sure many folks will point out that, in terms of power and features, you’re not getting any more than you’d get from, say, a fully loaded but less expensive BMW R 1250 RT. In fact, you’re getting less. As best I can tell, the Challenger does not come with heated grips as standard. Not to mention electronically adjustable suspension.
But I’ll admit that if I somehow had a colossal sum of money burning a hole in my pocket, the Challenger is still the bike I’d choose. It looks and sounds awesome and, you know, it’s made in the United States**. To that end I think the bike has the potential to be something of a Gold Wing killer in North America, where, as I say, massive touring bikes are incredibly popular. For example, if I remember correctly, roughly two-thirds of Harley-Davidson’s US sales are in its touring segment.
The Gold Wing has long been popular for a number of American riders because it’s A) not a Harley; B) faster/more powerful than a Harley; C) has more tech than a Harley; D) isn’t as a hot as a Harley. To the Milwaukee company’s credit, it’s been making up some ground in most of those areas in recent years, but the Indian Challenger is a bike that I think can stand toe to toe with the Gold Wing right now. In power, tech, and features – as well as weight and price – the Challenger and the Gold Wing are pretty evenly matched, with the Challenger perhaps just inching ahead on the tech side.
Crucially, however, the Challenger gets to wave the “Made in the USA” flag – something Honda abandoned even nominal claim to when it moved Gold Wing production back to Japan in 2011 (from 1980 to 2010 it was manufactured in Marysville, Ohio). It remains to be seen whether the Challenger will handle as well as the Gold Wing but I think its country of origin will be a big selling point to American riders. And possibly to a fair number of European riders, as well.
“While we are grounded in our iconic history, we are focused and driven to break new ground and establish a higher standard for riders, and the Challenger is a testament to that,” said Steve Menneto, president of Indian Motorcycle. “The amount of technology and level of detail packed into this bike is incredible, and it’s something we’re extremely proud of.”
The Challenger, with its price, size and weight, probably won’t be converting any riders over to the touring segment, but for those who appreciate this genre of bike (like me), it’s definitely something to salivate over. I’ve said in thew past that I will feel truly successful in life if I ever have an Indian Chieftain sitting in my garage. I think I’m going to change that claim; my dream bike is now a Challenger.
2020 INDIAN CHALLENGER
2020 INDIAN CHALLENGER DARK HORSE
2020 INDIAN CHALLENGER LIMITED
* The numbers differ slightly depending on market. No doubt that has to do with differing regulations. Surprisingly, the EMEA market gets higher torque numbers.
** Let’s not get too lost in semantics here. Obviously not all the parts are made in the United States but there’s no arguing that large portions of Indian’s bikes are manufactured and assembled in ‘Merica.