One day I will be rich and own this thing. Back in October, after almost a year of leaks and teasing, Indian Motorcycle pulled finally pulled the cover off its new Challenger touring-monster bagger and I’ve been enamored with it ever since.
It is a thing of wonderful American excess: excessive size, excessive weight, excessive features, excessive power (for the genre) and, unfortunately, an excessive price. If cheap and cheerful is what you seek walk away now. Nonetheless, it is a major step forward in the glacier-paced world of heavyweight motorcycles – arguably the most conservative genre of motorcycling. Here we have riding modes, lean-sensitive traction control and ABS, and a Ride Command infotainment/navigation system that sits at the top of its class, along with a liquid-cooled engine that produces power in excess (there’s that word again) of 100 horsepower.
KEEP READING: Indian Finally Reveals Challenger and it’s Awesome
Realistically, it will be some time before I get a chance to even ride the bike myself – much longer still before I have one sitting in my garage (I need to move somewhere with a garage first). But to help me fuel my daydreams I’ve pored over as many reviews of the Challenger as I can find. To save you the trouble of doing the same, wading through through roughly 8 million pop-up ads (honestly, the financial desperation of most motorcycle websites is so blatant its off-putting), I’ve compiled their observations into this handy review round-up.
Your reviewers this time ’round are: John Burns of Motorcycle.com, Jeff Holt of V-Twin Visionary, Greg Drevenstedt of Rider, Andrew Cherney of Cycle World, Basem Wasef of Motorcyclist, Don Williams of Ultimate Motorcycling and Michael Neeves of MCN.
UK Price: £24,699*
Monthly savings needed to buy it five years from now**: £411.65
Engine: 1769 cc liquid-cooled V-twin
Power: 122 hp***
Torque: 178 Nm***
Fuel Capacity: 22.7 liter
Wet Weight: 377 kg
Road Glide, Road Glide, Road Glide, Road Glide, Road Glide. Pretty much everyone who looks at the Challenger sees a likeness to the Harley-Davidson Road Glide and our reviewers are no different. They were split, however, on whether the observation is relevant. Jeff suggested it isn’t, saying “it’s not fair to either company to compare apples to oranges,” and I tend to agree. For its part, however, Indian invites the comparison, even going so far as to bring a Road Glide to the Challenger press ride. That’s a ballsy move; you’ve got to respect Indian for being so confident in its product.
Greg took the opportunity to do a little side-by-side comparison and found that although both feature similar fairing styling “the Indian sets itself apart with LED running lights/turn signals that bracket the headlight, an electrically adjustable windscreen with a 3-inch range and a dashboard that’s much closer to the rider.” Meanwhile, Jeff took issue with the bike’s handlebar shape and position, saying they hurt aesthetics but that “once you leave the parking lot all those personal feelings go away.” For its part, according to Andrew, Indian hopes riders will see a “family” link to the Scout and FTR 1200, suggesting the Challenger serves as a “big brother” to these two popular models.
“I didn’t hear anybody knock the looks of the Challenger, which walks that line between traditional and modern pretty nicely. Everybody seems to be a fan.”John Burns, Motorcycle.com
By the numbers, the Challenger is just as much of a behemoth as the Thunderstroke-driven Chieftain, with exactly the same wheelbase and rake/trail. But according to John it looks smaller and lighter. In truth, though, it’s just a teency bit heavier (3 kg). Throw a leg over and the bike’s gunslinger seat is “Goldilocks-level comfy,” according to Andrew. “Neither too plush nor too firm.”
Many reviewers, as well as myself, have spotted a lot of Victory DNA in the Challenger and it seems that extends to ergonomics. Victory was always notable in being the better brand for tallish riders. According to John, the seat has been moved rearward about an inch from its spot on the Chieftain. Don, who is 5 feet 10 inches tall, described the ergonomics as “spot on,” but 6-feet-tall Michael – who has a bad habit of assessing everything by sportbike parameters – says the handlebars are too far away.
Looking straight ahead, the dash/cockpit sides are dominated by speakers. Indian, like Victory before it, has a strange obsession with sound systems. As more and more riders find the fidelity of Bluetooth-connected helmets preferable to the fighting-against-wind-and-traffic nature of fairing-mounted speakers I can’t help but wish Indian would spend its money on more relevant stuff like heated grips (see below). The center of the dash holds the touchscreen for the bike’s Ride Command system. Above its 7-inch display are two large analogue dials, which Andrew says are easier to read than those found on a Road Glide.
Engine, Performance And Handling
Indian introduced an all-new powerplant for the Challenger: a liquid-cooled 60-degree V-twin engine it calls the PowerPlus – the name being a nod to a model that Indian Motocycle produced from 1916 to 1924. Even grumpy ol’ Neevesy agreed that it is a five-star gem and very much the star of the Challenger show.
“It gets a serious shift on,” he reported. “It accelerates like a wild thing, especially in the sportiest of its three riding modes.”
Indian claims 122 hp is delivered by the bike’s 1769cc twin but as is always the case with manufacturer’s claims some of that gets lost by the time it reaches the wheel. John said it felt more like 110 hp; Cycle World’s dyno showed the engine producing 103 hp; V-Twin Visionary’s dyno said 104 hp; Rider’s dyno delivered 108 hp. All of this is well within the 10/15-percent fudging territory occupied by every manufacturer. And what’s important here is that all those numbers are a step up from anything that direct competitors are producing. Only Harley’s ultra-expensive (starting price: £33,095) CVO models come close, with their 1923cc engine delivering roughly 95 hp.
Well, that’s assuming we’re not classing the BMW K 1600 B as a direct competitor. That bike’s 1649cc inline six produces a claimed 160 hp (although, a Motorcycle.com dyno back in 2018 put the number closer to 130 hp). According to John, Indian’s designers admit to being inspired by the K 1600 B but “they also freely admit the German bike wasn’t their primary target when they built this one.”
Comparison against a European six-cylinder tourer is academic, of course; horsepower numbers have never been the KSP of an American V-twin. As Greg points out, it’s the “right-now torque” used for rapid acceleration that wins the hearts and minds of bagger owners, and the Challenger has that in abundance. All the reviewers agreed with Basem’s simple declaration that PowerPlus engine is a “banger.”
Like me, Don, Greg and John can see a lot of Victory Motorcycles DNA in the Challenger.
“Just as the PowerPlus motor recalls Victory – by no means a bad thing – so, too, does the chassis,” explains Don. “The massive downtubes both protect and, to some extent, camouflage the radiator, while also adding undeniable rigidity to the chassis. Using technology from the under-appreciated, and subsequently defunct, Victory brand is a smart move by Polaris. It allows the expansion of the Indian name onto a quality modern platform without starting from scratch.”
“Between the grippy tires, easy handling, and a forgiving lean angle, the Challenger [is] able to twist, lean, and scrape through a piece of asphalt definitely not made for cruisers.”Andrew Cherney, Cycle World
Thankfully Victory’s influence doesn’t appear to extend to the Challenger’s gearbox. Personally, I was always a fan of the agricultural feel of a Victory transmission – because, as I have said many times before, tractors are awesome – but I realize not everyone agreed. The Challenger’s six-speed transmission, meanwhile, barely gets a mention from reviewers. I take that as a sign it is unobtrusive, facilitating full enjoyment of the bike’s chassis and performance.
All reviewers praised the Challenger’s ability to hustle through corners. Thanks to a somewhat stiff suspension the bike “steers with precision and utter stability” according to Michael, though Jeff points out that this means some bumps will be felt when sauntering through urban areas at 25-45 mph. He goes on to say, however, that the bike’s high-speed performance more than makes up for it.
The bike’s fairing wins high marks for weather protection, with an electronically adjustable screen helping fine tune comfort. In warmer-weather riding, a vent in the fairing (similar to the vent found in the Road Glide’s fairing) helps put air on the rider. Massive Brembo brakes deliver the Challenger’s whoa. As you would expect, Michael criticized them for lacking sportbike performance but everyone else found them more than up to the task. The PowerPlus engine can be pushed toward 6,000 rpm for crazytime funnage on engaging roads, but it is equally capable of delivering relaxed comfort on long hauls: a steady 70 mph in sixth sees engine revs dwelling all the way down at 2,800 rpm. That is downright car-like.
At crawling speeds the Challenger’s low center of gravity helps keep the giant moto manageable. And in addition to liquid cooling the engine features rear cylinder deactivation, so theoretically you shouldn’t find yourself roasting in heavy traffic.
Bells And Whistles
Being on a led ride, none of the journos got much of a chance to interact with the Challenger’s Ride Command system, so most either ignored it or regurgitated stuff from Indian’s media pack. I have used the system on a number of occasions and found it to be excellent. Indian says it has improved things even further and I’m inclined to take its word. The easily updatable system (Indian hides a connecting port in the dash, allowing owners to update software at home rather than having to bring it into a dealer) controls the Challenger’s 100-watt stereo, offers excellent satellite navigation, and provides a dizzying amount of information – including diagnostics.
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If you are so inclined, the system can also be connected to Indian’s Ride Command app, which has both pointless and useful features. So, at a lunch stop you can plan out a route (useful) and check your tire pressure (pointless) while waiting for your Buffalo wings to arrive. When you return to the bike, by the way, you can charge the phone via a USB port in the dash.
Journos did get a chance to try out the bike’s riding aids, like cornering traction control and ABS, and the bike’s three riding modes: Sport, Standard and Rain. The Challenger is also equipped with something called “Drag Torque Control” but no one bothered to explain what that is. Greg and John pointed out that traction control can be shut off, so you can still do smokey burnouts. Those who didn’t shut it off said it was unobtrusive and did not activate during a day of spirited riding on dry roads.
Things To Look Out For
Heated grips are not offered as standard, which is a silly oversight as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t cost a manufacturer that much to throw heated grips into the mix – especially on a machine with the Challenger’s price tag – so neglecting to do so just looks cheap.
A few journos, including Basem and Michael, felt that the Challenger’s switchgear was too chunky. And I agree with Michael that placing the button for cruise control on the right grip is “just plain daft.” None of the reviewers complained about the reach to the cruise control button, however, so perhaps Indian has at least sorted out that issue (For quite some time Indian followed the Victory tradition of placing the cruise control button too far away to be operated effectively by anyone other than professional basketball players). Beyond that, a few journos expressed mild desire for things the Challenger does not need, like a quickshifter.
Andrew Cherney: “We can confidently say the Challenger strikes an excellent balance between engine performance and chassis precision, with the added benefit of well-calibrated electronics and suspension, capped off with pleasing overall ergonomics… all in all, it’s hard to argue that, with the Challenger, Indian has a winner.”
Basem Wasef: “Sure, it comes with a big boy price tag (a 114 cubic-inch Road Glide Special rings in at a comparable $27,299). But considering its generous equipment list and sharply executed details, the Challenger reveals the depth and intensity of Indian’s intentions to dethrone their iconic American competitors.”
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Don Williams: “There are plenty of features that make the Challenger a better motorcycle, yet causes pause for some: liquid cooling, overhead cam, oversquare configuration, power modes, IMU, aluminum frame, inverted fork, and minimalist styling. For those not wedded to the past, or are willing to take a peek into the 21st century, the 2020 Indian Challenger is a rider’s bagger.”
Greg Drevenstedt: “Even though the larger air-cooled Thunder Stroke 116 was also introduced for 2020… the PowerPlus 108 is the engine that will take Indian’s heavyweight models into the future… And in the Challenger it delivers impressive grunt and smoothness without giving up the rumbling character that makes a V-twin the most popular type of engine among American motorcyclists. That plus muscular, modern style, an excellent chassis, a full range of available technology, generous wind protection and luggage capacity and plenty of long-haul comfort make the Challenger one heckuva bagger.”
Jeff Holt: “Ride quality and uniqueness are the key factors in this motorcycle’s existence. Immediately I felt a whole new level of V-twin performance when first riding this bike… I can tell you personally that from 80 to 120 mph is where this motorcycle felt at its best.”
John Burns: “At the risk of sounding like I’m on the Indian payroll lately, what with first the FTR 1200 a few months ago and now this thing, I’m going to have to say I think they knocked it out of the park again.”
Michael Neeves: “It isn’t cheap by any stretch, but the new Challenger is Indian’s smoothest, most accomplished big cruiser yet, so if you like the idea of the great American bagger and you’ve got deep enough pockets, you won’t be disappointed.”
* This price is for the Indian Challenger Dark Horse. The “standard” Indian Challenger is not available in the United Kingdom for some reason. Your only options are the Dark Horse and the more expensive Limited (£24,999)
** If we pretend the price won’t go up in that space of time, which, of course, it will.