I’ve just spent the last 2 weeks riding Cycle World’s long-term Indian Chieftain, an experience highlighted by a round-trip ride from our offices in Irvine, California, to Las Vegas. It was my first time on the big 827-lb. machine, and the 573-mile trip involved a mix of interstates and back roads, plus a quick visit to the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System at the state line and a brief stint on Route 66 near Amboy, California. Prior to the trip, I checked the oil and bumped the preload pressure of the air shock to 80 psi to help the Chieftain cope with my NFL size and what would soon be fully loaded saddlebags. For this trip across the desert, I also raised the tire pressures accordingly, to 45 psi front, 48 psi rear, at the recommendation of Indian’s Robert Pandya. As I rolled down the highway, those settings felt fine. The attitude of the fully loaded Indian seemed right, and the ride quality, at least on the smooth pavement, felt great. At highway speeds, the bike gobbled up the miles with ease, feeling much lighter than it actually is and exhibiting plenty of roll-on power when I’d pull out to make a pass. Unfortunately, as Peter Egan found in our January 2014 road test (“American Experience”), I’m a bit tall for the Indian Chieftain, and I wish the bolster on the back of the fringed, well-padded saddle could be moved a few inches rearward. At 6-foot-4, I sometimes found myself sitting on top of that rear bolster rather than in front of it, in an effort to reduce the bend in my knees as I motored across the Mojave.
That said, the Chieftain was otherwise very comfortable. The floorboards are well damped, and the power-adjustable windscreen works great for me in the top position. Although I was wearing my Shoei Hornet ADV lid (no jokes, please; I was headed to the Kawasaki KLR650 press introduction in Las Vegas), I felt no buffeting or visor lift at highway speeds. What’s more, the air-cooled Thunder Stroke 111 V-twin engine felt fully relaxed on the highway, spinning only 2,500 rpm at 65 mph (or 3,000 rpm at 80) in sixth gear. Besides its lusciously throaty sounds, the heavily chromed pushrod powerplant makes abundant torque, which meant that take-offs from stoplights were a cinch, a simple matter of letting out the cable-operated clutch. No finesse really needed. There were times when I wished the shifter was a rocker design that allowed for kick-down upshifts with your heel (a la the Moto Guzzi California and Triumph Commander), but after a while I began to appreciate all the real estate available on the Chieftain’s floorboards. Cruise control kept the Indian at the speed I wanted with a fairly natural smoothness, and it could be shut off easily via the brakes, clutch, or a quick forward rotation of the throttle. Other observations: Although the Chieftain’s dash is handsomely styled, with attractive analog gauges flanking a central information panel, the red type used for the readouts can be difficult to read in direct sunlight. And even though the bike’s onboard trip computer told me that the Indian averaged 38.1 mpg on my trip to Vegas, I need to get used to the fact that the fuel gauge of a motorcycle tends to move toward “E” more quickly than that of an automobile. Chalk it up to the smaller tank of a motorcycle, although the Chieftain’s, at 5.5 gallons, means you start looking for fuel at around 200 miles, about the time I’d like to stop for a break, anyway. The low-fuel warning light, it should be noted, comes on early, in one instance illuminating when there was nearly 2 gallons still left in the tank.
Moreover, as a pack mule, the Chieftain delivered. Its locking saddlebags proved handy, perfectly swallowing my 2 canvas handbags, which were carefully chosen for that task. But be warned: The accessory speakers integrated into the lockable pop-open lids of each saddlebag take up some cargo volume, and they’re not protected against damage if the lids are forced closed against your belongings. The speakers do, however, sound great, whether you’re playing the radio or streaming tunes from your iPhone. Problem is, it’s hard to hear the songs through your helmet on the highway. You have to crank the volume, and even then it sounds muffled. And when you come to a stop and begin to identify what song is actually playing, it’s loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear. Which can be embarrassing, especially if the country station you’ve been listening to just switched to, say, a Taylor Swift song. A far more fitting musical soundtrack for this Indian, at least in my book, would include tracks from Tom Petty, Creedence, the Eagles, Dire Straits, Neil Young, and Steve Earle, to name just 6. Agree? If not, tell us which songs (and artists ) you’d like to have on your own personal Indian Chieftain playlist.