Here is the inside scoop on how it is to live day to day with the 2016 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse motorcycle.
It's big, it's American, and a bit obnoxious. I am, of course, referring to the 2016 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse that I've been riding for the last four months. Indian Motorcycle Co. has fired a direct shot at the Harley-Davidson touring market with this unabashedly retro-styled bagger with a dark side.
With dimensions larger than the competition, in this case, the Harley-Davidson Street Glide, the Chieftain Dark Horse can be like maneuvering a bus through downtown Shanghai. With a 1.7-inch longer wheelbase, just more than 3/4 inch more ground clearance – and coming in at more than 3 feet wide – this is a lot of bike to contend with. You must always be situationally aware, lest you bash a shiny part on a solid object. Despite the extra length, height, and width, the Indian weighs within 1 pound of the Street Glide: 831 pounds wet versus 830 lbs wet. Credit the cast aluminum frame for the weight savings.
What really saves this bike from being the unwieldy pig that its spec sheet indicates, is how Indian managed to put a great deal of that heft at the bottom of the chassis. A partial dry sump oil pan allows the engine to sit lower in the frame. That frame, as mentioned above, is a cast aluminum unit that houses the air box as part of the frame, keeping it one of the lighter main components and helping the center of gravity stay low.
The bike is still a pain to roll around in the shop or driveway. Not because of the weight as much as the overall size. The wheelbase is similar to the Street Glide, but the overall length comes in at 101.2 inches, a whopping 5.8 inches longer. Indians highly stylized fenders are the culprits. Beautiful to look at but a nightmare to maneuver in a cramped garage.
The Stock Seat Sucks
There I said it, I said something bad about a motorcycle. Dirty little secret time: almost all stock seats are not worth the materials they are made from, with rare exceptions... I just can't think of any. Like most things, the stock seat is designed for the "typical" rider. This is engineering speak for "we made a seat that no one likes but it's your fault for not being who we designed it for."
If the Chieftain Dark Horse was a bar hopper with rough suspension, ape hangers, no front brake, and a peanut-sized fuel tank, the stock seat would be perfect. Ride to the bar, park, your butt feels like you just rode across the country. Except the Chieftain Dark Horse is not a bar hopper. The Chieftain Dark Horse is fitted with an electrically adjustable windscreen, cruise control, 5.5-gallon fuel tank, a radio, massive saddle bags, and can have heated accessories from the factory, which suggests it's built to cover some distance.
Thankfully there is a wonderful thing called "the aftermarket," which can help with the seat situation.
Fortunately, we have good friends at Mustang Seats who hooked us up with one of their touring seats complete with passenger pillion. The new seat comes on a brand new seat pan, with all new materials, and multi-layer foam. We went with their Vintage Wide Touring Solo Seat part number 79760 and their matching pillion pad 79761 with two back rest pads, part number 79765. I have to qualify the ergonomic review with a disclosure: I have an injured shoulder from my time in the military. My right arm is sensitive, and the bar-to-seat relationship dictates what's comfortable for me to ride much more than the average rider.
Why do I mention that? Because what works for me might not work for you; and, in this case, vice versa. I really like the Mustang Seat. The fitment to the stock mount was simple and easy, and the seat mounted as smoothly as the factory seat. The materials are comfortable, show hardly any wear after months of use, and the Passenger Of Importance registered minimal complaints. That fact alone makes me recommend the seat to anyone who asks me. If I could judge it just on those items I would never replace it. It's that bit about the arm that just doesn't work out with the new riding position. That riding position pushes the rider back 1.5 inches. There is no other seating position option available at this time and that's too bad. That minor shift in seating position puts my shoulder in a very uncomfortable position and it ruins the ride for me.
Before I forget to mention them, the backrests are adjustable, nice-looking, and, for the most part, comfortable. Wide with plenty of cushion, they give great support when they are set to the proper height. The problem is the driver's backrest has no set screw to maintain the height and constantly dropped down in the mounting slot. This isn't just a Mustang seat issue, other manufacturers use the same setup and I have the exact same complaint with their backrests as well.
UPDATE: In response to the above comment, the folks at Mustang got in touch to say the following: "In the rare cases that it does not hold firmly, one can adjust the set screw by very firmly pushing down on the “back side” of the receiver into which the backrest post goes. While one person is holding down the opening, a second person can tighten the set screw to your liking."
The break-in period is long past and I have really had a chance to run the bike as I would ride normally. After flogging it for a while several things come to mind:
The brakes are far better than I imagined they would be. They could still use better pad materials but they have performed in Washington, D.C., traffic with no drama at all. I am going to fit some new pads to see if I can shave off some braking distance. Watch for that in a future update.
The handling still surprises me. No, it's not a GSX-R, but riding the same roads as I did on my previous bike – a Yamaha Super Ténéré – the Chieftain will occasionally drag a floorboard where I wouldn't normally expect cornering issues. Overall, though, it handles the corners just as well as the big ADV bike did and it does so with more front-end feedback. The air-adjustable rear shock is convenient and allows you to adjust for a passenger or loaded saddlebags easily. The air pump even came with the bike, and was not an accessory add-on like some other bikes.
The exhaust has broken in nicely and gives a great mellow tone without being too loud. The BMW riders at the coffee shop compliment the tone and volume all the time. It's always nice to get the geriatrics' seal of approval for motorcycle sound.
Servicing the bike is a breeze. The first oil change took a little while because there is a little bit of a procedure due to the partial dry sump. Once you get that figured out, the fact that Indian uses a spin-on oil filter and easy-to-access drain plugs means that the process is simple and easy.
I already have another seat I have begun testing. This one allowed me to get closer to the bars. It does raise the question as to why it's been hard to find a seat that uses better materials and doesn't alter the rider's distance to the bars. The new seat either pushes the rider back from the bars or closer to the bars, but not the stock location.
*Thanks again to Chesapeake Cycles in Annapolis, Maryland, for making a killer deal that allowed me to get the new long-term ride.