The rivalry between Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle dates back to the early aughts—of the 1900s. From the board track to the dirt track, the two American manufacturers duked it out for generations before Indian’s post-war decline ultimately led to its demise in 1953. The Motor Company, of course, carried on, but the battle was far from over.
After changing ownership throughout the latter half of the 20th century and the turn of the Millenium, the Indian name sold to American powersports brand Polaris in 2011. The revived company rolled out its first models under Polaris ownership in 2013, reigniting the long-dormant war between the two American icons.
Like any great rivalry, the brands traded blows over the past few years. Indian’s Wrecking Crew may dominate in American Flat Track, but the Bar and Shield captured the King of the Baggers championship in 2021. That blow-for-blow battle only bleeds into the streets, where both OEMs fight for cruiser supremacy.
Harley-Davidson upped the ante with the all-new 2021 Sportster S, prioritizing performance in a showdown with Indian’s 100-horsepower Scout. Indian cast its own stone when it introduced the highly-revised Chief lineup, positioning the stripped-down bobber to take on Harley’s recently revamped Softail series.
|2022 Harley-Davidson Softail||2022 Indian Chief|
|Engine:||Oil/air-cooled, 1,753cc V-twin||Air-cooled, 1,811cc V-twin|
|Bore and Stroke:||100 mm x 111.1 mm||101 mm x 113 mm|
|Performance:||78 hp/ 110 lb-ft||79 hp/ 108 lb-ft|
|Weight (wet):||655 pounds||670 pounds|
Pound For Pound
Big-bore V-twins dominate the cruiser market and the MoCo and Indian pull no punches with their muscular mills. Harley’s Milwaukee-Eight 107 engine benefits from oil/air-cooling and a 107ci (1,753cc displacement). That vigorous V-Twin pumps out 78 horsepower and 110 lb-ft of torque as a result, but Indian isn't afraid to go even bigger.
The 2022 Indian Chief hit the scene with the firm’s Thunderstroke 111 powerplant. The pushrod-actuated V-Twin flaunts a larger displacement at 111ci (1,811 cc), but solely relies on cooling fins to dissipate heat. Despite four extra cubic inches of volume, the Thunderstroke only wrangles one extra pony (79 horsepower) and generates 108 lb-ft of torque.
The power difference may be undiscernible in the saddle, but torque remains king in the cruiser world. With just 2 lb-ft separating the Chief and Softail’s peak torque figures, the Harley narrowly out-duels the Indian. When factoring in the Softail Standard’s 655-pound curb weight and the Chief’s 670-pound wet weight, that small toque advantage becomes more pronounced.
The saying goes, “there’s no replacement for displacement” but Harley-Davidson proves that assumption wrong with its Milwaukee-Eight 107 V-twin. The Thunderstroke 111 puts up a valiant fight yet Harley claims this round by the slimmest margins. Of course, with the two engines so evenly matched, the real difference between the Softail Standard and the Chief will come down to the rider's right wrist, but the Hog seizes the victory on paper.
Tale of the Tape
The similarities between the bobbers don’t end with the big-bore V-twins. Both the Chief and the Softail share a 4.9-inch ground clearance and 28.5-degree lean angle. The Indian sports a 29-degree rake and a 64-inch wheelbase, which practically mirrors the Harley’s 30-degree head angle and 64.2-inch wheelbase.
Low seat heights are critical for heavyweight cruisers, and the Softail Standards wins the race to the bottom with a 25.8-inch stand-over measurement that barely beats the Chief’s 26-inch seat height. However, the Indian will keep you in that saddle longer with a 4-gallon gas tank outrunning the Harley’s 3.5-gallon unit.
Showa’s dual-bending valve, 49mm fork and a 43mm rear monoshock give the Softail chassis a slight edge over the Chief’s 46mm front end and dual shocks out back. Harlistas shouldn’t get ahead of themselves, though, as the Chief’s Pirelli Night Dragon tires outperform the Softail’s Dunlop rubber. Lastly, both manufacturers turn to a four-piston caliper up front and a two-pot binder in the rear to bring the bare-bones bobbers to a halt.
On the spec sheet, the Chief and Softail are nearly indistinguishable. The Harley touts a lower seat, but the Indian goes the distance. The Chief’s tires optimize cornering grip, while the Softail’s tuned chassis makes it no slouch in the twisties either. With such a fine margin between the two cruisers, this round boils down to a draw, but one last factor could be the deciding factor for many consumers.
Starting at $13,949, the 2022 Harley-Davidson Softail Standard slightly undercuts the 2022 Indian Chief’s $14,999 MSRP. The two models aren’t just practically identical on the spec sheet, they also cater to the same audience with a custom-ready, stripped-back aesthetic. Considering the Softail’s price tag, nominal power advantage, and fine-tuned chassis, we have to award the final victory to Harley.
Though, we also need to recognize Indian’s efforts with the latest-generation Chief. Harley-Davidson and Indian’s rivalry may be nearly 120 years in the making, but the showroom showdown between the Chief and the Softail should only intensify the decades-long war.