[CORRECTION: We mistakenly listed the Harley-Davidson Low Rider S's rear wheel travel as 2.2 inches but it's 4.4 inches. Also, we reported the Indian Sport Chief's wet weight as 665 when it is, in fact, 685 pounds.]
Original story with corrections follows.
Indian Motorcycle sent a shot across Harley-Davidson's bow when it unveiled the 2023 Sport Chief. Until then, the Motor Company enjoyed a monopoly on the club-style cruiser market with its Low Rider S and its sport-touring cousin, the Low Rider ST. At such a disadvantage, Indian knew it needed to make a splash to make headway in the performance-driven category. The Sport Chief does just that.
The Minnesota-based OEM called in reinforcements, equipping the club-style model with Brembo-branded binders, Pirelli Night Dragon tires, KYB inverted fork, and Fox piggyback shocks. That brand-name pedigree pairs perfectly with Indian’s ergonomic adjustments, including a sculpted quarter fairing, six-inch handlebar risers, mid-mounted pegs, and a solo seat.
Harley’s Low Rider S all but birthed the factory club-style segment, and it remains the king of class for a reason. Showa suspension, H-D-badged Brembo calipers, and Dunlop rubber bolster the Low Rider S to that lofty throne. However, the Indian Sport Chief’s rebellious attitude presents a credible threat to the Low Rider’s reign. Only time will tell which model wins in the showroom, but it’s down to us to determine which club-style cruiser wins on the spec sheet.
|2023 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S||2023 Indian Sport Chief|
|Engine:||Air/oil-cooled, 1,923cc V-twin||Air-cooled 1,890cc V-twin|
|Bore x Stroke:||103.5mm x 127mm||103.2mm x 113mm|
|Performance:||125 lb-ft of torque||120 lb-ft of torque|
|Weight:||679 pounds (wet)||685 pounds (wet)|
Both Indian and Harley bring out the big guns when arming Sport Chief and Low Rider S, respectively. The Motor Company turns to its largest production engine, the Milwaukee-Eight 117, for its Hog. That air/oil-cooled, 117 cubic-inch (1,923cc) V-twin lays down 125 lb-ft of torque (3,500 rpm), though H-D bypasses all horsepower claims in 2023. The same goes for Indian, and its Thunder Stroke 116 keeps pace with 120 lb-ft of torque.
The model's 679-pound curb weight only aids the Big-Twin Harley's one-cubic-inch and five-pound-feet advantage. Compared to the Sport Chief's 685-pound wet weight, the Low Rider S edges out its rival in power-to-weight ratio. However, when considering the Indian flaunts a Sport mode (along with Touring and Standard), stoplight-to-stoplight drag races are all but luck of the draw.
Straight-line speed isn’t the end-all-be-all, though, and both club-style competitors bring their handling A-game too. The Bar and Shield relies on a tried and true 43 mm inverted front end with a triple-rate spring and a preload-adjustable coil-over monoshock. By contrast, Indian calls upon a pair of Fox piggyback shocks and a 43mm USD front end from KYB.
Aside from the setup differences, the Sport Chief offers 4 inches of rear wheel travel while the Low Rider S yields 4.4 inches. At the fore, we have a draw, with both models listing 5.1 inches of wheel travel. Still, the two bruisers trade blows with the Hog prioritizing agility thanks to its 28-degree rake, 31.3-degree lean angle, and 63.6-inch wheelbase.
All the while, the Chief upholds stability with a 29-degree rake, 29.5-degree lean angle, and 64.6-inch wheelbase. For that reason, Harley narrowly nabs its first round in this showdown, but you need more than power and fleet feet to win a fight. You also need smarts.
Brains of the Operation
When it comes to tech, the Low Rider S keeps it simple. The LED headlight and taillight conform to category standards, but the four-inch analog gauge commands the spotlight. An analog tachometer captures classic cruiser cosmetics, but the digital speedometer brings the Softail into the now. That cluster also allows users to cycle between gear, odometer, fuel level, clock, trip, and range readings.
The Indian, on the other hand, takes things up a notch with its four-inch TFT touchscreen display. Not only does the brand’s RideCommand system put multiple interfaces and layouts at the rider’s fingertips but it also offers turn-by-turn navigation and Bluetooth connectivity. Alongside those features, the Sport Chief also comes standard with the aforementioned ride modes, ABS, and rear-cylinder deactivation. It’s safe to say the Indian is a clear winner in this department.
With just $700 separating the 2023 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S and 2023 Indian Sport Chief, it’s nearly a toss-up between the two performance-inspired cruisers. The Sport Chief commands more dough at $18,899, but it backs up that markup with premium componentry and electronics. Similarly, the Low Rider S lives up to its $18,199 MSRP with its proven platform and agile handling (for a cruiser).
The Indian may win on paper, but cruiser customers also place a premium on the intangibles. From aesthetics to brand loyalty, from exhaust note to ergonomics, countless preferences factor into the cruiser-buying experience. In the end, when Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle vie for the same slice of the market, the customer is the ultimate wins.
Sources: Harley-Davidson, Indian Motorcycle