Test Ride: Indian Chieftain Dark Horse

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It’s been a busy year for Indian Motorcycles. Polaris resuscitated the iconic Indian Motorcycles in 2011, and the legendary American motorcycle manufacturer's sales have grown steadily of late, partially due to a spate of new models. 2016 includes three new bikes: the Springfield, the Scout Sixty, and, the Chieftain Dark Horse. Indian classifies the Chieftain as a “bagger,” a category that splits the difference between long distance tourer and cruiser. With an 111-inch (1,811cc) air-cooled V-twin Thunderstroke engine and locking saddle bags, the Dark Horse is built for devouring highway miles, whether that means a cross-country journey or a commute to work.

Built on the Chieftain chassis, the Dark Horse marks what’s turning into a trend by American manufacturers to offer almost all-black rigs. Unlike its Chieftain brethren, the Dark Horse comes with a solo seat, smaller fairing, and a shorter windscreen. There’s plenty of contemporary tech like power locking saddle bags, keyless ignition thanks to a key fob, and ABS brakes, electronic cruise control, tire pressure monitoring system, and a Bluetooth stereo.

And there’s so much black. Not only are the fenders, fairing, fuel tank, and bags blacked out, the iconic Indian Motorcycle headdress — the war bonnet — as well as the forks, mirrors, handlebars, turn signals, tank console, engine and airbox cover, lower controls, floorboards, and taillight housing are also blacked out. The only chrome appears on the wheels, brake rotors, and exhaust pipes.

A low 26-inch seat height ensures that the 803 pound (dry) Dark Horse will be comfortable for most riders. The six-speed Thunderstroke engine is air- and oil-cooled and makes 119 feet of torque and about 75 horsepower. The Dark Horse is also available with a performance package for an additional $2,200 that adds cams, an air cleaner, and exhaust pipes and tips, helping the bike produce about 10 percent more horsepower and 7 percent more torque. If matte black had a sound, it would sound like Chieftain Dark Horse with this package: a powerful, low-range rumble.

We took both versions out for a cruise recently, heading from San Pedro toward the California shore. The Chieftain was stable and nimble at slow speeds (not easy to do for such a big beast), strong on city streets, and absolutely at home at highway speeds. The Chieftain Dark Horse with performance package? It was so fun, we stayed out running up and down Route 1, showing up late for lunch so we could get some more miles in. Throw a leg over one and it may just kill any dreams of getting a hot new Ford Mustang convertible and cruising all the way up the Pacific Coast Highway. If sure did for us. There's so much American muscle for cruising fun, plus enough space to haul your kit. The Chieftain Dark Horse is built to make you dream about epic trips, even if you’re just knocking out a few miles on the way to the office. [$21,999; indianmotorcycle.com]

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