A bagger with muscle
Indian squares off with H-D
The name of a motorcycle model often seems to be chosen at random or to evoke a mythical place or a mystical or historical event. Rarely do we see a motorcycle named after its role in a manufacturer’s range or a mission it seems to have been designed for. That’s the impression I got when I first saw this Indian Challenger Dark Horse hitting the market with the main competitor being the Harley-Davidson Road Glide. Two pure and similar baggers but with slightly different approaches to the task of providing a plush ride for power-hungry riders. On the one hand, the classicism of a sure bet at Harley and on the other, clear bravado from Indian. You can hear the ringside announcer: “Let’s get it on!”
How do you tackle a model as established as the Road Glide? Indian seems to have cho- sen to go head-on. A model with classic specifications but with a hint of rage, technology and aggressiveness.
They started with power. The PowerPlus engine is a massive 108 cubic inch liquid- cooled V-twin, offering generous torque of 128 ft-lbs and a claimed 122 hp. This allows the Challenger to be propelled quickly from a complete stop to high speed in no time. They made sure that the Challenger could challenge without embarrassing itself.
Three engine modes (rain, standard and sport) modernize the riding experience and allow the en- gine’s reactions to be modulated to the rider’s taste. A six-speed transmission with power clutch reduces the effort to change gears and adds to the rather luxurious riding experience. We felt good and in control on the heavyweight Challenger.
A fixed fairing, elegant LED lighting, a backlit Indian head on the front fender and a large front head- light arched with illuminated LED lights already give an idea of the degree of attention to details in this motorcycle. We are of course entitled to the keyless start, rigid 18-litre saddlebags with remote locking, cruise control and, a sign of the times, a USB charging port.
The Challenger does stand out in a parking lot and on the road. So much so that I actually got a few thumbs-up waves during my test ride. The only detail that bothered me was the transmission cover which is black with the Indian head logo while the rest of the engine is gray, as if they had decided at the last minute to add some bling.
Now, riding a bagger is all about comfort on long rides and having a seat to enjoy the views the road has to offer. That’s all part of this bike’s DNA. It has a very comfortable saddle, an electric windshield and a 100-watt sound system. This Bluetooth radio is paired with a dynamic equalizer that automatically adapts to road, wind and engine noises and immerses us in a sound environment that can be as loud as a Twisted Sister Marshall stack if that’s your thing. I still prefer to listen to my music through my helmet Sena sound system rather than the speakers of a motorcycle but the Challenger does sound great and could be very popular for someone looking for a $34,000 luxury ghetto blaster. A display with optional navigation offers controls for various parameters and adds to the tech experience of this modern bike.
An inverted front suspension, a cast aluminum frame, and a hydraulically adjustable Fox rear shock help make the Challenger pretty good on rough roads. With travel limited to 4.5 inches (11.4 cm) at the rear and 5.1 inches (13 cm) at the front, it’s still pretty competent in most situations. The length of the bike, 98.5 inches (2.5 m) as well as its weight of almost 831 pounds (377 kg) surely helps keep the bike stable and the Challenger felt unfazed on the road. It’s only on tightly winding roads that these last two elements seem to slow it down a bit.
Radially mounted, race-spec Brembo brakes provide more than enough stopping power for this juggernaut. I had fun using them all the way a few times and got good, easy-to-modulate braking for gradual, smooth stops. Despite the big levers, I felt good feedback that allowed me to properly dose my braking efforts. That’s very useful for making a passenger comfortable or for when you feel like pushing a few young squids on your “old-man” bike.
Metzeler Cruisetec performance touring tires also provided comfort and confidence to the rider throughout the test—a difficult task for such a heavy and powerful motor- cycle. My 1,000 km test at the helm of this beautiful Indian made me want to run away with it, cross the border illegally and get lost in Utah, Texas or even Tennessee.
Indian designers have always respected the brand’s history while adding a modern twist. But looking at the Challenger, I couldn’t help thinking of the legacy of the ill-fated Victory, a sister brand whose spirit surely partly lives on in the Challenger’s bloodline. A radical look, albeit more current than the Victory’s but an equally distinct, daring and radical design that could have almost fitted in the Arlen Ness–influenced line-up Victory once offered.
Like it or not, the Challenger commands respect and attention. Behind its handlebars, we forget the time. We also forget that we are riding a real mastodon because despite its sheer size it’s still lively and reacts instantly to our inputs. It is more powerful than the Road Glide and at least as agile. Braking is a bit more precise and overall performance is a bit more con- sistent than its rival’s. On the other hand, in terms of comfort and riding pleasure, they are quite equal. Although, while I liked the sharp, modern look of the Indian, I still have a soft spot for the Glide. As you get older, you don’t easily let go of your classics.
On a bagger, most riders will be looking for ride comfort and storage to bring necessary gear. They also want power and torque but also a relative agility and a lot of wind protection for those long rides. This is exactly what the Challenger brings to the ring.
If you are looking for a bagger, there are many choices you should compare. But the Road Glide and this Challenger will definitely make your choice harder. While the Road Glide makes us feel like we’re immensely cooler, the Challenger makes us feel like we’re immensely stronger. It accelerates hard, has intoxicating torque and the sound of its big twin makes every particle of your soul vibrate. At almost identical prices and most of their specs being very close, all you have to do is choose what will best satisfy your thirst for sensations.
Engine: PowerPlus liquid-cooled V-twin with EFI
Transmission: Six speed with true overdrive
Rake: 25 degrees
Trail: 150 mm (5.9 in)
Fuel tank: 22.7 L
Wheelbase: 1668 mm (65.7 in)
Ground clearance: 137 mm (5.4 in)
Seat height: 672 mm (26.5 in)
Wheels: 19 x 3.5 in., 16 x 5 in.
Tires: 130/60B19, 180/60R16, Metzeler Cruisetec
Weight (empty tank / full tank)
361 kg (796 lb) / 377 kg (831 lb)
Displacement: 1769 cc (108 cubic inches)
Claimed Power: 122 hp at 5,500 rpm
Claimed Torque: 128 lb-ft @ 3,800 rpm
Maximum engine speed: 6500 rpm