Since the Indian Chieftain’s release in 2014, I have reviewed an essentially unchanging engine and chassis combo many times. From the Chieftain, Chieftain Dark Horse, Chieftain Limited, Chieftain Elite, Roadmaster, Roadmaster Elite—you get it—Indian’s flagship touring model hasn’t changed, but, honestly, we’re fine with that. The chassis is solid, the engine is strong, and the bikes ride very well. When compared to other American touring models, there isn’t much the Chieftain is left wanting. Now for 2019 we see the first serious changes in years, updating the throttle mapping with two new ride modes as well as a completely redesigned fairing and saddlebag shape, but the good news is the engine and chassis we love remain the same.
The most exciting updates for the 2019 Chieftain come in the form of its software and mapping. Touring, Standard, and Sport riding modes are now available, providing a variety of riding options. Touring is the mode we’ve been riding in on the Chieftain for years, and Standard just bumped that mode up a little bit with slightly more aggressive mapping. Sport mode is designed to really wake the bike up without any engine modifications, and it definitely does that, but when it comes to getting power to the ground, it really doesn’t seem like the most effective option. Cracking the throttle in Sport mode seems to jump straight to 15-percent gas, rather than a gradual transition as you twist, which makes the tire want to break free and spin, rather than grip and go fast. Because of this, I was actually able to take off more quickly in Standard mode than in Sport while managing the throttling properly and maintaining traction.
Temperature control on Indian’s Thunder Stroke engine has always been somewhat of an issue, with heat radiating up through the seat while the engine heated up in traffic, but this has been radically improved through integration of a rear cylinder deactivation system. Once it’s turned on, it’s sort of hard to even notice. The bike will simply deactivate the rear cylinder once the throttle is brought back to neutral, and reawaken once the throttle moves again. You may hear a slight difference in the cadence of your engine, but that’s all you will notice other than the vastly improved temperature control.
While the chassis and handling geometry don’t really change, the bike does sit differently on the showroom floor. The rear end has been lowered very slightly by increasing the sag of the bike, or the amount it sinks once a rider’s weight is applied. Essentially, it sits 1-inch lower stationary, and 5/8-inch lower than previous models once a rider puts their weight on. Because rear geometry has remained essentially unchanged, the lean angles stay at 31 degrees and full suspension travel remains 4.5 inches. The floorboards no longer have the little metal scrape feelers extending from them, so that definitely makes a difference in what you feel scraping and when. A cartridge fork and an air-adjustable (requires a factory-supplied pump) Fox Suspension monoshock do a great job of damping the bumps and keeping the bike tight and smooth through the corners.
Indian Motorcycle has made a big shift in styling for the Chieftain this year, reshaping the saddlebags and redesigning the fairing. The saddlebags get a more squared-off look, moving away from the bubbly “jukebox” look of previous Chieftains. Up front, the fairing loses its two floodlights as well as the long blinker lights, and gains a vent above the main headlight, making it remarkably similar to the Harley-Davidson Street Glide, but it still has some uniquely Indian lines. While many Indian fans and purists will complain about the look being derivative of Harley’s flagship bagger, it’s catching the eye of many conquest customers who may have not liked the styling on previous models, which is exactly what it was meant to do. And if you were a fan of the older models, they’re still available under the new moniker of Chieftain Classic.
So while the Chieftain’s chassis and engine still remain unchanged, we’re still fine with that. It has everything that we love about an American V-twin: the sound, the vibe, the look, and still sits comfortably at the top of that category in terms of handling and rideability. New mapping and new styling scratch our “new year, new bike,” itch while giving riders a little more options for engine character. Limited and Dark Horse models start at $25,999 with base model Chieftains hitting the showroom at $21,999.
|Claimed Torque||119 lb.-ft. @ 3,000 rpm|
|Front Suspension||46mm telescopic fork, cartridge type; 4.7-in. travel|
|Rear Suspension||Single shock w/ air adjust; 4.5-in. travel|
|Front Brake||Dual 4-piston calipers, 300mm discs w/ ABS|
|Rear Brake||Single 2-piston caliper, 300mm disc w/ ABS|
|Rake/Trail||25°/ 5.9 in.|
|Seat Height||25.6 in.|
|Fuel Capacity||5.5 gal.|
|Claimed Weight||827 lb. (wet)|