The 2022 Indian Chief Dark Horse is the proverbial son of thunder. It's a cruiser with a twist. But does it pack enough thrills to turn a non-believer into a fanboy?
Freedom, burgers, muscle cars, and cruisers – these are a few things that America can’t stop droning on and on about. For once, you can lend them an ear when they talk about freedom or burgers, but America’s taste in cars and bikes? Well, that’s a bit controversial. Put simply, the West’s motoring culture isn’t for everyone. Not all of us like lumpy V8 motors, and gas-guzzling pickup trucks have no place in any civilization. And, frankly, America’s laid-back style of riding motorcycles isn’t particularly thrilling either.
That said, I do see the appeal of heavy American metal, but I wouldn’t call myself an outright fan of cruisers. Motorcycles, at least for me, have always been about performance, handling, and thrills. And ironclad American cruisers aren’t the first things that spring to mind when you’re after those things.
But once in a while comes a product that does force you to rethink your beliefs. A case in point is the 2022 Indian Chief Dark Horse. If you don’t have time to read the full review, here’s a short summary. Right after riding it for a few kilometres, I only had one thought in my head – ‘Okay...is this motorcycle really that good, or am I getting old and lazy?’
Now, if you have got a couple more minutes to spare, here’s the full story…
If you didn’t already know, 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the Indian Chief – yeah, it’s been around for a century now. There are three new Chiefs in town – the Chief Dark Horse, Bobber Dark Horse, and Super Chief Limited. All three are meant for different audiences, albeit they share the same platform, i.e., the ‘simple’ steel frame and the air- and oil-cooled Thunderstroke 116 V-Twin engine. With its mid-mount controls, 19-inch mag wheels, drag handlebars, and a solo seat, the Chief Dark Horse is the most aggressive cruiser of the trio, and that’s what we had on the test.
At first glance, the Chief Dark Horse appears to be just another Indian cruiser. However, on closer inspection, you realise it’s a lot slimmer and lithe than the previous version. It still has a typical hot-rod demeanour, albeit it’s been refined. A simple and minimalistic design, unparalleled attention to detail, a massive V-twin motor, long wheelbase, fat 19-inch front and 16-inch rear tyres, the bobbed fender, and a low-slung twin-barrel exhaust are some of the elements that come together really well to give it muscular yet smooth curves. It looks brutal and seamless at the same time.
There aren’t many old-school V-Twin engines in the world that can match the refinement and performance of Indian’s Thunderstroke 116. Although I’ve to say that it’s ‘old school’ only in spirit, for this 1,890cc powerhouse (or should I say ‘torque-house’?) is an absolute beast. Delivering 162Nm of twisting force at just over 3,000rpm, it’s a masterpiece of an engine.
Crank the engine, and it rumbles to life in an authentic big-twin manner. There’s no unwanted jingle-jangle, though. Instead, there’s a velvety smoothness in the way this motor spins. Slot the gear into first, twist the ride-by-wire throttle, and the performance is simply mind-blowing. Remember, there’s no traction control on offer, but thanks to its fat 180-section Pirelli Night Dragon rear tyre, there’s ample grip all the time.
On the move, the engine offers dollops of torque and irrespective of the gear you’re in, there’s ample performance at your disposal at all times. The thing that I love about this powertrain the most is its refinement and its crispy throttle response. The fuelling is absolutely spot-on – be it in the city or out on open roads, the power delivery is never abrupt. Riding this motorcycle has its own thrills. Whack the throttle open, and you’ll instantly get butterflies in your belly, but it starts to mellow down quickly – there’s no mad adrenaline rush throughout your time on the saddle. To draw a quick analogy, I’d say the experience is more like paragliding than bungee jumping.
There are three riding modes on offer – Touring, Standard, and Sport. In Touring, the response is a bit dull and laid-back, but in Sport, it behaves like an overexcited puppy. The Standard feels perfect in comparison.
Irrespective of the mode, the clutch’s a little snatchy. When you’re riding in traffic, it’s quite problematic. On top of that, the cramped riding position, courtesy of its wide stretched-out bars and high pegs, requires you to manhandle the bike while navigating through tight spots or traffic.
Take it on the open road though, and it becomes evident why the Indian Chief is such a hit in its home market. Although there’s no wind protection and ergonomics aren’t exactly comfy, munching miles still comes naturally to the Chief Dark Horse – there’s a sense of freedom and calm when you ride this thing on a breezy, sunny day. I mean, I did my entire test ride and shoot in Gurugram, but I was getting proper California vibes riding this motorcycle. And just so you know I’ve never been to California, but you get my drift.
What’s more, the Chief Dark Horse is, surprisingly, an able handler. You’d imagine that its massive 19-inch front wheel and a lazy rake of 29-degree would make it a lousy handler, but in reality, that’s far from the case. The Dark Horse tracks corners rather impressively. Sure, the turn-in isn’t sharp, but it leans confidently. In fact, the damping feels perfect for our roads – the ride quality can be called nearly plush – while the handling is neutral, as the bike doesn’t pitch or bob when you start pushing it. The only limitation is its low-set foot-pegs, which start scraping the moment you attack corners enthusiastically.
If there’s one thing that didn’t impress me as much as the rest of the package, it was perhaps the brakes. The single 300mm disc four-piston calliper setup doesn’t offer the kind of feedback or bite that you want while bringing a heavy metal behemoth like this one to a sudden halt.
Another complaint (although a minor one) is the 4-inch Ride Command touchscreen dial. I know what Indian has tried to do here – it has clubbed modern features with a timeless and classic cruiser. And it works, to some extent. The screen is bright and intuitive – it works really well. But the analogue dial looks tacky, and the passcode system for ignition has a painfully long boot-time. Among other standard features, you get turn-by-turn navigation, cruise control, full LED lighting, and a clever rear-cylinder deactivation system, which saves you from getting hot and bothered at traffic lights.
Like I said in the beginning, cruisers aren’t my cup of tea. And yet after riding the Indian Chief Dark Horse, I was totally smitten by its charming persona. It’s a kind of motorcycle that calms your senses rather than setting your pants on fire. It’s old school and mechanical. And every panel on it is beautifully crafted. However, at the same time, when you wring it by its neck, it’s thrilling and gratifying in equal measures. This is the sort of motorcycle that your inner self vibes with. And I did vibe with it.
To sum it up, the Chief Dark Horse makes you feel not just good about yourself but about everything around you. I usually refrain from calling a motorcycle beautiful, but on this occasion, I must make a happy exception. The Chief Dark Horse is that good!
- Indian Chief Dark Horse
Engine: 1,890cc / V-Twin
Torque: 162Nm @ 3,200rpm
Price: ₹20.75 Lakh (Ex-Showroom)
X-Factor: Brutal yet sophisticated. Classy yet brash. The 2022 Chief Dark Horse is one of America’s finest cruisers that can do-it-all.
• Feel-good factor