Indian Chief Dark Horse

Indian Chief Dark Horse

116 cubic inches of “HELL YEAH!!!”

Words: Séan Hendley and Garth Taylor

Pics: Deon van der Linde, Séan Hendley and Garth Taylor

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The first Indian Motorcycle, a 1.75bhp, single cylinder engine was built and completed on the 25th of May 1901 in Middletown, Connecticut, USA.

The first public demonstration was held on Cross Street in Springfield, Massachusetts at 12:00 noon on Saturday, June 1, 1901. 

So, 1901 is a very significant number for Indian, making them one of the oldest Motorcycle brands in the world. Now, using the conversion scale of 16.387 cubic centimetres per 1 cubic inch you will notice that 116 c.i. is equal to almost exactly 1,901 cc’s…. a happy coincidence??

Indian Chief Dark Horse
116 Cubic Inches. 1901 CC's. Indian was founded in 1901.
Indian Chief Dark Horse
Gorgeous flat grey paint.

The Chief Dark Horse is powered by a ‘Thunderstroke 116 ci’ V-twin, don’t you just love that – “THUNDERSTROKE”, that just tells you what this bike is all about. 

That air-cooled donk produces a massive 162 Nm of raw, primal torque through all six gears. 

And let’s face it, this bike is a real looker, with its chopped off bobber sexy ass, exposed murdered out mechanicals, (yes – we know that technically ‘murdered out’ refers to flat or matte black paint, but C’mon, look at it!), and that OH SO GORGEOUS flat grey paint…

This is one sweet little head turner wherever you may find yourself. 

The Dark horse just has that proper ‘Old School’ muscle appeal about it. Yet it comes equipped with most of the modern conveniences one would expect on a full faired land yacht with a TV screen for an instrument panel. 

Yep, that lekker, unobtrusive old school looking clock nestled in the middle of the bars is a fully interactive 4” TFT touchscreen ‘Ride Command Centre’. Believe what you will, but it is Bluetooth compatible, so you can monitor and take telephone calls, scroll through and play music – obviously you have to have a compatible comms unit in your lid for all of that.

It also has an on-screen GPS with turn-by-turn navigation in the top centre of the screen whilst in speedo mode, three ride modes, two different clock/speedo layouts and a whole host of other functions.

Here Function meets Art, just simple, understated elegance and practicality. 

And the good stuff doesn’t end there. The wheels are machined cast units which just add to that menacing look and stance. While we’re down there, you will also find the brakes are also equipped with ABS. Other niceties are cruise control, a low 662mm seat height and position adjustable ‘rear sets’, keyless ignition, a USB charging port, LED lighting all around, and super sticky Pirelli Night Dragon tyres. 

Look at all those words used in the model names: Chief, Dark Horse, Thunderstroke, Night Dragon – this is just one very cool machine, not only in name/s but in looks as well.

We could spend a month just talking about the digital display. It is an electronic engineering marvel!

What’s it like to ride?

The first thing we noticed, (actually our youngest team member picked up on almost immediately), was the very noticeable and significant difference changing the ride modes made to the responsiveness when blipping the throttle. Touring mode seemed to give quite a delayed reaction to the throttle. Standard mode felt a bit more like what you would expect and Sport mode is instantaneous acceleration. 

Touring mode might be a good place to start if you are familiar with 162 NM’s suddenly lighting up the back wheel. 

Sport mode is for when you are feeling quite manic and need to outrun the voices in your head.

 Using the onboard infotainment system is fairly intuitive with easily navigable menus and readable fonts. The turn-by-turn navigation is a great touch. We were able to keep the ride info displayed for quick reference whilst being guided where to turn, and flicking back to GPS mode was easy as can be on the touch screen which seemed to work with most of our gloves. 

The rest of the controls were where you would naturally look for them. The cruise control on the throttle side cluster is a bit fidgety to operate, but we quickly got used to it. 

Keyless ignitions/Key Fobs are the bane of our lives in our job as we are forever swapping bikes through our test riders and have to keep remembering to hand the darn things over to the next rider. Other than that, they are quite useful things if you’re the only rider. None of that putting your gloves on then remembering your ignition key is still in a pocket somewhere… Just flick the power switch on and hit the loud button and the same when you get off at your destination. It even switches itself off after a few minutes just in case you forget.

Indian Chief Dark Horse Cruiser

We got two vastly different test riders in the interest of testing its versatility and compatibility with a broad spectrum of riders. Garth is small and fit. Sean is big and a bit less fit.

This is what they had to say:

Garth says:

“To be honest these big cruisers are not on the top of my list of bikes I need in my garage but …

The Indian Chief Dark Horse really surprised me in a good way. Because of the engine size, these types of bikes are extremely heavy for me but for some reason I didn’t find myself fighting to ride this machine. From the moment I swung my leg over the seat I felt, “Hey! This is going to be good!”

I actually switched the ignition on and off again for quite a while before starting her just to watch the intro screen which literally reminded me of an American Indian ritual which I freaking love! The graphics, speed and ease of use was astounding right from the riding modes to the turn-by-turn navigation and Bluetooth connectivity music management.

 I heard that the Chief models have been around since 1921 and I’m certainly not surprised that we are still lucky enough to be cruising around on them in 2024. 

The motor sounds quiet for its massive size and I love that. Personally, I can’t ride for hours with a loud exhaust in my ear. The big Chief wants you to ride it for hours and what’s more this beautiful machine makes it easy for you. When you open up, there’s a throaty growl that makes me feel all tingly inside.

I LOVE the workmanship. This bike oozes class, even though it’s technically a bobber. The attention to detail is outstanding and makes me just want to look at it … all the time. No seriously, it’s beautiful. 

It has Such a soft and comfortable ride which is strange for a bobber, even over road bumps and traffic humps, I wasn’t booking appointments with my chiropractor. I found the handling easy and forgiving and although cautious at first, the bike gave me more and more confidence with every kilometre I rode.

It was also my first time riding a belt driven bike and I was wondering if it would feel spongy on acceleration but geez, this bike is super responsive and FAST! 

No quick-shifter sadly but I found the gearbox very smooth and once I was used to the motor, a slight touch of the clutch did the trick. I think I would add a windscreen and a quick shifter for that powerful engine. I would also move the pegs back a bit for longer rides because I find it uncomfortable sitting with my legs forward. 

Otherwise, this is one of the nicest highway cruisers I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding. I was sad to give it back to be honest but Séan is a bully and he forced me.

Séan says:

To be honest, it took me a bit of time find my seat properly on the Chief Dark Horse.

It is a big machine with a tiny cockpit with some stuff too close for comfort and others seemingly too far away for comfort. Almost like I need shorter legs and longer arms. 

Now my long legs are not the bikes fault. To try and appeal to as many riders as possible, Indian has made just about everything adjustable – with a tool box at hand.

The foot control has three position settings. They just weren’t in the correct position for me, a bit more forward would have been better. The low seat accentuates the foot position even more, making the handle-bars feel like they are too far away. 

I would need a day in the workshop to get it sorted for my riding style. 

 I pottered around in the lower two modes for all of 60 seconds before banging it into Sport mode and hanging on the gas. 

WOW!!! Top speed is fun, but arm stretching torque throwing you back in your seat is what really gets your adrenaline pumping. At 162 Nm’s and an extremely quick throttle action, the Chief is huge fun to ride. 

After spending about 40 minutes playing silly buggers in morning traffic, we found ourselves in the sweeping bends of country roads in the foothills of the Magaliesberg, and it was GAME ON! 

There is no quick shifter included in the package of goodies on this bike, but the gearbox is so smooth that with decent throttle control you can change up or down fairly rapidly without the clutch. 

Indian, as a cruiser brand never fails to surprise/impress me with their handling capabilities, they are unbelievably good with long fast sweeping bends and even fairly decent in the tighter corners.

Bang hard on the gas, shift up as quick as you like giggling like a drunken hyena in your helmet as you tilt into a left hander, then a right hander and then another left hander without once backing off the gas. Hook up hard on the anchors, gear down quickly so the engine assists the brakes in bringing the 300+ kilogram behemoth down to reasonable speeds as a rapidly approaching speed bumps looms menacing. 

Get over it sedately, then bang hard on the gas again and repeat until the next speed bump…. 

Keep on repeating until you run out of road, energy or fuel or all three. 

This might not be a graceful continent crosser, but damn it is fun to ride.

 Eventually I had to let Garth ride but bullied him off of it for the ride back to the office. We were running very late for dropping one of the other loan bikes off at its home before 5pm, so it was back to booming through rush hour traffic along the highways and byways of Gauteng very, very far north of the posted speed limits. 

For such a big chunk of metal it is a pleasantly nimble and narrow machine in traffic.

 I do like it a lot. Especially in the looks department. With a bit of tinkering I think I could make it fit my body.

But somehow, I think I still like the 1200 Scout more….

Indian motorcycles have some amazing deals on the go at the moment. They also have a really comprehensive range of very cool American Steel, look them up. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Indian Chief Dark Horse Cruiser

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