Indian’s 116ci Stage 3 Big Bore Kit Turns Baggers Into Burnout Machines

Huge power gains and aggressive throttle mapping change the nature of the Chieftain

Indian Motorcycle Big Bore 116
2018 Indian Chieftain Limited with Stage 1 Air Cleaner and 116ci Stage 3 Big Bore KitIndian Motorcycle

When the good folks at Indian said Jeff Holt of Hot Bike and I could select our bikes, that we weren't going to be accompanied, and we could take an extra hour on them if we wanted it—I knew we were in for a good test ride. Indian had just unveiled its Thunder Stroke 116ci Stage 3 Big Bore Kit inside Long Beach International Motorcycle Show an hour earlier; now we were being handed the keys to hopped-up Chieftain Limiteds and being told to do our worst (I may have read between the lines here).

The 116ci Stage 3 Big Bore Kit will run you $2,000 and includes a laundry list of parts, but there was a lot more than that on the bikes we were riding. Clutch springs, cams with 16 percent higher lift, big-bore cylinders, new reshaped pistons, and a new 60mm throttle body are included with the Stage 3, but Stage 1 is also required to reach the claimed 15 percent horsepower and 20 percent torque increase. Including the air cleaner, slip-on exhaust, and exhaust tips, the bikes we were on had almost $4,000 worth of upgrades on them in total.

Indian Big Bore Kit
Indian's Thunder Stroke 116ci Stage 3 Big-Bore KitIndian Motorcycle

We waited until we were out of the parking lot to really give these bikes the gas, but once we did, we were gone. Holt picked the front tire up a good 12 inches as he dropped the clutch in second, and I was right behind him. We burned our way to the highway, the upgraded exhaust wailing behind us as we spun tires blasting from red light to red light. It was a ride like I had never experienced on a Chieftain—aggressive, loud, fast as hell. The power came on hard and fast, almost too fast. The bike was crazy fun, but not as steady or sturdy feeling as before.

As we got to the highway and started reaching higher, more consistent speeds, the throttle-by-wire began to feel a little twitchy, as if it couldn’t stay exactly where I wanted to be and it would keep giving me strange little surges of power. When I would upshift and stay in the lower rev range, this smoothed out, but it was clear there were some issues with the throttle mapping.

Indian Big Bore Kit
Indian Thunder Stroke 116ci Stage 3 Big Bore KitIndian Motorcycle

The increase of power is awesome, and I think it’s something a lot of riders will want. But with the overly aggressive throttle by wire, that power is unwieldy and inconsistent. You’re either barely getting anything, or the bike is roaring wide open. In an attempt to roll on a steady throttle without burning out, I stalled the bike on at least two occasions.

At the end of my test ride, I went back into the parking lot and hopped on the stock Indian Springfield I have been riding, and as I rolled on the throttle, the smooth rise of revs and power reminded me what I loved so much about this bike. It’s steady, it’s stable, it’s smooth, but it’s also strong. If it loses that smooth, steady comfort factor, I have a hard time getting excited about the power gains.

If Indian can rework the mapping to make this power more smooth and deliverable, I think the Minnesota company has an awesome product on its hands. Until then, I would rather just upgrade intake and exhaust for smaller gains in power, but almost equal gains in sound and feel while maintaining the consistent, reliable mapping of the stock model.