Indian’s New Elite Class

Riding the 2017 Indian Chieftain Elite and Chieftain Limited with Carey Hart

Indian Chieftain Elite Limited
Carey Hart on the Elite (red) and Morgan Gales on the Limited (black)Michael Lichter

When Indian Motorcycle approached Baggers with an exclusive first ride on the company's new elite touring class of motorcycles, the Chieftain Elite and the Chieftain Limited, we jumped at the opportunity to tear up the Florida tarmac with our pal, Carey Hart, during Daytona Bike Week. The only snafu was that because of the embargo date, nobody was supposed to know about these bikes yet. Which, luckily for us, everyone thought we were just out riding some rad customs. And they weren't totally wrong.

The new Chieftain Elite and Chieftain Limited models harden up that rounded nice guy look and add a bit of bark to the bite of the Chieftain platform. Indian did a great job hitting the nostalgic vibes with the re-release of the new Chief and subsequent models that followed suit. It’s good to know where you came from and Polaris definitely paid attention. But now what? Will they keep making the same thing forever? The release of the new Chieftain Limited and Elite give us hope for a new era, with more modern styling and a more aggressive feel.

Indian Chieftain Elite
Indian Chieftain Elite, limited to only 350 bikesMichael Lichter

Well Indian actually did it. They made a real life bagger. Not the well-rounded touring machines we have been testing and loving since their inception—those are great, but this one’s a bagger. After last month’s review of the Roadmaster Classic, we heard readers asking for just this bike. Something a little sleeker, a little cut back, more modern looking with a little more bite. Maintaining the classic Indian style and silhouette, but updating those lines with more aggressive styling and modern touches. Indian is getting a little edgy with this one, and we love it.

The large surface area of Indian’s front fender has been a staple of their styling, and one that isn’t hurt by a little updating. The sweeping line at the back helps keep that classic Indian look, but the cut-down shape helps to expose a little more of the new front wheel. The 19-inch ten-spoke front wheel gives a whole new look and feel to the front end; a custom vibe that actually fits the Chieftain really well. You do lose the Indian head on the fender on this model though, which I was always a fan of.

Indian Chieftain Limited
Indian Chieftain LimitedMichael Lichter

The Elite model takes “factory custom,” to another level. Limited to only 350 bikes available, each bike is painted entirely by hand in a process that takes over 25 hours, meaning no two Chieftain Elites are exactly the same. There’s no risk of losing your audio on the highway with the 200-watt stereo system set up in the fairing and saddlebag lids. On top of the epic old school paint and stereo, the top-tier model also hosts Pathfinder LED headlight and driving lights, a flare windshield. Billet floorboards for the rider and the passenger add that much more to the high end look and feel.

The Chieftain Limited is a little more understated, but the perfect base model for your own customizations. You get the wheel and fender, but then can start chipping away at making it your own on your own time. Honestly, just putting apes, speaker lids and a pipe on the one I got to ride was enough to make a huge difference and I had a real hard time giving it back.

Indian Elite Paint
Paint on the Elites is all hand done, with each bike a little differentMichael Lichter

The engine is the tried and true Thunderstroke 111, putting out 119 ft-lbs of torque. Mimicking the look of an old flathead with parallel pushrods, I have always liked the aesthetics of their power plant. One of the most impressive things about the way this bike runs is its transmission. Being able to keep the bike in fifth gear when climbing a pretty steep hill, even if you slow down a little, is pretty darn nice. The action on the clutch happens as soon as you release the lever, which takes a little getting used to if you’ve been riding Harleys or Victorys, but generally leads to a smooth take off.

Chieftains across the entire range handle very well. They’re stable at high speeds, drop easily into the turns, and have an impressive lean angle for a full dresser. The 19-inch front wheel sacrifices nothing in the ways of performance here, keeping the front end light and nimble

Indian Chieftain Limited
Chieftain Limited’s Ride Command System and dashMichael Lichter

Indian gave us what we wanted with these bikes. Their proven formula, with a heavy dose of bagger style. One very exclusive limited run model, and one model that’s more attainable for us common folk. If you’ve been thinking of building a Chieftain bagger, Indian just gave you a serious head start.