2017 Indian Chieftain Elite

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EVER SINCE POLARIS’ DISMISSAL of the Victory brand in December, much of the speculation in the American V-twin crowd has focused on one question: What will Indian do now? While Papa Polaris determined there wasn’t room for both of its offspring in one house, Victory did too many things well to just send everything off to the junkyard. Yes, there is no brand out there more stylish than Indian, with its retro, art deco accents—the swooping fenders, bulging leather, chrome pushrod engine and whitewall tires. But Victory cut its own profile, perhaps as close to an aftermarket custom look as any brand, with its teardrop tanks and low-slung geometry.

Now, with Victory out of the picture, the horizon has opened up completely for Indian, sudden endowed with the freedom to do whatever it wishes without fear of stepping on its corporate brother’s toes. So, would Indian fill in gaps in its lineup with certain Victory offerings, perhaps modified to a degree to conform to Indian brand standard? Maybe expand on the Empulse platform. Or, perhaps a new entry, such as a sportbike or a commuter, somewhere between the Scout and Chief. There was also an option to take some of Victory’s simpler styling and incorporate it into existing successful Indian platforms. We didn’t have to wait long to learn that the answer is the latter. With its 2017 Chieftain Elite and Chieftain Limited, Indian has pulled back a little on its traditional retro style and made a bold move toward the custom bagger market. The results are stunning. Most noticeable is an overall profile that is sleeker and more trim, drawing eyes immediately to the front fender.

Gone is the swooping, hooded fender—the standard Chieftain’s most recognizable feature. The clipped fender of the Elite and Limited, though thoroughly modern, actually evokes Indian Chief fenders from the 1920s and 1930s. The Indian folks are especially excited about the Elite, of which only 350 will be built. With its Fireglow Red Candy hand-painted finish and marble accents, the Elite makes a strong statement. Indian says each Elite paint job requires 25 hours, since no machines are involved. Look closer and notice the more streamlined front fender wrapped around a 19-inch, 10-spoke chrome front wheel. Let your eyes wander up the shapely fairing, to the flared tip of the electronically adjustable windscreen, then back down to the tightly packed, hand-stitched black leather seat, electronic locking hard bags and the 16-inch rear wheel that gives the bike a stance with plenty of attitude. Pricing starts at $31,499. The Limited has most everything the Elite does with the exception of the premium paint job (the Limited comes in Thunder Black) and premium stereo (a 100-watt system instead of the Elite’s 200-watt blaster).

It also has a lower price, starting at $24,499. Both models represent a move toward a more mainstream target, and if they resemble Harley-Davidson baggers more strongly than before, so be it; game on. While Indian executes on styling, the brand stands pat firmly on its strength: the 111ci. Thunderstroke engine, delivering smooth power and gobs of torque. In a daylong tour of San Diego and surrounding countryside, the two Indians performed brilliantly. On a swooping, 10-mile, four-lane uphill grade, both models proved capable of delivering smooth power and precise steering and handling at velocity. They were just as capable and balanced in low-speed maneuvering. When traffic snarled along the coastline near Del Mar, lowering the electronic windscreen was a thumb’s touch.

Indian’s Ride Command 7-inch infotainment center provides readouts for every detail of the bike’s operation, from radio management to route and trip details. Perhaps the distinctive styling of the standard Chieftain isn’t for everyone, and many have thus missed out on the bike’s amazing ride qualities. Indian is clearly hoping that these two snappy new Chieftains will entice more of the mainstream crowd to throw a leg over a more visually palatable version and discover all the things that Indian devotees have long known and loved.