With little fanfare but numerous marketing emails and social media posts hyping a big deal in February, Indian released info and photos of its freshly redesigned Chief line.
“Wait a second!” you might be thinking. “They already have a Chief!” You’re right – they do, but the really retro look of the discontinued Chiefs (Classic and Vintage), with its full-coverage rear body panels, large swoopy front fender and iconic headdress fender topper is gone, replaced now by a stripped-down, more modern (but still fully retro) look.
The new Chief celebrates the 100th anniversary of the first Chief with an American-made $14,500 air-cooled V-twin powered heavy cruiser.
You might also be thinking the only surprise in that sentence is the price point – but that’s without ABS and in basic black. If you want any other color or ABS, your base price is $15,300 USD (+ABS) or $15,800 (+ABS +White or Ruby “Smoke,” Indian’s code word for a matte rather than glossy finish).
Hail to the (New) Chief
At first glance, the 2022 Indian Chief isn’t all that exciting, playing into the bobber trend with a solo seat, short rear fender, and offset license plate holder. On the surface, nothing about the bike makes it stand out, a disappointing development for anybody who was hoping Indian’s next bike would be more 21st century than 20th. To build excitement, you have to look a bit deeper and try to understand what Indian is trying to do with the Chief lineup – give riders something bigger and more traditional (i.e. air-cooled) than the Scout, but more affordable than the baggers and bigger cruisers in the lineup.
It uses a standard (and typical for the genre) steel-tube trellis frame, an easily recognized and inexpensive feature for bikes of this size and style.
The Chief’s Engines
The Chiefs get the same Thunderstroke 111ci (1,811cc) and 116ci (1,901cc) engines Indian has been producing for years. The 111 in the down-spec models has good power, with a claimed 108 ft-lbs of torque, fairly typical for the size and style of the Chief and other bikes like it. Indian claims the 116 in the up-spec models delivers 120 ft-lbs of torque. Indian continues to refuse to release horsepower claims, but sources say the 111 puts out 78 hp and the 116 between 85-90 hp.
There are variations of the Chief to scratch nearly every cruiser fan’s itch.
The Chief Bobber ($16,000) gets stylish wire wheels and swaps in a fat 16-inch front tire for the Base Chief’s cast wheels and 19-inch front tire. The entire line sports a 16-inch rear wheel. Both the Chief and the Chief Bobber have blacked-out, matte-painted Dark Horse variants with different colors but the same overall specs beyond the bigger engine and some tech adds.
The Chief Dark Horse is $17,000, while the Chief Bobber Dark Horse is $19,000. It isn’t clearly obvious from the spec sheets why the Chief to Chief Dark Horse upcharge is $1,500, while the Bobber variant sees a $2,000 upcharge from Bobber to Bobber Dark Horse.
The Super Chief ($18,500) and the Super Chief Limited ($21,000) top out the model’s lineup. They have the wire wheels and 16-inch front tire from the Bobber, plus a passenger seat, leather-like saddlebags and a windshield. The Super Chief Limited has a fantastic looking chromed and polished engine.
Both Super Chiefs have floorboards and forward controls, while the other versions have foot pegs and mid controls. Forward controls are available as a $350 (pegs) or $450 (boards) upcharge, along with extended or reduced reach seats, something Indian has always offered to make sure their bikes accommodate riders of all heights.
Besides color choices, wheel construction and front tire size, the bikes have one easily identifiable characteristic to tell them apart – the handlebar.
The Chief and Chief Dark Horse have a flat, narrow one; the Bobber and Bobber Dark Horse have a tall bar. The Super Chiefs have a wide, gently curved bar tailor made for long distance touring comfort.
You can also pursue a slew of other bog-standard and absolutely typical cruiser add-ons, such as mini ape handlebars, LED driving lights (mounts cost extra), saddlebags and windshields if you’re not buying a Super Chief (mounts cost extra), heated hand grips (how did we ever ride in winter without these miracles of modern engineering?), highway bars in black or chrome, luggage racks and more, more, more.
Base Model Pricing
Black Metallic, White Smoke
Black Metallic, White Smoke, Ruby Smoke
$14,449 w/o ABS
Chief Dark Horse
Black Smoke, Alumina Jade Smoke, Stealth Gray
Black Metallic, Ruby Metallic
Black Metallic, Ruby Metallic
$16,499 w/o ABS
Chief Bobber Dark Horse
Black Smoke, Titanium Smoke, Sagebrush Smoke
Black Metallic, Pearl White
$19,799 w/o ABS
Super Chief Limited
Black Metallic, Blue Slate Metallic, Maroon Metallic
Many riders will see the Chief and its variants as solid platforms for customizing a motorcycle, and indeed its simplicity and old-school construction make it a good platform for such activity.
The vintage vibe of the Chief lineup capitalizes on what American riders seem to want the most – retro-looking bikes with modern technology touches like LED lights and sat-nav. Customizers have to be drooling at the base model Chief, and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Indian run a version of the Scout Bobber Build-Off with the Chief.
With the base Chief’s price coming in $3,000 above a standard Scout model but $4,500 below their next least-expensive model, the Vintage Dark Horse, the Chief is also filling a mid-priced slot in Indian’s 2021 lineup. After all, if you build a bike for every price point, you can easily shepherd a rider through from their first bike to their last and keep them brand loyal the entire time.
At the end of the day, knowing chopper fan and design whiz Ola Stenegaard had a hand in creating the Chief makes it far less surprising that the new bikes share some design cues and styling choices with the BMW R 18 – at the very least, matching wheel style and tire sizes when comparing the standard and touring models to each other, not to mention the single seat and heavily retro aesthetic. Nobody would mistake a V-twin for the Big Boxer or vice-versa, but you might be hard-pressed to tell the two bikes apart at a distance if you were in a hurry.