ROAD TEST: 2020 Indian Challenger

Reviewed by Ray Seidel

I will now double-down on that statement. Not only is it the Indian we’ve been waiting for, I will go so far as to say this is the motorcycle we’d being seeing today even if the original factory of the fifties hadn’t closed down.

Throughout the history of motorcycles (and automobiles as well), you can tell by the styling pretty closely in what year any given bike (or car) was made. With the exception of those valanced fenders of the forties Indians, the same is true of Harley-Davidson, Indian, Excelsior and the others.
Today, a look at the Harley Road Glide and the Indian Challenger will give the same results – there’s no mistake; this is a 2020 motorcycle.
As for the engineering, I recall the unveiling of the new motor for the Indian Chief around 2014 at the Laughlin River Run, and while impressed with the retro look and modern triple cam design, it was still an old school push rod driven valves, air cooled engine. I mentioned to one of the engineers that Indian was historically at the cutting edge of new technology in its motorcycles, and I had expected something a bit more advanced. The poor fellow looked a bit crestfallen, and while biting his tongue leaked out, “This isn’t the only engine we’re working on.”


This of course refers to the overhead cam, water cooled Scout motor that would follow shortly. Which in turn now gives us the overhead cam, hydraulic lifters, liquid-cooled 60-degree V-twin engine that produces 122 horsepower and 128 foot pounds of torque screamer we have today.

As good as the engine is on the Chief (and its various incarnations), while it can pull hard, the Challenger jumps to warp speed right now. There is no delay. Also, this bike you sit IN, not ON, and so it has a very low center of gravity. Does this sound at all familiar? Yes, this is just like the Scout, only larger.

The Scout was named Motorcycle of the Year in 2015, was named the Best American Made Motorcycle, and your humble narrator was so impressed after my review of the pre-production bike Indian loaned us, I had to buy one for myself. This 2020 Indian Challenger made the same impression… the true 21st century Indian.

So, the bike itself: It’s VERY comfortable, lots of leg room, the dash is way out front on that fixed fairing so not an in-your-face feeling of claustrophobia. A real sweet ride.

The shifting between 1st and 2nd gear is butter smooth even when cold. Long time readers will recall that the Chief has had an issue through the years with cold transmissions being difficult for the first few minutes going from 1st to 2nd gear. Effortless on the Challenger. (Comment: The 2020 Elite has also improved greatly in ease of shifting when cold.)

The dash has speakers on each side, and a “glove box” on each side as well. About that much space for gloves, and some maps in each. And a cord to plug in your electronics. And the hard bags have LOTS of room in there.

If you’re low on fuel the screen on the dash will let you know and ask “Navigate to a nearby gas station? CANCEL / GO.” If you push the GO button you get a drop down menu of stations to select from, a map to get there and directions. Great if you’re riding to Sturgis and in the middle of nowhere with no idea where the next gas station is.

Toggle through the several screens and you’ll also get the radio stations, and of course you can set MANY stations. New Indians adjust volume automatically for louder at speed, lower when stopped or at a crawl.

Next screen: Map, outside temp, tach, compass, what gear you’re in. Next screen includes hours & minutes on this ride, voltage & engine temp, tire pressure front and rear. Again, very good to know on a trip to be able to remedy before becoming stranded with a flat!

Next screen tells your elevation – at first I thought, “Do I really need to know this?” –until I saw some SERIOUS hills were coming up. The Ride Command screen also includes three ride modes – Rain, Standard and Sport, that have individual throttle mapping.

Besides this information on the screen which you can toggle through, there are the usual analog gauges on the dash. This I found to be useful because if glare from the sun over your shoulder makes one impossible to read, you’ll still be able to see the others. There’s lots of redundant information Indian gives you to stay informed, and I like that. Unexpected surprises, no bueno.

The gas cap is located differently from the Chiefs, more like the Scout, center of the tank. Instead of a key to unlock it like on the Scout, there’s a button on the lower right side of the dash; push to unlock. Yeah, first time riding – how do I unlock the gas cap again?

There are also some wind deflectors here and there including some to allow or prevent hot or cold air reaching your legs. Other controls such as cruise control, raise/lower windshield, all are typical.

I really recommend this bike for its performance, its ride, its ergonomics. The styling is a very personal thing, and it doesn’t look like your typical “Indian.” The Challenger has left the 1940’s behind and is modern day 21st century in form, fit, and function. Again Indian is at the cutting edge of new technology.

MSRP: $21,999
Curb weight: 831.1 to 840 lbs
Displacement: 1,769 cc
Seat height: 26.46″
Fuel tank capacity: 5.997 gal

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