When I first heard about Indian Motorcycle’s latest release, the 2016 Dark Horse, I was reminded of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In motorcycling, it’s good to come up with badass names for stuff, and I thought this was another (originally coined though by a previous iteration of Indian, circa 2009). But the horse in Revelations was a black horse, not “dark.” I was suddenly catapulted back to my childhood, watching “The Black Stallion” and being riveted by Actor/Country Singer Hoyt Axton, telling a young boy about Bucephalus, the legendary dark horse of Alexander the Great. Bigger, blacker and meaner than any horse they’d ever seen, Bucephalus could not be broke or trained. That is until Alexander sees him, and even as a young boy, boasts that he can do just that. Well the rest is literally history, and the two were inseparable after that, riding into every major battle together.
Every rider dreams of that kind of bond with his or her “steed”. The analogies of bikes to horses are numerous, but the most important being, that we hope to deeply understand and connect with our ride, and even it with us.
Well with this particular stallion, while it’s certainly bigger and badder than most, it’s far from wild. It is as refined and well-balanced as it’s pricier papa, the Chief Vintage, perhaps even more so…
But I’ll be honest – I was prepared not to like it that much. Obviously it was just another blacked-out semi-custom V-Twin, following a long line of flat black bikes marketed to those younger riders, and riders who’s tastes lean minimalist, not toward the chromed-out show ponies. But since black is the number one selling color in this segment, I was willing to give it a try. Also, there were just enough chrome highlights to make the lines on this bare-bones Chief stand out. Both the warrior in me, and the chromosexual, were satisfied.
When I hopped into the saddle, I noticed right away the quality of the paint. There’s flat black like you sprayed it yourself, and there’s this satin black, that looks smooth and clean, not at all blotchy, and easily cleaned up with soap and water. Then there’s the vintage-style speedo face, not white but aged like parchment. The rest of the view from the seat is clean, unencumbered and yes, black.
Once I threw it in gear and pulled away (aggressively of course, ‘cause me and the beast got a rep to protect) I noticed how well it handled. How downright “nimble” it was! That word just kept coming to mind; nimble. A 750 lb. heavyweight cruiser, and I’m feeling like I can just throw it around corners. I remember riding, not long ago, the Chief Vintage, with it’s bags, windshield, passenger pillion, etc. But this is the SAME bike, right? Spec for spec, the same dimensions, gear ratios, tires, etc. But, as I would confirm later, it IS 50 lbs. lighter than the Vintage (27 lbs. less than the Chief Classic). Now that’s not insignificant, but I believe that visually, the bike “feels” lighter. With no shield in front, no driving lights on the forks, only a solo seat surrounded by stealth paint, and no bags of any kind, it just seems like “less.”
But as I continued to ride, cornering and sweeping and turning, I remarked inwardly at how balanced this bike is.
Additionally, like it’s cousins the Classic and Vintage Chief ’s, it’s perfectly geared for well, every situation. It’s quick(ish) off the line, shifting thru to 5th is exhilarating whether on surface streets or freeways, and top gear is an easy and quiet overdrive.
Engine-wise, there IS a slight difference between the Dark Horse and the aforementioned cousins – in addition to losing the driving lights and analogue fuel gauge to save some money, they also took away the oil cooler. Now it is debatable how much you will or will not notice this, but some will say the bike runs hotter. However, I never thought the Vintage ran hot, but I know one Vintage owner who does. So, it’s highly subjective and probably depends more on outside temperature and airflow over and thru the engine.
To me though, personally, if the first three Polaris Indians came with the oil cooler, I’d think twice about not having it…conversely, the rest of Indian’s line comes with synthetic oil, and if the Dark Horse does too, the oil cooler becomes a non-issue, or close to it. Synthetic oil can handle whatever amount of heat the Thunder Stroke engine can put out, but the oil cooler may be needed for owners who opt for the less expense “dinosaur oil” which will break down at lower temperatures.
By the way, with the Dark Horse, you still get the remote key fob for keyless ignition, the electronic cruise control, a 2-year warranty, and best of all to me, ABS brakes. I never want to be without those, and this bike had more than enough stopping power because of them.
As for the fit, I found the seat and bars to be comfortable, very much so. But, I kept pushing myself back on the seat to stretch my legs more…I was practically sitting on the back edge of the seat, not in the bucket. while the seat itself is good, I’d grudgingly have to get a seat that sets me further back. I’m not that tall at 6 foot, 1 inch, but my inseam is 33 inches. In fairness, I’ve had this issue on all but one of the six bikes I’ve owned.
As for being a head-turner like the Classic and Vintage, I dunno…it certainly got it’s share of comments and praise from people in parking lots, but once on the road I felt invisible. That stealth paint thing was really workin’! But I remember when I was riding the Vintage around, people would stop whatever they were doing to watch you ride by, mouthing incomprehensibly, or just drooling…so figure out if that’s important to you. What I think everyone can agree on, is the price – $16,999. for a Chief! My God, I remember when Kings Mountain was in it’s death throws, and still trying to sell a Chief for $34k…as a company, Indian Motorcycles has devised a brilliant “step strategy” as other marketing types call it. In just the Chief line, you can get in at 17k, get a little more for 19k, or get really dressed up for 21k. Indian Motorcycles with a real line-up. Who’da thunk it? But the buyer for this won’t do that much thinking. Sure, he or she will justify his decision by pointing out the ability to later add on, if they want to, from 40 accessories (some here now, many more coming) but chances are they will have a gut reaction to the pure blackness, the basic coolness, the simple meanness of it.
My advice though is, ride one or both if you can, and then think about how you ride. Do you go to rallies where maybe you’ve got a heavy jacket, gloves, etc. to then carry around for hours?? Do you take any overnighters, or just bomb around town? Will this be the badass ride you “show up on” and maybe just ride for a few hours of therapy?? Nothing wrong with any of those scenarios, but you can’t necessarily do it all with one bike. Sure there are removable accessories like a windshield and pillion seat, but as we went to press we could not find available saddle bags on Indian’s website. I’m sure they’ll offer them, or the aftermarket will, but will they be removable? These are all important questions when considering such a stripped-down bike.
Conversely, that low entry cost gives you lots of room to make it yours, and at the pace you and your wallet decide on.
But if blacked out and basic bad are your hot buttons, this bike will press them for you. It’s a fantastic ride right out of the gate. It’s another dark horse that Alexander would be proud to ride.