ROAD TEST: 2018 Indian Chieftain Limited Review

By Ray Seidel

We all know the Indian Chieftain line-up of motorcycles is state-of-the-art under the vintage styling, but for those who favor a more contemporary look, the 2018 Chieftain Limited might be just your ticket. Add the Stage 3 Performance 116 ci. Big Bore  Kit to the engine, and “The Joneses” will have to keep up with YOU. These kits actually fit all of Indian’s 111 Thunder Stroke engines and give 15% more torque, and 20% more ponies. $1999.99  plus installation. If you want, you could also add the Stage 2 Performance Cams for better throttle response and greater power across the powerband.

One might have to do a double-take when first spotting a Limited out in the wild. With muted soft earth tones of bronze smoke and black graphics (other colors available), and very little dipped in the chrome tank, it’s a big juxtaposition from the Indian Red & chrome we think of when “Indian” comes to mind. Even the engine valve covers are blacked out. Also gone is the chrome name plate on the front fairing. This is not to say you won’t be noticed when you pull up to your favorite biker hangout, as this engine with the prerequisite Stage 1 exhaust will absolutely trumpet your arrival. (Around $950 depending on style). Your humble narrator’s personal garlic Indian WITH NO BAFFLES does not come near the throaty rumble of the thus equipped 2018 Limited. This is the fine line of a great motorcycle sound, without being obnoxious.

Upon taking delivery, I was a bit taken aback when looking at the readings on the dash panel. Bikes are filled up for journalists at the warehouse, and this was indicating – in error – 102 miles left on range and getting 24 mpg. I was of course thinking GAS HOG with the big bore kit. After resetting the trip odometers from previous reporters and getting some saddle time, I was amazed to find this bike was getting BETTER fuel economy than the standard Chieftain, running about 44 mpg vs. 42 on the stock Chieftain 111 engine. This of course will also bump up your range. While many find actual mpg of little consequence, for those who lean more for touring with their rides, making it to that next filling station when travelling the open country, added range is a comfort.

Add to that, the GPS will happily tell you which gas stations are near you and guide you there. There are a full eight screen options on that 7” screen: built in points of interest, turn-by-turn directions, time, altitude, outside temperature, tire pressure, plus the 100 watt AM/FM with Bluetooth and USB input. Setting the FM to the aural tapestry of classical music, all I needed was a modest level 2 out of 10 to drown out the 18-wheelers on the superslab. Volume control is an easy reach toggle with left thumb. My personal favorite screen is a split screen compass on the left, MPH on the right as a default for general use. Toggle lever is right behind the clutch lever and easy to get to.

One more thing you will appreciate: the dash has redundant important information. For example if the glare of the sun over your shoulder blocks out your view of how fast you’re going, you have BOTH an analog AND digital speedometer, so one or the other will be visible. Same with what gear you’re in, and so on.   

Indian Chieftains are well known to me for having an exceptionally smooth ride, and possibly even more so with this Limited. Riding down the back alley of the local mall, I came upon the ever present speed bump a little faster than I really wanted. (Hey, this has the BIG engine in it!) On what would have caused some spinal compression on any of my personal bikes, the Limited just rolled right over with nary a nudge, in part because of the 19 inch contrast-cut front wheel. Though conversely, an equally large pot-hole being impacted by the low profile front tire (130/16 R19), could cause some other kind of damage to a tire or wheel.

For those who know my reviews of earlier Chieftains, my one criticism has been, and still is, shifting from 1st to 2nd gear if the transmission is cold, it takes a strong nudge upwards with shoes or preferably a boot. It won’t work wearing flip-flops, and I mention this only because if you buy one or take one for a test ride, that stiffness disappears after a few minutes, then shifts as smoothly as any other bike. If your first ride is when it’s been in the sun and ALREADY warm, no problem. FOR ME personally, I just go with the added heel shift that you or your dealer can bolt on, it’s an Indian attachment made for the shifter. For those who only know toe shifting and are used to that, trust me, this makes life much easier and worth a few bucks. Particularly if you find yourself in wet/freezing weather and your ankle no longer rotates up and down!

New this year is repositioning of the switch that raises and lowers the windscreen. I’ve mentioned in the past one had to stretch their thumb when it was on the left handlebar, now over on the right side it’s easy to reach. Also the saddlebags can be locked/unlocked with a key, as well as remotely with the key fob. That might be useful in case the battery in the key fob dies – you can still have access to your gear. You get an extra battery for the key fob when you buy the bike, but you’ll still need a small screwdriver, like for glasses, to open it up to replace the old battery. I recommend keeping battery and tiny screwdriver in the compartment on the dash so it will always be there. And lastly, the fail-safe option is to get the code from your dealer to bypass the remote start altogether. Harleys have the same feature, so if you’re in the middle of a back road during Sturgis and lose/break/other the remote, no worries, it’ll still get you home.

The Chieftain Limited weighs in on the scales at 802 lbs., so to see how it handled I decided to take it out on the Butterfield Stage Route which goes through my town of Temecula, CA towards hills, twisty roads, mountains and desert towards AZ. Not being a high speed road, the added horsepower (about 110 bhp) was not needed, but the extra torque pulling out of corners was impressive. Add to that experience the GROWL those dual pipes give you when you twist the throttle. To put a fine point on that, this bike was not “loud” (as in “Loud Pipes Save Lives” loud); the sound is pretty low just riding along. But when you punch it, it’s IMPRESSIVE.

To up the ante, I next took the Limited to California’s MOST DANGEROUS ROAD: Ortega Highway. Twisties, then some twisties, plus some twisties. Crotch rockets love this route, and just ignore the 20 mph signs on the corners. Law Enforcement uses this road as a confidence builder for the motorcycle cops. The Limited can not only navigate the sharp bends with aplomb, but jump to warp speed when the road straightens out. As for riding on the Interstate, I could just travel for hours on this bike that really tries and succeeds in making a pampered experience. Okay, a solid mounted engine with thumpa thumpa vibrations and every tar strip transmitted to the handlebars has its place and can be fun, but on a lengthy jaunt, not so much.

I am mostly disposed towards the retro styling of the vintage Indians, but the more time I spent with this Limited, the more it grew on me. For those who miss the Victory, or who want a 21st century Indian, a hard bag bike with all the bells and whistles on the dash you could want, you might want to get out that checkbook.

Price: $25,699 w/o CA emissions for this color.

Add $1999 for Stage 3 plus installation.

And what is installation??? Call and get a quote, because it’s not a flat-rate as one would expect. I called four different Indian dealers to get an idea. Dealer a) $1500. Dealer b) None of the phone lines, including the one listed as Service, will get you a live person, rather all recorded lines will tell you that you can RENT a bike. Dealer c) $1465.20.  Dealer d) $1440.00. Obviously there’s some wiggle room on negotiating on the labor cost, so you can save yourself a few bucks if you do your homework.

About Ray Seidel

Ray Seidel has had a varied background, ranging from archaeologist to film critic & radio personality. He has been a rider since 1970, on single, twin, four cylinder; metric, Harley-Davidson, Indian. He was Vice-President of the Indian Riders Group – Corona, CA, and a motojournalist for Quick Throttle Magazine since 2005, initially specializing on Indian motorcycles, past, present, and future. At the present time his stable consists of a garlic scented 2002 Indian Spirit, and a well traveled Indian red 2015 Indian Scout. He has ridden to Sturgis, Laughlin, among other destinations, all chronicled in the pages of QT. Ray has specialized in stories for QT on motorcycle themed movies and television shows, including all seven seasons of “Sons of Anarchy.”