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The all-new 2016 Indian Chieftain: Is it better than the Harley-Davidson?

'Is this bike a Harley?' Whether it is a Honda Shadow or a Harley Davidson Electra Glide, this is by far the most asked question any biker would get when people ask about his/her cruising bike.

What exactly is driving this to happen? It has no cultural background. A gentleman in Egypt will ask that same question as a gentleman in Italy. It seems that the brand HD has made a significant impact on how people perceive any expensive motorbike, or is it just an illusion?

Being a biker, what are you really looking for? Some will tell you fuel economy, some will tell you for the looks, and some will yell: And then I discovered motorbikes! Many nevertheless make the decision based on image and what they heard to be a good bike. When you are new into the motor-biking world, you rely on friends and sales-guys, which is obviously not the perfect approach.

Once you bought your first bike it is very unlikely that you will keep it for more than 1 year, before you think of an upgrade or a swap into another brand. So, is it the brand that makes a biker tick?

I will be more specific on Egypt. The bike you own is mostly a reflection of status, not how hardcore of a biker you are. And this is the very reason why the brand just plays a role. The more expensive your bike is, the higher you are regarded in the biker community. This is why dealerships would use this for their advantage on overpricing, while giving the worst aftersales support you can ever find.

But, this is a philosophical discussion that I will address in a future article. For now, due to this branding issue, there are bikes that give more safety features and more ride quality than common motorbikes you see frequently on the streets, yet are rarely seen in Egypt.

Motorbike brands such as Victory and Indian are rarely to almost never seen. But what is the reason behind this, besides the hick-up in the business of these two companies, which had some sales volume impact? This is what I will try to discuss in this article, and I will do this by reviewing an Indian Motorcycle model, namely the all new 2016 Indian Chieftain.

Just as a background before we tackle this review, I have tried in the same category the Harley Davidson Street Glide and the Victory Cross Country. Baggers have a charm to them. I limit this review to only these brands, since I had the idea to review American-branded motorbikes that have history, and to understand where they are at now.

Well, the Chieftain is for sure an experience. Just visually the Indian slings you back in time and you feel like you are becoming part of the Wild West, riding your trustworthy horse, that will carry you to safety if a bar fight would start.

From the iconic illuminating head of the Indian that you will find on top of the front fender, to the front fender itself that looks just so unique, nothing in the Motorcycle industry is so definitive and sticking to a brand as this front fender, to the front bat wing with the 3 headlights, to the saddle, to the Indian head markings on the fuel tank, and I can go on and on forever.

The whole bike is a time machine. The 2016 Chieftain is an 111 cubic inch with 74 hp @4600 rpm and an enormous 138 N.m torque @3000 rpm, 6 gear manual transmission marvelous piece of engineering. You feel the power band to be at the low to medium rpm range, just like an HD or a Victory. There is almost no vibration even when you rev up that big V-twin.

The Chieftain handles very well around corners, and with corners I mean the Swiss Alps, where curves are followed by curves and then more curves. On flat stretches, the Chieftain is a well balanced motorcycle, that does require some corrections every now and then. Handlebar wobble does happen at medium to high speed cornering, but can be controlled with minimum effort.

With tons of comfort features, such as electric windshield, a truly powerful sound-system, remote control saddle bags locks, keyless ignition, bluetooth, USB connections, cruise control, many power outlets, it all give a rich finish and quality material selection. The seating position is a relaxed upright position with stock handlebars. The brakes are well balanced and have strong stopping power.

Just writing about the motorbike in this way, makes the Chieftain sound like a motorcycle utopia.

Well, I hate to break the news, but it is NOT. There are some flaws. The most challenge that was agonizing me was the strong contrast between the exterior design of the bike and what the biker really experiences. From the outside it is a wildwest, YEEEEHAWWWW inducing machine, but from the inside the console feels as if it has lost character.

It is like Indian Motorcycles designers spent more time in designing the exterior giving the people on the street a great view to look at, while leaving the rider trying just to focus on the road in order to avoid how badly the console design really is. It was obvious to me that the Chieftain is not a user-friendly motorbike.

For example just looking at the switches you have the emergency shut-down switch right next tothe hazard switch. I am sure that as a reader you already visualized what will happen next. Exactly!!

The multimedia system is not easy to play around on the ride. You have to get really distracted while riding to change a radio channel or even to pair your bluetoooth device, which by the way struggles to pair with Android devices. As a matter of fact I could pair the iPhone in a millisecond, whereas for an Android user, it would be hard work, and mostly incompatible.

The windshield, although claimed by Indian Motorcycles dealers to be very good against buffening, the stock windshield is neither shielding wind nor stopping the buffening at speed above 80 km/h. The stock windshield also pushes the wind to the shoulders. When the wind is cold, it actually hurts your shoulders. For a 6'2 guy like me, it was uncomfortable. A higher windscreen is available.

The stock saddle, although looking marvelous, is very hard and not fitting for longer rides.

So, after all these pros and cons, what is my real take on the Chieftain? Well, I will say it in a nutshell:

The Indian Chieftain is a Motorcycle with Schizophrenia that doesn't know what it wants to be. It has a pleasant charm to it, but too confusing for the rider. The Harley Davidson Street Glide is more comfortable, whereas the Cross Country Victory handles much better than any other bike in its class.

This brings us to the engine. The 111 cubic inch Indian is a monster and the gearbox is very smooth.

But would it actually justify such a high price for the Chieftain? Harley Davidson's CVOs will have a monster engine too and probably will cost the same as an Indian Chieftain base model and the underpowered Cross Country Victory would be around 10k USD less.

So my conclusion is:

Unless you are a hardcore Indian Motorcycles fan, with Indian Motorcycles running in your family, I believe the Indian is not a first choice for any biker. Yes it is a pleasant ride, but what personality it gives from the outside is lost completely once you sit behind the handlebar. I would believe that the perfect cruising machine is yet to be made. A combination of Harley's comfort, with Indian looks and a Victory handling is what
I would hope to find and buy one day.

If I had to rate this bike out of 5, I would give it a decent 3.5 stars. It is a bike you would like to test drive over a weekend but not to own for every weekend.

Ihab Bassioni
05.05.2016
Lugano - Cairo



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