2022 Indian Chief Dark Horse Review - The American Rebel

  • Apr 5, 2022
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The quintessential American cruiser has undergone a massive transformation. Does it manage to still wow us?

Downsizing is the name of the game in the current market scenario, especially in the world of automobiles. From 1.0-litre turbo petrol hatchbacks to 4-cylinder AMGs, it's all about improving efficiency and pushing out every iota of performance in the smallest package possible. While the above is good and possesses its own set of challenges, there are some exceptions to this trend. One such rebel is the Indian Chief Dark Horse. Powered by a massive 1.9-litre V-twin motor, it isn't subtle by any means and we spent a night relishing this opulence on two wheels.

In search of the summer body
The first thing that I noticed when I saw the Chief Dark Horse is its visual transformation. It has lost close to 30kg and no wonder, I started working out during the photoshoot as you can see above. The weight loss is courtesy the new steel-tube frame. The 2022 Indian Chief Dark Horse adopts a more traditional cruiser look with minimal body panels and bobbed fenders for a clean look. In isolation, the new cruiser does look appealing, but having ridden the older bike, the new one looks underwhelming to say the least.

The previous Dark Horse was a visual delight. It had its own identity and I still remember being in awe of its beautiful lines. The imposing headlight cowl, the glowing mascot on the gorgeous valanced fenders, the massive fuel tank and the judicious amount of chrome made it standout. It felt like a piece of art when parked, and even more in motion. Sadly the new bike doesn’t have the same emotional appeal. Its predecessor reminded me of Monica Belluci, while the new Dark Horse is more on the lines of Eva Green. Both are beautiful, but have a different appeal and you would have figured which one I adore more.

Indian also have modernised the new Chief Dark Horse as it now sports a feature-rich TFT instrument console. What you will appreciate is that the console is touch sensitive and can be used with a glove too. However, the UI could have been better and you have to be patient for it to reboot. It also has Bluetooth connectivity for phone and music controls. The Dark Horse gets its own navigation system, but the software hasn’t been updated for the Indian market. Quality as expected is good, but one can see lots of exposed wires especially around the headstock and the engine, which is an eyesore.

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Impact of the summer body
The most impressive bit about the weight loss is how light the bike feels. Don’t get me wrong, at 304kg, it’s one heavy machine, but the almost perfect weight distribution and low saddle height mean that one can move the bike around easily. And as expected handling has improved: it isn’t a Yamaha R15 around corners, but around flowing bends, it feels confident and you can ground the pegs easily. However, it still remains a task to ride the bike in traffic. The main culprit apart from the wide front tyre is the seating position. Both your hands and legs are stretched forward, and this results in an uncomfortable position. If the handlebar was more swept back towards the rider, it would have been comfier. What did surprise me was the plushness of the ride quality, but one has to be careful over tall speedbreaker owing to the low ground clearance.

The Thunderstroke 116 engine remains the star in my opinion and persists to be an air-cooled unit. With 162Nm at your disposal, it’s all about the waterfall-like relentless flow of torque. There are three riding modes. I started off in Touring, which is the most mellow, however, I found it a bit too dull. Standard mode felt more natural, as just a small roll on the throttle was enough for you to shoot off on urban roads and it was sustaining cruising speeds in a very chill manner as well. You can do 120kmph all day on the Dark Horse at just 2,800rpm. Even though the bike can do a lot more, you feel confined as one has to cling on to the handlebar owing to the heavy windblast. The ride-by-wire throttle also feels a bit aloof and there is a bit of a lag at low speeds. The rear cylinder deactivates when the engine temperature increases, a clever tech to reduce engine heat and also improve fuel economy by a bit.

However, the shocker was when I switched to Sport mode and the Dark Horse changed character and how! Acceleration is brutal, almost like that of a superbike. Go hard on the throttle and you have to hold on for dear life. It gathers momentum in a ferocious manner, the throttle feels like a switch, the absence of traction control and the gargantuan torque result in the rear tyre squealing and sliding.The above experience isn’t alien, if you have ridden a 150PS plus machine with electronics dialled down, but to encounter it on a 300kg cruiser was preposterous. And this brings us to the brakes, you would expect the braking hardware to be top-notch in order to halt the locomotive on two wheels, but that isn't the case. The bite is very poor and one has to really go hard on the lever, and this means you don’t trust the braking system completely.

Is the summer body worth it?
All said and one, the new Dark Horse is dynamically better than its predecessor and remains an oddball. It feels easier to move around, more engaging around corners and offers thrilling performance. So, one would say good job Indian Motorcycle, right? Actually, nope. The Indian Chief series felt like a Rolls-Royce or a Bentley in the sea of German luxo barges, distinct and peerless. It looked alluring and made you feel special, something the new bike fails to manage even with improved dynamics.

The new Indian Chief Dark Horse feels like eating a Big Mac without cheese to keep the calories in check, a futile exercise. While it still remains a much more accomplished machine in comparison to the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, the new approach means it doesn’t feel as unique as its predecessor. Additionally, the retail price of around Rs 25 lakh (on-road, Mumbai), and a limited dealership network dampens its appeal further in our books.

Indian Chief Dark Horse
Indian Chief Dark Horse
Rs. 22.13 Lakh
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