2015 Indian Chief Dark Horse Review

Text & tester: Syed Shiraz
Photography: Himanshu Sharma

Let me start off with some chest thumping on this one. When it comes to an Indian riding an Indian (no pun intended) the most in the Indian subcontinent, yours truly’s name would be up there in the list. You see, Neelanjan and I rode the Indian Chief Vintage and Chieftain, respectively, from Mumbai to Delhi and that too in the harshest period of Indian summer, where once the Chieftain’s dash showed that we were sipping Gatorade in 49 degree Celsius… No, it does not, yet, keep a check on your eating and drinking habits; like just most well-equipped automobiles, it tells you what the ambient temperature is. Anyway, prior to that escapade, in the first quarter of this year, I had also tested the Scout fully to my right wrist’s satisfaction, and last year, the first Indian that I ever tested — the Chief Vintage — was an eye opener. Let me digress a little, and tell you why…

Back then, I had asked another Indian, Pankaj Dubey, Country Head and MD, Polaris India Pvt. Ltd., that I wanted to test one of his motorcycles. Now, in a world where an average Joe heading a PR team nowadays behaves like Bernie Ecclestone, Mr. Dubey comes across as your friendly neighbourhood gent who drives a Toyota to work (he drives a Freelander though), humming to the songs on the radio. Or in other words, he is someone who does not wear his designation on his collar — a rarity nowadays. If you thought Raikkonen is The Ice Man, you should meet this chap once. Oh, by the way, folks riding a Yamaha FZ or a YZF-R15 can thank Mr. Dubey too, who was responsible for bringing out these bikes when he was with the Jap firm. I guess we would have gotten the YZF-R3 much earlier had he stayed longer at Yamaha… And he got the V-Max to our country too. The point is, not only does he know motorcycles, the way he treats nobodies like, say, this road tester, speaks volumes about the ethos that runs in his company. It gives a good idea as to how the customers would be treated…

Indian logo

Anyway, upon asking for my first Indian back then, he had replied, “Okay, you may come and take the Chief Vintage tomorrow.” Now, just to be sure about the exact model, I checked its picture on the internet and thought, “Hmm, it’s big…” But no picture could tell me how big it really was! Hence, my reaction upon seeing the motorcycle for the first time was, “Damn! I’ll have to test THIS?!” The bike was HUGE, and the Indian pavilion at the BIC, with many red Indians (sorry, couldn’t resist) on display, looked more like a Fire Station, a beautiful fire station, than a bike stall. Any bigger, and ARAI would have classified the Chiefs as locomotives. So naturally, I was feeling quite intimidated. But, moments later (well, around 15 minutes in the saddle, to be precise), I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I was chucking this leviathan around with utter disdain (not recommended though). I was content then that nothing on two wheels on the planet now could put the fear of God in me, especially after caning the even heavier Chieftain into submission for 1,500 km recently. But, it was Deja Vu all over again upon seeing the Dark Horse…

Indian Dark Horse

The motorcycle is essentially a Chief Classic in matt black finish, but it’s THAT very unpolished finish which takes its proportions to just another level visually, making the Dark Horse the most imposing cruiser on sale in India today.

Indian Dark Horse

In fact, it looks so potent that I felt it could pull six Metro coaches in the event of a power failure (with all that torque, it might actually…). Also, the lack of saddle bags (which you can get along with many other accessories) makes the bike appear even longer than the rest of the Chiefs.

Indian Chief Dark Horse

Again, all that intimidation vanished once I swung a leg over its low saddle and thumbed the starter button. Our bike had the optional Stage 1 exhausts fitted and, though you might have noticed that I personally prefer to stick to stock exhaust systems, I loved the high decibels of this one! The sound just goes with the bike’s don’t-mess-with-me personality.

View from the saddle

I would also like to mention here that one of the most important feel good factors of any cruiser is the view that you get of your motorcycle from the saddle. Even while riding, a part of that is always in your direct line of sight. That view comprises one-fourth of the fuel tank, the handlebar & mirrors, and most importantly the top of the headlamp assembly. Here, while most cruisers feel like the Cringer, the Dark Horse will make you feel like you are sitting atop the Battle Cat.

Indian Chief drift

And it’s not all about narcissism; the Dark Horse charges too like Kupperberg’s DC Comics’ character. It weighs around 22 kilos less than the Chief Vintage while still making the same amount of power. You won’t feel the difference in weight for sure, but you might feel the difference elsewhere — in acceleration. It’s not much, but yes, the Dark Horse does feel a shade quicker.

Indian Chief acceleration

Also, it’s funny that all have gone to town that the Dark Horse is the lightest Chief yet. That’s INCORRECT. It weighs exactly the same as the Chief Classic, which has been the lightest in the lineup from day one. Still, you just can’t use an adjective like ‘light’, that too in the superlative, while describing something, that weighs over 350 kilos, even relatively. Let’s just say that the Classic and Dark Horse are slightly less heavy than the other Chiefs…

Dark Horse

The mechanicals too remain the same — the Dark Horse carries the same 1,811 cc V-twin that powers the rest of the Chiefs, and the six-speed gearbox is untouched as well. Therefore, the motorcycle, like its same-hearted

Indian Chief Engine

brethren, offers dollops of pull everywhere in the rev range while seldom needing a downshift. Sixty on the clock sees around 1,400 revs in 6th gear, and winding that throttle up will take you much beyond 160 in not much time too, provided you can tolerate the wind blast, sitting in that Schwarzenegger-like position.

Dark Horse speed

The Dark Horse has lost the oil-cooler, and now the engine is purely an air-cooled unit. Yes, it does heat more now, but still a lot less than the Harleys! That being said, be it the Indians or the Harleys, heat is never a worry when the bike is in motion, but you definitely would want to avoid the rush hour on these air-cooled bikes. Find yourself an open, straight, never-ending road and you shall feel like the God’s chosen one on the Dark Horse… Cross winds? What cross winds? The bike is so darn stable that it will even ride through a cyclone unscathed, altering the region’s meteorological system while at it. The best part is that it still tells you what that front tyre is doing. At all times. The steering is not at all vague, like in some cruisers, but it’s decidedly heavy, which one does expect, of course.

Dark Horse on road

That also means this bike is quite a handful in city traffic. No, don’t get me wrong — it handles great for a cruiser; it’s just that the weight, heavy steering, and the large turning radius make crawling speed manoeuvres quite a task for your forearms and legs. But again, all that mass (the bike’s, I mean) gives the Dark Horse the kind of presence that gets you the right of way from even the most undisciplined of road users…

Indian Chief in traffic

Despite its weight, you’ll love leaning this giant into corners, thanks to the aforementioned stability. Mind you, it’s not as agile as the Chieftain — that bike was a revelation in the handling department — but still dives in without any hesitation, and has enough cornering clearance to keep the nutter in you happy.

Indian Chief Dark Horse cornering clearance

Also, like the Chief Vintage, the tyre grip continues to be astounding here, but the front brake feel and bite felt a tad better on the Dark Horse. If you remember, I was not quite impressed with both feel and bite of the front rotors on our test unit of the Vintage last year. In hindsight, it must have been the case with our test bike only as nothing has changed; the Dark Horse carries the same brake setup as the other Chiefs.

Indian Chief Dark Horse cornering

The ride quality, like the Vintage, remains fantastic, especially if you’re not a feather-weight like me. My photographer for the day, Himanshu, single-handedly brought the bike’s kerb weight closer to half a tonne when he sat on the bike. He also told me that the pillion seat, though not very accommodating of him, would be comfortable for anyone south of 70 kg. I believe that the buyer of such a motorcycle might have a more svelte companion than either of us did in this ride…

Dark Horse pillion seat

As far as fuel efficiency is concerned, let me refresh your memory that last year, when I had tested the Vintage primarily in city, it had yielded 15 km to every litre of the unleaded. Whereas, in our roadtrip, the average fuel consumption came to 20.8 km/l. I tested the Dark Horse in city again, and this time the Thunderstroke engine consumed 16.5 km/l. The tank holds 20.8 litres (what a coincidence!) of fuel; you do the math.

Indian Dark Horse

Will I buy it (if I ever had that kind of moolah)? Despite not being a cruiser guy, I had almost promised myself that if someday I do buy one, it will have to be the Fat Boy. Yes Terminator 2: Judgement Day did engrave the H-D as the quintessential cruiser on most impressionable minds in the early ’90s. But, honestly, it sort of breaks my heart to say that the Fat Boy won’t hold a candle to the Dark Horse in the all important ‘presence’ stakes. Confirmation came in the form of a third party’s unbiased opinion when my neighbour, after staring at the Dark Horse silently for several minutes, said that it looks from a segment above in comparison. He was comparing it to the Fat Boy that belongs to the bloke living exactly three houses away from mine…

Indian Dark Horse rear

However, the H-D is cheaper by around seven lakh rupees and produces just six Nm less torque than the Indian. It’s lighter too and, therefore, should be (I haven’t ridden it, yet) more manageable than the Dark Horse in the city. But then, by that yardstick, the Scout is a whole lot cheaper than these two; is lighter and way more manageable than either, and will kick their arses in the 0-100 km/h sprint while still looking outrageously beautiful all the time. However, delve deeper and you’ll realize that Indian could have actually priced the Dark Horse at a premium (like H-D did with its Iron 883 over the SuperLow) while retaining the oil-cooler and the analogue fuel gauge (and some not-so-essential bits) in the process. A pat on their back for making the Dark Horse a whopping 4.5 lakh rupees cheaper than the Chief Classic! So what if you have to get the pillion seat as an accessory. Still, I feel that Indian could have refrained from removing the oil-cooler and the fuel gauge, but that’s not a deal breaker by any stretch of imagination.

2015 Indian Dark Horse

In fact, you won’t even think about such trivialities after a spin on the Dark Horse. I say that because no other cruiser (yes, including the Vintage) has ever made me feel invincible like this one did. Considering that no matter how strong we are, eventually, in life’s grand scheme of things, we ain’t any less vulnerable than a bubble (that rhymed!). A motorcycle, always helps alleviate that fact… The Dark Horse, even more so.