Indian Motorcycle 2023 Indian Sport Chief Review

2023 Indian Sport Chief

The sunny Spanish hills outside Girona, north of Barcelona, provided an idyllic base for historic American firm Indian’s press launch of the new Indian Sport Chief performance cruiser.

The fourth model in the Chief line up, the 1890cc V-Twin-engined Sport model is, as its name suggests, the sportiest of the bunch. Featuring new USD forks, twin front discs, higher bars, and longer twin FOX shocks, the bike is claimed to ‘beg for more aggressive riding’. 

Given my generally rather tepid view of cruisers, I really did wonder how I’d feel about riding the Sport. And finding it a pretty awkward machine to deal with from the moment I climbed aboard, I got the impression my attitude to this segment of the market would continue to lack enthusiasm.

Slowly but surely, though, I really warmed to the Indian, eventually feeling disappointed the ride couldn’t have lasted longer. Let me tell you more about my transformation.

Providing the biggest challenge before we even got underway, what seemed like a truly bizarre riding position made me think the bike would prove too difficult to ride. If, like me, your experience of cruisers isn’t massive, the combination very low seat, high bars, and relatively forward mounted footrests gives the bike an ungainly and challenging feel. As soon as I’d got going, I felt like throwing in the towel then and there. It felt like my limbs, hands, and feet just weren’t set in the right position to have enough control. And, as the Sport Chief weighs 302kg dry, I wasn’t looking forward to spending the whole day in its solo seat. But then things got much better.

Having more peak torque than a Suzuki Hayabusa, the Indian’s huge 1890cc, air-cooled, 49° V-twin engine has seriously impressive levels of thrust. Despite having massive pistons, there’s little snatch or general quirkiness when running at very low speed. But when you feed it with more fuel/air mix, boy do you need to hang on! Don’t let me give you the idea that it’s a tricky thing to manage, though. Its power delivery couldn’t be much more refined and linear, but, when you demand a lot from it, the thrust level feels it could rival a Scania. There are three rider modes - Tour, Standard and Sport - to choose from, though it seemed to behave best in the Standard setting. I loved the motor right from the off, but that affection would continue to grow as the test day wore on. 

Full approval of the bike was also dinted by something you have to accept on all cruisers, and, as soon as we started rounding corners more keenly, at a lean angle that initially seemed like just a few degrees from vertical, the footrests started to hit the deck. To begin with, this feature felt hugely frustrating, restricting progress along the brilliantly twisting and undulating route. Luckily, in due course I found a way to cope with the constraint.  

However, after an hour or so, the unnatural feel of the riding position came back to haunt me again. By that time, I’d given the engine, brakes, suspension, and the general way the Indian handled, a positive thumbs up. But trying to do U-turns at the first photo point had me cursing loudly. I really thought I’d topple off the cruiser every time I tried to execute a 180° change of direction. I just didn’t feel in command, and as the steering lock’s not brilliant, with the bars’ position stretching my arms to full extent when I turned the bars to their maximum, the execution of the manoeuvre felt precarious to say the least. 

Thankfully, that turned out to be the very last time I considered disliking the bike. Getting out into the hills and becoming much more familiar with things made a massive difference. Then, after a coffee stop where my subconscious clearly must have downloaded a program on managing the Indian a whole lot better, things clicked and I started to enjoy riding it a lot more.

It's really just a question of adjusting yourself and your riding style to suit the bike. And once I’d altered my lines to run deeper into the corner, spend less time in it, get the bike upright enough to use the immense engine torque to fuller effect to fire it out, the Sport Chief felt like a different bike. And a much more endearing one at that.

Even the challenging riding position began to pose less of an issue, and I could enjoy riding the superb Spanish roads. The contentment born from greater familiarity gave me a chance to explore the performance of the Indian all the more. The bike’s biggest virtue, its engine, which had never failed to impress me once, continued to draw increasing praise. It’s so torquey and flexible, with so much drive coming from very low revs, even in the bigger gears, you don’t often need to trouble the gearbox. I often just used two ratios to deal with all my speed requirements. It has to be said, the gearbox’s action itself is a little slow and heavy. 

It’s a very relaxing, low-revving motor, redlining at just 5000 rpm. But you don’t need to get anywhere near that point to make rapid progress. Indian don’t quote a peak power figure, but it doesn’t really matter. The ease of obtaining the solid and seemingly unending level of drive would make the figure academic anyway. The only gripe with the engine is the amount of heat generated by the rear cylinder. In town, when you put your feet down, the inside of your legs can get a bit toasty. When the ambient temperature is above 15°, the rear pot is automatically shut down, but I still noticed the warmth, even if it didn’t really bother me. 

Letting you use the engine’s impressive potential, along with getting more acquainted with the bike overall, are the excellent suspension and brakes. Considering its weight, and the pace those kilos can be so readily thrust to, the front brakes are highly impressive. Their high spec explains some of their performance, with 320mm twin discs being grabbed by Brembo 4-piston monobloc calipers. But it’s also the outstanding way the forks deal with everything thrown at them that makes slowing up so surprisingly good and effective. Un-adjustable though the new upside-down units are, they seem to be sprung and damped almost perfectly, supporting the cruiser solidly under heavy braking, but also happily dealing with bumps and other road imperfections well enough to keep the Pirelli front tyre well mated to the road. The set up’s good enough to get quite aggressive with corner entry, and if it wasn’t for the ground clearance limitations, I’m sure you could corner even more quickly. As it is, it’s crucial to respect the early marriage of the footrests and road. If you don’t, more solid hardware like the silencer starts to touchdown, presenting you with more serious difficulties. 

Hefty dry weight or not, the Indian feels pretty agile when it’s on the move, and flicking it from footrest to footrest doesn’t need big biceps. In fact, the very accurate and stable steering character lends itself to speedy cornering whenever the ground clearance allows. Long, sweeping bends can be taken at high speed in full confidence. Ridden in the appropriate manner, the Sport Chief can be harried along remarkably quickly.

It makes a very attractive noise when it’s being used a bit harder too. There’s a typical V-twin-like tune coming from the silencers, which is loud enough to please, but not too excessive to cause offence.

One aspect of the bike that seems to please everyone is its striking style. Not as 'in your face' as some Harley cruisers can be, the Chief looks very well-crafted and engineered. The rear end, with its twin tail lights flanking the exposed rear tyre, is especially eye-catching. Also standing out is the massive engine, which looks like it’s been hewn from solid granite, helping the Indian’s solidity and shape to draw attention from just about everyone. If you like to be discreet, this isn’t the bike for you!

By the time I learned to get the very best from the new Indian, frustratingly we reached the end of the day’s ride. I really wanted another couple of hours in the seat. I certainly felt fresh enough to do more miles, probably due to the number of regular breaks from riding I’d had along the way. I do suspect lengthy continual hours in the seat might prove more taxing. The seat seems plush enough, and the fairing does provide a degree of shelter, but having your arms continually raised so high could bring some discomfort. 

Riding back into the hotel’s car park, around eight hours after I’d left it that morning, brought a hugely contrasting opinion, very much highlighting the need to be patient with assessment of this cruiser. What had felt almost abhorrent to me earlier in the day, was now really making me happy. The new Indian Sport Chief is an endearing machine, but it’s essential to give it enough time to realise that.

2023 Indian Sport Chief Specs

Engine - 1890cc, 8v, ohv, a/c, 49° V-twin
Bore & Stroke – 103.2 x 113mm
Compression – 11.0:1
Power – n/a
Torque – 120lb/ft @ 3200rpm
Transmission – 6-speed, chain
Frame – Steel-tubed double cradle, cast aluminium subframe
Front suspension – 43mm non-adjustable KYB inverted forks
Rear suspension – twin preload adjustable FOX piggyback shocks
Front brake – Twin 320mm discs, four-piston monobloc radial ABS calipers
Rear brake – Single 300mm disc, twin-piston ABS caliper
Front tyre – Pirelli Night Dragon, 130/60-19
Rear tyre – Pirelli Night Dragon, 180/65-16
Rake - 28°
Trail – 111mm
Wheelbase – 1640mm
Seat height – 686mm
Dry weight – 302kgs
Price - £19,995 in black (£20,495 in red, grey)
Warranty – 24months, unlimited mileage
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2023 Indian Sport Chief Review | MASSIVE Torque Machine!

2023 Indian Sport Chief Review | MASSIVE Torque Machine!