Ah, limited edition motorcycles. Who wouldn’t love to have one of so few? Certainly I would, but while I’m waiting for those lotto numbers to match up, I have to be content with borrowing one here and there, and recently I got the chance to roll up some long miles on Indian’s swank Chieftain Elite bagger, of which only 120 units are being produced. C’mon, Powerball!
Elite Indian Tech and Design
The limited production $34,999 Chieftain Elite takes all the good things about the already worthy $21,999 base Chieftain bagger and either tunes it up, punches it out, or amplifies it. Why have good when you can have great?
The first big upgrade is in the engine department. While the basic Chieftains make do with the stalwart 111-cubic inch Thunderstroke motor, the 829-pound Elite adds a solid five cubes of displacement for more horsepower and more importantly, more torque. Torque is what makes a good cruiser great, as long as it’s well-managed, and with 126 pound-feet of twist, the 1,890cc Elite V-twin manages quite well, thank you very much. Indian doesn’t say what kind of horsepower the 116ci mill makes, but my denim-clad dyno seems to think it’s in the 90hp range, so combined with all that torque, there’s some serious power on board from the air and oil-cooled pushrod two-valve V-twin.
In the tech department, another massive upgrade is the PowerBand audio system, which goes from a stock 100-watt system with two speakers in the batwing-style fairing on the base bike to a mobile-concert capable 400-watt monster with four two-way speakers on the Elite, with two additional speakers in the saddlebag lids. Music can come from either AM/FM radio, or your phone via Bluetooth or a USB tether tucked into the small fairing pocket above the spacious 7-inch Ride Command touchscreen. If you’re an iPhone user, there’s Apple CarPlay on board when using the USB connector, which also juices your handset while you ride.
Indian’s Ride Command UI is fast and functional, and the screen is braced by two analog clocks with small LCD insets that showed fuel, range, gear position and the odometer. Multiple screen options show bike stats (mpg, tire pressure, elevation trace, tripmeter 1 and 2, etc.) and can be drag-and-drop configured to your liking. The touch part of the touchscreen is disabled while riding for the most part but the screen can easily be operated by controls on the left bar pod. There are also ride modes (Standard, Sport and Tour) that change up throttle response, power delivery and fuel economy, although that last metric largely depends on the rider’s right wrist. Light on the throttle (hard as that can be) in Tour mode, the Elite often netted 50 miles to the gallon. In Sport mode? Quite a bit less.
But ponying up $13,000 over the base bike should net a few other extras, and the Elite arrived in a stunning – and very sparkling – exclusive two-tone Thunder Black Vivid Crystal/Carbon Crystal silver/grey paint scheme that had a generous dose of metal flake stirred in. Indeed, beyond the Elite’s generally imposing presence, it was the hypnotic paint that drew the most positive comments from fellow riders and pedestrian admirers. In addition to the eye-catching paint, the Elite includes handsome machined wheels with a 19-inch front wheel that’s a couple inches larger than the standard hoop. They look sharp.
The engine gets treated to a special light-colored finish while the dual exhaust system forgoes any traditional chrome for a more subdued dark grey scheme that doesn’t distract from the paintwork. Also, teardrop billet floorboards with mirrored Indian logo cutouts add another dash of snazz to the Elite.
Beyond that, the Elite comes with pretty much every tech trick in the Indian catalog, including those ride modes, ABS for the triplet brake discs, cruise control, a slick powered windscreen, full GPS with traffic data, tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), wireless key fob, a very bright LED headlight and twin LED taillights out back that also work as turn signals. And while the front suspension is not adjustable, the rear monoshock can be easily adjusted for preload using a small hand air pump that comes with the bike.
Packed up, gassed up, aired up and geared up, it was time to take the Elite out on its maiden voyage. Indian was kind enough to send me a 0-mile bike fresh off the production line, so I took it pretty easy for the first 500 or so miles, just cruising around town, giving my mom a ride, giving the neighbor a ride, giving so many rides, but also gliding along in 6th gear on the fat wave of torque beside the Sandy River outside of Portland and along the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway. Truly blissful.
Given the go-ahead by Indian to roll more deeply into the power of the big engine as the miles accumulated, I packed up some sandwiches and soda pop into the spacious remote locking hard bags and headed for the Oregon coast via Highway 6, a slithering two-laner that climbs the Coast Mountain Range with too-few passing lanes lanes but no matter, kicking the Elite to 5th gear and rolling on the power dispatched countless RVs, motorhomes and other slowpokes climbing the grade. Weighing in at over 1,000 pounds with my carcass aboard, the Elite still accelerated smartly around the lollygaggers, a deep snarl from the twin exhausts marking my progress. Handling was surprisingly crisp with more cornering clearance than I expected, and triple discs provided the needed whoa on the downhill stretches. Highway 6 empties out into the Oregon coastal tourist tra…. er, iconic town of Tillamook (say: “Till-uh-muck”) where all that delicious cheese and ice cream comes from. Hey, it looks like that big cheese and ice cream factory over yonder may have gas pumps. No? Oh well…
Cheese and ice cream meters reading full after a quick stop at the Tillamook Creamery, I gassed up the Elite and headed north on the 101, which traces along the rugged Oregon coastline through towns like Manzanita, Seaside and finally Astoria at the tippy-top of of the Beaver State. From there I crossed the amazing Astoria-Megler Bridge into Washington and then enjoyed a beautiful ride on the twisty Highway 6 along the mighty Columbia River before crossing back over at Longview across another epic bridge. Then it was just a lazy roll into the home stretch in 6th gear on Highway 30 as the sun dipped below the horizon.
A cool feature I need to mention: the Ride Command screen can be turned off – as in “off” off, not just “black” or blank. While riding out in open country one night, it was nice to be able to kill the screen and run analog (as it were) while still having use of the cruise control and I soaked in Willie Nelson crooning Georgia On My Mind in surround sound from the speakers as the miles slipped by under a starry Oregon sky, the big V-twin barely breathing beneath me. I could very easily get used to this level of fun and refinement in a big touring bike. Are you sure you need all 120 of them, Indian?
Once back in Portland, I switched the tunes over to my Cardo Packtalk Bold in-helmet comms, which had no problem syncing up with the Indian’s Bluetooth system. All too soon, I was rolling the Elite back into the garage where my personal bikes grumbled at being left unridden while I soaked up the pleasures of the Chieftain Elite. Sorry, friends, that’s just how it goes when you’re riding One of 120 for a limited time.
The Indian Chieftain Elite is certainly a pretty penny but it’s also a pretty bike as well as a highly capable, comfortable and entertaining big cruiser that was always fun to ride day in and day out. I never got tired of the attention it received wherever I parked it, so if you’re an introvert, take that into consideration: You’re going to get noticed. I had zero problems with the Elite during my time aboard, and if I had to lodge any complaints, I’d have to say I wish the windscreen was just a tick taller when fully extended for my 6-1 frame, as it did a good job calming helmet buffeting but I think a bit more height would have been perfect. Indian does offer an optional taller screen that easily bolts right in.
Otherwise, the Elite is as capable a bagger as I’ve ridden in many a moon, with comfortable ergos despite a foot-forward riding position, which I normally don’t take to very well, but doing 200 miles at a stretch due to the 5.5 gallon tank’s long range was never uncomfortable as the seat has good support and the riding position is actually quite neutral overall.
Is it worth 35 large? It’s a premium price tier to be sure, but it’s also a full $5,000 less than Harley’s similarly equipped Street Glide CVO bagger, which adds a more comprehensive rider safety system but otherwise matches up almost point by point with the Elite. And of course, what price exclusivity? If you’ve got the means, this bike has the beans. And that wicked paint scheme. Go chase the horizon.