I'm not a cruiser guy and I certainly have no desire to sit on a bike, let alone ride, one adorned with tassles or leather embossed with birds of prey. But there is something appealing about the whole bagger scene. I don't mean the airbag suspended and chromed-out monstrosities that flock to Daytona (see photos here) and Sturgess each year. There are genuinely some innovative and incredibly engineered examples among the full-on customs, but they aren't to my taste. For me the whole point of a bagger is comfortable practicality. Maybe I'm just a bit of a shy, retiring type who finds the idea of rolling around in public on a neon illuminated show-off device with a stereo belting out aged ACDC tracks to be crass and frankly embarrassing. But recently my opinion has changed, slightly. Built Magazine's Tom Bing was tooling around Biarrtiz this summer on a bright, matt white Indian Chieftan and I was pretty envious. He's back on one again but over in LA this time, riding with Hooligan racer Leah Tokelove (on an FTR1200) and double bagging DTRA bosses Anthony and Anna. A bunch with their fingers on the pulse of what's hot and what's not, all swanning around the canyons on their big ol' rigs without even so much of a whiff of sarcasm in their social media posts.... is it that some of us here in the UK are a bit slow on the uptake and have yet to fully embrace the bagger trend?
A few weeks ago John Hogan from Superbike Magazine won the Bike Shed Festival by pushing his Harley bagger way beyond the chassis engineers' imagined limits. There was much pitlane mirth, assisted by the Venga Boys pumping out of his speakers, but folk on Sportsters soon shut-up when they got smoked by a footboard grinding guy in an MX lid and tinted spectacles, on a half ton cruiser.
So why do I feel a bit wrong about publishing this feature about Indian's latest top-of-the-range bagger? Well, we've spent years reporting on the stripped down and lightened, celebrated minimalism and generally steered clear of motorcycles that'll take luggage. But times have changed. Half of our office staff have succumbed to the practicalities of adventure bikes and I reckon the next step could be a bit of baggering. I'll want to try one before drawing a conclusion but from what I'm hearing on the moto-grapevine this latest machine from Indian Motorcycle could be the place to start.
The all-new 'Challenger' aims to keep one toe in the past so as to benefit from the rich heritage the Indian brand has, especially in the USA, but at the same time is trying to avoid being left behind by tech-clad offerings from Europe and Asia.
Diehards and traditionalists will be cursing as the all-new PowerPlus motor at the heart of the Challenger is liquid-cooled, but let's face it, times aren't a changing - they changed. A while ago. The wind chilled Thunderstroke powerplant in the Chief, Chieftan etc might not have a radiator but it still packs a tech punch, with rider modes, traction control and rear cylinder shut-off. The PowerPlus builds on this ethos of embracing innovation so as to deliver performance not generally associated with lardy cruisers while meeting emissions regs for years to come.
It's displacement is a voluminous 1769 cc/108 cubic-inch and the brace of cylinders are arranged in a 60-degree vee with four valves per cylinder, pumping out a "best-in-class" 122 HP and 178 Nm of torque. There are three throttle maps with complimenting traction control settings and in the high-spec Dark Horse and Limited versions a Bosch IMU (Inertia Measurement Unit) will allow owners to ride in a spirited manner without regular physics spoiling the fun. Smart Lean Technology™ is Indian's cornering ABS and traction control wizardry that should prevent mishaps when cranked over. A feature that's now commonplace on so many new motorcycles, and one that'll no doubt be mandatory before long.
The chassis is modern too, made from aluminium and suspended by an USD fork and adjustable FOX shocks. All reined in by sportsbike spec, radially mounted Brembo front calipers and sizeable discs.
But if riding dynamics ain't your bag, baby, then the massive iPad sized screen that's been grafted into the cockpit might float your boat. RideCommand is a quad-core powered entertainment, navigation and comms centre that's apparently the most advanced on the two-wheeled market today. And if you want to share your Spotify playlist with everyone, including those in the next carriageway, there's an audio upgrade available with subwoofers in the panniers.
The aesthetic is a break from tradition too with a light array packed full of LEDs and super bright white lumens. But looks are of course subjective, so make up your own mind on the Challenger's modelling credentials. And as yet we've no idea how it rides other than the opinions of Michael Neeves, MCN's Chief Test Rider. Neevesy was in California ahead of the launch and is one of the first outside of the Indian factory to swing a leg over the bike. Read his initial ride report over on the Motorcycle News website.
I'm not sure if I'm yet down with the bagger but I'm more than willing to give the whole idea a try, especially if it involves carving sun drenched Californian curves. I've been surprised (proved wrong) before about cruisers being more capable then their spec sheets and mug shots suggest and it looks like Challenger could maybe convert me.
Find out more about the Indian Challenger and its full specifications via
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