Phil Rides The New Indian Challenger At Daytona Beach Bike Week

Ah, the wonder of Daytona Beach Bike Week… The first major event on the motorcycle industry calendar when all the manufactures come together to present their new models to the riding public. It is also a great time for moto-journalists to test ride bikes launched for the upcoming riding season, and this year we had not one but two opportunities to test some of the hottest new bikes launched.  Little did I know I would be riding one of the newest baggers that – surprisingly – makes you feel like popping a wheelie as soon as you roll on the throttle in pretty much any gear.

Following our review of the FTR, Indian’s marketing group, The Brand Amp, offered us a chance to spend some serious time on the new Indian Challenger touring bike, and we of course jumped on it! My normal riding crew rolled into the Daytona sunshine following weeks of rain just in time to unload our Harley and Indian baggers.  Since I own a 2014 H-D Street Glide yet ride with buddies on Indian Roadmaster and Chieftain models, we thought I should run the Challenger through its paces.

Friday morning, I connected with Indian Marketing member Kohl VanBonn behind Indian’s Main Street venue.  Being the last setup day for Bike Week, their team was busy putting the final touches on their incredible display. Kohl and I went over the bike, the onboard systems and other specs, signed the requisite waivers and I was off.  Eyeballing my six-foot two-inch frame, Kohl wisely put me on a Satin Black Challenger Dark Horse fitted with 12” aftermarket bars (similar to my KST’s). As soon as I sat on the bike, my riding position felt near perfect. I run a Tall Boy seat on my Street Glide Special so I could have used about 2 more inches of legroom. Indian was very accommodating and offered a bike for the entire week. I would have loved a few more days on this machine but we had other reviews along with pre-planned rides so providing the bike for an entire day was gracious enough.

First Impressions

Over the years I’ve had occasion to straddle several different baggers and touring bikes and I must say, the Challenger rates near the best as being among the naturally comfortable for my (lanky) height and frame. The stock bar height is comfortable but the taller aftermarket bars on the demo put me in a great riding position. 

All rider controls are easily accessible via thumbs at the well placed grip mounts, and Ride Command delivers traffic and weather overlays on a seven-inch screen that is clear even in bright sunlight. Vehicle information offers Bluetooth® and USB connectivity with large tactile buttons for quick settings changes and audio selection when needed. There is a safety fuel release under the right side fairing’s storage pocket which must be activated prior to gassing up, with ample room in a second storage pocket on the left side.

First Impressions

The esthetics and overall design make the bike appear lighter than the Roadmaster and the H-D Road Glide, but actual specs put the overall weight at 80 pounds heavier than the Road Glide.  The added weight is due to the radiator and coolant keeping this V-Twin nice and cool during the ride.

Touring Is Not a Challenge

After gathering our group which included 3 Street Glides, a Roadmaster, two Chieftains and the demo Challenger at the hotel, we rolled north towards Ormond Beach and the Tomoka Loop.  Right off the bat this bike turned heads both at the hotel and wherever we stopped during the day. The fit and finish are pleasing yet bold. The fixed fairing is less shark and more beast, bred for the open road. The adjustable windshield can be raised in increments as needed or with a quick double tap on the control, one can bring the plex all the way up or down depending on your needs. At my height I found the fully extended position most comfortable, and if I owned one would probably add an aftermarket unit with a couple more inches for better wind deflection. The fairing also has two slots on either side of the light cluster that allow air flow back to the rider. The only element on the design side that seemed lacking were the rear rider pegs and mounts. It almost appears the design team had run out of steam when they got to this feature.

Like all newer Indians the Challenger included fob lockable bags with the lock latches on the top of the rear bag. As a tall Harley bagger owner I’m jelly over this feature. To be brutally honest, the Harley barrel key side latch has worn out it’s welcome in my garage.

The suspension for my weight was comfortable and the adjustable shocks guarantee you get the ride you want. The 6-Axis Bosch Inertial Measuring Unit (IMU) along with Dynamic Traction Control, ABS and Drag Torque Control offer a nimble, safe corner carving ride, giving you the confidence to go for it. Technology used in the right way.

Launch the Bike – Not your Lunch   

There is no question Indian has taken this Victory 108 cu in motor and built in an exceptional level of performance and rideability. The clutch is smooth and the shifter crisp when snapped down into first and then up into action. The transmission and power band are tuned to give excellent launch off the line with midrange power at the right time. I took note while cruising at 40 MPH in 4th gear at 2000RPM – a quick roll on the throttle punched it up to 50 at 3000RPM and the engine granted my wish without hesitation.

DISCLAIMER – One of my best buddies on a 2017 Chieftain with the 111 engine decided it was time to drag race down A1A and the Challenger quickly obliged. From a rolling start from 50, we both rolled on and the Challenger upshifted smoothly while the Challenger’s 108 engine delivered instant power, leaving its older sibling in the ocean mist. Even at 60+ this touring bagger makes you feel like you should be doing wheelies – Seriously! This bike is quick so Indian has wisely applied radially mounted Brembo dual disc brakes for stopping power which was both smart and necessary. 

One of the best features on this bike that doesn’t capture much attention is the water cooled engine. Even though this was one of the cooler Bike Weeks I’ve attended (this demo day was in the low 70’s), when stopped at lights (and one drawbridge) I purposely held both hands down near the heads to check the motor temp. There was virtually little to no ambient heat present, even after riding for an hour solid. For hot summer rides or slow traffic situations this feature alone will be welcomed by the bagger nation.

Respecting the Ride

Wherever we rode, people noticed this bike even though I saw a few dozen Challengers during my 5 days in Daytona, which means Indian is selling units. We stopped at a state park north of Matanzas Beach where some young folks and a start park ranger stopped to look over the Challenger and inquire about it. The fixed fairing design and front light cluster tell you this is not your average bagger touring bike which I have to believe Indian was shooting for.

The Challenger is 80 pounds lighter than a similar Harley (Road Glide) even with the radiator and coolant and it definitely feels lighter.  It’s rare to use the words like  “nimble” for a big bagger but that was the feeling I had when riding the Challenger – it’s very responsive in turns.. The throttle response was smooth yet the engine knew when it was time to “giddy-up” and this beast flies when you roll on the throttle. A few times I did feel the engine hesitate slightly when cruising at speed (between 40-60) but this could have been a fuel issue. You seriously feel like you could blip the throttle in 4th or 5th gear at speed and lift the front wheel off the tarmac.

Final Thoughts

The crew at Indian was kind enough to let us have the bike for almost 9 hours on the Friday before Bike Week and we are grateful for the time on this marvelous machine. As the bagger wars continue, it is clear that Indian parent Polaris is serious about the battles they’ve chosen and the markets they hope to tap into with the Challenger. The performance and paint options offered target the Indian to the new generation of rider. Yes, this bike has a clutch and transmission which can be a barrier of entry for some first time riders, but once a newbie gets the hang of this bike and feels the speed, they will have to seriously consider the Challenger over a sport bike or small cruiser. The bags give you storage, the watercooled engine gives you a cool, smooth ride and the fixed fairing provides all the electronic connectivity, navigation and safety that a rider would expect at a price less than $30,000.00. Indian is also well positioned to convert some of the Harley-Davidson faithful with the Challenger.

Well done, Indian!


1 Comment

  1. Rob

    Nice work, Phil!


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