Motorcyclists -- and American motorcyclists in particular -- have a deep sense of nostalgia for the bikes built from the 1920s through the 1950s. But when you look at those motorcycles, it's easy to see why. They have a simplicity and purity of design that modern motorcycles don't offer, plus,they harken back to a time that many people today believe was better.
That nostalgia has not only led the price of vintage motorcycles from that era to soar, it's also led manufacturers like Harley-Davidson and Indian to look for ways to bring that look and feel to the bikes they sell now. One of the best-executed of these is the 2022 Indian Chief Bobber Dark Horse, which blends plausibly authentic vintage styling with plenty of modern safety and convenience features.
The heart of the Chief Bobber Dark Horse is its 116-cubic-inch air- and oil-cooled Thunderstroke V-twin engine. Not only does the engine dominate the bike visually -- seriously, this thing looks like its 90% engine -- but it also dominates the riding experience with its appropriately thunderous soundtrack and effortless, almost electric-bike-like torque (120 pound-feet at just 2,900 rpm). A feature that I know and love from other Indian models -- rear cylinder deactivation -- makes a return here and the reduction in perceived heat for the rider, when stopped, is noticeable.
The chassis features twin, nonadjustable telescopic forks up front and twin shocks out back. The ride isn't what I'd call supple, but it's also not brutal, thanks to the Dark Horse's big tires. The bike's geometry does tend to mean that big jolts beyond the capability of the suspension go directly to the rider's tailbone, which isn't super-fun. It's par for the course with this style of bike, though, so it's not really something I'd hold against the Chief Bobber in general. This is a bike that's meant for looking good and eating up highway miles, and it excels at both.
Braking is handled by a single 300-millimeter rotor and four-piston caliper up front and a 300-millimeter rotor and two-piston caliper out back. Having front and rear brake rotors that are the same size is a little odd for a motorcycle, but the braking system is adequate given the bike's intended use (read: not canyon carving or track days). Antilock brakes are standard equipment.
Another classic feature of this style of motorcycle is weight -- and a lot of it. The bike is beautifully built and finished from quality materials like steel and aluminum, but that results in a hefty increase in weight. Having a big, four-gallon fuel tank also adds to these matters, but it's a necessary evil due to the big twin's thirst. The wet weight of the Chief Bobber Dark Horse is a back-busting 694 pounds, but once again, that's in line with the class.
Cruisers are generally light on modern technology, but here Indian decided to break away from tradition and that's a good thing. The single electronic gauge features a 4-inch color TFT display that has multiple pages of information and can even display info from your phone and directions from the Indian RideCommand app. Also onboard are a USB-A charging port, 12-volt outlet, keyless start and all-LED lighting.
The Chief Bobber also features user-selectable ride modes, but they're kind of a mixed bag. Sport is almost unusable in-town thanks to an overly sensitive throttle, which is not something I've had issues with in other Indian products. The more relaxed Tour and Standard modes are great, however, so those are where I spend most of my time.
American V-twin cruisers are all about style and the Chief Bobber Dark Horse has more than its fair share of that, thanks to its Sagebrush Smoke matte-green paint, lack of chrome, big balloon-like tires, super-low stance, single-passenger seat and tall handlebars. It's a love letter to the post-war cruisers that frightened parents and fascinated youths in movies like Rebel Without A Cause and The Wild One.
For me, most of the motorcycling experience is about how a bike makes you feel, whether it's exhilarating as in the case of the Yamaha MT-09 or ready to cross a continent as with the Ducati Multistrada V4. The Chief Bobber Dark Horse makes me feel a little like James Dean or Marlon Brando as I burble through downtown Los Angeles. It costs a not-insignificant $19,499, but it delivers on the promises that American motorcycles have been making for the last 100 years and does so with minimal sacrifice by the rider, and for that, the 2022 Indian Chief Bobber Dark Horse is my favorite American cruiser by far -- so far.