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Since 1999, the #1 Motorcycling Magazine for Women and the Men Who Ride with Them









Review: 2017 Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Limited and Elite

Custom versions of the classic cruiser are gorgeous and fun to ride; plus a behind the scenes look at how new motorcycle is unveiled to the press

By Sarah Moreau, photos by Barry Hathaway and Félix Romero García
5/2/2017

Two exciting new Chieftain models are now being offered as part of Indian Motorcycles’ lineup, the Chieftain Elite and the Chieftain Limited. These custom-from-the-factory motorcycles rolled into dealerships in recent weeks, however two months ago I had the opportunity to test ride them for this review. It was my first time on the Chieftain platform and I believe this motorcycle could likely end up in Women Riders Now's top 5 list of touring motorcycles women are riding in the future.

review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain elite red
The main appeal of the new Indian Chieftain Elite for me, and I suspect for other riders, is the color. I love, love, love the Fireglow Red paint on the Elite, which is the only color currently available.


review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited black
The Indian Chieftain Limited is available in just one color as well, Thunder Black.

As is the case at most motorcycle press launches (where a new motorcycle is unveiled to magazine writers) there was only one female journalist present, and that was me this time, when I attended this Indian Motorcycle press ride in San Diego, California, on behalf of Women Riders Now. Editor Genevieve Schmitt tapped me to be her stand-in at this press event because I’m an ambassador for Indian Motorcycle after having ridden the Indian Roadmaster for six weeks coast to coast on the Sisters’ Centennial Motorcycle Ride last summer.

Because these new Chieftains would not be for sale until April, there was much secrecy surrounding the event when I test rode them in February. I did not know what bike I’d be riding until I got there.

Upon arriving in San Diego, I was instructed to meet in the lobby of the U.S. Grant luxury hotel in downtown San Diego, along with the other journalists, to be shuttled by van to the BRICK, an event venue 5 miles away.

review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite event
Walking inside the BRICK, I am struck by the elaborate set up staged by the Indian team for the unveiling of the new bikes. Strobe lights flash directly on black sheets covering the motorcycles. A U.S. flag hangs above them while the Indian Motorcycle logo illuminates on the brick wall above it. Indian Motorcycle reps await our arrival.

review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite press
I’m proud to be the only female journalist attending this launch party and test ride. Mark Alteiri, public relations rep for Indian, greets us while sharing news about the new motorcycles we’re about see. This is an embargoed press launch, meaning I had to agree not to share anything about these motorcycles until the April public launch date. So no social media postings. I’m standing in the center, just past the speaker’s right hand.


review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite unveil event
A dramatic first impression! Two Indian Chieftain Elites (left), parked next to two Indian Chieftain Limiteds. Only 350 of the Elite are available worldwide at $31,499 on a first-come basis. The Limited model, in spite of its name, is not a limited release, and sells for a more modest $24,499. These models compare to Harley-Davidson's CVO line of factory custom motorcycles.


review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite fireglow red candy paint
The Fireglow Red Candy with Marble Accents paint is a bold departure from the traditional “Indian Motorcycle Red” that’s splashed on the Springfield and Scout models. That signature shade of red was introduced in 1904 on Indian motorcycles and was known as Vermillion red back then. This custom-inspired red has hand painted graphics, part of why the Elite is a limited release model.


review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite both bikes
The classic deeply-valanced Indian fender introduced in 1934 has been audaciously replaced on the Chieftain Elite and Chieftain Limited with a modern chic sawed-off open front fender that showcases the new lower-profile 10-spoke 19-inch front wheel.

review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain
Here's the standard Chieftain by comparison. It sells for a cool $23,499.

review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite bikes lined up
The scene outside the event venue sees the new models all lined up and ready for us journalists to ride. All the major motorcycle print and online magazine are represented here. ["C'mon ladies! Let's see more females represented in the moto press pool." —Genevieve Schmitt, WRN Editor]

review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite riding in rain
Lucky for me, I had the good fortune of riding the Limited and the Elite, but unfortunately part of our press ride took place in the rain. This did give me the opportunity though to test ride the motorcycles in challenging road conditions.

review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite windshield
Both Chieftains come with a power adjustable windshield giving the rider the ability raise or lower the wide windshield on the fly. This came in handy when it started raining. With the touch of a button located on the left control housing, I was protected from the rain and wind.

review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite handlebar handgrips
The handgrips are located at a level where the front fairing provides wind protection for the hands.


review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite seat height
As a cross country motorcycle rider (I’ve been across the U.S. and back nine times already) comfort is very important to me. At 5 feet 6 inches with a 31-inch inseam, I can place my feet firmly on the ground, which helps me securely balance the Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite at 800-plus pounds. The low-26-inch seat height makes it possible.


review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite sarah riding
The weight distribution is balanced with a low center of gravity making both Chieftains easy to ride. I was able to reach the handlebar with my elbows slightly bent allowing my wrists to relax in a natural position and my fingers reaching the levers with easy effort.



review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite controls
The controls on the left and right handgrips are standard, and the levers are adjustable. A three-stop mechanism lets you adjust the lever’s distance from the handgrip. No tools necessary, simply push the lever away and rotate the stop.

review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite midrise bars
Midrise handlebars in chrome and black are available as an accessory for the Chieftains and measure 4 inches higher than the stock bars. (Note the bars here are not on the Chieftain.) I rode with the midrise bars but wasn’t comfortable riding with my arms stretched higher and wider, particularly when turning the motorcycle. The midrise bars may be ideal for a rider with longer arms.

review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite seat
The leather seat on both models is comfortable and gorgeous, with light-colored stitching accenting its design.

review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite headlight
A LED headlight and driving lights provide illumination to enhance visibility and improve rider safety on the road.


review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite torque
I enjoyed the sound and feeling of the powerful Thunderstroke 111 cubic inch engine (1811cc) with its massive 119 foot pounds of torque that I felt from roll-on all the way through accelerating to sixth gear. Both Chieftains have the perfect amount of power for a cross-country motorcycle ride.


review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite turning
Both the Indian Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite are easy to maneuver and handle at all speeds. I felt confident leaning into a turn.


review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite rear view
My size 8.5 feet rest comfortably on the wide sturdy base of the floorboards on the Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite. My boots did not slip around while riding in the rain. Foldable footpegs are available for the passenger on the Limited.



review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite passenger floorboard
On the Elite, passengers get a floorboard, especially nice for long-distance rides. These floorboards are three-way height-adjustable, just like on the Indian Springfield reviewed here.

review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftan limited elite custom details
Custom details can be seen throughout on the Elite including the beautiful rider floorboard, and the red badging on the cam cover.


review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftan limited elite ride command
I really like the immediate response of the large 7-inch screen Ride Command “infotainment system.” It works with a simple tap, pinch or swipe with fingers through thick leather gloves. Yes, through regular gloves!


review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftan limited elite dash
The Ride Command infotainment system is user friendly, and it was super easy to pair my Smartphone using Bluetooth so I can listen to my personal playlist from the 100-watt speakers on the Limited and 200-watt system on the Elite for an open road concert. Additional installation behind the speaker ensures the sound is directed towards the rider so it can be heard above roadway and engines sounds.


review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftan limited elite speakers saddlebags
Passengers sharing the road with a rider on the Elite can also enjoy music blasting clearly from the speakers integrated into the hard saddlebags. On the Limited, these 100-watt audio saddlebag lids are available as an accessory.

For riders with full or three-quarter helmets, an equalizer allows the rider to adjust bass and treble for a crisper sound. A nice feature is the automatic volume control that adjusts lower when reducing speed. 

Another thoughtful feature is the automatic shut-off. I was sitting in the parking lot listening to music with the motorcycle turned off when suddenly the music stopped. I thought I drained the battery. I was relieved when the Indian Motorcycle representative told me the Chieftain will power off if the engine is not running for five minutes. There is a way to override this feature that is explained in the owners manual.

One of my favorite features on the Chieftain Limited and Elite is my choice to view a full screen or split screen display to monitor oil levels, tire pressure, battery voltage, miles, gears, average speed, average miles per gallon and fuel range while also viewing a road map. Three dots at the center bottom of the screen allow the rider to see different dual screens in any order. Screens can be changed easily while riding by simply touching the screen or a button on the left switch housing.

Oil change reminder is measured in engine hours or miles. I really like this feature because it’s convenient for me to monitor performance while spending long hours in the saddle. 

review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftan limited elite male rider
The Ride Command System software is continually being updated. It's a commitment from Indian to be the industry leader in user experience. Riders can download updates onto a USB and then transfer to the system via a USB port on the bike. A neat feature is the ability to customize a route with up to 100 different stops. Wow!

Key-less ignition makes a motorcycle rider's life easy with a remote fob nearby or by entering a personal security code to start the motorcycle and ride. I can stand a few feet away from the motorcycle with the key fob inside my jacket to start it and allow the engine time to warm up before I ride off. This works perfectly for me so I don’t have to worry about fumbling around in my purse or pockets for a key.

review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftan limited elite locking saddlebags
Remote locking hard saddlebags are spacious and available on the Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite to secure personal items such as leather jacket, purse, extra pair of shoes, compact tent and other road trip items.

review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite hard saddlebags remote lock
I used the remote locking feature on numerous occasions when I thought I forgot to lock the motorcycle before going inside a gas station or restaurant. There was no reason for me to walk outside back to the bike. Just a simple press of the button locks the bags remotely, and the horn beeps as confirmation.


review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite abs brakes
I took advantage of the opportunity to test out the anti-lock brakes (ABS) feature on the Indian Chieftain Elite since there wasn't much traffic. The ABS response was quick and smooth while riding in the rain. I was also able to use the ABS feature on the Indian Roadmaster while riding through the mountains on the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado when three deer ran out in front of me. I personally prefer riding a motorcycle with ABS because it makes me feel comfortable knowing I can fully brake in an emergency situation without locking the wheel.

review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite group riding
The Chieftain Limited commands the road leading the pack amongst a group of Indian Motorcycle riders. Styling straddles the line between being a urban cruiser but with creature comforts that can take you long distances.


review 2017 indian motorcycle chieftain limited elite floorboards
The Indian Chieftain performance is outstanding! I truly believe women will really enjoy riding the Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite and find all the bells and whistles are worth the money. My only suggestion as “SeCCRet the Cross Country Rider” (my nickname) is to add a weather radar to the Ride Command for travelers like myself who regularly ride long distances across multiple state lines and coast to coast.



Specs At A Glance: 2017 Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite
Engine Size: 111ci (1811cc)
Seat Height: 26 inches
Weight: 817 pounds / 831 pounds
Fuel Capacity: 5.5 gallons
Colors: Limited, Thunder black, $24,499; Elite, Fireglow Red Candy with Marble Accents, $31,499

WRN Recommendation: 
In spite of the Chieftain Elite and Limited's large overall size, with the seat height an extremely low 26 inches, many women will find the ergonomics accommodating. By comparison, the Harley-Davidson Street Glide's seat height is 26.1 inches, making it the number one touring motorcycle women ride. The low center of gravity and balance of the Elite and Limited inspire confidence for riders trading up to a bagger for the first time. Sure these two models are pricey, but for riders who appreciate a custom look and ride right from the factory, these two offerings from Indian are worth looking at. But be quick about it. The Elite may be sold out before you know it.

Related Articles
All Cruiser Reviews on WRN
Top 5 Touring Motorcycles Women Ride
Review: 2016 / 2017 Indian Motorcycle Springfield
Review: 2016/ 2017 Indian Motorcycle Scout Sixty
Review: 2015 Indian Motorcycle Scout

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