Indian seemed to have the sport side of its lineup covered by the FTRs and the Challenger—that latter provides the basis of the King of the Baggers race bikes. The Chief platform seemed comfortably entrenched in traditional cruisers and light-duty baggers. However, someone at Indian had bigger ideas, and the 2023 Indian Sport Chief is the result, complete with California Club styling and nicely bobbed fenders. Fortunately, Indian did more than simply make the Sport Chief an exercise in moto fashion, as we found out after rippling some California asphalt.
- Some smart bolt-ons converted the Chief for style-conscious Sport duty. Most of the heavy lifting is at the front of the bike. There, you’ll find an inverted KYB fork from the Challenger, massive 320mm twin discs with radially mounted Brembo calipers, a quarter fairing, and a narrow flat-bend handlebar on six-inch risers. A pair of piggyback-reservoir Fox shocks lengthen the rear wheel travel to four inches and improve cornering clearance. Finally, a solo gunfighter seat provides tailbone support when bracing against the Thunderstroke 116’s acceleration in Sport mode.
- The 2023 Indian Sport Chief lives up to its name in the canyons. The upgraded suspension and braking make all the difference when getting aggressive in the twisties. In all but the tightest corners, there’s plenty of lean angle on offer before a bootheel or peg touches down. The Sport Chief is extraordinarily stable thanks to the excellent suspension action and the flex-free inverted fork. Additionally, the 130mm front Pirelli Night Dragon tire has a large enough footprint to give the rider plenty of front-end confidence. Yes, you have to add some muscle and body English to change direction—the hefty Sport Chief is not flickable.
- Shredding between corners can be accomplished in either Sport or Standard mode thanks to the Thunderstroke 116’s abundant power. The two modes cater to different riding styles. The Sport mode delivers an aggressive throttle response, rewarding a twist of the right grip immediately and with abandon. If you’re willing to put up with some notchiness as you transition on- and off-throttle, you get performance worthy of the Sport name. Standard mode smooths things out considerably. You still get strong acceleration in Standard—remember, 120 ft-lbs of torque are delivered at 2900 rpm—but it has nowhere near the enthusiasm of Sport. However, on tricky or unfamiliar roads, the smoothness of the Sport delivery can result in an overall faster ride, as mistakes are forgiven more readily.
- Despite their power, the 320mm front discs can sometimes use help. Even with semi-floating radial Brembos grasping as hard as they can, they’re sometimes not enough to slow down the 670-pound Sport Chief when you overcook a corner. Fortunately, as is often the case with cruisers, the rear tire—180mm on the Sport—is more than happy to chip in and help with deceleration duties, as a two-piston Brembo caliper works on a 300mm disc. With all three disc brakes engaged, the Sport Chief scrubs off speed aggressively and with impressive stability, greatly enhancing confidence in the bike. You may note that I left out downshifting. That’s a trickier strategy, as the clutch does not have a slipper function.
- Riding around town is an exercise in bluster. With people around, you can bask in the glory of the 2023 Indian Sport Chief’s California Club styling. Yeah, you look cool on the bike. If traffic is light, go with Sport mode and let it rip. Traffic enforcement in Los Angeles is lax, leaving plenty of leeway for the thrill of acceleration. In busier areas, Standard is the way to go, as it keeps the throttle response smooth. There’s also a Touring mode, but it’s lethargic—think of it as a Rain mode. Indian offers 10-inch risers for the ultimate in show, though you’ll want to stick to urban riding, as the risers add considerable vibration to the grips.
- You can happily commute on the Sport Chief. One of the drivers of the California Club style is the ability to split lanes in The Golden State. The tall, narrow bars make sliding between cars on the freeway and in the city easier. Before SUVs were common, the bar risers helped you clear the mirrors on cars. Now, there are mirrors at all heights, but the style endures. The fairing cuts the freeway wind, making for a less fatiguing ride. Aggressive commuters will click into Sport mode, while the more cautious will find Standard mode more than fast enough. Either way, it’s a functional and enjoyable way to get to work, and the slick-shifting six-speed transmission always has the right gear available.
- Although designed for sport riding, the 2023 Indian Sport Chief can be a weekend tourer. The quarter-fairing is as effective over long distances as it is for commuting, and a taller windshield is available. The ergonomics are more comfortable than they look, so you can pile up miles without feeling like you’re on a rack. The gunfighter seat works for all-day rides, though you will ride solo. The saddlebags Indian offers for the Chief Bobber also fit on the Sport Chief for a quick getaway.
- The RideCommand four-inch round touchscreen dash is impressive. Although not large, it gives the Indian Sport Chief 21st-century electronics while retaining the desired retro styling. There are two display modes for the dash, one focusing on your speed, and the other providing a comprehensive view of operating conditions, including a fuel gauge. A left thumb switch moves you between power modes; multiple gestures are required to change modes, so it’s not as encouraging as a bike with a dedicated power mode button. Still, the system isn’t too cumbersome once you get familiar with it. A GPS system is built in; however, it’s not all that useful on the four-inch-round display, especially while riding. Overall, the dash is an easy-to-read, informative, and customizable winner.
- When you successfully integrate function with form, you have a strong result. The 2023 Indian Sport Chief looks the part of an aggressive California Club motorcycle. Had Indian simply changed the ergonomics, the Sport Chief would have been a letdown in the sport-riding department. Fortunately, the suspension was upgraded, and that’s enough for the Sport Chief to proudly earn and wear its moniker.
Static photography by Garth Milan
Action photography by Don Williams
2023 Indian Sport Chief Specs
- Engine type: Thunderstroke 116 49-degree V-twin
- Bore x stroke: 4.063” x 4.449”
- Displacement: 116 ci
- Maximum torque: 120 ft-lbs @ 2900 rpm
- Fueling: Closed-loop w/ 54mm throttle body
- Exhaust: Dual exhaust w/ crossover
- Transmission: 6-speed
- Clutch: Wet multiplate
- Final drive: Belt
- Frame: Steel tube w/ cast aluminum rear subframe
- Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable KYB inverted fork; 5.1 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Spring-preload adjustable Fox piggyback-reservoir shocks; 4.0 inches
- Wheels: Sport Cast Black
- Front wheel: 19 x 3.5
- Rear wheel: 16 x 5
- Tires: Pirelli Night Dragon
- Front tire: 130/60 x 19
- Rear tire: 180/65 x 16
- Front brakes: 320mm semi-floating discs w/ radially mounted Brembo 4-piston calipers
- Rear brake: 300mm floating disc w/ Brembo 2-piston caliper
- ABS: Standard
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 64.6 inches
- Rake: 28 degrees
- Trail: 4.4 inches
- Seat height: 27 inches
- Fuel capacity: 4 gallons
- Curb weight: 670 pounds
- Black Smoke
- Ruby Smoke (+$500)
- Stealth Gray (+$500)
- Spirit Blue Smoke (+$1000)
2023 Indian Sport Chief Price: $18,999 MSRP
2023 Indian Sport Chief Review Photo Gallery
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