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