This Stunning, Loaded Motorcycle Is a Highway Dream

Nearly four years ago, just a few months into my tenure at Gear Patrol, I wrote a little news story called “Indian’s New Bike May Be the Most Feature-Loaded Motorcycle Ever.” Reporting on the brand’s ambitious new bagger, I was nearly out of breath by the fifth sentence: “Along with all the amenities we’ve come to expect from a top-line touring bike — think electronic cruise control, full LED lighting, ABS, keyless ignition and spacious weatherproof saddlebags — the new Challenger is jammed with outstanding features that have us stoked to give it a test ride.”

The most exciting one was, of course, the all-new Power Plus engine, a 1,768cc, 60-degree V-twin delivering 122 horsepower and 128 ft-lbs of torque. Alas, the pandemic hit shortly thereafter and that test ride dream was deferred. In the years since, I’ve gotten to try out a bunch of other compelling Indian bikes — including the Chieftain Limited, Chief Dark Horse, Scout Bobber Sixty and Sport Chief. Yet somehow, save for one half-day cruise in Tennessee, the Challenger had eluded me.

But I guess good bikes come to those who wait, because I finally got to scratch the itch earlier this summer, loading up on seat time around New York City and on a 528-mile round trip to the D.C. area. With a few years for the designers and engineers to fine-tune it, could the latest edition of this ride live up to my breathless initial expectations? Let’s find out.

2023 Indian Challenger: What We Think

The new Challenger builds on the promise of its predecessors by pairing the aforementioned Power Plus engine with an impressive array of technical attributes and friendly amenities. Standout features include full LED lighting, race-spec Brembo brakes, fairing-mounted 100-watt speakers, loads of storage (two “glove compartments” and two saddlebags) and a 7.0-inch touchscreen powered by Ride Command, Indian’s proprietary infotainment system.

Of course, all these features mean little if they don’t play well together on a bike that is rugged and reliable, fast and fun. Over hundreds of miles, I was glad to find that for the most part, this bevy of elements adds up to a pretty rad ride. Of course, one bike can’t do everything, and this one is no exception, but especially on the highway, the Challenger shines. Here are the major takeaways after a few largely satisfying weeks in the saddle.

Indian Challenger

indianmotorcycle.com

$24,999.00

  • Super smooth and stable on the highway
  • Best moto speakers we’ve ever heard
  • 18-plus gallons of storage space
  • 831 pounds make low-speed maneuvering a drag
  • Too big to split tight lanes with
  • Almost too comfortable

The Challenger totally rules the highway

2023 indian challenger motorcycle

A chassis-mounted fairing and height-adjustable windscreen keep 80-mile-an-hour breezes at bay.

Steve Mazzucchi

With its sheer size and strength, the Challenger is clearly intended to dominate the big roads, and in that regard it does not disappoint. With an 831-pound running order weight, it is indeed Indian’s biggest bagger (just edging out the 829-pound Springfield), and that massivity translates to a bike that is super solid and stable on the highway, even when you mistakenly trust your GPS and take the half of the bifurcated road that is, like, all semi trucks.

The Power Plus engine is truly impressive, working in concert with a six-speed transmission and some of the smoothest shifting I’ve ever encountered. One of the hallmarks of a great highway bike, for me, is not so much the 0–60-mph acceleration as the 60–80-mph acceleration, which is what you really need to make moves, and the Challenger totally delivers on that front. I never felt like I couldn’t easily change lanes or make a huge pass with a simple flick of the wrist. Together with ultra-responsive Brembo brakes, that made navigating even four- and six-lane roadways pretty breezy.

Two other aspects of the bike made riding 264 straight miles, with just a little gas-and-food stop in the middle, feel quite comfortable. First, the generous running boards, which really do give your feet a break over long distances. Second, and much more particular to this brand and this bike: what Indian calls the “gunfighter seat.” The exaggerated scoop in the middle keeps the seat height at a manageable 26.5 inches, while the dramatic swoop up in the back essentially cups your derriere and keeps you rooted in a safe, reassuring position. Need to stretch your legs? You can always inch back and sit on the overhang for a brief change of position.

Bottom line: Of the dozens of motorcycles I’ve ridden, this one ranks right up there with Harley’s Low Rider ST on the list of bikes I’d most like to saddle up for a long-ass jaunt from say New York to LA.

Speakers, storage and screens stand out

2023 indian challenger motorcycle

Steve Mazzucchi

2023 indian challenger motorcycle

Steve Mazzucchi

While I don’t personally prioritize amenities on a motorcycle — my daily driver has neither a windshield nor a gas gauge — the Challenger certainly made me appreciate their charms, especially on a long ride.

The most notable one is the 100-watt speakers, which boast a “dynamic equalizer” Indian says adjusts to road, wind and engine noise to deliver clear audio. I am not really sure what a dynamic equalizer is, but I do know this is the first motorcycle I’ve ridden that truly let me rock out at 80-plus miles per hour, even with my noggin shrouded in a full-face helmet. Every other bike, the wind starts to take away the sound as the speed increases, but in this case, the combination of fairing protection, max volume and scientific wizardry kept the bass bumping no matter how fast I went, a benefit that can’t be underestimated as the miles pile up.

Another amenity that impresses is the storage space. The locking saddlebags and their 18-plus gallons of luggage capacity are sweet — pretty similar to the Low Rider ST, which also nicely accommodates the internal zipper bags from my Dakine High Roller Snowboard Bag — but that’s not all. What I really dig is the glove compartments under the speakers. Give them a tap and they pop open to provide a space for your wallet, phone, sunglasses, snacks and other items. (There’s also a 12-volt port for charging electronic devices.) Just remember to empty them when you leave the bike, as they are not lockable.

2023 indian challenger motorcycle

Steve Mazzucchi

2023 indian challenger motorcycle

Steve Mazzucchi

A third feature I appreciate is the 7.0-inch touchscreen. I have harped on Indian’s in-house system, Ride Command, in the past, but it has definitely improved a lot over the past few years. The screen is big and clear, and the five physical buttons underneath make it a lot easier to use when you’re wearing gloves. It pairs with Bluetooth pretty smoothly, making it it a snap to stream your favorite tunes, and the screen’s size makes viewing maps and bike diagnostics easy on the eyes.

If I have one lingering beef with Ride Command, it’s that the navigation system still can’t really compete with Waze or Google Maps. It’s kind of clunky entering street addresses and it can’t always seem to find them. Pro tip: If you’re hundreds of miles from home, just enter the name of a business near your place and it’ll pretty much get you there. (Thanks, Chelsea Market!)

Big-ass bikes have their downsides

2023 indian challenger motorcycle

Those shiny chrome crash bars will come in handy if this 831-pound beast ever tips.

Steve Mazzucchi

As the proud owner of a standard naked motorcycle that rips around the city at under 500 pounds, I am naturally a bit biased against huge, full fairing bikes, and while the Challenger isn’t the biggest bike Indian offers (they have others that approach a thousand pounds), it’s still pretty dang bulky in urban environments. Even with that low 26.5-inch seat, it can be a bit tricky to control, maneuver and park at lower speeds.

It’s also really too big to split lanes anywhere things are the least bit tight. Yes, that’s true of pretty much any touring bike or bagger, but it’s worth mentioning in a general sense because man is it soul-crushing to be stuck in traffic on a sunshine-y day and thinking “sheesh, might as well be trapped in a cage car.”

Lastly, and again, this note applies more generally to big bikes than to the Challenger specifically, there’s a point at which a motorcycle’s size and amenities begin to separate the rider from the deeply visceral rush of riding a bike out on the road with a bunch of much bigger, enclosed vehicles. There’s a real sense of exposure and danger to it, but that’s kind of the point of making the choice to ride rather than drive. For me, every bigger, feature-laden bike runs the risk of being a little too comfortable, and at least until my beard turns gray, that is frankly a feeling I’d like to avoid.

But looks can thrill

2023 indian challenger motorcycle

The V-twin engine and pipes really pop, particularly on the right side of the bike.

Steve Mazzucchi

I’ll keep this section short and sweet because (hopefully) the photos speak for themselves, but even the base trim Challenger — there are also pricier Dark Horse, Limited and Elite editions — is a real looker. I got compliments everywhere I rode, including from a veteran guiding a “four corners” trip (Maine to Florida to California to Washington) and a guy I ran into at a New Jersey pit stop who had far more questions than I could answer about the bike (howdy Greg!).

Anyhoo, from the aerodynamic fairing and saddlebags to the shiny chrome V-twin engine and pipes, the Challenger cuts a pretty striking figure that adds to its value, whether you’re gridlocked in the city or, ideally, far from any skyscrapers, racing across the country on a long, smooth road.

2023 indian challenger motorcycle

The gunfighter seat is a fine finishing touch with the function to match.

Steve Mazzucchi

2023 Indian Challenger: Alternatives

Depending where you lean when it comes to budget and style, there are at least a few other options to consider. The first that comes to mind is the 2023 Harley-Davidson CVO Road Glide and Street Glide we recently reviewed. The Road Glide in particular is notably bigger, more powerful and feature-packed, but at a base price of $42,999, it also costs nearly twice as much. On the lower end for Harley is the aforementioned Low Rider ST, a simpler bagger (no fancy touchscreen) that’s a blast to ride and starts at $22,199.

Another bike much closer in price (but significantly different in style) is the $25,600 Honda Goldwing. With an 1,833cc liquid-cooled engine, it will likely handle a long ride just as smoothly, but it’ll look, I dunno, more goofily futuristic while doing so.

If you seek a similar style and slightly lower price, one more bike to consider is Indian’s own Chieftain. It’s lighter on amenities but boasts a slightly bigger engine (1,811cc versus 1,768cc for the Challenger), plus a significantly lower base price of $22,999.

Indian Challenger

indianmotorcycle.com

$24,999.00

  • Super smooth and stable on the highway
  • Best moto speakers we’ve ever heard
  • 18-plus gallons of storage space
  • 831 pounds make low-speed maneuvering a drag
  • Too big to split tight lanes with
  • Almost too comfortable

Related posts