There are normal everyday things that science simply can’t explain. Nobody knows why we need to sleep every night. How bumblebees fly is still a mystery. General anesthesia isn’t fully understood. There’s no explanation as to why the voice in your head only operates at one volume. The biggest anomaly in the known universe, however, is how Indian Motorcycles figured out how to make eight-hundred-forty pounds of bike this fun to ride. It just shouldn’t be possible!
Baggers are built for retired dentists to rack up highway miles once a year on a road trip to Sturgis, not for carving mountain roads or running around on race tracks. Indian developed the Challenger to bring a new level of sportiness to the big full-fairing bagger market, putting it in the oven for the full bake. With a new cast-aluminum chassis, the bike was given a level of stiffness to keep everything in check. From there the company bolted on a set of inverted front forks and a Fox hydraulically adjustable rear shock setup for sportier handling than anything it had built for this class before.
It’s a lot of weight to hustle, but it’s actually pretty responsive.
(Full Disclosure: Indian loaned me this motorcycle back in February with the understanding that my local dealership would install the Stage 2 upgrade kit. Lengthy delays and scheduling meant I had the bike for over six months until the work could be done. I paid for my own travel to and from the pick-up point in Orange County, Calif. This review is of the bike in factory original specification, and a Stage 2 review will come later.)
The Challenger was introduced in 2020 to fight Harley-Davidson’s Road Glide. Unlike the Harley, however, Indian chose to go with a cast aluminum frame and a water-cooled engine. The PowerPlus engine is a 60-degree V-twin displacing just shy of 1.8-liters (108 cubic inches) producing an impressive 122 horsepower and 128 ft-lb of torque. The standard engine in the Challenger delivers about as much power as the $6,200 dealer-installed Screamin’ Eagle upgraded crate engine I tested in Harley’s Street Glide last year.
The Challenger is a big burly bruiser with a penchant for racking up miles, but as already discussed, you can point it at a curvy road and let it eat. It’s a pretty compelling bike once you get used to the fact that you’re carrying around half of a Series 2 Lotus Elise in weight. Stylistically it’s not totally my cup of tea, featuring a bit too much chrome, but it’s hard to not recognize the beauty of the design. If you feel like being comfortable and loud, this is the bike for you.
This particular model is a Limited, which gets you a whole bunch of extra tech. For an extra four grand you get a six-axis IMU with lean-sensitive ABS and traction control. You also get Apple CarPlay on the 7″ touch screen mounted in the fairing.
With more than six months to get seat time on this bike, I’ve put miles on it. This bike and I have been all over the American Southwest, doing two trips to Phoenix, two to Los Angeles, one to Palm Springs, a couple to San Francisco, and at least three to Sacramento, most recently for the American Flat Track races. Last week the bike and I crossed the 5,000 mile mark together.
I’ve driven more than a few performance cars with fewer horsepower than this and curb weights more than double. By that metric, it’s instantly obvious that this thing is going to be bonkers fast, and wouldn’t you know it, it is. This thing really hauls the mail in a straight line, and it will happily cruise all day at 85 miles an hour on the interstate. There is hardly any other machine on the road that is more capable of orchestrating a two-lane pass on a semi truck. Roll on the throttle, which feels like the hilt of a broadsword in your right hand, and you’ll be thrust forward around the truck like it was standing still.
This big blue beauty is hardly a one-trick pony, however. There’s more to this bike than cutting a quick getaway. I often found myself hopping on this bike and heading for the hills to clear my head. It isn’t made for setting lap times—though I did briefly hold ambitions of taking it to a local track day—but it’ll hold its own on a curvy road. The solid chassis, impressive suspension, and incredible torquey powerplant means the Challenger is a pliant dance partner, even with the twisted sweepers of the northern Sierra mountain range as your floor.
Not only is it possible to have a good bit of fun scraping floorboards when the roads get twisty, but if you don’t take the bike anywhere near the limit (which you shouldn’t on the road anyway) it’ll be a comfortable and secure place to sit for a few hours at a time. Wherever your tour is, whether across the flat desert or up to the peak of a mountainous switchback, you’ll get to the destination feeling pretty good.
The seat is a fine place to spend time, even with the bike’s forward-controls stance. I felt discomfort only on the worst road imperfections, like harsh bridge transitions or steep speed bumps. In most cases, I felt like I could spend most of a day in the saddle. I recently rode eight hours from Reno to Las Vegas in one sitting, and felt pretty good at the end of it. The bike’s seating position is pretty wideset with a large fuel tank between your legs, but it was pretty easy to get used to.
In comparison to some competition from Milwaukee I’ve ridden in the past, Indian’s big bike feels a bit more user friendly. In particular the clutch pull is much more forgiving and easier to reach, and the transmission’s shifter is still a bit on the chunky side, but far easier to shift and significantly easier to guide into neutral. These two little quality-of-life features alone are enough that I would choose the Iowan over the Wisconsinite, were I in the buying market.
If you’re not to hard on the throttle, you can get somewhere in the realm of 50 miles per gallon, pushing a tank of fuel out to 250 miles in some cases. With a shove of torque like this sitting behind a simple twist of the wrist, there’s not much incentive to stay out of the gas, however. I regularly found I was scooting closer to 40 mpg, what with all of the deep digging into the throttle I was doing passing semi trucks and hauling ass out of corners. You probably want to get up to stretch every three hours or so anyway, so 200 miles is plenty.
Wind protection is excellent, seat materials are cushy and wide, and the suspension is compliant.
This bike is really expensive. At damn near thirty thousand dollars, you can buy a whole lot of great cars for that money. It’s a good bike, but I don’t think it’s 28,000 bucks good.
Battery issues plagued my time with the Challenger. For months I was chasing difficulties getting the bike started if it sat for a week or more. More than once I went out to find the bike dead ahead of a planned road trip. Obviously keeping the bike on a trickle charger could likely have prevented this issue, but I think there was more to it than that. A little over a month ago the battery just decided it wouldn’t take a charge anymore, so I went out and bought one at WalMart and shoved it in the bike. Ever since then it’s been flawless, even after sitting for several days without starting. Nobody at Indian would go on the record about it, but some cursory searching seems to indicate that this is a common issue from the brand.
There is a rubber piece of trim around the fuel tank (above) on top of the bike’s filler cap surround. Apparently this trim is installed with a rubber adhesive from the factory. In the heat of a Nevada summer, the adhesive frequently wept out from underneath to leave a gnarly residue. Several applications of bug and tar remover were required to get all of it to go away. As near as I can tell, the trim is still holding on without any problems, but the adhesive continues to melt out as the summer temperatures hold. My local dealer technician indicated this is a pretty common issue with these bikes.
Apple CarPlay is dope, but it kinda sucks on a motorcycle. Apparently there is some kind of legislation that requires it to only work with in-helmet audio. So even though the motorcycle is equipped with speakers, CarPlay won’t function with them. So you have to plug your phone in to the bike, pair your phone to your helmet, then pair the bike with your helmet, then fiddle with everything so it talks to each other. I tried to set it up for about 20 minutes before taking off for a ride, but could never get it to work reliably, because my phone’s charge port was apparently not a solid enough connection to the bike, so every time I thought I got it, the phone would disconnect and I’d have to start over. Ultimately I never got it to function for an actual ride, so I just used my tried and true method of pairing my phone to my helmet and shoving it in my pocket, leaving the bike, its speakers, and Apple CarPlay out of the equation altogether.
In general the controls are well-placed and easy to reach with a quick thumb. Riding at night is a different story, however, as the switches are not backlit, and are difficult to differentiate between without the benefit of sight. If you aren’t accustomed to using the brights, finding them in the pitch black night is a touch difficult. This is more a fluke than anything, but while riding at night a couple of weeks ago, I reached out with my right arm to stretch my shoulder a bit, and when putting my hand back on the bars I bumped the kill switch lightly and the bike immediately shut down. I thought I’d blown something up, and coasted to the side of the road. If the switches were backlit, I might have avoided such confusion.
The gauges are generally very good, but the miles-to-empty fuel gauge simply drops to display a “LOW FUEL” display from about 30 miles remaining, which can make for some nerve-wracking range anxiety, especially in the middle of the desert.
Optional heated grips? Come on bagger boys, that should be standard equipment!
If you’re looking for a bagger, you could do a lot worse than the Challenger. You’ll definitely want to step up to the Limited model, if only for the gorgeous Deepwater Metallic paint (or Ruby Metallic, but definitely don’t get Black like a loser). If you frequently ride in cold weather, like I do, pony up for the $309 10-setting heated grips and the $200 vinyl “closeouts” for the highway bars to keep some wind off your legs and feet.
Just like every other big bike in the world, the price is tough to swallow. If you can get past that, and you don’t mind the “bagger image” this is a pretty good one to get. It feels old-school Americana, down to the slightly racist “headdress” emblazoned across the fuel tank. It’s big and brash, fast and loud. It’s kind of the perfect motorcycle for the American Southwest, where you can find several hundred miles of straight-as-an-arrow two-lane.
The old-school feel is almost contradictory to the fancy futuristic fairing and LED lighting. There is a level of refinement built into the Challenger that you can’t find in a Street Glide, but it’s certainly a millennium behind something like a Honda Goldwing.
This bike is an anachronism. It’s too advanced to be vintage, but too intentionally vintage to be modern. There’s a toughness to be found in hauling around and making the jump to lightspeed every twenty miles on an 800-something pound bike, but it’s a different kind of feeling frome what the truly old-feeling H-Ds deliver. Is it the Goldilocks middle ground between past and future?
I truly enjoyed my time with the Challenger, but didn’t quite fall in love with it. Certainly not for the stratospheric price tag. Most times when I leave a bike in the rear view mirror of my life, I spend months thinking about how I could get it back. While I was sad to see this one go, I don’t have any desire to go buy one. We aren’t soul mates, and that’s okay.