2023 Indian Sport Chief
- Excellent-handling chassis
- Serious brakes for great stopping power
- Big, torquey 116ci Thunderstroke engine
- Could use even more ground clearance
- Big engine generates big heat
- Limited suspension adjustment
Who says cruisers have to be sluggish-handling beasts with zero ground clearance? Indian has taken its Chief platform and designed a variation that puts more emphasis on handling and braking performance. The result is the Sport Chief, which not only addresses those dynamics but gives the bike cool styling and rider comfort to go along with it.
Indian’s air-cooled Chief platform was updated for 2022 with a host of improvements to carry it for years to come. But there was a family member missing in that lineup, a sportier version to mirror those in its liquid-cooled line like the Scout Rogue or FTR. The Sport Chief fills that role and brings popular West Coast styling to its standard, non-bagger lineup.
Indian defines the bike as “the most aggressive iteration of the iconic Indian Chief. The priority here is better cornering clearance and quicker steering. Of course, you can’t use the word “sport” and not include the largest-displacement engine available, so Indian has put the Thunderstroke 116ci (1,890cc) version of that mill in it. Consider this Chief one part styling, two parts performance.
Updates for 2023
The Indian Chief platform was updated for 2022, however the addition of the Sport Chief had to wait another year until 2023. The new model receives all of those same updates and a host of others. Key is the addition of the larger of the Thunderstroke engines, the 116ci version, while the base Chief gets the 111ci.
New moto-style bars on 6-inch risers sit behind a quarter fairing which provides some wind protection, but is mostly there for added style. On the chassis side, Indian has used a 43mm KYB inverted fork set at a sharper 28-degree angle and a tighter 4.4 inches of trail. New, piggyback Fox shocks have 4 inches of travel, while Indian has also upgraded the braking package using Brembo components.
Pricing and Variants
There is a single version of the Sport Chief that starts at $18,999 for the Black Smoke color, $19,499 for Ruby Smoke or Stealth Gray, and $19,999 for the Spirit Blue Smoke version.
Indian makes no bones about the fact that its prime competitor is the Harley-Davidson Low Rider S ($18,199) and Low Rider ST ($22,199). But you should also look at some others like the Street Bob 114 ($16,599), Fat Bob 114 ($18,899), Nightster ($13,499), and Sportster S ($16,399). While looking within the Indian range check out the Scout Rogue ($12,749) and FTR ($13,499).
On the metric side there’s the Honda Rebel 1100T DCT ($11,299).
Powertrain: Engine, Transmission, and Performance
As mentioned above, the Sport Chief gets the monstrous Thunderstroke 116ci (1,890cc) air-cooled four-valve 49-degree V-twin as standard. Indian claims the engine delivers 120 lb.-ft. of peak torque. Power is fed through a wet, multiplate clutch to a six-speed gearbox, and then via belt final drive to the rear wheel.
From a ride in Austin, Texas, Editor-at-Large Blake Conner had this to say about the engine: “Around town and leaving stops, the Thunderstroke 116 provides excellent bottom-end torque, encouraging you to short-shift for an ultra-relaxed ride. Feel from the clutch is smooth and predictable, while snicking through the six-speed gearbox takes just a bit of practice to keep from feeling chunky and industrial, but overall it’s a nice transmission. The engine does get into an area of vibration if you hang out around 3,000 rpm, but otherwise it delivers a lot of character with easy-to-access torque across a broad rpm range.
“You quickly learn to appreciate the rear-cylinder deactivation around town. Heat from the exhaust headers on the right side can be pretty spicy when you’re not moving, so the addition of another heat source under your butt would only compound the issue. So turning itself into a ‘single’ at stops, indicated by a symbol at the bottom of the TFT display, seemed to quell the heat quite a bit.”
A quick look at the Sport Chief and you’ll notice the bike’s stance, with an inch of additional rear-suspension travel that’s easy to spot below the bobbed rear fender. Look a bit closer and you can see that the culprits in this case are a pair of Fox piggyback shocks that now offer 4 inches of rear-wheel travel. But even closer examination reveals the inverted KYB fork intended to work in concert with the rear suspension to deliver superior handling and more lean-angle clearance than the other bikes in the Chief lineup.
“Once into some curvy sections, it was pretty easy to bury the footpeg feeler into the asphalt,” Conner said. “The combination of the reasonable-width rear tire and tighter geometry sucks you into slamming the bike into the corner only to be met with the sound of the ‘metal-on-road’ grind. And although the bike’s claimed 29.5 degrees of lean seems reasonable for a cruiser, it definitely leaves you wanting a bit more.”
One of the really nice additions to the Sport Chief are the brakes. Up front are a very serious-looking pair of radial-mount four-piston Brembo brakes and large 320mm rotors filling in the 19-inch front wheel. Of course they are ABS equipped, as well.
The Brembo brakes deliver strong stopping power with predictable feel, and while they don’t have that light and super-crisp feel at the lever like sportbike Brembos might, they are really quite hard to fault considering they are tasked with slowing down a 685-pound motorcycle.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
Fuel mileage numbers are not currently available for the Sport Chief.
Ergonomics: Comfort and Utility
The riding position is surprisingly comfortable thanks to a well-balanced relationship between the seat, handlebar, and footpegs. The mid-mount controls put the rider’s legs at a pretty dead-on 90-degree bend, while the handlebar pulls you into a slight forward lean. Feet-forward cruisers just don’t deliver the same comfort
The quarter fairing provides just the right amount of wind protection for average height riders. Air flows cleanly over your helmet without any noticeable buffeting, and takes any and all airflow off your upper torso, further eliminating fatigue that is common on unfaired cruisers.
Keep in mind that, thanks to the Fox shocks, the Sport Chief’s seat sits 1 inch higher than on non-equipped models. Total seat height is still a low 27 inches.
Power up the bike, which comes standard with keyless ignition, and the 4-inch TFT display, disguised in a round analog-shaped housing, flashes to life. The Sport Chief has three ride modes: Standard, Sport, and Tour. Ride Command comes standard and offers turn-by-turn navigation, traffic and weather overlays, and allows Bluetooth connectivity to control music and phone functions when paired with a connected helmet communicator.
The Sport Chief has all LED lighting including the headlight and taillights, the latter of which also serve duty as the rear indicators. ABS and cruise control are standard.
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
The Sport Chief comes with a 24-month unlimited-mileage warranty.
From our experience, fit, finish, and details appear to be top-notch.
2023 Indian Sport Chief Specs
|Engine:||1,890cc, air-cooled, 49-degree V-twin|
|Bore x Stroke:||103.2 x 113.0mm|
|Fuel Delivery:||Closed-loop fuel injection w/ 54mm single throttle bodies|
|Frame:||Steel tube w/ cast aluminum rear subframe|
|Front Suspension:||43mm KYB inverted telescopic fork; 5.1 in. travel|
|Rear Suspension:||Dual Fox shocks w/ piggyback reservoirs, spring preload adjustable; 4.0 in. travel|
|Front Brake:||Dual Brembo 4-piston radial-mount calipers, semi-floating dual 320mm discs w/ ABS|
|Rear Brake:||2-piston caliper, 300mm floating disc w/ ABS|
|Wheels, Front/Rear:||Cast; 19 x 3.5 in. / 16 x 5 in.|
|Tires, Front/Rear:||Pirelli Night Dragon; 130/60B-19 / 180/65B-16|
|Ground Clearance:||5.9 in.|
|Seat Height:||27.0 in.|
|Fuel Capacity:||4.0 gal.|
|Claimed Dry Weight:||665 lb.|