Review: 2019 Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Limited and 2020 Updates

The big, beautiful, powerful bagger women love to tour and cruise on

By Tricia Szulewski, Editor, Photos by Mary O'Hare

Editor’s Note: The new 2020 Chieftain Limited and Dark Horse are built with Indian Motorcycle’s Thunder Stroke 116 inch engine which has replaced the Thunder Stroke 111 that powered earlier Chieftains such as the 2019 Limited reviewed here. (The 2020 base model Chieftain still comes with the 111 Thunder Stroke.) The 116 produces 126 foot pounds of torque and adds only three pounds to the motorcycle. Other updates to the 2020 Chieftains include a free two-year trial period of Indian’s Ride Command with connected services on 2020 model year purchases. Ride Command also now includes traffic delays and weather. Up $2,000 from 2019, the starting base price of the 2020 Chieftain Limited is $27,999. Available colors are Thunder Black Pearl, Radar Blue, and Thunder Black with Graphics.

When our friends at Indian Motorcycles offered to loan Women Riders Now one of its touring models that is popular with women, a 2019 Chieftain Limited, I blissfully made room in my garage. WRN last reviewed the Chieftain Limited and Elite in 2017 and there have been many updates since. I would end up living with the long-term loaner through four seasons, using it as my personal motorcycle. I had the golden opportunity to ride more than 60 back road miles each day to and from work and occasionally on weekends and week-long trips to really get to know how the Chieftain fares when it’s used as intended.

This is a unique opportunity for a real-world test rarely presented to journalists. Most often, we get to ride a new motorcycle model for a day—two if we’re lucky—and the evaluations are limited to what we can learn in that short amount of seat time. We get to understand so much more about a bike when we have the opportunity to ride it daily, get it dirty, clean it, service it, gas it up, and so on.

Review: 2019 Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Limited
Before the new Chieftain Limited got dirty, I immediately rode it to a favorite local spot to take photos. The striking Ruby Metallic paint really popped on this gloomy day in the equally ominous location. I was already smitten with this fine ride.
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It looks just as great in the sun. The sunny day this photo was shot was moments before I returned the bike, about nine months and more than 3,000 miles after I took possession of the Chieftain Limited. I’m wearing an Arai Quantum helmet, Olympia Ranger jacket, BMW City pants, and Harley-Davidson Mackey riding shoes. Photo by my daughter, Kaia Szulewski.
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The first time I rode an Indian Chieftain was this 2016 model I used on an Eaglerider tour of the Southwest—I instantly fell for its curvy lines, cool two-toned paint, and how pleasurable it was to ride. The 2019 model has equally good looks in my opinion and has a host of updates and upgrades. Photo courtesy of Eaglerider.
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For 2019, the Indian Chieftain has been redesigned for a sleeker, low slung, more streamlined look with sharper lines.

The 2019 Chieftains are all powered by the same huge Thunder Stroke 111 engine that is found in previous versions of the model. The 49-degree V-twin produces 119 foot-pounds of torque at 3000 rpm for quick acceleration in any gear. The big bagger weighs more than 800 pounds, but you don’t notice this weight while riding as the center of gravity is way down low. That huge engine pulls this big bike effortlessly.

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Powered by the Thunder Stroke 111 engine, the 2019 Chieftains are equipped with Rear Cylinder Deactivation, which generates less heat when the bike is running but stopped.

All Thunder Stroke 111 models are now equipped with Rear Cylinder Deactivation.When the engine reaches operating temperature and the ambient temperature exceeds 59 degrees F, the rear cylinder will automatically deactivate when the bike is at a standstill, resulting in less engine heat for improved comfort in slow-moving or stopped traffic. The rear cylinder instantly reactivates when the throttle is applied. You wouldn’t even know the system was working if there wasn’t an indication on the display screen.

To further refine the ride and offer a customized ride experience, the Chieftain now includes three ride modes—Sport, Tour, and Standard. The throttle map for each ride mode was designed with a specific application in mind, and switching to any mode can be done while in motion.

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The more aggressive look isn’t just for style—three new drive modes include Sport, Tour, and Standard. Getting the Chieftain leaned over is more fun than ever! Photo by Kaia Szulewski.

Standard mode offers the most balanced throttle response. There’s plenty of power immediately available for passing, and taking off is smooth and quick. About 90 percent of the miles I put on the Chieftain were in Standard mode. In fact, I wouldn’t mind if this was the only riding mode available on this motorcycle as I didnt find the other two modes necessary or even useful. But for the sake of good journalism, I did test them out.

I fully expected to enjoy Sport mode because I am a sporty rider and enjoy motorcycles with performance characteristics. But the “off” to “on” nature of the throttle response in this mode is jerky, even for veteran riders. The only time I enjoy Sport mode is in fast twisties when I am riding hard and am extremely focused. It takes concentration to maintain smooth fuel delivery in this mode. Indian’s press materials call it “head-snapping acceleration.” I would agree with this description!

I did use Tour mode on long highway jaunts thinking I’d get better fuel mileage, but I didn’t actually clock any savings. I also preferred to use Tour mode when riding on wet roads since there’s no “Rain” mode. A smooth, slower throttle response prevents you from taking off too quickly, keeping both tires grounded for the best traction. While skilled riders will naturally ride this way in Standard mode, a little extra assurance is nice when the blacktop is slick.

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The bike’s tough stance is updated with redesigned fairing, fork covers, and saddlebags.
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Scalloped fenders hug the 10-spoke 19-inch contrast-cut front wheel with the iconic American Indian headdress leading the way.
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New badging on the tank and saddlebags compliment the long streamlined look.

Enjoying music on the Chieftain Limited is a guilty pleasure. The bike comes with an AM/FM radio, Bluetooth, and an auxiliary USB connector. At cruising speeds, the sound quality is impressive. I’m not one to blast my music because I’m aware of how annoying it can be to others. But the fairing-mounted speakers work well so you don’t have to blast the tunes to hear them. The equilizer works great at customizing the frequencies at different speeds, so I hardly had to adjust the volume at all.

If you find you need more than 100 watts of sound output, Indian offers an accessory upgrade called Powerband Audio. You can choose to upgrade to the existing speakers, saddlebag speakers, or add a trunk with speakers. Upgrading all three will increase volume by up to 50 percent.

Review: 2019 Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Limited_cockpit
The new fairing has been trimmed to be sleeker but still contains an impressive, updated 100-watt sound system. A customizable dynamic equalizer adjusts specific frequencies at different vehicle speeds to compensate for road, wind, and engine noise. The sound output and clarity is indeed impressive!
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The 2019 Chieftain Limited still includes the giant 7-inch touch screen Ride Command infotainment system that has set the bar for offering riders a plethora of information. The touch screen itself has been redesigned so there is less glare. A traditional analog speedometer and tachometer is always right in front of you, though the glare on these can sometimes present a problem.
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Riders can easily scroll through eight different display options while keeping their hands on the grips, which can be customized a number of different ways. Some of the options include the navigation map, ride data, vehicle info, audio info, connected device info, and more. You can even choose to display two of these options at once as a split screen.
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This small storage compartment houses a USB connector. I keep my iPhone here while riding so it is always charged and I can listen to my music even when not connected via Bluetooth. It’s also a good place to stash the key fob when you’re riding. All Chieftains have keyless ignitions.

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The slimmer fairing still offers plenty of protection from wind and rain, and I particularly love the fully-adjustable electronic windshield which is now controlled by a button on the right switch housing. Here, I’m riding with the shield all the way up. It directs the wind over my head while I don’t have to look through it. Perfect for my 5-foot-7-inch frame. Photo by Kaia Szulewski.
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The front side of the fairing no longer integrates turn signals or driving lights but is more aerodynamic. The signals are now bright LED fork-mounted units.
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The LED signals really light up well. New filler panels between the saddlebags and fender fill the gap nicely for a clean look. They can be removed without tools if you want to add one of Indian’s accessory backrests, which simply attaches to existing hardware hidden beneath the panels. Without removing the filler panels, there’s absolutely no bungee attaching points to secure a bag on the pillion.
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The Chieftain Limited now comes with this one-piece vinyl Rogue gunfighter seat. It’s removed easily with a single screw out back to access the battery compartment. I have to admit, I actually liked the contrast of the stitching with the leather on the old seat better than this Plain Jane-looking one. But it’s comfortable enough to keep you going for hundreds of miles at a time.

I was happy to ride the Chieftain Limited on both long and short trips, exploring several women’s motorcycle events. I found some new remote back roads to and from work by just experimenting with the navigation map. To prepare for longer tours, I downloaded Indian’s Ride Command app on my iPhone. When you sign up and log in online, you can easily plan routes on the site’s easy-to-use mapping software. When you open the app on the smartphone, the route will show up and you can send it to the motorcycle for turn-by-turn directions.

Once moving, the navigation system works well and I am always happy to have a big map in front of me and voice guidance in my ear, telling me when to turn. On trips when I was staying in one place for a few days, I enjoyed plugging in my home base location as a favorite, then exploring routes from that spot without the fear of having to find my way back. As an old-fashioned map person, the Chieftain’s idiot-proof navigation system totally changed me. I still carry paper maps with me, but I am a GPS-converted woman.

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The Chieftain’s saddlebags are top-notch, and by far, the best saddlebags I’ve ever used. They’ve got a ton of room, are weatherproof, easy to open and close with just a pushbutton, open wide for easy packing, and lock with a button on the bike or remote fob. And you can remove them fairly easily for cleaning, although there is some wiring that runs through them (for the electronic lock.)
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Between all the storage room in the saddlebags and everything I could pile onto the large rear pillion, I was able to bring enough gear to camp rather luxuriously at the all-women’s moto campout, Babes Ride Out East in Narrowsburg, New York. One saddlebag is filled with just food and drinks. I’ve also got a 3-person tent, sleeping bag, sleep pad, cot, clothes, gear, tools, camera equipment, and a lot of cooking equipment loaded here.
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Even with the bike loaded to the max, the Chieftain handles effortlessly. With 4.7 inches of suspension travel in front and 4.5 inches in the rear, the ride quality is superb.
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I really appreciate having locked saddlebags to store my expensive camera equipment in while camping.
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The Indian Motorcycle 12-inch quick release passenger sissy bar ($449) was key in securing all that camping gear. Here, I strapped my camelback to it, so I’d always have water with me.
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One of my favorite features of the Chieftain—extra long rider floorboards. There’s nothing better than being able to change leg positions on long rides, and these give you a lot of options.
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My feet are comfortably forward on the floorboards here, but I can easily move them more forward or backward. Riders of all sizes will love them! Photo by Kaia Szulewski.
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Riders of all sizes will also love the super-low seat height of 25.6 inches. The mid-section of the bike is narrow too, making it an effortless affair for my 5-foot, 7-inch height and 32-inch inseam.

At almost 800 pounds without fluids, the Chieftain Limited is a heavy bike when it’s not moving. Pushing it into and out of the garage is a chore, but once in motion, it’s an effortless ride. With a comfortable reach to the handgrips, electronically adjustable windshield, lots of foot position options, and easy reach to the ground, it will accommodate most riders.

Swinging it around when making u-turns seemed to impress people, but truly, it’s not difficult. The bike’s low center of gravity keeps the weight where it should be, making for a stable, sure-footed ride.

Some maneuvers can be tricky though, as the fork-mounted fairing does add weight up front, similar to a Harley-Davidson Street Glide. I took the Chieftain to my Motorcycle Safety Foundation lot to practice the Experienced RiderCourse’s offset weave maneuvers and had trouble pushing the handlebar fast enough to make it through the tightest weaves. Truth be told, I suffer from arthritis in my left wrist, and the combination of working the clutch while pushing the grips to turn the bar wore me out quickly.

The other problem I had practicing slow speed exercises on my loaned Chieftain was due to a subtle throttle hesitation. Revving the engine before easing out the clutch is something I’m used to doing with big American V-twins, but this Chieftain seemed to have a “hiccup” that makes me think is wasn’t getting the perfect mixture of air and fuel to get it going smoothly. I suspect it’s probably due to strict EPA regulations. If I bought my own Chieftain, the first thing I’d do is install a freer-flowing aftermarket air cleaner and exhaust system.

That being said, the decibel and rumble of the stock Chieftain exhaust is actually perfect for my taste. I don’t like loud bikes, but enjoy a good rumble. And the Chieftain delivers a good V-twin sound at a level that won’t annoy everyone around. Until you crank up the tunes, anyway.

Review: 2019 Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Limited_PA
One of the many adventures during my time with the Chieftain Limited found me at this old country mercantile. I highly recommend McCarty Mercantile for a hearty, home cooked breakfast if you happen to be in the area of Hillsdale, Pennsylvania.

I was remorseful to return the Chieftain Limited at the end of the loan period. While I was happy to get some garage space back, I truly enjoyed the ability to ride this bike either sporty or laid-back, depending on my mood. I encourage women who are shopping for a larger motorcycle that can really be all things in one package to take a test ride on a Chieftain.

The Chieftain Limited’s best features are definitely the navigation and infotainment system, huge locking saddlebags, and its beautiful shimmering paint and chrome. This bike received a ton of attention everywhere I rode from both riders and non-riders alike. The swoopy Indian fenders and streamlined aesthetics are undeniably attractive and seem to invite people to share their opinions with me. I’d love to hear yours. Please use the comments field below and if you ride a Chieftain, send us your pictures too!

Specs At A Glance: 2019 Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Limited
Engine Size: 111ci (1811cc)
Seat Height: 25.6 inches
Fuel Capacity: 5.5 gallons
Dry Weight: 795 pounds
Colors/MSRP: Thunder Black Pearl, $25,999; Ruby Metallic, $26,749; Dark Walnut, $26,749

Specs At A Glance: 2020 Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Limited
Engine Size: Base model: 111 ci (1811); Drak Horse and Limited: 116 ci (1901cc)
Seat Height: 25.6 inches
Weight: 798 pounds (dry); 830 pounds (wet)
Fuel Capacity: 5.5 gallons
Colors/MSRP: Thunder Black Pearl, $27,999; Radar Blue, $28,749; Thunder Black with Graphics, $29,249

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4 thoughts on Review: 2019 Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Limited and 2020 Updates

  1. Tricia, I love your review and plain-spoken non-nerdy technical speak … sometimes but not all the time. The Chieftain Limited was among my first love bikes. Because it’s a heavy tourer, I wish it was equipped with hill start control, and gear shift assist features to give momentarily relief to the clutch fingers. As you mentioned, backing it into a parking space can be a chore…so I would make an immediate purchase if this bike had a reverse drive as well. I’m riding a Triumph Speedmaster at present but am in the market for a tourer and considering the Gold Wing given its new sleek look, the 90 pound weight reduction, and the inclusion of each of the aforementioned features I long for on the Chieftain. Tricia, keep up the great reviews and hope to pass you on the open roads.

    1. Hi Milt,Thank you for your kind words. I definitely understand your wishes for some of the technology you write about here. In case you missed it, I did also review the newest Gold Wing models here. Happily, the Wing is equipped with all the tech you are looking for!Best of luck choosing your next bike. I too, hope to see you on the road one day.

  2. I ride a 2018 Chieftain Limited. I bought it new in May 2018 and have more than 12,000 miles now (and that’s pretty good since I live in Minnesota). I put 4,436 miles on in three weeks in July when I rode from Minnesota to the west coast and back, and this bike is absolutely comfortable for the long haul with all the bells and whistles, including the electronic cruise control, ABS brakes, and the Ride Command—music is the best!I rode a Honda VTX1300 for 12 years and love the bike, but his Chieftain beats my old Honda hands down! I started riding when I was 50 years old and I just turned 66 this month. I hope to be riding my Chieftain Limited for many more years. It is a great bike and women shouldn’t be afraid to ride this big bike. It handles like a dream—you just need to be conscious where you park as it is heavy to push backwards (and I have bad knees) but the ride is so worth it all! Thanks for the review on the Chieftain Limited…they are fabulous bikes!

    1. Thank you for your feedback, Jane. I’m glad you brought up the cruise control, as I inadvertently missed this key point in the review. For long distances on less-traveled highways, cruise control can be very helpful!Best wishes for many more safe, happy miles on that Chieftain.

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