IF WE MEASURED motorcycles’ badassery like pool pH, we would hold their litmus strips against a grayscale running from chrome to black. In the visual code of street bikes, less chrome reads as younger, cooler, more outlaw and—here’s the salient point—less like Harley-Davidson. In the years after 2008, Harley’s traditionally over-splendid brightwork came to be associated with the brand’s steep prices and the graying clientele.
Our Indian Chief Bobber Dark Horse takes murdered-out styling to its monochromatic limit. New for 2022, the “Dark Horse” specification includes powder-coated exhaust pipes and handlebars as well as gloss-black cylinder heads, tubular frame and telescopic shocks. The tank and fenders can be ordered in three colors—Black Smoke, Sagebrush Smoke, Titanium Smoke—with matte finishes and graphics. This thing is so dark it has an event horizon.
“ Motorcycles inevitably make a strong personal statement. This one puts out a vibe that registers on seismographs. ”
It’s dense enough. Weighing 694 pounds fully fueled and measuring 90 inches long, the Chief Bobber actually counts as one of the company’s midsize bikes, between the Scout streeters and the bagger/touring dreadnoughts such as the Springfield and Roadmaster. Bobber models are, however, endowed with the company’s largest, most bro-tastic engine: a pushrod-actuated, air-cooled, 1,890-cc V-twin, producing a maximum 91 hp at 5,000 rpm, whilst flapping like a pirate flag in a hurricane. Meet the Thunderstroke 116.
The term “bobber” may also require unpacking. As a transitive verb, to “bob” is to cut something shorter. Bobbers are pared back to the essentials: single saddle, bare-minimum lights, instrumentation and fenders. No windshield, footboards, saddlebags or fairings. Beyond naked.
Bobber styling also invokes midcentury cues such as wire wheels and fat tires. And, because bobber customs were often “hardtails”—with the rear springs/dampers cut out and the rear wheel rigidly fixed to the frame—a strongly diagonal stance is standard for the breed: high handlebars, low seat.
To tell the truth, I didn’t have a lot of interest in the new Indian, before the fact. Traditional American-style motorcycles—being heavy, slow, overpriced and tacky—have generally bored me. And it troubles me that any and all trends in the folk art of motorcycle customization get instantly co-opted by major manufacturers and packaged as cool in a box.
But when I saw the BDH in repose—parked in front of my house, draped over its kickstand, as taciturn as a hammer—my attitude began to soften. Oh jeez. That is witchy. The fatty tires (3-inch wide in front, 5-inch wide in rear), mounted on 16-inch spoked black wheels, look tremendous. Can I get an order of whitewalls for this table?
And, while not a hardtail, the Bobber looks like one from across the street, thanks to the cylindrical rear dampers being in line with the diagonal top bar. That’s a nice bit of science in the service of nostalgia.
Fast? Oh no. Despite its nearly two-liter engine, the Bobber is nobody’s sport bike. At max engine speed (5,400 rpm) it sounds like it’s about to pull a groin muscle. The gearshift linkage is clunky; the single brake discs on the front and rear wheel are undersized and overmatched. When you roll on the throttle in first and second gear, yes, the big Bobber breaks into a snorting gallop. But compared to the average sport-touring bike, the ratio of acceleration to noise is comical.
Still, I was surprised that the Bobber could be actually, truly fun to ride, in a specific way having to do with its ergonomics and setup. For nonriders, this might get a bit weedy, but bear with me: The Bobber has a 29-degree front fork rake, and a trail of 5.2 inches. This geometry gives the bike’s steering a reassuring, self-centering quality going straight; but it tends to make any bike less eager to change directions.
I discovered that the Bobber’s low-rise, mini-ape hanger handlebars—of the type I always figured were just for looks—actually impart more leverage over the steering than regular handlebars. While corner-to-corner transitions must be made more deliberately—because it’s such a big bike and you have to push the handlebars—the Bobber can definitely get around, right up to when you start dragging stuff on the pavement (28.5-degree lean angle).
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The Bobber package also includes forward-mount foot controls. These too take some getting used to compared with sport-touring bikes. Forward foot controls require riders to lift and extend their legs to find the footpegs. Combined with the bike’s low saddle height (26 inches), the forward controls oblige riders to sit as if on a bobsled.
It is far from the most natural riding position. And yet, after getting the feel of the bike over a few days, I found I could literally swivel my hips to initiate a turn or maneuver. For example, pulling out to pass slower traffic, just give it the gas and wiggle your…well, you know.
The state of Bob-ness is debatable. The bike is fitted with substantial fenders, front and rear, as well as a large headlamp nacelle and covered shocks. The least Bob thing of all is the 4-inch LCD touch screen instrument display, with integrated navigation, phone connectivity and bike functions accessed through individual menus. The bike’s left handgrip has a neat trigger-like selector to toggle through menu pages. But some inputs must be made with the touch screen. It works with gloves.
Motorcycles inevitably make a strong personal statement, and this thing puts out a vibe that registers on seismographs. What exactly does the Chief Bobber Dark Horse say about the man or woman who rides it? Is that rock-and-roll black, bad-boy black, fetish black, tactical black?
Or is that just shade?
2022 Indian Chief Bobber Dark Horse
Base price: $18,999
Price, as tested: $19,499
Powertrain: air-cooled, naturally aspirated, fuel-injected 1,890-cc pushrod actuated V-twin; six-speed manual gearbox with wet clutch; rear belt drive
Power/torque: 91 hp at 5,000 rpm/120 lb-ft at 2,900 rpm
Length/width/height/wheelbase: 90.0/36.0/53.1/64.0 inches
Rake/trail: 29.5 degrees/5.2 inches
Curb weight: 694 pounds (fully fueled)
Seat height: 26.0 inches
Fuel capacity: 4 gallons
Estimated range: 175 miles
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