IMAGE CREDITS: Sudhir Tripathi, Karan Arora & Vaibhav Gokhale
Any motorcycle review for an iconic manufacturer, more often than not, requires you to dig into the brand’s glorious past, but having covered Indian’s momentous history in our earlier reviews we’re skipping that part this time, and getting straight to business. The Indian Dark Horse happens to be our third stint with an Indian cruiser motorcycle – the earlier ones being the Chief Vintage and the Chieftain. While the previous two exuded bling, flashing their chrome bits splendidly under the any kind of light, the Indian Dark Horse is more of a nocturnal prowler adorning accentuated black attire to make a bold styling statement. For those who’re into metaphors, this would be the ideal ride to reflect their dark side.
The uber torquey cruiser was taken for a 400+ km ride, and we muscled our way through the heavily infested city traffic and shredded massive swathes of highway tarmac during our ride. And while it would be the easiest thing in the world to cough up a conclusion looking at the extensive dimensions of the motorcycle, it did manage to throw a few surprises at us, unexpected from a cruiser of its size. Here’s our take on this Gothic monument of epic proportions in our Indian Dark Horse review.
STYLING, FEATURES & BUILD QUALITY
Massive, colossal, gigantic….. and every other word synonymous with the term HUGE would strike your mind the first time you’d see the Indian Dark Horse in the flesh. It might not be as sizeable as the range topping Indian Roadmaster that probably takes a car’s floor space to park itself, but it still is enormous. This machine was made to make the onlookers quiver in intimidation and no matter how many times you look at it, the visual punch of the Dark Horse would always be as intense as its first. Every element on the motorcycle was designed to overwhelm the rider with its sheer size and we’d expand on each feature one by one.
It may be a Goliath, but the Indian Dark Horse has dark, classy and bold as the keywords for its design brief and it shows right from first time you look at even the smaller elements like the headlight. Wrapped by a large nacelle and flanked by a set of LED blinkers, the headlight reflects the attitude of the Dark Horse, that it isn’t here to make any styling pretensions. It unabashedly stares right into your face and stares you down. The illumination is impressive and gives adequate spread and depth while riding in the dark.
Wide handlebars offer a broad stance in sync the large dimensions of the motorcycle.
A sculptured Warbonnet lamp mounted on the front fender highlights the styling legacy of Indian motorcycles since inception.
Valenced fenders date back to the 40s styling of Indian motorcycles that in addition to regaining the iconic design of the motorcycle also protects from road spray and gravel.
Brake cover retain the traditional styling as the fenders and keep the calipers under wraps.
The matt black fuel tank has been designed in the shape of the Warbonnet headdress which features on both sides in a monochrome scheme.
The single dial dashboard reflects all the necessary numbers you would need. The LCD at the bottom of the dial comprises of a multi-function unit displaying engine rpm, ambient air temperature, battery voltage, low engine oil pressure, gear indicator, clock, odometer, twin trip meters, fuel gauge, fuel range, average fuel economy and cruise control.
The fob activated start button and the Indian logo along with the dashboard adorn the central panel of the fuel tank, flanked by gloss black fuel cap on either side with the one on the right being a dummy unit.
The blacked out Thunderstroke 111 engine gushes out Herculean torque at ridiculously low revs. It looks more like a piece of art than a part of a machine.
Grips offer a comfortable hold with engraved Indian branding at ends
The switchgear boasts of high grade plastic construction and becomes intuitive to operate in a short course. The power button doesn’t need to be kept pressed till ignition, just one touch and it will crank the engine till it fires up.
Wide leather seat offers tremendous comfort to the rider with the pillion seat available as an option.
Footboards offer great convenience for foot placement as per rider’s comfort.
Mirrors too come with Indian branding, but could have been larger for a better trailing view
Belt drive delivers every bit of the humongous twisting force generated from the Thunderstroke motor to the rear wheel.
LED tail light and blinkers make for bright rear illumination, and are visible from a distance
ABS equipped twin discs at the front and single disc at the rear offer gradual braking and feedback with the ABS kicking in when needed. One of the best braking systems on any premium cruiser motorcycle available in the market today.
The dual exhausts are one of the highlights of the Dark Horse. Offer a deep, thunderous note which many aftermarket exhausts would fail to mimic. Those tail pipes are worth their weight in gold. The note from the exhausts while closing the throttle during cruising speeds is an absolute acoustic treat.
Dunlop Elite footwear at both ends (180/65B16 front and 130/90B16 rear) offers ample grip under fast riding and harsh braking conditions
Build quality is top notch and the finish on the Indian Dark Horse is exquisite. The motorcycle is devoid of any rough edges and barring the rear foot-pegs, we couldn’t stumble upon anything else to whine about. Ample attention has been given at places where one would least expect. For instance embossing the Indian logo on the headstock which generally is cluttered with welding joints on most motorcycles is a neat idea. We have come across premium cruisers which try to cover up for the irregularities with chromed embellishments, but the Dark Horse makes a different case for itself.
Engine and Gearbox
At the heart of the Indian Dark Horse is a 111 cubic inch Thunderstroke motor that displaces 1811 cc with power figures of around 100 bhp (rpm not declared) and 138.9 nm of torque at a measly 2600 rpm. Though the Indian Dark Horse might not come anywhere close the acceleration forces generated by supersport machines, these numbers are enough to propel the 357 kg motorcycle into the headwinds with enough ferocity that’ll make you hold on tightly to the handlebars. The Dark Horse feels relaxed between 1500 – 2000 rpm which thankfully aids for trundling in city traffic. Click past the 2000 mark and the torque would push your butt into the back of the saddle and it doesn’t matter which gear you are in- it will pull relentlessly till fear strikes. And if not for the gear indicator, that wide torque spread on offer would leave the rider confused on the gear position. Overtaking even in higher gears is a breeze and eliminates the need for any downshifting activity. Just whack the throttle open and the Dark horse would thrust forward like a locomotive.
Cruising ability for this high displaced long stroke V-Twin comes easy with 100 kph showing up @ 2200 rpm and 120 kph @ 2300 rpm. Lack of a screen pushes you into a battle with the wind gods every time you decide to take that needle north of 130 kph and though the Dark Horse isn’t really a machine meant for creating landspeed records, 180 kph can be reached following some drama. It’s a different breed of motorcycle, meant to be enjoyed at those leisurely speeds, with the engine so relaxed, it’s almost snoring. Trying to judge this bike for its agility or quickness or top speed is a cardinal sin one shouldn’t be foolish enough to commit.
Riding through the everyday chaos, the near-nine footer Dark Horse isn’t suited for crawling traffic and the engine heat in a stop-go scenario doesn’t help matters either. Surprisingly it feels easy to steer for its size- thanks to a low centre of gravity.
Another impressive aspect of the Dark Horse is it engine smoothness. The vibes typically associated with big bore v-twins are surprisingly subdued on the dark horse. The engine makes itself audible when pushing hard but the vibes transferred to the handlebars and footboards are substantially less than other cruisers we have ridden earlier. The thunderous exhaust note overwhelms and dilutes the engine noise into an enjoyable resonance.
Recollecting our experiences of riding hefty cruisers in the past, we feel the exhaust note of those machines can be well related to caller tunes on mobile phones that you pay for others to hear. One would end up spending substantial money on exhaust systems, but the treat is actually enjoyed by the ones trailing the motorcycle and most of the noise that the rider hears basically is the metallic clatter from the engine. The Indian Dark Horse violates this decree and the rider gets to enjoy the eargasmic melody as much as the others do.
The six speed gearbox isn’t something you would call a smooth shifter. Slotting into first gear does produce an audible clunk and needs more than just a dab of your left foot to slot the cogs into place. They do fall well into position without much clatter but not in a buttery smooth manner as on a modern day Japanese motorcycle.
HANDLING, RIDE QUALITY AND BRAKING
Remember we spoke about the surprises at the start? It was the Indian Dark Horse’s handling aspect we were referring to. At 357 kgs and length ever so slightly shorter than a hatchback, one may mistake the Dark Horse to be a clumsy handler. In reality, it doesn’teven feel half its mass when one decides to treat it like a streetfighter. Sure, you aren’t going to even get anywhere close to the lean angles of the focused sportsbikes, but when you compare it with its peers, the Dark Horse surprises you with its ability to tilt. Sure, you will eventually hear the footboards or the exhaust scrapping the tarmac, but it takes a jolly long time before you that happens. Almost everytime, you’ll tear into a corner and shoot out with a wide grin knowing you didn’t grind anything.
The 1730mm wheelbase lends the Dark Horse impeccable straight line road holding manners while the high placed footboards make the Dark Horse a capable machine around the bends. 130 section Dunlop Elite rubber at the front and a fat 180 Dunlop American Elite at the rear make for adequate bite into the tarmac on both straights and corners. The only gripe was that the front would show signs of washing out under hard braking owing to the tyre’s age – thankfully the ABS jumped in for the rescue every time. The Indian Dark Horse media bike we had, had already clocked close to 10,000 km when we got our hands on it and we feel the skiddy front had more to do with the age and usage of the front tyre. But overall, we seriously don’t remember when we had such fun with a beefy cruiser as this one and all this was at a a fuel burning rate of of 15 kpl!
Cruisers love never ending blacktops – the Dark Horse isn’t any different. The 4.7 inch travel front telescopic front suspension works well to gobble up minor to moderate undulations. Any larger irregularity and the front starts to flutter. The 3.7 inch travel rear suspension is on the stiffer side and good only for minor bumps and lets some jerks through on moderately undulating surfaces. However the wide seat compensates generously for the somewhat stiff rear suspension and keeps the rider pampered and protected from rudeness dished out by the Indian roads. It is, however, a different story if you have a pillion on board (extra seat is offered as optional equipment). The pillion seat is cushy, but the stiff rear suspension makes it a bouncy affair for the second rider.
Coming to braking, the Indian Dark Horse features ABS equipped twin 300mm discs with four pot calipers and similar sized single rotor with two piston caliper at the rear. Braking is another hallmark of the Dark Horse and it does surprise the rider with the rate at which it sheds speed with the ABS working flawlessly when needed. The front brake does need that extra grasp on the lever, but with a predictable feedback from the front wheel to the hands and a linear braking action, it gives the rider a deep sense of assurance. Barring the balding front tyres which didn’t work as optimally as one would expect, the braking was delightful for a machine this size, class and weight. The rear brake too has enough bite and feedback to complement the front braking and brings the Dark Horse to a breezy halt.
Overall the Indian Dark Horse managed to delight us on the performance front and shattered all apprehensions we had on the first look at the motorcycle.
The Indian Dark Horse is a deceptively easy motorcycle to ride. It could well be termed as a charging rhinoceros with the agility of a wildebeest. It goes around doing business unlike any other cruiser we have ridden till date. It has the visual charm and the performance on tap to thrill the rider whether at a standstill or on the move. Then there is the legacy of the Indian brand that dates back to the last century, offering a slice of history to the owner along with the metal.
Priced at INR 23 lakh ex-showroom, the Indian Dark Horse isn’t for everyone. It’s about making a statement, that sense of indulgence that you draw from owning one. And the Dark Horse offers that swell for the chest in heaps.
Indian Dark Horse image gallery