2023 Indian Sport Chief: Club style for the masses
The Sons of Anarchy TV show may have ended eight years ago, but it forever changed how people see motorcycles and motorcyclists. Though it never showed a perfect example of bikers, we can thank SOA for showing Southern California club-style bikes to the world.
Forget the ‘Sons of Arthritis’ parody shirts on Facebook and the guys trying to look like Jax on a Dyna Wide Glide at the local biker bar. The show will likely be remembered for exposing us to cruisers with sporty suspension, mid-pegs, and slender fairings that are meant for fast riding. They’re meant to handle. They’re meant to be ridden long and hard.
Those bikes have become the style of modern cruisers in America. But you don’t have to take our word for it. Ola Stenegärd, Indian Motorcycle’s head designer, agrees. As the style has taken over in the custom (dare we say ‘club’) scene, Stenegärd is seeing that buyers are gravitating towards that style in the showroom, too.
Today, Indian releases Stenegärd’s latest bike: the Indian Sport Chief. An upgraded version of the existing Indian Chief, it’s a blacked-out cruiser that includes a tall and narrow fairing, mid-pegs, raised narrow bars, a sportier stance, and a solo seat. There are no giant valenced fenders here.
“I’m careful with the term ‘club bike’,” Stenegärd says. “First of all, I also say ‘club style,’ but it’s something like West Coast performance style. I love subcultures and underground stuff and I love where things come from. That whole scene has always fascinated me.”
“Sons of Anarchy took it to the mainstream, but that style has always been around.”
The bikes that were ridden in the 1960s and 1970s were closer to this style than the raked-out choppers we think of from the days of shag carpet. Think Dennis Hopper’s Billy Bike in Easy Rider, not Peter Fonda’s raked-out ‘Captain America’ chopper.
“Dennis Hopper’s bike was typical late 1960s. That’s the coolest bike in the movie,” Stenegärd continues. “If we go full circle, it’s the club bike of today.”
Stenegärd adds that he also took inspiration from the Southern California scene, but not exactly today’s Southern California scene. “It’s like a club bike from the 1940s. That’s the kind of bike clubs would ride to the racetracks like Hollister and you’d take the screen and the bags off and race a little bit. And you needed a club to race.”
To drive home the performance aspect of the Sport Chief, Indian added 43 mm upside-down KYB forks, a pair of Brembo radial calipers on the front, Fox piggyback shocks and Pirelli Night Demon tires. Those are exactly the kinds of parts that club riders add to their bikes. And if you’re still not satisfied, Indian has a full range of bolt-on accessories too, naturally.
The bike has a lowered rear that Stenegärd calls “tail dragging,” so that it doesn’t pitch forward and look like it’s stopping when it’s going. (Buell, too, has leaned into this style with its new Super Cruiser.)
Maybe you could take your new Sport Chief to the dirt track and try out some tail-sliding. The Chief’s big Thunderstroke 116 engine (with 162 Nm of peak torque) would likely be game for the antics.
However, the Sport Chief also makes a nod to riders who aren’t grouches about modern things like screens. On the Sport Chief, the moveable 4.0-inch round TFT display hides convenient touches like turn-by-turn navigation and phone connectivity.
Though SOA is off the air, it is responsible for giving non-motorcyclists an insight into what SoCal riders build, and what many of us now think of when we see a blacked-out custom bike with T-bars. Though not all of us want to look like a featured extra in SOA, let’s face it, it does feel cool to sit on a big, loud, bike with high bars.
We’d just skip the ‘Sons of Arthritis’ shirt.
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