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Silver Sensation: Indian’s New Chieftain Elite Is a Powerhouse in Appearance and Performance

An homage to South Dakota’s mines, each of the 350 examples hits the motherlode in torque, top speed, and total presentation.


Some of the pleasure of piloting a flashy set of wheels comes from the number of heads you can turn per city block. The limited-edition 2018 Indian Chieftain Elite is poised to do just that with its eye-grabbing, hand-applied paint scheme inspired by South Dakota’s Black Hills silver mines. There is one caveat, however: you’d better be a fan of Black Hills Silver, because if you want a Chieftain Elite, that’s the only color you’ll be able to get. But the story behind how Indian Motorcycle applies that finish is something to celebrate.

“The hand-painting process for this bike, especially with the marbling being so unique and different every single time, really adds to this bike being special,” says Indian Motorcycle’s production supervisor Ryan O’Connor. “You could have two Black Hills Silver Chieftain Elites sitting next to each other, and they won’t look exactly the same. It’s a fingerprint — each one is going to be a little bit different.”

Heaps of labor and love go into dressing up these two-wheeled fingerprints. Factor in prep, masking, graphics-laying, and each bike takes nearly 25 hours to paint. It’s time well-spent, though, for each Chieftain Elite looks more like molten silver than motorcycle.

The 2918 Indian Chieftain Elite.

The Chieftain Elite is painted by hand in a process that takes 25 hours to complete.  Photo: Courtesy Indian Motorcycle.

“The flake that we spray on the Black Hills Chieftain Elite is huge,” O’Connor says. “It’s the largest flake we’ve ever sprayed. The gun we have to spray it out of is more or less a fire hose.”

To further the symbolism, the paint is hand-applied at not just any factory, but at Indian Motorcycle’s custom paint facility in Spearfish, South Dakota, just a short drive from the Black Hills silver mines that inspired the paint scheme. “[The Black Hills silver mines were] the mining root of this community,” says Indian Motorcycle materials warehouse supervisor, Pat McBride. “Silver, gold, tungsten, and other precious metals that the military needed during World War II were all mined out of this area.”

The 2018 Chieftain Elite is infused with plenty of heritage, but the motorcycle has its eye to the future as well, with a bevy of advanced technologies. The Chieftain boasts standard features like a 7-inch, glove-compatible Ride Command infotainment system; a push-button, height-adjustable windshield; 200 watts of premium audio; LED headlight and driving lights; ABS; cruise control; tire-pressure monitoring; remote-locking saddlebags; keyless ignition, and genuine leather seats.

The 2918 Indian Chieftain Elite.

The limited-edition motorcycle’s glove-compatible Ride Command infotainment system.  Photo: Courtesy Indian Motorcycle.

Moving your leather-lined backside down the road is a 111-cubic-inch V-twin with 119 ft lbs of torque. For those who wish to see the Chieftain Elite reach the far end of the speedometer even quicker, Indian also offers a Thunder Stroke 116-cubic-inch Stage 3 Big Bore Kit that offers 20 percent more horsepower, and boosts torque—by 15 percent—to 137 ft lbs. In other words, there’s an abundance of power to complement the motorcycle’s abundance of creature comforts.

Indian Motorcycle plans to build just 350 examples of the 2018 Chieftain Elite, each starting at $31,499.

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