Indian makes an industry-leading American V-twin bagger bike in the form of the Challenger. The one I reviewed was a high-spec Limited model, and I absolutely loved it. I probably wouldn’t spend the thirty grand it takes to buy one, but it’s a damn fine two-wheeler that I was sad — but not devastated — to return back to Indian. If you’re flush with cash and have a desire to ride back and forth across the country for the next ten years, there are worse ways to spend your money. If you want to read my full review of the Challenger Limited in stock form, click over here.
Indian wanted me to test the Challenger Limited in stock form, then take it to my local dealer for an upgrade to the company’s Stage 2 performance kit, and compare the two output levels back to back. According to Indian, this kit is identical to the package used to propel Tyler O’Hara to the inaugural King of the Baggers victory back in late 2020. Stage 1 is the bolt-on stuff, an intake and slip-on pipes. Stage 2 adds a set of performance camshafts and an accompanying ECU tune.
So, when I was home for more than a couple days, my local Indian/Polaris dealer service department and I coordinated to get the job done. Indian shipped all of the parts straight to the dealer for the upgrade, I brought the bike in on a Thursday morning, and everything was set in motion.
(Full Disclosure: Indian loaned me this motorcycle back in February with the understanding that my local dealership would install the Stage 2 upgrade kit. Lengthy delays and scheduling meant I had the bike for over six months until the work could be done. I paid for my own travel to and from the pick-up point in Orange County, Calif. This is the story of how a Stage 2 kit gets installed, and what the bike is like to ride after it is finished.)
Over the course of a day and a half, I stopped in a handful of times to chat with technician Todd who did all of this Stage 2 work on the bike, and take a few pictures of the different stages of progress. He admitted to me that he’d never done this upgrade for a Challenger before, but he reassured me that he had decades of experience working on some of the wildest stuff in the world, including that turbocharged Countach that got a lot of press a couple years back. Those are some serious bona fides, so I was never even a little bit worried about this process.
Before Todd removed anything from the bike, we went through all of the new parts together to see what was what. The packaging is fairly nondescript, but the performance slip-on mufflers are easily the coolest piece of this puzzle. Available in both chrome and black, these pipes are a nice big high-flow setup with an attractive oval tip.
Most of this muffler is hidden underneath the hard saddlebags, but you can see them stick out the back and if you lean down you’ll see a nice riveted-on Indian logo. These are beautifully-produced, and there’s a lot of metal and chrome here, so these are probably worth the grand asking price. Especially considering the aural upgrade at the end.
Next up is the intake setup. While the Challenger already has a performance-oriented filter in the airbox, this kit adds a second forced-air intake to the right side of the bike. Not only do you get more flow, but at speed you’re actually adding a bit of ram-air effect. It’s a trick unit. Visually it isn’t very interesting, but the changes under the tank are cool. Who doesn’t like a little more air?
And the reason this bike needs more intake air and freer-flowing exhaust mufflers is right here. A fresh set of bump sticks! As an overhead-cam engine, the PowerPlus motor needs two cams, one for each cylinder. As a result, these are by far the most labor-intensive install of the three pieces of this upgrade. The motor actually has to be lowered out of the frame to gain access to the valve covers. Power is the name of the game, though, so let’s hop to it.
The first step in the process, which Todd got down to immediately, was stripping a whole lot of stuff off of the bike. Obviously the bags had to go, the seat was removed, the fuel tank, the air box, the mufflers, et cetera. It was at this point that I realized I was just kind of in the way, so I took my leave for a while and let him set about the task at hand.
When I came back a few hours later, a whole lot of progress had been made. I was most surprised to see the front headlight and fairing removed from the bike, but apparently this was necessary to gain access to the bike’s ECU.
Here’s just one of the two massive piles of parts that had to be removed from the bike to get the camshafts in.
As you can see here, the engine was unbolted from the motorcycle and simply lowered a few inches to gain access to everything. Having pulled a few motors out of cars in the past, this bike seems quite a bit easier.
By this point, the work day was nearly over, so Todd was cleaning up and packing it in for the evening. He told me he was pretty sure he’d finish the job the following day, but might need to button it up on Saturday. He said he’d run into a few minor issues with the factory instructions, but for the most part they were comprehensive. Apparently some revisions have been made, and the most up-to-date version wasn’t available when he did this job. Maybe the new release is out by now and your tech won’t have the same issue.
Around lunch on Friday I stopped in again to see what progress had been made that morning. The bike was starting to look like a bike again. The engine was buttoned up and back in the chassis, the tune had been fed into the computer, and the hi-po intake was installed. From there it was just a matter of putting things back where they belonged.
In factory spec, the PowerPlus water-cooled 1768cc V-twin produces 122 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. While Indian doesn’t advertise a Stage 2 dyno sheet or share exact power numbers, it claims an increase of ten percent on the horsepower side, pumping that up to 135-ish, and a three percent bump in torque for 132 lb-ft. In order to get that 13 horsepower and 4 lb-ft, you’ll have to shell out a decent amount of money. The Stage 1 slip-on muffler kit is $999.99, the Stage 1 air intake kit is $429.99, and the bumpsticks themselves will run you $699.99. All three, plus an included software update, are necessary to extract the fully warrantied Stage 2 power number.
Crucially, the whole kit requires a dealer installation for the warranty to stick. My local shop technician took most of one day and part of the next to get the whole kit and caboodle installed. Budget another grand for labor to install the kit, at least. So you’re looking at around $3,130 for the improvement in power to your already $27,999 motorcycle. This isn’t a cheap proposition, any way you slice it, but if you’re going to play at this table, you’re going to want to go all-in.
Todd let me know he thought he’d be done in a couple more hours, so I promised to return at 5 to see the final assembly and take it for a ride.
Five o’clock on the dot, my wife and I rolled into the dealer parking lot. No sooner did I park and get out than did Todd roll past me on the finished Challenger Stage 2 for the initial test to confirm everything was in working order. He came back with a huge smile on his face, which was extremely promising. Not a single issue was found on the ride, and he’d completed the job perfectly. “That thing wasn’t slow before, but it’s real fast now,” he said as he handed over the keys.
While there are minimal visual changes here, the extra power is sitting right there under the twist of a wrist. I asked about breaking in the new cams and was told that a couple hundred miles of riding at a medium pace would be plenty to get them run in. I was anxious to hop on and rip the throttle immediately, but I had to wait a little while to feel the full beans.
I decided to take the bike for a leisurely ride up into the mountains that evening, keeping the revs down under 3,500 to make sure the host wouldn’t reject its new organs. It was instantly obvious that the bike had a bit more jump off the line, and even short shifting the bike and keeping throttle inputs smooth, the thing felt like a beast had been awoken inside it.
I already live at more than 4,000 feet above sea level and most of my riding takes me higher than that, so any bump in airflow is welcome with an engine up here, but I knew I wouldn’t feel the real strength of this motor until I got it down to sea level. The following day I was scheduled to ride to Sacramento, Calif. anyhow, which is only around 300 feet above sea level. Yeah, that’ll do nicely.
In stock form, the Challenger is a fairly quiet bike, considering it runs a 1.8-liter twin. There is a little bit of the American V-twin rumble, but particularly at highway speeds it’s fairly innocuous and rarely can be heard over the wind noise. With the performance slip-on mufflers, however, you get some real street vibration going on. It’s not as loud as some aftermarket pipes offer, which makes sense as these are a good quality piece. With more flow and more noise, this bike feels much more of its American self. It’s loud and brash, with an element of ‘look at me!’ I was much more conscious about starting the bike too early in the morning to avoid annoying my neighbors.
I’m not much of a look-at-me kind of guy, but this thing sounded pretty damn good, and certainly made me smile when I finally could crack the throttle all the way open. There was much more of a pop-pop-pop staccato under acceleration than with the stock pipes. It’s an acquired taste, but I think I acquired it.
Once the break-in was over, I was able to really put the wood to it, and holy smokes it rips. One might not expect an extra 13 horsepower to be all that noticeable, but we’ve all done performance mods to our cars to gain 13 horsepower, right? And this bike weighs less than a third of most performance cars these days, so it was instantly obvious how much faster this bike felt. I don’t have any back-to-back performance numbers, and I’m hardly the right rider for that anyway, but my butt dyno returned significant results.
Not only is the finished result louder (and cooler looking with fresh-as-heck pipes) but the performance is there to back it up. Last fall I tested Harley’s Street Glide Special with a Screamin’ Eagle crate motor that made a bit less power than this. I really loved the way that bike looked, but the Challenger has the performance edge on both chassis and engine for less money. Given those metrics, Indian knows exactly what it’s doing.
In stock guise the Indian Challenger Limited delivers a power to weight ratio of 6.877 pounds per horsepower. That’s a little bit better ratio than a C7-generation base model Corvette. With the Stage 2 kit installed, the Challenger Limited has nearly as good a power-to-weight ratio as the C7-generation Corvette Z06. If you could upgrade from a base Corvette to a Z06 for $3,130, wouldn’t you?