Does the 2021 Indian Vintage Dark Horse Gallop Past the BMW R18?

With the release of the R18 cruiser, BMW’s motorcycle division has something to take Harley-Davidson head-on. But Harley-Davidson isn’t the only bike company with cruisers; it’s not even the only American one. Indian has a long and historic rivalry with Harley, and it similarly focuses on cruiser-style bikes. And for 2021, it might have something to rival the BMW R18 too: the Indian Vintage Dark Horse.

How does the 2021 Indian Vintage Dark Horse compare to the BMW R18?

The black-and-chrome-trimmed 2021 BMW R18 First Edition
2021 BMW R18 First Edition | BMW

The 2021 BMW R18 is admittedly a bit pricy, with a base price of $17,495. The 2021 Indian Vintage Dark Horse, though, is even more expensive; it starts at $19,499. However, it does have a few things which attempt to justify its higher base price.

A rider on a black 2021 Indian Vintage Dark Horse
2021 Indian Vintage Dark Horse | Indian

The BMW R18 has a 1802cc boxer-twin engine with 91 hp and 116 lb-ft. That’s linked to a 6-speed transmission and a shaft-drive. In comparison, the Indian Vintage Dark Horse has a 1811cc V-twin with 92 hp and 119 lb-ft. It also has a 6-speed transmission, but it has a belt-drive rather than a chain- or shaft-drive. The Indian, though, can shut down its rear cylinder at stoplights to conserve fuel and increased comfort. However, the R18 has an optional reverse gear, something which Indian doesn’t offer on the Vintage Dark Horse.

The view of a black 2021 BMW R18 from the saddle
2021 BMW R18 handlebars | BMW

Both the Indian Vintage Dark Horse and BMW R18 come standard with ABS on both wheels as well as multiple riding modes. The Indian, though, has standard cruise control, which is optional on the BMW, Cycle World reports. However, the R18 has traction control, a slipper clutch, hill-start assist, and slide-controlling engine-drag control, Cycle World reports. Both bikes, though, offer optional heated grips.

The front half of a black 2021 Indian Vintage Dark Horse
2021 Indian Vintage Dark Horse front | Indian

But the 2021 Indian Vintage Dark Horse has yet more to offer. Like the BMW R18, it has a physical speedometer, a digital tachometer, keyless ignition, and a gear-position indicator. However, it also has an electronic fuel gauge, an ambient air temperature gauge, standard leather saddlebags, and an adjustable air shock.

How does the 2021 Indian Vintage Dark Horse ride compared to the BMW R18?

The 2021 Indian Vintage Dark Horse takes the place of the Chief Dark Horse, which moved to the Springfield’s chassis for 2020, Cycle World reports. The Springfield has a larger engine than the Vintage Dark Horse, Cycle World reports, as well as a few more touring-oriented features. However, despite weighing more, the Springfield is still a fairly sporty cruiser/tourer, and the adjustable air shock makes for a comfortable ride.

The rear 3/4 view of a black 2021 BMW R18
2021 BMW R18 First Edition rear 3/4 | BMW

It also means the Indian Vintage Dark Horse has more suspension travel than the BMW R18. The former has a claimed 4.7” and 4.5” of front and rear travel, respectively. The R18 matches it in front travel but has 1” less rear travel. The ride quality isn’t terrible for a cruiser, Motorcyclist reports, and it helps make for a surprisingly easy-to-handle bike. But it’s not as good at dealing with potholes as the Indian likely is. And if you do end up taking the BMW R18 to the canyons, Motorcycle Cruiser reports, you’ll be scraping the pegs sooner.

However, the BMW R18’s reverse gear makes backing out of parking spaces or tight areas easier. Also, using the brake lever activates the front and rear disc brakes, automatically modulating pressure between them. And based on Cycle World’s experience with the Indian Springfield Dark Horse, the R18 seems to have better rear ABS programming.

But the Indian Vintage Dark Horse’s engine is smoother than the BMW R18’s is, RideApart reports. At higher RPMs, the boxer engine vibrates through the handlebars and seat, which some may find uncomfortable. In contrast, RideApart called the Springfield’s 1890cc V-twin “a little too smooth for this type of bike.”

What does Harley-Davidson offer?

A black 2021 Indian Vintage Dark Horse with optional tall handlebars in front of a train
2021 Indian Vintage Dark Horse with optional bars | Indian

As is the case with any motorcycle, ride before you buy. Both BMW and Indian offer a wide variety of customization options for the seat, handlebars, and even foot controls. And while the Vintage Dark Horse has a few more standard features, you might prefer the R18’s ergonomics.

A silver-tanked 2020 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim
2020 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim | Harley-Davidson

And if you’re trying out the different cruisers, Harley-Davidson has alternatives for both. BMW specifically targeted Harley’s Softail Slim when designing the R18, reports. It’s cheaper than both the Indian and the R18; with optional ABS, it starts at $16,794. Its 1746cc V-twin makes less torque than the other two bikes’ engines (Harley-Davidson doesn’t release horsepower numbers). However, it weighs about 90 pounds less than the R18, Cycle World reports, while offering similar levels of equipment. It doesn’t have a reverse gear, though.

A black 2020 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide in a garage
2020 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide | Harley-Davidson

The Indian FTR750 Is the Brand’s First Hill Climb Racer in 80 Years

Meanwhile, the closest thing to the Indian Vintage Dark Horse is arguably the Harley-Davidson Sport Glide. It comes standard with a detachable fairing and hard-sided saddlebags, Cycle World reports. It has more front travel than the Indian but lacks the adjustable air shock. And while it’s about $900 cheaper, its 1746cc V-twin makes less torque. But it does have cruise control, Cycle World reports, and it’s almost 90 pounds lighter than the Indian Vintage Dark Horse.

Follow more updates from MotorBiscuit on our Facebook page.