By Steve Tiedman
Recently, Dave Soderholm asked if I’d be interested in reviewing the 2016 Indian Springfield, Indian’s newest bagger. Being the new guy I told him I’m game. I took possession of the 852 pound (wet) “Indian Motorcycle Red” Springfield, gingerly negotiating the neighborhood streets, getting to know the clutch, throttle, and brake operations. Yep, it works as a motorcycle should, and it does not feel that heavy.
I got to the interstate and aimed toward home. This is a machine you sit in, not on. With the seat height of 26 inches, a mild reach to the handlebars and modest feet-out-front position, you are about as encapsulated in a motorcycle as one could be. For comparison, I’m six-feet tall, with a 30-inch inseam and somewhere around 215 pounds of middle-aged American male heft. Reach to the ground was no problem, and the positioning of the large footboards was good.
I’m neither an engineer nor artist. (Well, I am a hobby photographer and woodworker, so…) That said, when good mechanical and aesthetic design come together in harmony, I find myself nearly hypnotized just staring at the total package, whether it’s an old, fully mechanical camera, a cast iron woodworking machine, or a steel truss arch bridge. The Springfield evokes that same response; I just sat on a garden bench in my driveway staring at it. The designers created a machine that does so much to capture my eye. The mechanicals, bodywork, upholstery… everything about the Springfield makes me want to stare. And given the comments from acquaintances and strangers, I am not alone in my impressions. “Nice bike!” was commonly heard during my time with the Springfield.
So many aspects of the Springfield come across as massive. The valanced fenders and fat fork legs. The beefy steering head gusset. The broad engine valve covers and deep cylinder head cooling fins. The engine block, primary drive, and transmission… think blacksmith’s anvil. Massive and solid. Over 800 pounds of solid.
The handling of the Springfield bagger belies its weight. With the low seat height, low center of gravity, and tightened steering angle (compared to the Indian Chief Classic cruiser), this motorcycle shows itself to be light-footed, and it can dance. What came to mind was a TV commercial jingle from my childhood- “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down!” It responds very quickly to input from the handlebar but without overshooting the action. Tell it where to go, and it goes exactly there without any effort. This was especially nice while negotiating freeway lanes and while exploring the “alphabet” roads of western Wisconsin. The Springfield is no wallowing pig.
Torque is the name of the game with these big bore, pushrod V-twin engines, and there is plenty of it, peaking at 119 ft. lb. at about 3,000rpm. Accidently pull away from a stop sign while still in third gear? No sweat. With all that torque available, and the nicely spaced gear ratios of the six-speed transmission, simply twisting the throttle was about all that was needed to get the bike to do what I wanted it to do. I found the bottom four gears really provide all the necessary shifting action up into the low-mid 60mph range.
The Springfield is not without a few quirks. Objectively speaking, I experienced light to moderate helmet buffeting with the windshield installed, but I’ve learned over time buffeting can result from a combination of things. Torso height, helmet profile, lower front body panels/fairings, and yes, windshield design, all contribute to the level of buffeting. I didn’t feel the buffeting was problematic up to interstate speeds, but after that my head was starting to jostle around more than I’d like. And with this windshield, I found I was looking through it about 1+” below its top edge. Shorter and taller windshields (3” in each direction) are available, too, as are lower fairing panels.
The rider’s seat, although visually it is well-built, I felt I was sinking into the padding a bit too much. I didn’t bottom out to the seat pan, but the padding is soft. If the Springfield saddle could have firmer, more supportive padding, it would go far to making the feet-forward leg position better. In the feet-forward orientation, my body weight is supported by the rear of my hips and into my lower back, and after an hour in the saddle I was looking forward to a break. But that’s me. (Subjectively speaking, this is a common issue I find; motorcycle seats that are designed for the lines of the bike and not for the ergonomics of the rider. Seats are an individual matter, which is why there is a strong aftermarket for motorcycle seating.)
This Springfield sports a 111 cubic inch (1,811cc) air-cooled engine. That means heat. There’s a lot of fire going on between your knees. At highway speeds with low-80 degree air temps, the engine heat wasn’t bad, but at 40mph pleasure speeds, my legs would get quite warm. How do you get around that? You can’t, it’s a giant engine! You could ride at freeway speeds all the time, but sometimes a fella just wants to slow down and take in nature, maybe say hello to the cows. When that happens, you’ll feel the heat.
But there are good points, too. Along with all the eye candy, the Springfield comes stock with the windshield, passenger backrest (an accessory rider’s backrest is available), and spacious electric locking hard saddlebags, all of which are quick-release, and when removed you have a completely different looking bike. Also, the Springfield comes stock with electronic cruise control, front and rear tip over bars, fog lights, and a fob-operated keyless ignition system. Want more? Visit the Indian website for a wide array of mechanical, architectural, and functional accessories.
A left index finger trigger switch operates the LCD display function, featuring a host of information tidbits. Your choice remains displayed until changed, even after shutting down the bike. The tachometer function is found here; there is no dedicated tach gauge. But there is a real dial indicator fuel gauge, and a constant LCD clock.
Sometimes the little things seem to make a big difference. For example, the wide, rock solid mirrors. No matter the speed, there was not an ounce of vibration in those mirrors. Another nice feature are the passenger footrests. They are stout, and adjustable for height and angle, assuring just the right position for leg length and style of footwear.
The rear suspension features an easy to use single air shock. We adjusted the air pressure for my weight, and it worked very well. It absorbed bumps in a rather automobile-like fashion. No bouncing, no bottoming-out, it just worked. The front suspension is not adjustable. An adjustable fork working together with the adjustable rear shock could make for a very comfy ride.
Other major mechanical systems- the ABS braking system was… not on my mind at all. Strong, smooth, and capable, ‘nuf said. The cable actuated clutch worked nicely with a modest pull, but the gears would never grind. Lifting the toe shifter required just a little bit of effort but every time you were rewarded with probably the most solid ‘thunk’ I’ve ever experienced with a motorcycle gear shift. A clean, precise shift, which had a gear engagement like a 2-pound dead blow hammer on that blacksmith’s anvil. Man, those must be some massive mechanicals inside that system.
As for fuel mileage, I found a 39mpg average. Most of my riding was on the highway, I didn’t have much stop-n-go time with the bike outside of commuting to work.
With a GVWR of 1,385 pounds, the bike should be able to haul a maximum of 533 pounds of humans, accessories, and stuff. That’s darn good. With a little effort to make the Springfield meet your needs, it will be much more than a weekend bar-hopper. It’s really a spirited light touring bike that should be worthy of your consideration.
Thank you to Guido Ebert and Indian Motorcycles for the opportunity to review the Springfield.
By Catten Ely
First, a little history. Indians started out as racing bicycles. In 1901, the Hendee Manufacturing Company in Springfield, Massachusetts, headed by a pair of bicycle enthusiasts, built a handful of gas-powered bicycles to pace bicycle races. It didn’t take them long to see the potential of their single-cylinder motorcycles, and demand grew quickly. The easily recognizable “indian Red” paint became the brand’s signature in 1904. Fueled by international racing victories and solid engineering, Indian became the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. During WWI, the company built nearly 50,000 motorcycles for the US military and earned the brand a solid reputation for reliability and durability. Hendee changed its name in 1923 to the Indian Motocycle (no r) Company. A focus on innovation
and speed, along with close attention to styling (like the addition of the well-known Indian-head ornament on the skirted front fender) kept the brand afloat through the Depression. Things looked promising for Indian — for a while. New management, unsuccessfully branching out into shock absorbers and outboard motors, competition from Harley-Davidson, and a failed vision of modular manufacturing that introduced serious quality issues brought the company to its knees. In 1953, the doors were quietly closed due to bankruptcy.
Several companies continued to sell Indian-branded bikes, which were rebadged bikes from other manufacturers. Despite its ugly demise, the iconic brand’s reputation remained valuable.
Fast-forward to 2011, when Polaris succeeded in purchasing Indian Motorcycles and finally reviving the marquee.
Named for the birthplace of the original Indian, the Springfield is part of Indian’s bagger line, a direct competitor to H-D’s Road King.
I confess that I wasn’t sure what “bagger” meant. A little research turned up a working definition: It’s a touring-capable bike with saddlebags. American Iron put it in terms I understand: People with these bikes are “…riders who appreciate comfort and function in their motorcycles – stock or modified – over simply making a fashion statement.”
This bike initially looks like a behemoth to me. It weighs in at 852 pounds — 360 more than my daily commuter. It’s wide and shiny and has this fantastic-looking motor, which is also very shiny. More about that motor in a bit.
I walk around it, noting the cool, old-school fender skirts, Indian branding on everything, and the generous amount of chrome, which makes me uncomfortable. What if I get it dirty? Did I mention how shiny it is? And there is the Indian-head ornament on the front fender that I mentioned earlier. This bike is Indian Red; it’s also available in Thunder Black.
I expect the seat to be too wide and uncomfortable. It isn’t. It’s low, for sure, at 26 inches, but it isn’t squatty. The handlebars are bit too far forward for my T-rex arms, but that’s easy to change. I check out the controls. In addition to the usual meters and gauges, I discover the fancier stuff: ambient air temp, fuel economy, gear indicator, and what’s this? Cruise control? On a stock bike?
Actually, this bike comes standard with split leather seats, ABS, steel-braided lines, tire pressure monitoring, keyless start, highway bars, dual driving lights, a quick-release windshield, adjustable passenger floorboards, and quick-release hard saddlebags with remote-controlled locks and a power port inside. I think about all the extras I’ve bought for my bikes and congratulate the people behind this model for being awesome. It’s also built with low maintenance in mind. Example: The semi-dry sump oiling system goes 5,000 miles between oil changes. Bang, meet buck.
I push the start button (the magic fob is safely in my pocket). The Thunder Stroke 111 engine doesn’t roar or growl when it’s started. It rumbles and sounds finely tuned, with no weird missing or modulation. Motorcycle engineering has reached a point where an engine speed-balancer can deliver a perfectly smooth feel, but riders want feedback, so the Springfield softens but doesn’t completely eliminate engine vibration. It’s a bit loud for my taste, but I appreciate the solidness of it and put my earplugs in.
The 111-cubic inch (1811 cc) motor is a 49-degree, air-cooled, V-twin that produces 119 pound-feet of oomph delivered to the rear wheel through a six-speed transmission and belt drive. The outward-angled cooling fins are functional and the heat rises from this big engine from under your legs.
On the road, the bike is amazingly well balanced. It swoops through corners, and the 5.6 inches of ground clearance let me lean pretty far into a tight turn without sparks. Shifting is easy and smooth, with a satisfying thunk. There’s plenty of throttle response in every gear. The cruise control is easy to use and handy on the highway.
The ride is just okay. Maybe it’s my build or the seating position, but I found the forced C-shape (arms and feet far forward) hard on my mid back. The suspension is great, though. The bike is beefy — and made to carry beefy loads. A single, air-adjustable rear shock makes it easy to adjust for weight and conditions. Front suspension travel is 4.7 inches and the rear is 4.5, and the bike doesn’t dive much when braking hard.
Speaking of braking, dual 300-mm floating rotors with four calipers in the front and a similar single 300-mm setup in the back means the stopping distance on this is surprisingly short for its weight. When the ABS kicks in, you can feel it, but it’s not startling.
A review isn’t complete without including the cons, and there aren’t many. Improvements that the design team might consider in the next go-round are traction control and a tunable front suspension. Also, reconsider the chrome highlights on the dash and tank — they’re intensely blinding on a sunny day. Make the windshield adjustable. Make putting air in the tires easier. Give us a bidirectional turn-signal indicator.
My impression overall is that the Springfield does a fine job of accelerating, stopping, cornering, handling, and turning heads. I got a lot of attention and was approached many times with questions about where I take it. If a classically-styled motorcycle is on your wishlist, it’s definitely worth a look. There are plenty of accessories available to make it your own (including heated grips), and Polaris did a fantastic job paying tribute to the Indian history without simply building a modern reproduction.