First Ride Review
Engineer Oscar Hedstrom, who would come to be known as the Medicine Man for his mechanical ingenuity, and bicycle manufacturer George Hendee, who became affectionately known as the Big Chief, created a prototype motor-bicycle in 1901, which was tested on the streets of Springfield, Massachusetts, including Cross Street hill, the steepest in the city. Mass production began in 1902, and the “motocycle” was called Indian.
The newest model from Indian Motorcycle, which has been owned and operated by Minnesota-based Polaris Industries since 2011, pays homage to the birthplace of America’s first motorcycle company. During the first half of the 20th century, Indians were built in Springfield, primarily in an enormous factory on State Street called the Wigwam. Today, Indians are manufactured in a state-of-the-art facility in Spirit Lake, Iowa.
Since relaunching Indian in 2013, Polaris has aggressively filled out its model lineup. First, it introduced the Chief Classic cruiser, Chief Vintage soft bagger and Chieftain faired hard bagger for 2014, all powered by the gorgeous, torque-rich, air-cooled Thunder Stroke 111 V-twin. Next came the Roadmaster luxury tourer, based on the same platform, and the Scout, a compact, lower-displacement cruiser powered by a liquid-cooled, 100-horsepower V-twin. For 2016, Indian introduced the blacked-out, lower-priced Chief Dark Horse and the entry-level Scout Sixty. (Read about all of these Indian models on ridermag.wpengine.com.)
The third model for 2016 is the Springfield, a versatile touring bagger based on the Chief platform. At first glance it looks like a Chief Vintage with the hard saddlebags from the Chieftain, but there are more differences than meet the eye. The Springfield has a quick-release windshield that’s shorter and wider than the one on the Vintage (they use different brackets, so they’re not interchangeable), and it has an all-new, internally wired buckhorn handlebar. Because the Springfield is designed for touring, it uses the same chassis as the Chieftain and Roadmaster, with 4.5 inches of rear suspension travel (compared to 3.7 inches on the Vintage), tighter, more maneuverable steering geometry and a generous 553-pound load capacity. It also has cruise control, a tire-pressure monitoring system, adjustable passenger floorboards and remote locks for the removable, 72-liter (total) hard saddlebags (the windshield and passenger seat can also be removed).
Riding the Springfield on a frigid February day in the Texas Hill Country made me appreciate the large pocket of air created by the windshield, but I longed for the accessory heated grips, heated seat and fairing lowers that were absent from our stock, pre-production test bikes. The shield punched through the air with authority, but its top edge was in my line of sight and noise and turbulence were bothersome (shorter and taller accessory shields are available). Though it was cold, it was bright and sunny, and chrome glare from the large center console became an irritating distraction.
Sitting on a deep, wide saddle, with a relaxed reach to the bars and my feet resting on large floorboards, the Springfield is definitely comfortable enough for high-mileage days, with excellent suspension damping that provides a plush, well-controlled ride. The air-cooled, 49-degree Thunder Stroke 111 V-twin churns out nearly perfect rumbling sound and feel, and the last one we put on Jett Tuning’s dyno belted out 107 lb-ft of torque at 2,700 rpm and 76 horsepower at 4,500 rpm—more than enough grunt to pull hard out of corners, make quick passes and carry a full load with ease. Our only complaint about this engine is excessive heat, especially on the right side where the downward-angled exhaust headers are located.
If I’m honest, we hammered the Springfield during our test ride. Indian’s engineers are passionate enthusiasts, and when they got a chance to escape the deep freeze of their northern Minnesota Product Development Center, they wicked it up, egged on by a bunch of impatient, competitive journalists. We beveled floorboards and scraped pipes and pushed the Springfield to its limits, and it simply turned the other cheek. In my opinion, the Chief platform’s modular, aluminum backbone frame and cast aluminum swingarm is the most unflappable chassis in the world of big cruisers. Despite its claimed dry weight of 818 pounds, the Springfield feels downright agile, proven over and over on tight curves and with our repeated U-turns for photo passes on narrow country roads. And its big, honking brakes—a pair of 300mm floating rotors in front squeezed by 4-piston calipers and a single 300mm floating rotor out back with a 2-piston caliper, with stainless steel lines and dual-channel ABS—stop the whole parade on a Buffalo nickel.
Indian has enjoyed brisk sales since its relaunch because Polaris has nailed the look, sound and feel of vintage-styled cruisers big and small, while delivering serious performance and sophistication. The Springfield is a good-looking, sharp-handling, comfortable, torquey V-twin tourer that’s ready to be customized to your liking—stripped down for solo duty, built up for two-up long hauling (just add the color-matched, 64-liter trunk and other accessories) or anything in between.