Indian motorcycles swept the Isle of Man TT in their earlier years, and the bikes were in fierce competition with Harley-Davidson through the first half of the 20th century. Then, after a series of poor business decisions, the company went bankrupt in 1953. A number of organizations have tried to revive the brand over the years with limited amounts of success. In the 1910s, the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company was the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world.
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Now Indian motorcycles are back. As of 2011, Polaris Industries—makers of ATVs and side-by-sides as well as Victory motorcycles and three-wheeled Batmobiles—has taken over the iconic brand in an attempt to produce modern machines with the timeless looks of the original Indian Scout and Chief. The move is similar to what Triumph did during its 1990s revival with “modern classics” like the new Bonneville.
I recently took a 2016 Indian Springfield—named for the town where Indian initially began—on a weekend trip through the back highways near the Adirondacks. I also hopped on the interstate and hauled ass for 70 miles or so to see how the touring cruiser held up.
The bagger is a blast to ride. The Thunder Stroke 111-cubic-inch V-Twin engine produces 119 ft-lbs of torque and provides plenty of power to accelerate the 818-pound (dry weight) machine aggressively into corners and around cars. The big windshield—which can be easily popped off along with the saddlebags, if you’d rather a simpler look—did a great job keeping me protected against gusts when I got up to at 80 mph on the freeway. And the bike felt rock solid the whole time, thanks to the rubber-mounted V-Twin and low seat height—26 inches compared to 28.2 inches on a Harley Road King. The chassis and front suspension, with 25 degrees of rake, also help to keep the big motorcycle stable and smooth through the curves.
And for a big motorcycle, the Indian is surprisingly nimble. Riding north from New York City along the Hudson, I passed through a number of towns and stretches of 40 mph speed limits. Luckily, the Springfield had enough get-up-and-go to let me feel comfortable making quick passes around slow-moving cars, dipping into the oncoming lane briefly to rocket back out in front without fear of lingering too long.
The Springfield has modern touches too. It will start up as long as the proximity key fob is nearby, and even if it is not, you can enter a security code to crank the bike. You only need a key to lock the fork and open the hard-case saddlebags. And for all the bells and whistles, the necessary essentials are still underneath. it purred beautifully when I would fire it up—the perfect throaty midpoint between a whiny buzz and an eardrum-shattering series of pops, loud enough to let cars know you’re there, but not obnoxious.
the perfect throaty midpoint between a whiny buzz and an eardrum-shattering series of pops
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With an MSRP of $21,549 for the red model and $20,999 for black, the motorcycle comes with the full array of modern features minus the infotainment system, radio, and cup holders you will find on full-out touring bikes. The Springfield comes stock with ABS, automated tire-pressure monitoring, remote locking capabilities, and cruise control for straight sections of pavement. With a large catalog of available accessories, the Springfield has a lot of customization options. The downside is that I found the riding position of the Springfield—which is more upright than that of a Road King—to get a little uncomfortable after a few hours in the saddle—a problem that could be alleviated by adding foot pegs to the front highway bars.
But boy does it look nice. The cherry red Indian definitely turns heads (sidenote: eesh, that name sure is awkward sometimes). Harley riders and hot rod owners would come by at gas stations to admire the classic front fender and the American Indian war bonnet light that sits on top. The liberal use of chrome components and studded leather seats make the bike hard to miss, and one lifetime Harley rider told me he was planning to test ride an Indian after he took a look at my Springfield.
Harley riders and hot rod owners would come by at gas stations
One of the questionable styling decisions is the large, circular power button on the instrument panel. It looks like it belongs on a Tesla home battery from the future. Indian’s desire to combine modern and retro features is understandable, but I couldn’t help feeling the big button was out of place.
Make no mistake, what you are getting in the Indian Springfield is a luxury Harley. The Springfield slightly outclasses the 103-cubic-inch Road King (MSRP $18,749) in engine displacement, power, cornering ability and modern features—ABS is $749 extra on the Road King, for example—but a lot of the extra money is going toward the luxury design and aesthetics. So if you are looking for something that will stand out from the legions of matte-black Harley’s that flood the highways, the Springfield will give you a powerful ride on the interstate and
a smooth one on the back roads—and there’s no denying it would look damn good parked outside a saloon.