Church of MO: 1996 Harley-Davidson FXSTS Springer Softail

John Burns
by John Burns

You want more Harley content, you got it. Render unto MO what is Caesar’s. In this mercifully short, action-photo free H-D Springer Softail review from 25 years ago, Fortune’s son guides us along the road to simpler times, on a bike that’s “good as long as the road is smooth, and the distance to travel short.” Amen.


Timeless Classic Big Twin

Want a thoroughly modern Milwaukee V-Twin, but long for the look of simple lines from a simpler era? Something with that classic biker look? Something truly unique? Well, gaze no farther than the ’96 FXSTS Springer Softail, a modern re-creation of 1940’s H-D customs. Clean, classic styling, with several new enhancements for the 1996 model year.All Softail models feature electronic speedometers this year, along with new, self-cancelling turn signal modules that contain an integral sealed connector. This, coupled with new surface mount technology, results in smaller sizes and increased durability. Softails also feature new one-piece instrument consoles, and round-key ignition is now standard.

But it’s the laid-back ergonomics that really draw you to this Softail. Retro-look chrome springer front end, high bars, bullet-shaped headlight, and long, low ride. A reminder of decades past.

On the road, the Springer Softail emits the classic Harley feel. Its solidly mounted 1340cc Evo engine is one of the smoothest running Harley V-Twins to be found this side of the iso-mounted FLH models. Although the motor rumbles in typical Harley fashion, vibration only becomes intrusive above 65 – 70 mph, where handlebar grips and footpegs give off an annoying buzz. Below this speed though, the Springer is an enjoyable ride. Once warmed up, jetting on the Keihin CV carb is spot-on. Roll on the throttle at 35 mph in top gear, and the FXSTS will accelerate smoothly and evenly without protest, pulling strongly with real-world torque. No horsepower monster, the Springer is perfect for cruising around town or down a scenic two-lane.

Handling is surprisingly light, the Softail disguising its 625 pound heft well. Until you get used to the foot controls, which are mounted well forward, it can be a little awkward at low speeds, but once you’re rollin’, it’s great. Narrow feeling, the Springer can be flicked into turns with ease, contradicting its non-sporting intentions. Limited suspension travel coupled with firm springing and damping help keep hard parts off the road on the low slung chassis, but this imparts a harsh ride on rough surfaces, especially on annoying freeway expansion joints. Overall ride is good as long as the road is smooth, and the distance to travel short.

Even though the Springer’s look and styling are retro, some of the Milwaukee brand’s shortcomings that have hampered its image in the past are slowly being modernized. Clutch action, for instance, is much improved over earlier leviathan Harley clutches, the effort required being reasonable rather than excessive, with smooth engagement. New high-contact-ratio transmission gears impart smoother, quieter gearbox operation, allowing it to click into first gear, rather than the clunk you used to get. And the substandard brakes of yesteryear have been consciously eliminated. With ninety-one years of Harley heritage built-in, the ’96 Springer Softail is a beautiful, thoroughly competent and enjoyable motorcycle. With the look that has long inspired the custom-bike culture. Made for cruising at 50 mph on a smooth, open road, its torque-rich power rewards. You could have a totally lousy day, but feel fine by the time you arrive home – because you got to ride this bike.

Manufacturer: Harley-Davidson Motor Company Model: FXSTS Springer Softail Price: $14,030 Engine: Air-cooled OHV V-twin cylinder Bore x Stroke: 3.498 in. x 4.250 in. Displacement: 80 cu. in. Carburetion: 40mm Keihin CV Transmission: 5-speed, belt final drive Wheelbase: 64.41 in. Seat height: 26.12 in. Fuel capacity: 4.2 gallons Claimed dry weight: 625 lbs.

John Burns
John Burns

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2 of 9 comments
  • Jon4uu Jon4uu on Feb 22, 2021

    Some years ago after riding assorted Japanese bikes, I picked up a 94 Springer softail with Vance and Hines pipes. It was a snorting, pounding beast of a bike and I loved every minute of it. It was a great bike, along with the two Street Glides that I owned after that. I'm into the ADV bikes now, but I still plan on owning another icon of Americana someday. Gotta love those big V-Twins!

  • Jeff benson Jeff benson on Feb 23, 2021

    625 pounds. a lightweight by todays cruiser standards.