Looking east over Chatham Harbor, Cape Cod.
It was a rickety fence that ushered me to the tired ocean’s edge. Beach grass grew from the dunes like the whiskers on a fisherman’s chin. Dotting the beach were blocks of ice, seawater on vacation from the constant ebb and flow. In another five months the sand will soften, the water will lap, and Brad, Chad, and Summer will arrive.
Last week Emily and I were given free passes to the Indian Motorcycle Exhibit inside the Museum of Springfield History in Springfield, Massachusetts. I was super excited to have the chance to explore the museum for two reasons. First, I love motorcycles. Second, I wanted the chance to learn more about the city I was born in. Anyway, below are some of my favorite motorcycles in the collection and a little bit of information about each… but not too much because I encourage you to make the pilgrimage yourself.
I hope you enjoy!
Here is the 1917 Model O Light Twin, Indian’s attempt to capture riders looking for an affordable mode of transportation. Unfortunately, the Light Twin only packed four horsepower and clocked in with a top speed of 36 mph. With those stats, the Light Twin was unable to gain the attention of true motorcyclists. Simultaneously, the cost of automobiles was dropping and people no longer had to turn to motorcycles to get around cheaply. What I like about the Light Twin is the horizontally opposed motor running front to back, not side to side, like on my BMW R bikes.
By the mid 1920s, automobile sales had made a sizable impact on Indian Motorcycles and in 1925 their solution was the Prince. Weighing in at 265 lbs and costing $185, the single cylinder was aimed squarely at the entry-level rider. The marketing campaign included the slogan, “You can learn to ride it in five minutes!” By 1929 the Prince didn’t win back the market share Indian had hoped and production ceased.
This 1926 Indian Scout was purpose-built for Bob Armstrong, a Hill Climber in the 1920s. Hill Climbing competitions are a challenge to see which riders can pilot their motorcycles up the side of a treacherous mountainside. Bob’s motorcycle has a custom rear end, a more aggressive gear ratio, lacks a front brake, and runs on wood alcohol for fuel.
This Flat Tracker was built from a 1927 Indian Prince. Flat Track racing takes riders around and around in a left-handed circle at speeds almost unheard of. On the right side of the motorcycle you’ll note a metal bracket where the rider would wedge his knee in order to stay connected with the bike. This is my favorite motorcycle in the collection- I love the simplicity, the colors, and the racing pedigree.
You can’t go wrong with a simple Scout. The lines of this motorcycle are absolutely wonderful. The cherry red paint, gold pinstriping, a tan leather solo seat, and blacked out wheels are obviously timeless. Sadly, Scout sales were never strong.
The 1932 Indian Scout Pony was based on the Prince frame, but instead of a single, housed a twin cylinder motor. Indian hoped that the Scout Pony would win back some of the market share held by Harley Davidson and their popular single cylinder motorcycle. In 1932, at the height of the Depression, the Scout Pony came with a price tag of $225 and a claim to be the most affordable twin cylinder on the market.
The 1934 Indian Sport Scout was known, amongst other things, for its speed. In 1936 at the Los Angeles Speed Trials, Fred Ludlow piloted a Sport Scout to 128.57 mph on Muroc Dry Lakebed. In 1937 Ed Kretz won the first Daytona 200 on his Sport Scout.
Another one of my favorite motorcycles is Freddie Marsh‘s 1951 Indian Warrior. The Warrior was made between 1950 and 1951 and was one of the last models developed before Indian Motorcycles went out of business in 1953. I love this bike because each stone chip, each dent, and each scrape tell a story. They tell Freddie’s story- a story spanning 103 years.
Post World War II, the Chief was one of Indian’s most successful motorcycles. After a shakeup in the company, more emphasis was placed on manufacturing smaller, lighter motorcycles and the Chief fell to the wayside. When Indian dealers noted they were losing buyers to Harley Davidson, the Chief resumed production. In 1951 the Chief had telescopic forks and boasted a 80 cubic inch motor.
Within two years Indian Motorcycles would close its doors.
For the next twenty years, British motorcycles reigned supreme. By the late 1960s Japan had cornered the motorcycle market in America and successfully smothered brands like BSA, Norton, Triumph, and the like.
Over the last few decades, attempts have been made to breath new life into the Indian brand. It wasn’t until Polaris Industries acquired the brand in 2013 that Indian Motorcycles had a fighting chance at success. With a powerhouse like Polaris at the helm and an ever-growing dealer network, lets keep our fingers crossed that Indian Motorcycles will last for another fifty years.
Last week I rewatched Bruce Brown’s motorcycle documentary, On Any Sunday. For the last seven days I’ve been reading up on the most influential motorcyclists and racers of the time- from Malcolm Smith to Steve McQueen to Ron Bishop. My rekindled obsession with desert racing brought Dana Brown’s film, Dust to Glory, into my Netflix queue for the umpteenth time. Wanting to surround myself with every bit of lore, I turned to YouTube and found the short film, 27 Hours to La Paz, a documentary about the first running of, what will later be called, the Baja 1000. 27 Hours to La Paz clocks in at just about 20 minutes and if you’re like me, you’ll be digging out your passport before the credits roll!
This is how I feel every time I ride alone through the woods. The darkness? Ugh, forget it!
I slipped into the darkness. Not a soul knew where I was. I was lost. While enveloped in darkness, the forest shared her secrets. Gentle whispers meandered through the abyss, tickling tree’s bark along the way. Saplings pirouetted in contentment, for they were privy too.
But just beyond the tree line something prowled. A nefarious creature was laying in wait. Another second was a second too late. With a flick of the wrist my metallic steed breathed fire. My heart raced. I hoped the motor’s bellow would hold the beast at bay. I couldn’t tell what was running faster, the motor, my mind, or it.
I broke free, skidding onto a rural road. I dropped my left foot and opened the throttle. Thirty, fifty, seventy, I didn’t care. All that mattered was the distance between myself and myself.
Imaginations are a beast best left untamed. Run wild.
I am a huge proponent of active risk assessment while on a motorcycle. I’m always on the lookout for unnecessary dangers and ways to mitigate them- you have to be when you’re on a bike. Like most motorcyclists, I love lane splitting and filtering in principle. But to be honest, I very rarely split lanes myself. I’m more comfortable with filtering because, well, the cars are stopped.
I consider myself a professional motorcyclist and I feel comfortable saying this: Not every rider has the finesse to safely navigate the crevice between moving automobiles. The ones that do shouldn’t be penalized for exercising safe motorcycling practices. The ones that don’t should take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror they just snapped off a Mazda, and be pragmatic about their abilities.
There is a time, a place, a style, and technique to splitting lanes. Although it may look reckless, when employed by a true motorcyclist it is a great defense against being crushed.
Take a look at the video clip (above) Ride Apart did about the benefits of lane splitting. Below I’ve included a link to a summary of the Hurt Report, a study done in the late 1970s about motorcycle accidents and safety. Lastly, I’ve included a link to a petition lobbying to make lane splitting legal in all 50 states, not just California.
180° South sat patiently in my Netflix queue for far too long. Part of me didn’t want to delve into another travel documentary for fear it would remind me I wasn’t on the road. In fact, after viewing the film, I didn’t feel guilty for laying under an electric blanket in a nice comfy bed at all. Rather, it inspired me to identify which of my own personal journeys I want to embark on next.
180° South is a film about nostalgia, friendship, solitude, and failure… but even that sounds reductive. The film can go as deep as you’d like, providing meaning on whatever levels you want. A mindless watch? Sure. Commentary on consumerism, globalization, and the impending privatization of natural resources in Chile? You bet.
Go watch it. You’ll be glad you did.
Episode Three of Here’s Dave has been a long time coming, I know, but it is finally here! In this episode I’m in Lavonia, Georgia having lunch with three strangers, Carole, Jane, and Gary. They were the first people on my trip to really make me feel welcome and for that, I have a special place in my heart for them. Episode Three is an excerpt from a nearly hour-long conversation. I took a lot away from the conversation and I hope you do too.
Thanks for tuning into Here’s Dave!