They disappeared for a long time. Then they were back, for a short time. Gone, then back again. This time, for even less time. Indian Motorcycles, once Harley-Davidson’s biggest rival, is now a ghost more than anything else. The old ones, of course, are classics. The “new” ones, well, I’m not really sure what that even means.
Here’s the “Cliff’s Notes” on the history of Indian. Founded in 1901, the Indian Motor Company was briefly the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world. Today, they are most known for their old touring model, the “Chief.” People talk about those old bikes with reverence.
Most people, that is. My great uncle (who was an avid rider of motorcycles, and an attorney in the San Francisco Bay Area), road an Indian for years, and until he died, couldn’t talk about that old bike without getting visibly angry. He had an old Indian Four — which was an air-cooled inline four cylinder bike. It was ok, he said, as long as you didn’t ride it for more than an hour in the summer. See, the back two cylinders would always overheat. Why? Because there was just no way for cool air to reach the cooling fins of at the “end” of the engine.
Over the course of its first five decades, the company changed ownership a few times, eventually going bankrupt in 1953. In the 60s and 70s, imported bikes were fashioned with the name “Indian” by a guy named Ford Clymer (not sure whether there is any relation to the motorcycle manuals), but those bikes had little to nothing in common with the classic American-made models.
Resurrected in 1999, the California Motor Company produced Indian Motorcycles (using S&S engines for the first two years), but declared bankruptcy in 2003.
There is new hope on the horizon. Polaris Motor Company, who makes Victory Motorcycles, has recently acquired the brand. More on that tomorrow.