Fodder for Fantasy: Footboards and Fender Skirts
by Shawn Downey
“My name is Shawn Downey, and I lust for the Great American Made Motorcycle.”
For years I have been openly proclaiming my love for the British singles, twins, and triples. Deep within my soul, however, I yearn for a V-Twin — the one and only V-Twin that remained primarily unchanged for the course of it’s existence. I want to cruise by Bob’s Java Hut, drop my left hand to my thigh and snap the throttle on a warm Summer night. Coffee patrons will snap their heads around in response to my flame-throwing straight pipes and meet a vision of me astride a leather fringed solo seat, my hair flowing in unison with the conchos.
Their eyes will be hypnotized by the fat lines of the extra wide front fender skirt and the glowing chrome of the girder front forks. My toe will tap the footboards in rhythm to the Steppenwolf anthem, while I lip sync the words, “Get your motor running…” While singing the chorus, a bee will fly into my mouth and sting me in the tongue 17 times, but I won’t care. On this night I will be three kinds of cool. On this night, with the guided help of Tony Robbins and Gene Simmons, I will stop hiding behind my fear of ridicule and open one of two doors in the forbidden fantasy hallway. I will open the door of the America V-Twin Ownership fantasy (the other door has to do with performing a perfect Triple Lutz and sharing a carrot with Nancy Kerrigan). I will profess my love for not only a great looking motorcycle but also the economics of paying $15,000 for antiquated technology and being able to sell that same antiquated technology the next day for $18,000. How can you not love an Indian Motorcycle?
The Indian Motorcycle was originally engineered by Oscar Hedstrom, a self educated man who was building motorized bicycles that were used to train turn of the century bicycle racers. Due to the ingenuity and reliability of his single cylinder design, he soon caught the attention of manufacturing entrepreneur George Hendee. Hendee was impressed with Hedstrom’s dependable carburetted design and decided to build a factory dedicated to the production of single cylinder Indians. 1902 saw the first production models roll off the line, and by 1904 Oscar had incorporate a V-Twin engine sporting two and three speed gearboxes, a genuine swinging arm and a revolutionary twist grip versus the throttle lever used by competing European manufacturers.
Indian, unlike it’s rival competitor Harley-Davidson, put great effort into racing production motorcycles. Hedstrom claimed that racing was responsible for a number of his design ideas and served as an excellent testing ground for new technology such as the award winning notion of cam-operated inlet valves.
Within thirteen years, Oscar and George had built a state of the art motorcycle factory, an incredibly popular V-Twin motorcycle with electric start and lights, and finished the Isle Of Man TT in first, second, and third place. These were grand feats, especially considering it takes about the same amount of time to take delivery of a modern cruiser.
As the years progressed, Indian became a household name by becoming a consistent champion at the board track races. Board track racing consisted of three things: a wooden racetrack ranging in size from a quarter mile to two mile straight-aways, a motorcycle sans brakes, clutch, and throttle, and a rider with frontal lobe disfigurement (i.e. a lobotomy). Once the rider approached maximum speed of 100 to 105 m.p.h. he had two objectives: win and stop. The professionals of the day could perform both feats without adding to the nationwide average of six to seven fatalities.
Oscar left the company at about the same time that board track racing was outlawed in 1914 due to spectator deaths. George departed in the late 1920’s, as Indian began the manufacture of a hastily designed in-line four. The in-line four remained the flagship model until about 1941 when Indian and Harley were competing for the same military contracts during World War II. Harley copied the BMW R71 while Indian modified a 45 cubic-inch Scout engine by spreading the cylinder angle out to 90 degrees from the standard 45 degrees. Plunger suspension and a driveshaft earmarked the design, and it was said to serve as a pin-up model for the post war Moto Guzzi. Despite Indian’s superior design, Harley won the defense contract (I would like to see that lunch tab) and went on to become the mega motorcycle manufacturer it is today. Indian lost the contract and went on to have it’s name dragged through the mud repeatedly by the likes of Phillip Zangi, the convicted felon responsible for defrauding would-be Indian investors of mucho dinero in the early 1990’s.