Up for sale through Heroes Motors of Los Angeles is a 1919 Indian Power Plus, and not just any (very) old motorcycle. It was a board track racer in its day and raced at the Los Angeles Motor Speedway; there is a chance this very bike is one of the motorcycles in the above video from 1921!
Heroes Motors has limited information on the machine, except that its owner moved from the United States to France with this bike after World War II, and the machine was then sold to, and stored in, a museum in France from the 1970s through the 1990s. The current owner bought the bike from that museum. It remains in unrestored condition (though some of the leather pieces like the seat have been replaced).
The Indian Power Plus, while a throwback now and certainly bearing little resemblance to modern motorcycles, was well ahead of its time. It was truly a marvel of engineering. Indian employed engineers as well as their factory racers to design the engines and frames of these bikes. These were the machines that set speed and distance records in their day.
The oval board track racers regularly saw speeds of 100mph and better, which is pretty impressive for a machine that put out just a hair over 15hp. The demons who rode them did not have the benefit of modern safety gear but instead donned leather helmets, and their clothing sometimes had wooden armor. This didn’t help a whole lot when a crash occurred on the speedway, where riders would sometimes (gird your loins here, friends) end up with twelve-inch splinters from the wooden track.
Fire up your imaginations; can you begin to believe what these races must have been like?
It was 1949 and Indian Motorcycle was struggling. It was so bad that the company could not fulfill the orders it had from, all-important police and other commercial entities. West Coast distributor Hap Alzina got the news and selflessly shipped huge stocks of parts he had in his West Coast warehouse, just so Indian could build bikes to fulfill its orders. Then, not long after that, Alzina learned that Indian was to the point of being so cash strapped, it wasn’t going to be able to meet payroll. Again, Alzina went into action to try to save the manufacturer, by placing a massive advance order, well over his normal allotment, just so Indian would have an instant cash infusion and be able to pay its employees.
Alzina’s ardent devotion to Indian motorcycles went back to the early years of America’s first major motorcycle company. When he was just 15 years old, he bought he first Indian and he loved it. So much so that when he was 17, he took a job as a mechanic for an Indian dealership in San Francisco and quickly worked his way up to service manager.
Born on September 14, 1894, Loris Alzina’s interest in motorcycling began early in life. As a boy he bought his first motorcycle, a Reading-Standard, for $50. In 1909, Alzina’s family moved from Santa Cruz, California, to San Francisco. There, he bought his first Indian from C.C. Hopkins, who was the Indian distributor for Northern California at the time. It was for Hopkins’ agency that Alzina began working for Indian.
Alzina spent 56 years devoting himself to motorcycling. Involved in motorcycling from its infancy, he is best known for being the western states distributor for Indian and, later, BSA. He oversaw the sales of those brands during the height of their popularity. Alzina — who earned the nickname “Hap” from his good-natured attitude — also sponsored many of the top AMA professional racers.
In the early 1910s, racing was becoming increasing popular and Alzina tried his hand in competition. He did some flat-track racing, but his primary interest was endurance runs. Alzina raced in many of the early desert city-to-city runs that were popular at the time. In 1919, Alzina edged well known racers Wells Bennett and Cannonball Baker to win the prestigious San Francisco Motorcycle Club Two-Day Endurance Run. That was a huge upset victory over two very popular racers. Of the 30 starters in the 680-mile endurance event, only seven riders managed to finish. Competitors had to battle against rain, hail, snow and even a landslide during the February contest. One rider slid off a muddy wooden bridge and was injured when he fell into the creek below. Alzina overcame those obstacles to earn a perfect score, riding an Indian sidecar outfit. Bennett, riding an Excelsior and Baker, on a factory-backed Indian, were on solo machines.
Alzina’s 1919 endurance victory was his biggest achievement as a competitor and it made him a popular name by way of win ads in motorcycle magazines across the country.
A few years before his big race win, Alzina opened his own dealership, selling Reading-Standard and Cleveland motorcycles. That enterprise was short-lived due to the onset on World War I. After closing his shop, Alzina again worked as sales manager for San Francisco’s Indian distributor. In 1922, Alzina saw a golden opportunity across the Bay in Oakland and bought out the dealership of E.S. Rose. Alzina turned the struggling franchise into a very successful business.
Alzina’s business expertise was recognized by Indian. In 1925, the company assigned him all of Northern California’s distribution. The next year, he was given the entire state, and by 1927 his territory expanded to include Nevada, Arizona and Washington. By 1948, Indian sales in Alzina’s territory represented over 20 percent of Indian’s total worldwide volume.
At the age of 54, moved on to another business venture and bought the western states distribution rights for BSA motorcycles from Alf “Rich” Child in 1949. The growth in motorcycling over the next 15 years was explosive. Under Alzina’s direction, BSA’s western distribution went from three dealerships to 265 dealers in 20 states. The move to BSA helped keep him in the motorcycle business even after his beloved Indian failed in the mid-1950s.
Alzina was an enthusiastic supporter of racing. Many racing stars such as Ed Kretz, Gene Thiessen, Al Gunter, Dick Mann, Kenny Eggers and Sammy Tanner credited Alzina for being a big part of their success. Several of those riders worked in Alzina’s shop and were allowed generous time away to travel to races.
At one point, Alzina also served as Vice President of the AMA.
Famous for his practical jokes, Alzina once walked a horse through a plush New York hotel lobby, pushing the horse into an elevator and taking him up to a room where a party was going on. He also enjoyed marking “Private & Confidential” on the address side of post cards so that everyone would be sure to read the card.
Alzina retired in 1965. He and his wife, Lillian, enjoyed traveling together, visiting friends across the country during their retirement years. He was given an Award of Merit from the AMA on behalf of its 70,000 members upon his retirement.
He was by a journalist if he viewed motorcycling as more business or pleasure.
“Motorcycles are a business,” he said. “But now, as you’re asking questions and I look back over the years, I call it 40 years of fun.”
Alzina died on July 21, 1970 at the age of 75. He will always be remembered as a man of integrity, honesty, loyalty, foresight, common sense and hard work. He was also a one of Indian’s most passionate supporters. He was inducted into the first class of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.
Larry Lawrence | Archives Editor – Cycle World In addition to writing our Archives section on a weekly basis, Lawrence is another who is capable of covering any event we throw his way.
FOX TOWNSHIP, Pa. — A short film about a Sullivan County man’s love for racing motorcycles was recently released on YouTube.
“Fast Eddie” tells the story of what motorcycle racing life was like in the 1950s.
Ed Fisher, also known as Fast Eddie, began racing motorcycles when he was 16 years old. Now at 94, the former racing legend still enjoys riding, just at a slower pace.
Fisher was born in Lancaster County in 1925, and he loves to ride motorcycles. If you give Fisher two wheels, handlebars, and an open road, he will fly right on by. Fisher brought his first motorcycle, an Indian Scout Pony, in 1941 and hasn’t looked back.
After just celebrating his 94th birthday, the man from Shunk still loves to ride his bike in Sullivan County and beyond.
“You are out in the open. You see your surroundings much better, and normally it is nice fresh air,” said Fisher.
“Fast Eddie” is a documentary on YouTube that focuses on Fisher’s racing days in the 1950s. One of biggest wins of Fisher’s career was the 1953 Laconia 100-mile National Championship in New Hampshire.
“And you went off blacktop onto the sand, then sand onto the blacktop onto a 90-degree turn which got pretty slippery. If you learned to maneuver that good, that is how you make good time.”
Fisher eventually stopped racing professionally in 1957 and was voted into the American Motorcyclist Assocation Hall of Fame in 2002.
“You can’t say I think I have done something better than everybody else, but just being recognized as being one of the top competitors in your day. (It means a lot?) Yeah, yeah.”
Fisher says he will continue to ride his motorcycles until he can’t.
She faced long odds, from swampy and rutted terrain to skepticism in a male-dominated era, but Sadie Grimm had something that trumped it all: grit.
In 1914, she did something on a motorcycle that men attempted but failed — she became the first to complete an endurance race from Winnipeg to Winnipeg Beach, across roadless marshlands.
Then the 19-year-old did it again. On the same day.
“She was a pistol, is what her grandchildren called her,” said Ross Metcalfe, a Manitoban who is president of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America and co-founder of the Antique Motorcycle Club of Manitoba.
“I call her plucky. This was something that a very phenomenal woman did 105 years ago, and she showed no fear in being able to do it.”
It was the first documented award in Canadian motorcycling by a woman in a competition also open to men, said Metcalfe.
“Think about the year she did it — it’s 1914, the year Nellie McClung is staging the mock parliament and pushing the government for the women’s vote. So it’s a pivotal time for women and here’s Sadie doing something no man could do,” he said.
“By our record, she’s probably the first woman in North America to win a medal or a trophy or an accomplishment on a motorcycle — and was actually able to keep it.”
A few years earlier, American Clara Wagner won a race between Indianapolis and Chicago but was denied the trophy because of her gender, Metcalfe said.
Race to resort town
The Winnipeg-to-Winnipeg Beach contest, open to anyone, was announced by the Manitoba Motorcycle Club in the winter of 1913-14.
A gold medal was offered up to the first person to complete the 90-kilometre one-way trek from the city to the Empress Hotel on the shore of the popular beach town.
“Winnipeg Beach was Manitoba’s Riviera, it was was Manitoba’s Fort Lauderdale,” said Metcalfe. “It had a huge CPR four-storey hotel with balconies and it was a destination.”
But there were no roads to it. Winnipeg Beach was founded as a resort town in 1900 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, which had the only way to get there.
“The CPR once said that was the most profitable 60 miles of track in all of Canada. Upwards of 13 trains a day would take travellers to the beach and its boardwalk and the fancy hotel,” said Metcalfe.
There were cottages, a dance pavilion, a large pier, water chutes (precursors to modern water slides), and weekend boat regattas that drew as many as 10,000, according to Heritage Manitoba.
“So motorists by 1911-12, they kind of started pointing fingers about the railroad having a monopoly to a place that we want to get to,” Metcalfe said.
So the endurance race was born and motorcycles were a natural choice. Manitoba was a hotbed for motorcycle riding and racing at the time, said Metcalfe.
“There were very many famous racers — men racers — here in Manitoba that were … setting world records,” he said, noting Joe Baribeau, who set a world record at the Kirkfield Park track in 1911 as the fastest man, averaging 60 miles per hour (nearly 100 km/h) over a distance of 100 miles (just over 160 kilometres).
“The first person on Earth to do that and it was done here in Winnipeg. Because of these people being so famous and the Manitoba Motorcycle Club being so dominant, the Canadian Motorcycle Association … moved the Canadian championships to Manitoba in 1914.”
The Manitoba Motorcycle Club, founded in 1911, is the oldest motorcycle club in Canada and fourth-oldest in the world, Metcalfe said.
‘She got back on that bike’
Despite that popularity, there are no records of Grimm competing in any races prior to the endurance test. She seemed to come out of nowhere.
But Metcalfe has his theories.
It just so happened that Grimm’s boyfriend, Jim Cruikshank, was an accomplished amateur motorcycle racer and had opened a repair shop for Indian motorcycles in 1913, across from the new Yale and Northern hotels on Main Street.
Metcalfe thinks Grimm was likely taught how to ride by Cruikshank, who then provided a new, 1914 seven-horsepower Big Twin Indian motorcycle.
“A lot of those early motorcycles were very primitive, so endurance races were a way of motorcycle companies proving their worth,” he said.
Some eager riders who tried their hands at the Winnipeg to Winnipeg Beach run while the ground was still frozen turned back. Others tried in early spring but were trapped by the wetlands.
The only place where there was some semblance of a road — really more of a rutted wagon trail — was through Teulon, Metcalfe said. But it stopped about 35 kilometres short of Winnipeg Beach.
Grimm set out on the morning of June 14, 1914.
“For 25 miles she had to break gravel eight inches deep while going 30 miles an hour. She took several graceful slides but picked herself up unhurt,” the Manitoba Free Press reported at the time.
The slides were most likely less than graceful, said Metcalfe, describing them as “two or three face plants.”
“So we want to talk about plucky, I mean, she wasn’t dismayed. She got back on that bike,” he said.
Grimm went up though Selkirk to Petersfield, where the road soon became bog and potholes. After tracing things like deer trails she rode up onto the railroad track.
It was extremely bumpy “but she pounded her way up the track,” Metcalfe said.
After four hours, a slightly dirty, scratched and exhausted Grimm walked into the Empress Hotel and claimed her prize.
There were a couple of people who scoffed at the victory because she used the railroad tracks, so after she rested for a few hours, Grimm decided to make a statement.
She climbed back on the bike and drove back to Winnipeg via the Teulon route that nobody else could traverse.
“So she actually did it twice in the same day,” Metcalfe said. “It was quite a feat.”
The Free Press, under a June 20 headline that said “Lady Wins Gold Medal,” called it “one of the most strenuous rides ever attempted by a Manitoba motorcyclist.”
At least one other motorcyclist also made an attempt that same day but ran out of gas west of the beach and arrived several hours too late to claim the prize.
“What Sadie Grimm did was pretty spectacular, really, when you look at it from a female perspective in Canadian and North American history,” said Metcalfe.
Arrested for impersonating men
Even two years later, in 1916, sisters Augusta and Adeline Van Buren rode their motorcycles 9,000 kilometres in 60 days across the continental United States. They wanted to prove women could ride as well as men and would be able to serve as military dispatch riders.
Augusta, 24, and Adeline, 22, dressed in military-style leggings and leather riding breeches and were stopped several times during the journey by police who took offence to the fact they wore men’s clothes, according to Anne Ruderman and Jo Giovanni’s book Adeline and Augusta Van Buren: Pioneers in Women in Motorcycling.
“They were arrested a number of times for impersonating a man, if you can believe it,” said Metcalfe.
Despite their success, the Van Buren sisters’ applications to be military dispatch riders were rejected. Reports in a motorcycling magazine of the day praised the bike but not the sisters. It also described the rigorous journey as a vacation.
Following her success, Grimm became a spokesperson for the participation of women in motorcycling. In the July 1914 edition of the Winnipeg Tribune, Grimm lauded the activity as beneficial to health and the independence of women.
“The motorcycle is a great teacher.… It teaches [one] to be more independent on herself, to know that with a twist of the wrist she can control the powerful little machine that will carry her swiftly and safely wherever she wants to go,” Grimm said.
“I don’t think anyone could recommend a better doctor than nature — plenty of fresh air and exercise are the greatest health givers.”
Grimm died in February 1970 at the age of 74. In 2017, she was inducted into the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
‘Empowers women to ride’
That same year, the first Sadie Grimm historic motorcycle ride to Winnipeg Beach was held. Follow-up rides have been held every June since then, doubling as a fundraiser toward a planned commemoration for Grimm.
The Women Riders Council (WRC), a member of the Coalition of Manitoba Motorcycle Groups, wants to build a picnic shelter, named in Grimm’s honour, at the spot where the Empress Hotel once stood.
The Manitoba government has agreed to the proposed steel-and-concrete design with a motorcycle motif being built on the property, now owned by the province.
“It will have a motorcycle theme for the sides of it and the circles in the top, holding the roof up, will look like motorcycle wheels. So it will be a real commemoration of Sadie’s ride,” said Mary Johnson, a member of the WRC and chair of the Sadie Grimm Celebration Committee.
She first heard about Grimm’s story in 2014 while at the Manitoba Motorcycle Club’s induction ceremony into the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame. When Metcalfe was accepting the award, he mentioned Grimm.
“I remember thinking at the time ‘I need a piece of that [story],'” Johnson said.
She got Metcalfe to tell her everything he knew about Grimm and shortly after, she shared the story at a WRC meeting.
That’s when another member, Carolyn Peters, offered to do more research and eventually got in contact with grandchildren and a grandniece of Grimm’s in California.
They had some photos to offer up but for the most part, Grimm’s exploits were unknown to them. They always thought she was kind of cool because she was “just a little out there,” with her long fingernails painted in bright red polish that matched a similarly brilliant lipstick, said Peters.
But for the most part, Grimm was just known to them as Nana, she said.
“It is just such an interesting story, that this woman who was very anonymous until now … had been this vivacious, independent, outspoken woman for women’s issues and women’s rights at such an early point in Manitoba history,” Peters said.
“It was really a terribly courageous thing that she did. I just think of her at this point as a really fantastic role model to young women back then in 1914 and still very relevant today.”
The dusting off of Grimm’s story immediately led to a renewed interest and ultimately, her induction into the hall of fame.
In the summer of 2015, the Antique Motorcycle Club of Manitoba (which amalgamated with the MMC in 2010) organized a Sadie Grimm run from Winnipeg to a roadhouse about halfway to Winnipeg beach.
Johnson was told the club would buy a meal for all women riders who participated. She rounded up a large group, which then finished the run to the beach in honour of Grimm.
That sparked the idea for the picnic shelter, which is expected to cost $45,000.
So far, the fundraising rides and other donations have raised about $28,500.
Johnson and Peters hope the shelter will keep Grimm’s story in the public eye because of the inspiration it provides.
“When we talk to people about it they get really excited,” she said, noting one woman joins the ride every year, spurred by Grimm’s story, and “just went and bought an Indian Chief motorcycle this week.”
Indian's marketing director shares with us the secret to the iconic brand's renaissance.
It’s hard to talk about the motorcycle industry in 2017 without talking about Indian Motorcycles. Sales for the Polaris-owned brand have been soaring with double-digit growth while another American cruiser brand which will remain nameless is struggling. Motorcycle sales in the States are down overall but that hasn’t stopped Indian from growing its market share in big bikes from three percent to ten percent in just one year. The boys in Milwaukee still have a comfortable lead in the segment, but the gap is closing faster than anyone could have predicted.
So what’s the secret? What’s the special sauce behind Indian’s success? We reached out to Indian’s marketing director Reid Wilson to find out.
“There are a variety of factors that we believe have played a role in our ability to outperform the industry throughout 2017, no less of which is momentum,” said Reid. “We’ve been able to sustain and build upon the significant momentum we established with key product line introductions in recent years, including Scout and Chieftain, both of which remain consistent performers for us.”
Indeed, the Scout has become a segment leader in entry-level cruisers terms of power, engineering, and style at a competitive price. The Chieftain does everything a touring bike is supposed to do. It’s big on long-distance comfort, modern technology, retro/modern style, and enough special editions to keep it interesting.
“We’ve built on that momentum with a careful balance of commitment to our heritage, coupled with a focus on modern design and performance,” said Reid speaking further to the brand’s momentum. To me, this statement hits the nail on the head for Indian. The brand has found the perfect blend of looking back to its heritage and looking forward to its future. Indian injects just enough “heritage” into its bikes without getting too hung up on it while giving the bikes enough new-school flair and class-leading performance to stay truly modern and competitive. Nobody would mistake a 2017 Indian for a model from 30 years ago, which is something not all American cruiser brands can claim.
That’s a great ethos, so how does it play out in practice? “Examples of this would be successful modifications to some of our popular models, such as injecting the Chieftain platform with a heightened level of attitude through the introduction of the 19-inch wheel and open fender, or the limited edition ‘Elite’ series models for Chieftain and Roadmaster, as well as our popular limited-edition collaborations with Jack Daniel’s,” said Reid. “At the same time, the new Scout Bobber was designed to appeal to a younger consumer that’s seeking a more nimble, aggressive type of cruiser. For that reason, we launched the bike at X-Games in Minneapolis at a huge party we hosted for the top action sports athletes and, overall, the launch has been extremely successful for us.”
Another thing about Indian that’s impossible to ignore is its dominant success in flat track racing having recently won the grand national title. “The investment and commitment we’ve poured into Indian Motorcycle Racing in the American Flat Track series is paying off, reminding riders that our brand remains one grounded in the highest levels of innovation and performance,” said Reid.
We asked Indian what the brand is planning on doing to continue this momentum. “First, and foremost, we will be maintaining our steadfast dedication to the customer, providing a product that consistently delivers in terms of timeless style, unmatched quality, and performance. These characteristics will remain the cornerstone of the Indian brand,” said Reid. “We will also honor the spirit of innovation and exploration that the Indian brand was founded upon more than a century ago, venturing into new categories with new models that push forward and expand Indian’s relevance with a wider range of riders.” To put it simply, Indian figured out a winning formula and it’s sticking to it.
Any brand that’s old enough can hang its hat on “heritage” and “character” and call it a day. But that isn’t cutting it anymore. Indian is proving that it takes more than a “Since 1901” inscription on the engine to sell bikes. The motorcycles have to be truly new and innovative while proving their performance, sometimes by becoming flat track champions. If the competition can’t keep up, it will continue losing relevance until Indian is king again for the first time in about century.
Source: Here’s Why Indian Motorcycles Is Growing While the Competition Struggles
Ever since Indian Motorcycle was revived by Polaris, the American motorcycle brand’s lineup of products has been growing fast. However, there’s one thing that all Indians have in common, from the entry-level Scout Sixty up to the luxurious Roadmaster Elite: they’re all cruisers. Since the brand is positioned to go toe-to-toe with another century-old name in American motorcycles, the new Indian Motorcycle has been competing exclusively in those segments, and it’s actually done a pretty nice job scraping out a market share for itself.
But for a while now, we’ve been hearing Indian promise that greater product diversity was on the way. Indian Motorcycle marketing and product director Reid Wilson told The Drive a year ago that the company would be “venturing into new categories with new models that push forward and expand Indian’s relevance with a wider range of riders.” A month later, Indian pulled the wraps off of the FTR1200 Custom concept bike, a motorcycle for the street that’s heavily influenced by the dominant FTR750 race bike that’s won that last two American Flat Track titles.
The concept was a hit and got a lot of attention, prompting Indian to confirm a production model in June and unveil the official FTR 1200 and FTR 1200 S production models this month. We went to the massive Intermot motorcycle show in Cologne, Germany where the bike was unveiled and had a chance to talk to a few big shots at Indian Motorcycle about how one of the most important American motorcycles in years went from a dominant flat tracker to a stunning concept to the first non-cruiser in Indian’s modern history.
One of those big shots was Wilson, the same guy who told us a year ago to expect a more diverse lineup from Indian. “You’d like to think it was a really clear and simple path, but we started working on this bike in March of 2016,” he said. “You make compromises and you figure out the best way to express [the spirit of the FTR750] in a way that is relevant for a street rider for something that will work on an everyday basis, but will still maintain the essence of the race bike.”
So it sounds like a production bike was the plan all along ever since Indian got back into flat track racing. It just so happens that Indian built a very good race bike and a concept that was extremely well-received, both of which aided in building hype around a bike that you’ll actually be able to buy.
Flat track champ Jared Mees aboard the FTR 1200 with some very enthusiastic Indian fans behind him.
Wilson went on to talk about how Indian surveyed the globe and spoke with thousands of riders about what they would want to see in a performance-oriented motorcycle from an American brand. Based on that feedback, the FTR1200 Custom concept was born. I asked Wilson about some of the challenges involved in turning the concept bike into a production bike.
“Exhaust is always challenging just due to the regulatory challenges we face. This is a global bike so we have to adhere to a wide array of countries’ standards,” he said, highlighting of one of the most noticeable differences between the concept and the production model. “The FTR1200 Custom is a very pure motorcycle, but it’s not a motorcycle you’d want to ride more than a couple hours at most. But you get on [the production bike] and you could ride this thing cross-country without a lot of compromises in terms of comfort. It’s quite friendly to the customer in terms of comfort and performance.”
Wilson went on to speak of the overall significance the FTR 1200 will hold in the American motorcycle industry. “The significance of this motorcycle is massive. I’m almost 40 and I grew up dreaming about this motorcycle from an American brand my entire life. To be able to work on it is a dream.”
2019 Indian FTR 1200 S
Next up was industrial designer Rich Christoph, the man who designed the FTR750, the FTR1200 Custom, and the FTR 1200 production bike. He detailed the importance of starting with a race bike and designing a street form around it.
“Thank God we went racing to begin with,” he said. “It would be really easy to just keep doing the same basic cruiser stuff and not get involved in flat track racing, but we challenged ourselves to raise the bar. We knew that racing would improve chassis development and powertrain development that got us information we can deliver back to the customers on our street bikes.”
“I was trying to capture the championship lines and the shape of the tank and carry those lines, silhouette, and proportions into the FTR1200 Custom. I had nobody in the way telling me what I could and couldn’t do. There were no restrictions. It was just pure sculpture, pure emotion, and pure mechanics.”
For anyone disappointed that the production FTR doesn’t look more like the concept, Christoph explained to me why they couldn’t just mass-produce the concept. “What I may have done is done it a little too well. Now you’ve gotta take that bike and dissect it. You need to cut a seat and real fuel volumes out of that silhouette. The 1200 Custom had high pipes on it and you’d burn your leg after about 20 km and at about 25 km you’d run out of gas. And it would be about $95,000 to build that and sell it on the street.”
Indian FTR1200 Custom
You hear that, naysayers? If you got a carbon-copy of the production bike in dealers like you wanted, it would almost have a six-digit price tag, not to mention its various practical disadvantages.
“All of those design challenges in making a real motorcycle at a cost that the customer is actually willing to pay for and fall in love with is a very delicate balance and it’s a big challenge,” said Christoph.
That design challenge was completely worth it, Indian’s international product director Ben Lindemann told me, expanding on the importance of the brand exploring segments outside of its bread-and-butter cruisers and diving into racing.
“As a brand, we were always known for racing,” said Lindeman. “When [Polaris] bought [Indian] in 2011 it was important to us from the beginning to get back into racing. Coupled with that, we wanted to grow outside of our traditional segments of cruiser, bagger, and touring bikes. We wanted to get into segments that are growing in the U.S. and are also really big internationally.”
“About four years ago we said ‘okay, let’s do a race bike and then let’s leverage that race bike to build a street bike.’ Once we did the race bike we got a lot of feedback and people loved how it looked so we knew we were on the right path.”
Indian Motorcycle- Jared Mees doing a burnout at the unveiling of the FTR 1200
But it isn’t just visual similarities that the race bike shares with the production model. Although they share zero components, the FTR 1200 actually got some mechanical inspiration from the FTR750 as well. “The airbox on the FTR 1200 is directly above the throttle bodies just like on the race bike,” Lindemann pointed out. “We ended up packaging the fuel under the seat which gave us more advantages. It lowered our center of gravity and made the bike more agile.” Another mechanical similarity is in the bike’s swingarm, whose tubular steel design matches the race bike as well.
Lindemann went on to talk about the four priorities Indian had when designing the street bike. It needed to look like the race bike, it needed to be fun, it needed to have character, and it needed to be customizable. Indian believes that with this formula, the FTR 1200 will be a hit that can set the stage for further diversity in the brand’s lineup.
That leads me to the one question I asked all three of the important people at Indian Motorcycle that I spoke with. Since Indian is making it sound like the FTR 1200 is the first of multiple bikes to use this engine and this platform, I asked what Indian can tell us about the future of this new platform. All three answers made me giddy so here they are verbatim:
WILSON: “You’ll definitely see more. When you ride the bike, you can feel where it can go and I’ll leave that to your own interpretation when you get to ride the bike. You can see the potential in it and this will be one of many bikes coming over the next coming years. It’s an amazing platform that has a lot of flexibility to go a lot of different places and it’s going to be a really fun couple years.”
CHRISTOPH: “We’re exploring everything. I would say nothing’s off the table. You can kind of look at the bike and you can imagine what its variants may be. I can’t say anything specific, but we’re not done. We’re just getting started.”
LINDEMANN: “It’s a very capable platform. We think the Indian brand can play in any segment. We talked to a lot of customers and they feel like it’s a brand that resonated outside of cruiser/bagger/tour. We think from a customer readiness and market readiness standpoint, we can go in any segment we want. We designed this platform to be capable of doing a lot of things. We have an exciting future with this platform and we’ve got a lot of other great news coming as well.”
2019 Indian FTR 1200 S
My personal translation: Indian is probably working on an adventure bike with this platform. After seeing it in person, it’s very easy to visualize different styling, suspension, tires, ergonomics, etc to morph this platform into a bona fide ADV. It’s a very hot segment and it’s one that Harley-Davidson is about to get into with the Pan America. For Indian, the platform and engine are already done and the brand might even be able to bring an adventure bike to market sooner than the Pan America shows up, which is supposed to be in 2020. Of course, this is just my own speculation, and time will ultimately tell.
From the styling to the pricing to the spec sheet, it sure seems like Indian knocked it out of the park with the FTR 1200. If this thing’s real-life performance is as good as we hope it is, we think Indian Motorcycle will have a global winner on its hands when this bike hits dealers next spring
John Gee’s extraordinary Antique Motorcycles collection
Antique Motorcycles, in Moorabbin, outside Melbourne, Australia(Credit: Loz Blain/New Atlas)
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Tucked away in Melbourne’s urban sprawl is one of Australia’s true hidden gems. Antique Motorcycles features the amazing and ever-changing motorcycle collection of owner John Gee, who was nice enough to take us on a guided tour and tell us about some of his favorite machines.
I’ve lived in Melbourne, Australia nearly 40 years, and been into motorcycles for about half that – and yet this hidden treasure has somehow managed to remain completely off my radar until now. Tucked away beside Moorabbin Airport is a historic motorcycling wonderland, almost a museum, built on one man’s personal collection.
Antique Motorcycles is a monument to owner John Gee’s passion for anything interesting with two wheels. Walking in the front door, through the cafe/bar area, you step into a huge showroom/museum area where dozens upon dozens of bikes sit in beautifully chaotic displays. Model planes, minibikes, snowmobiles, bicycles and speedway cars hang from the rafters, and the place is chock-full of all kinds of memorabilia.
John took the time to take us through the museum area and talk about a few of his many favourites. We’ll let him take it from here in his own words:
Antique Motorcycles started in 1988, believe it or not. I’ve been going to the States since 88, buying classic bikes and bringing them back to Australia.
I got bitten by the motorcycle bug as an 8-year-old and the bug kept getting worse. By the time I was an apprentice motorcycle mechanic at 17, I owned half a dozen road bikes that I kept at a friend’s house so my parents wouldn’t know. It was around this time I started buying and selling bikes, and building a collection.
In the late 80s, I was traveling across the United States, and I noticed that Triumphs, Nortons and BSAs were cheap. So I planned a trip over there, went and bought 30-odd bikes, shipped them back, and I’d spend the year doing them up in the garage. Eventually when you amass a collection of motorcycles it attracts other people with the same passion. Before you know it, you’re importing bikes for other people and working on their projects for them. One day you wake up and you own a motorcycle shop! It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you do it long enough, you end up with a place like this.
We’ve got a bit of everything here. I’ve got a pretty big mini-bike collection – a hangover from that bug I had as a kid. I prefer original condition bikes. I’ve spent most of my life taking chopper forks and handlebars and Craig Vetter fairings and touring bags off motorcycles and returning them to their original condition. I’ve got choppers from the 70s, I’ve got turbo bikes, I like my British bikes, I love my German bikes … but Indians is my #1 passion.
We became a dealer for Indian about 12 months ago. We’re very happy to sell them, they’re not a hard product to sell at all. They sell themselves out of the box because they’re such a good bike. It’s great to see a serious competitor to Harley Davidson.
Destroyer II – Billy Gibbons’ custom Kawasaki Z1R
We’ve got a lot of famous stuff here … This is a bike that Billy Gibbons, from ZZ Top, had made. He called it Destroyer II, because that’s the kind of guitar he plays.
He got a ’78 Z1R turbo, which was probably one of the most expensive bikes available on the day, and he sent it back to the factory. They put a stage 3 kit in it, which is a bigger sump, a welded crank, 6:1 forged turbo pistons, undercut the gearbox, all that sort of stuff.
Then they sent it off to this mob called RC Hill’s of Orlando, and they did all the gold plating, and the painting, and the custom work.
We haven’t restored the seat, because the seat had Billy Gibbons on it. The time’s come, it sort of needs to be done, but I’ve held back, because it’s Billy’s own seat. Pretty cool bike, it’s only done about 6,000 miles.
I found it in a collection in Michigan. I was buying about 20-odd bikes off one guy. It was in a pretty poor state. But they were the fastest bike in the world at the time. They still currently hold the record for an 11-second quarter mile, sitting on the bike backwards. Quite incredible!
Mad Max Honda Four
This bike here’s out of Mad Max. The guy lived five Ks from here, and he came in and said he had an old Honda and he wanted to sell it. I went and looked at it, I didn’t know it was out of Mad Max, he wanted too much money … I was leaving, I was in the car ready to drive away.
But just as I was leaving, he told me the story of how he rode the thing in Mad Max, and I quickly changed my mind and bought it. There’s a picture of it, right here… There was only two Honda Fours in the film.
When you watch the movie and slow it down, you can see the Star mags, you can see the twin-disc front end, which is unusual for a Honda, they only had a single disc front end. And you can see the calipers are behind the fork – normally Hondas had the caliper in front. He customized his own bike, way back when, ’74 or 5.
They had a Mad Max reunion last year. We all went to Clunes. And they had just about every vehicle from every Mad Max film made. All the people in the clothing and whatnot.
I had this bike there, and nobody knew about it – it doesn’t exactly jump off the page. By the end of the weekend, I found out I had the only genuine vehicle out of any of the Mad Max films at the event. There were at least 10 Interceptor cars, and the MFP police cars, 10 or 12 of those … There’s a lot of passion out of there for Mad Max.
TZ750 race bike
Here’s a TZ750, this was one of Trevor Flood’s bikes. Reputedly raced by Michael Dowson … and Kevin McGee in the ’84 Swann series. I think they raced it to second place in the championship.
It’s a GP bike you could buy off the shelf. This one’s got around 130 horse, it’s running Lectron flat-slides, White Power suspension, Dymag wheels and Brembo brakes. All products that the Floods were the importers for at the time. I bought it from a deceased estate about 25 years ago.
I’ve ridden this one on track. You go flat chat down Phillip Island straight, and when you hit the hump where the tunnel goes underneath, the thing does a huge wheelstand and you have to back off. Whenever you ride this bike, you have the utmost respect for it. When you get off in the pits, you’re shaking, and you go “whew… I lived!”
2002 Indian Chief: Schwarzenegger bike from Terminator 3
This is out of Terminator 3, Arnie Schwarzenegger. They made four bikes, they destroyed two, and two survived. This is the one he actually rode in the scene where they’re chasing the crane truck, and the crane’s jib is pointed sideways and the whole world’s blowing up. It’s taking down the power lines, flipping all the parked cars upside down. Pretty spectacular scene.
This particular Indian was known as the Gilroy Indian. Made in Gilroy, California. Not to be confused with the Polaris product of current times, which is a much superior motorcycle. The chase scene was only a small part of the movie, but Indian fans would’ve been sure to notice what Arnie was riding. It was the first time an Indian had been used in a movie in a very long time. They had a lot to live up to, as previous Terminator chase scenes involving Harleys were also spectacular.
Honda CBX1000 Turbo
In 1978, Honda came out with the CBX1000 six cylinder. A stunning bike, with a motor that was described as “a block of flats.” Absolutely an instant classic. So what to do to improve it?
Meet the Honda CBX turbo! They only made 10 kits, which were dealer fitted. They weren’t factory endorsed, but the factory would’ve been happy they had a product that could run with the Kawasaki Z1R turbos of the time … So that’s one of ten of those. I’ve had a fascination for turbos and have owned many examples, from all the four Japanese brands. I currently still have quite a few, and also some pretty wild Frankenstein home-built turbo bikes. Always fun.
This kit doubles whatever horsepower it had. What’d they have, like, 75 horsepower new? Not much … It might have 140 now.
1942 Harley-Davidson WLA
This WLA was restored by the US army, it’s probably the best example of a WLA in the world. It’s cool shit. Like all bikes here, it goes. Bit of fuel, bit of choke, couple of prime kicks, ignition … (bike starts) Hey? Not bad!
It had the radio instead of the Thompson machine gun. It’s a communication bike. It’s probably the best example of a WLA in the world, since it was restored by the army. It’s not like WLAs are very rare – they made 90,000 of them. But they are rare to find like this.
I didn’t have to do any work on it. The work I had to do was count out the bills and hand ’em over. Haha! Serious stuff. This bike is now owned by one of our very best customers, and is part of his extensive collection.
1951 Harley-Davidson WR
WR Harley-Davidson up there, a 1951 WR, they made 23 in the world. That was Harley’s weapon on the flat tracks. This bike comes from one of the oldest Harley Davidson shops in the USA. It was a spare bike that only saw a few practice laps in its life.
In ’52, they already had the KR top end on the WR – the WR was on its way to morphing into the KR. By ’53, WRs were gone and the KR was born. Very fast bike for the time. They’d pull wheelstands down the main straight at over 80 miles an hour, I’ve seen it myself at the Davenport flat track.
1966 Triumph Bonneville XR750
That’s a Triumph. We use that to test whether people know their shit or not. You just failed. Haha! I just put a Harley tank on a Triumph, because it fit … I was building a bike to race in New Zealand at the Burt Monroe challenge, and the tank came up in Just Bikes magazine, and it had a brand new paint job on it, so I stuck it on there. I was reluctant to take the Harley badge off, because I didn’t know if I was going to keep that tank.
One thing led to another, next thing, people are coming in and telling us they used to have one exactly like it … We left it on there for a bit of fun, we use it to qualify people. It’s amazing how many people will swear black and blue, that that’s exactly how the one they owned was – much to our bewilderment!
1975 Hercules Wankel
We’ve got two Hercules rotaries, we’ve got two Norton rotaries, the water-cooled and the air-cooled, and a Suzuki RE5 Wankel.
They’re a different thing to ride. We don’t call ’em a motorcycle, we call ’em rotorcycles. They’re a bit … heavy and slow to get going, but they’re quirky, and we still like ’em. When I was an apprentice motorcycle mechanic, we used to work on these things. I’ve got fond memories. We used to look at the engine and go “what the hell do you do with that?”
The Hercules is a very surprising motorcycle to ride. It is very quick off the line, it has unexpected power delivery, and it’s very quick and nimble. Quite the opposite to the Suzuki RE5.
The Garage display
That’s the old garage. We use all the stuff in here. It’s all rare stuff. ’23 Indian, there’s a ’39 Indian engine, a ’38 Indian engine, all kinds of important stuff in there. Transmissions, magnetos, carburetors … Whenever we’re restoring an old bike, this is where we come to get our bits.
We did it up like an old ’20’s servo you’d find in outback Australia. Couple of gas pumps out the front, a collection of stuff under a lean-to. We’ve got a bit of junk piled up in there today, it’s not really as good a display as it normally is …
Steve McQueen sidecar
Chad McQueen was just in Australia. I know Chad from the States, he’s one of those identities that kind of turns up at a lot of things.
I met him up at the Rock Store once, up on Mulholland Drive. He was driving an old Porsche. I just noticed this car, you know, it had cut slicks, and a full camber job, and all the body panels were fiberglass, and racing seats … It was a pretty rough old looking car.
I was looking at it, and this guy yells out from across the street, “get in! knock yourself out!” Like Americans do … Next minute, of course, he’s there, and he’s on for a chat. I was asking questions about his car, like how fast does it go, it looks pretty serious … He said “aw look, I’ve lost my nerve these days, after I hit the wall at Daytona doing 200 …” I was thinking to myself, typical American, bragging, or making up stories …
Anyway, he said “what’ve you guys got?” Well, I told him we had a rental car and we weren’t very proud of it, we’d parked it ’round the corner. But we’re into Indian motorcycles in a big way, and that’s what we ride at home. He said he had an Indian motorcycle with a sidecar. So we listened to his story about that. And I said, well, I’m not a fan of sidecars, but I do have one. I only keep it because it belonged to Steve McQueen … And he said “well that mah daddy!” And then I realized, shit, this is Chad McQueen – and that story about hitting the wall at Daytona at 200, that was actually true!
That’s the sidecar up there, and that’s the bike it was on, down below. It got caught in a fire at my previous address – one of the buildings burned down. It got a bit singed, but it’s still in pretty good condition. And I told him about it. He remembered the bike – and he said he hated it, because his dad used to make him polish it! Pretty funny.
1951 Indian Squad bike
This is my favourite Indian, it’s a 1951 New York police bike. It’s got a siren on it, still. I bought it off the original cop. Some of the towns, depends where you came from, you had to own the bike to be a cop. I don’t think that’s what happened to him, I think this was a fleet bike.
It was never a pursuit bike, it was a parade bike. So, when the president or whoever came to town, there’d be two of these out in front and two behind as a police escort, that kind of thing.
I’ve ridden it around the grand canyon, I’ve ridden it around New Zealand … It’s been my rider for about 25 years now. I can’t put my finger on why, this bike has something that reaches out to me. Whenever I’m going out for a ride, I look round the shop, and I always end up choosing this one. Actually I’d better get that bike up on the bench, I’ll be riding it the weekend after next. We’re going up to Mansfield in the high country. We’re doing the 25th annual Great Race – Harley vs. Indian.
2016 Indian Scout custom cafe racer
Here’s one we’re building right now, a cafe racer, something a bit different. It’s home grown, right here. We’re just giving people examples of what can be done using a Scout as a base. It’s about getting people’s imagination going, so they can then buy a bike and either get us to customize it, or run off and go and customize it themselves. It’s an awesome platform – 100 horsepower and very nimble handling.
1974 Norton Commando (supercharged)
There’s another bike up here that’s a bit far out … That’s a supercharged Norton Commando. You could buy a kit back in the 70s, bolt on a Drouin supercharger, and double your horsepower. So that’s just one that I knocked up. It’s a … let me think, a ’74 Commando. It’s got a Dunstall kit, Norman Hyde fork brace, alloy rims and clip-ons, a 2-into-1 exhaust …
Not everything’s for sale. Obviously I got into this because I was passionate about bikes and I wanted to build a collection of bikes. All of a sudden you end up being a motorcycle shop, and you’re buying and selling and you’re head-first into it.
But my passion is still collecting. And there’s still plenty of bikes on my bucket list that I want to get before I’m done. So once in a while, maybe I’ll sell a couple of bikes to get something else on my bucket list. It’s about experiencing them.
I got to about 130 bikes in my collection, that was stupid, I couldn’t keep the tires pumped up. It was a major job just looking after them, and there were bikes in there that were quite rough. So I cut it back. I’m probably at about 70 or something at the moment. I try to keep it round about there.
I’ve got a warehouse over the road, I keep a bunch more over there. I like to swap ’em around, keep it all alive. This isn’t a museum you walk into one time – you come back next week, it’s different. Come back the week after, it’s different again. There’s always a reason to come back.
Same with the museum we’re building upstairs. I know a lot of people with collections of very rare and exotic motorcycles. We’ll do a Brough Superior display, we’ll do a Harley-Davidson display, we’ll do all sorts of things, maybe an American brand display with Thors and Merkels and Popes, things like that. It’s always going to be changing, so it’s important to keep coming back.
Friday nights we have our Tapas night, which is where we open the bar and get drunk. There’s some live music, lots of fun. Two bands every Friday, and the cafe’s open every day except Sunday. So there’s the new Indian dealership, and the workshop and the team of mechanics. We work on vintage and classic bikes, which not a lot of shops would touch.
We’ve also got the Classic Racer Club based at the shop, we have rides every Saturday morning, 8 o’clock, heading off in whatever direction the riders choose on the day. Anywhere between 5 and 40 bikes, it depends who turns up.
After several hours chatting with John and photographing the bikes out back, I never felt like I’d scratched the surface of what’s in there – and John’s perfectly happy about that, telling me I should come back again and feature more of the bikes he rotates in and out of the museum.
We might take you up on that, John! There’s a ton of other stuff in the shop we’d love to feature.