Friday, December 13, 2019

Hail to the Indian Chief Motorcycle

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This 1948 Indian Chief is one of the most important Indian motorcycles on the planet.

There’s a good chance, many years from now, that history will judge this particular red-and-white 1948 Indian Chief as one of the most important Indian motorcycles on the planet. No, it wasn’t owned by Steve McQueen or any other celebrity; it’s not a special VIN, not the only or the first or the last of anything; it certainly didn’t win any races or set any speed records either. It’s unremarkable except for one fact: This is the motorcycle that spent two years parked in the Polaris design studio, where it served as the visual inspiration and literal touchstone for the design team that reinterpreted the vintage Indian style for the modern era.

This bike isn’t a static showpiece. It’s fully operational, and Indian Product Director Gary Gray offered us the unique opportunity to ride this vintage classic side by side with the modern Chief that carries so much of its DNA in its lines and design. Gray is the person who actually located this bike for Polaris , negotiating the purchase from a Minnesota collector shortly after Polaris acquired the Indian brand in 2011. It’s a 1948 Chief with the mid-level Sportsman trim package, distinguished by the chromed crashbars, handlebar, headlight and spotlights, and “De Luxe” solo saddle. Riding this bike alongside the 2014 Chief Vintage reveals how far bikes have come in 66 years—it feels like light-years—but it’s surprising how similar the two bikes feel in certain ways. That’s a testament to the fine job Gray and company did translating the old glory to a new generation.

The first difference you notice is scale. Wheelbase and seat height are roughly similar, but the vintage bike, weighing just 550 pounds, is almost 250 pounds lighter than the modern machine. This makes the older bike easier to maneuver, especially pushing it around a parking lot, and it handles well at speed too. Sixteen-inch wheels are concealed under those deep fender skirts, and the ride is surprisingly smooth thanks to the coil-sprung, hydraulically damped girder fork and “Double Action” plunger-sprung rear frame (each shock carries two springs: a top spring for cushioning and a bottom spring for damping) that was a cut above Harley’s then-current rigid frame/sprung saddle combination.

The 74ci (1,200cc), 42-degree flathead V-twin, with roots reaching back to 1920, was already obsolete in 1948 (Harley-Davidson released its overhead-valve Panhead that same year), but with roughly 50 hp and a broad spread of torque it’s adequate for back-road cruising. Top speed is said to be near 100 mph, but it’s happier nearer the double nickel where it doesn’t feel (and sound) like it’s going to shake itself apart. Besides, the drum brakes—the front all but useless and the back not much better—can’t compete with more velocity than that.

Often copied, never equaled (until now): the original 1948 Indian Chief

The control layout is utterly unlike the modern bike. Both grips rotate. The right grip “controls” the Linkert carburetor; the left rotates the automotive-type distributor to manually retard or advance the spark for easier starting. “Controls” is in quotes because any grip input to the crude, poorly atomizing Linkert is a mere suggestion. Engine response lags behind grip input by a few seconds, and the lack of a throttle return spring and a solid throttle wire—not a cable—makes rev-matching during shifting all but impossible. Speaking of shifting, there’s no clutch lever. Instead there’s a foot clutch on the left floorboard (a rocker clutch you have to manually engage and disengage, not a spring-loaded “suicide” clutch) and a hand-shifter on the left side of the fuel tank.

Temporarily rewiring your brain to smoothly manipulate that rocker clutch with your foot and fluidly change the cantankerous, non-synchronized, three-speed gearbox with your left hand is the biggest challenge, but once you get the vintage Chief up to speed it’s a delightful back-road ride, with a perfectly upright riding position that’s more natural and less slouchy than the clamshelled hunch the newer bike demands. It’s a classic American motorcycle experience, and Gray and his team have done an excellent job of transposing this vintage vibe onto the new machine. Starting with such sound genetic material as this, though, how could they go wrong?

Source: Hail to the Indian Chief Motorcycle

“Thrills and Funerals”: Researching the Board Track Era of Motorcycle Racing

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Motorcycle board track racing was the deadliest form of racing in the history of motorsports. Hundreds of lives were lost, both racers and spectators, during the relatively short-lived era of the boards. Yet in spite of, or perhaps partly because of, the dangers, motorcycle board track racing in the 1910s was one of the most popular spectator sports in America. Races attracted crowds of up to 10,000 fans. Young riders knew of the dangers, but chose to ignore them because the payoffs were so lucrative. Top racers could make $20,000 per year racing the board tracks, nearly a half-million dollars in today’s currency. From America's Historical Newspapers. The reasons for the lethal nature of motorcycle board track racing were easy to understand. Motorcycles, even in the 1910s, the heyday of the board track era, were capable of speeds approaching 100 miles per hour. The boards were oil soaked and slick due to the engines being of “total loss” design, meaning oil pumped by the riders to lubricate exposed valves and springs sprayed freely into the air behind the speeding bikes. Riders raced with just inches between them, sometimes even touching as riders jockeyed for position. The machines had no brakes, and spectators were separated from the speeding machines by just couple of 2×4 boards nailed between fragile posts.

The first decade of the 20th century, with the advent of automobiles and motorcycles, saw an explosion of race track construction. The mention of motordromes in newspapers began as early as 1901. In the July 18, 1901 edition of the Kansas City Star there was news from Europe of government officials threatening to exclude automobile racing from all public roads and that motordromes could be the solution.

Click to view full pdf image
“Automobile News from Paris,” Kansas City Star, (07-18-1901), 7. America’s Historical Newspapers.  

 

Motorcycle racing in America during the early 1900s was primarily confined to city-to-city runs and races on bicycle velodromes. But as engines became more powerful it was clear that the small bicycle tracks were not large enough to showcase the capabilities of motorcycles.

In 1910 the Los Angeles Motordrome, built in the resort of Playa Del Ray, was the first large board track built in America. The Salt Lake Telegram reported on April 9, 1910, that world records were broken in auto races on the new board track. The Albuquerque Journal on the previous day gave some of the specs of the new track. It reported the track “a perfect circle, a mile in circumference, banked one foot in three. The grand stands are placed above the forty-five feet of the inclined track. The surface consists of two by four planks laid to make a four-inch floor and laminated to give great strength. About 3,000,000 feet of lumber and sixteen tons of nails were used in the construction of the ‘pie-pan,’ as it has been dubbed.”

 


“World’s Records Are Broken On New Board Track,”
Salt Lake Telegram, (04-09-1910), 23.
America’s Historical Newspapers.  

Jack Prince, the builder of the Los Angeles track, traveled the country proposing board tracks to city fathers and motor clubs. The Salt Lake Telegram reported on April 26, 1910, that Prince planned to build a half-mile motordrome in Salt Lake City at a cost of $100,000. The paper later reported, on June 18, 1910, that the new board track at Wandamere Park in Salt Lake City was constructed in less than two weeks.

Soon motordromes were being built across the country. And the races drew large crowds. The Salt Lake Telegram on July 4, 1910, reported a crowd of 8,000 to 10,000 on the grand opening night of the Wandamere Motordrome. The race featured Jake De Rosier, the great Indian Motorcycle factory rider, as the main attraction.

The Philadelphia Inquirer on June 15, 1912, reported the grand opening of Philadelphia’s Pointe Breeze Park Motordrome. Pointe Breeze would become one of the most successful board tracks with a regular weekly program. Two of the leading motorcyclists of the era Morty Graves and Eddie Hasha were the featured riders that opening night at Pointe Breeze.

 

Click to view full pdf image
“Motorcycle Races New Motordrome at Point Breeze Opened Today,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, (06-15-1912), 11. America’s Historical Newspapers.

The safety failings of board track racing became all too obvious not long after the facilities were built. The Salt Lake Telegram on July 5, 1912, reported a serious accident in which a rider named Harry Davis was killed and seven spectators injured when Davis’s motorcycle crashed into and snapped a light pole. Throughout that summer a week rarely went by without reports of a rider or spectators being killed at the motordromes.

Two accidents in particular permanently tainted the reputation of the motordromes and eventually led motorcycle racing’s governing body to no longer sanction board track races. The first was a tragic accident at the motordrome in Newark, New Jersey, on September 8. 1912. The Lexington Herald on Sept. 9, 1912, reported that two racers (Eddie Hasha and Johnny Albright) died when they crashed into the outside rail. Four spectators were killed in the incident as well and 19 others suffered injuries. The story of this accident ran in newspapers across the country.

 

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“Eddie Hasha and Five Others Are Killed Outright. Thirteen More Are Badly Injured in Frightful Motorcycle Accident at Newark Motordrome,” Lexington Herald, (09-09-1912), 1. America’s Historical Newspapers.

The following summer, on July 20, 1913, a freak accident at a board track across the river from Cincinnati in Ludlow, Kentucky, caused more outrage. A racer named Odin Johnson crashed; his motorcycle hit a light pole, kicking off a tragic domino effect. The motorcycle’s gas tank exploded. An exposed electrical wire from the light pole then sparked the fuel, spreading flames into the crowd. The ultimate death toll was eight as reported by the Salt Lake Telegram on August 1, 1913. Afterwards the widow of Johnson vowed to devote her life to ending races on board tracks.

The headline of an editorial in the August 1, 1913, edition of The Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Mich.) put it succinctly—“Thrills and Funerals.” The board tracks were referred to as “Murderdromes.”

 

Click to view full pdf image
“Thrills and Funerals,” Grand Rapids Press, (August 1, 1913), 6. America’s Historical Newspapers.

Salt Lake Telegram article on August 22, 1914, tracked the rise and fall of the motordromes, citing the numerous deaths as well as revelations of fixed races as the causes of the decline of motorcycle board track racing.

By the end of the 1910s the board track era was largely a thing of the past. Besides the dangers of racing the boards, the tracks rapidly deteriorated and many burned down. A thrilling but deadly chapter in American motorsports came to a close.

Source: “Thrills and Funerals”: Researching the Board Track Era of Motorcycle Racing in America’s Historical Newspapers | Readex

Who was Floyd Clymer?

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Floyd Clymer played a big roll in the History of the Indian Motorcycle – Here is a brief history of the Man:


Here at the Library, it’s hard to scan the shelves without coming across the name of Floyd Clymer.  From 1944 through the 1970s, his publishing company stood at the forefront of automotive books.  At the Library, we have more than fifty of these books on-hand for reference, covering everything from history to racing!  While Clymer’s books have remained his biggest claim to fame, they are but only one piece of this legendary man’s life story.

Since he was a lifelong fan of automobiles, it seems fitting Floyd Clymer was born in Indianapolis, home of the famed 500, in 1895.  Shortly thereafter, his family moved to Berthoud, Colorado.  In 1902, Clymer’s father (a physician) introduced his son to the world of cars with the purchase of the family’s first vehicle, a one cylinder Curved Dash Oldsmobile.

Floyd Clymer didn’t have what you would call a typical childhood.  At just seven years old, he learned how to drive his dad’s Olds.  Later, Clymer and his younger brother participated in the 1904 Reliability Run from Denver to Spokane.  Behind the wheel of a Flanders 20, several breakdowns thwarted successful completion of the trip.

If racing was in Clymer’s blood, so too was the entrepreneurial spirit.  While most ten year olds boys found fun playing baseball, Clymer got his kicks from selling cars.  With faith in young Floyd’s dream, Clymer’s father allowed his son to set up shop in a room within his practice.  In what was formerly a dentist’s office, Berthound Auto Co. was founded, specializing in REO, Maxwell and Cadillac.  In two years, the wonder kid managed to sell at least twenty six vehicles.

For trade publications of the day, the story of a young auto dealer was too good to pass up.  Motor Field ran an article on Clymer (then 11), “the Kid Agent,” in their February 1907 issue.  Salesmanship in his blood, the article doubled as an ad for Clymer who claimed, “[I] can supply your wants in repairs and supplies, and can save you money.”  Later in life, Clymer reprinted and sold this same issue for just a dollar.

Clymer Motor Field Article
Eventually, Clymer grew interested in motorcycles.  His first bikes were a California-built Yale and Thomas Auto-Bi.  Ever the showman, Clymer discovered how to ride backwards by the time he was fourteen and, in 1912, he won his first amateur bike race in Boulder, Colorado.

Clymer's victories earned him a spot in Indian's advertising.In 1916, Clymer made motorcycle history by winning the very first Pike’s Peak Hill Climb.  Contrary to popular opinion of the time, his Excelsior proved motorcycles were capable of more arduous trips, having ascended 4,958 ft in only twelve miles.  Thanks to such victories, Clymer attracted the attention of Harley Davidson and became a member of their factory racing team in 1916.

Though an accomplished rider, Clymer never abandoned the world of salesmanship.  In 1914, he moved to Greeley, Colorado and opened up a motorcycle shop, selling Excelsior bikes and, eventually, the Harleys he was known for racing.  Clymer promoted his dealerships by setting long distance records between cities on his bikes.

Cover of a brochure for Floyd Clymer, Inc.

After his stint in Greeley, Clymer set up Floyd Clymer, Inc. in Denver, becoming a major distributor of Indian, Excelsior and Henderson bikes for the western part of the country.  In a 1929 brochure, Clymer touted he was the “largest motorcycle dealer in the west” and that he had “…sold motorcycles and shipped them into practically every state in the union.”  In addition to new and used bikes, Clymer sold parts and accessories.

By the 1930s, he made the move to Los Angeles, taking over Al Crocker’s West Coast Indian distributorship and managing a profitable venture in the mail order parts business.  Taking full advantage of his close proximity to Hollywood, Clymer gave Indian bikes to celebrities as gifts or loaned them in return for advertisement-worthy publicity shots.  Consequently, Indians were well-represented on the silver screen back then!

During World War II, Clymer began collecting automotive sales literature and photographs, many of which wound up in his first book.  Published in 1944, Floyd Clymer’s Historical Motor Scrapbook was a collection of reprinted advertisements and period articles, featuring two hundred fifty brass era vehicles.  Reception of the book exceeded Clymer’s expectations, becoming an overnight success and receiving a glowing review from TIME.
Clymer's first book (1944)

A small sampling of the Library's Floyd Clymer books 2 small

From then on, Clymer established himself as the pre-eminent publisher of automotive books, having printed more than four hundred different titles by 1965.  Among them were several more “scrapbooks,” including special editions devoted to steam powered cars and motorcycles.  Clymer also localized foreign titles, published a long-running series of Indianapolis 500 yearbooks (the first in 1946), and reprinted entire works, including the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce’s Handbook of Automobiles series.

While a successful publisher, Clymer never turned his back on motorcycles.  In the 1960s, he became a distributor of the high-end German-built Munch Mammoth IV, a $4,000 bike he labeled the “Ferrari of motorcycles.”  Starting in 1963, he attempted to revive Indian (defunct since 1953), slapping the name on imported bikes decked out with engines from Royal Enfield and Velocette.

Although the closest one can get to a tangible tall-tale, Clymer was not immune to the world of medical misfortune, and he succumbed to a heart attack in 1970.  In his short time on Earth, Clymer had accomplished what few could hope to achieve in five lifetimes, let alone one.  Far from forgotten, his is but one of many stories awaiting your discovery here at the Library.

Source: Who was Floyd Clymer? | AACA Library and Research Center

105-year-old ‘motorbike’ 1906 Indian Camelback could be worth £50k

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The 1906 Indian Camelback, one of the first ever two-wheeled motorized machines, is hugely desirable despite its rusty appearance and could fetch £50,000.

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This weekend Las Vegas will be hosting two prominent Vintage Motorcycle Auctions. Bonhams Auction on Thursday January 8th and Mecum’s Auctions on January 8-10, 2015. It will be an interesting weekend to see where prices go with our improving economy!

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It was owned by the du Pont family, which bought the ‘Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company’ that built it, and this cycle was last ridden in the Seventies.

Whoever buys the machine will probably use minimum efforts to restore it to a working condition, but complete restoration would see its value reduce.

The Indian cycles were the great rivals of Harley-Davidson, but the company eventually went bankrupt in 1953.

It had a rudimentary braking system and a hobnail boot on the ground would have been needed to help it stop.

The motorcycle is going under the hammer at Bonhams in Las Vegas, U.S., on January 12.

Ben Walker from Bonhams said: ‘This motorcycle is in such demand because of its condition and to restore it would actually take value off.

‘The motorcycle will probably be ‘oily-ragged’, which means wiping it down with oil to preserve it as it is.

‘It will probably be rebuilt mechanically but with as little change to its condition.

Experts believe that cleaning the bike or restoring it to a better condition could actually be detrimental to its value

Experts believe that cleaning the bike or restoring it to a better condition could actually be detrimental to its value

BRAKELESS

‘India were the great rivals of Harley-Davidson and were at the forefront of motorcycles when they evolved from bicycles.

‘It would have been a quick machine with a fair turn of speed and no brakes on early motorcycles were much good – the were the same design as bicycle brakes.

‘This is an extremely rare thing and hs come from the du Pont family that owned the company.

‘It was a pedal assisted bike and it still has its original registration number on the rear mud guard.

‘These motorcycles have never really reduced in value – if I filled a whole sale with them they would all go for good prices.’

As it was: Only 1,698 Camel Backs were made in 1906

As it was: Only 1,698 Camel Backs were made in 1906

 

Source: 105-year-old ‘motorbike’ 1906 Indian Camelback could be worth £50k | Daily Mail Online

Antique Indian Motorcycle Insurance

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Indian Motorcycles through the Years

Many people ask us, how do we insure our Vintage Motorcycles. There are several companies that specialize in Vintage Insurance. When you insure with one of these companies you pay liability on a sliding scale. ie the more vehichles the less expensive you pay for liability, and then you set your comprehensive coverage. This makes for some reasonable rates on insurance. Condon & Skelly is one of the companies that specialize in this insurance market. Check them out for a quote.

The Indian Motorcycle Company, America’s first motorcycle company, was founded in 1901 by engineer Oscar Hedstrom and bicycle racer George Hendee. Hedstrom began affixing small engines on Hendee’s bicycles, and from there, they quickly honed their craft, creating some of the best motorcycles of that era. Just one year later, the first Indian Motorcycle that featured innovative chain drives and streamlined styling was sold to the public. Then in 1903, Hedstrom set the world motorcycle speed record, traveling at 56 mph.

The Indian brand rolled out production two years before Harley-Davidson, and these motorcycles quickly became a force to be reckoned with, introducing the first V-twin engine, the first two-speed transmission, the first adjustable front suspension, the first electric lights and starter, and many more innovations. Indian was clearly dominant in the marketplace in its beginnings, consistently setting and breaking speed records.

The motorcycle wasn’t always called such. When motorcycles began to appear in the late 19th century, there was uncertainty about what to call them. Some people called them “motocycles”. In 1923 The Hendee Manufacturing Company chose to use this term, changing their name to the Indian Motocycle Company. It was in the 1930’s that “motocycles” became known as motorcycles.

Following WWII, Indian Motorcycles struggled with re-entry into the public market and Indian was forced to halt production in 1953, despite the Indian Chief being re-introduced two years prior as a mighty 80-cubic-inch model. The following decades involved a complex web of trademark rights issues that foiled numerous attempts to revive the Indian name. But in 1998, several formerly competing companies merged to become the Indian Motorcycle Company.

It wasn’t until very recently that a new era of Indian Motorcycles was born. The Indian Thunder Stroke III engine was introduced at Daytona Bike Week in March of this year, and the 2014 Indian Chief was unveiled at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August. Many motorcycle enthusiasts agree though, nothing compares to the classic and antique Indian Motorcycles.

No matter what type of classic or vintage motorcycle you own, we can insure it at Condon Skelly. Your vehicle will fall into the antique category if it is completely original and at least 25 years old. We insure many different types of antique cars, trucks, and motorcycles so we’ll be able to craft the perfect policy for your vehicle. Please contact us today for more information. (866) 291-5694

 

Source: Condon Skelly | Antique Indian Motorcycles Archives – Condon Skelly

The Great Indian V Harley Motorcycle Race

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Here is a link to the Video I made in 2010 about the Great Indian V Harley Race in Australia. After going on this race I decided to start sponsoring this event in the US. So far we have had 3 events in the states and our next event will be Spring 2016

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The Great Race 2010 Indian Vs Harley – 120 motorcycles competing in Australia’s Snowy River for bragging rights. I was invited to the event by Peter Arundel, who loaned me his 53 Chief to ride on the event. I had a great time, meeting and riding with the other participants. It was a real fun weekend of riding! This was my first trip to Australia, and in my 5 days of staying in the country I spent everyday riding, and we rode over 1,000 miles! How can you beat a trip like that! Riding antique bikes every day!
I had so much fun at this event, that I decided we needed to have an event like this in the states. “The Great Indian v Harley Race” is coming to Yosemite CA. May 12-14 2011 – sign up today and see you on the road!
For details on the 2011 event see our website at:
www.IndianvHarley.com

Dottie Mattern, Seventy-Year-Old Cancer Survivor, Rides 1936 Indian Scout Coast to Coast

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Inspirational Dottie Mattern rides a 1936 Indian Scout motorcycle 4,000 miles coast to coast in her seventies after surviving cancer.

Most people in their seventies are starting to slow down. Not Dottie Mattern. She’s still picking up steam. This fall the world traveler and seasoned rider trucked her beloved 1936 Indian Scout to Daytona Beach, Fla. She did it to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
On Sept. 5, she and 102 other entrants from all over the world departed the famous beach town to begin a two-and-a-half-week sojourn to Tacoma, Wash., on antique motorcycles. She was one of only three females entered in the run that attracted regular Joes and rock stars alike, including Pat Simmons of Doobie Brothers fame.
What prompted her to do it and what was the event that offered the challenge? The second half of that question answers the first: the challenge — which is something Dottie Mattern never shrinks from. The answer to the rest of the question is the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run, which is the brainchild of Lonnie Isam Jr.

Dottie Mattern riding her 1936 Indian Scout

(Photo : Dottie Mattern Official Facebook Page)
Dottie Mattern, Rider #43, rides her 1936 Indian Scout Motorcycle on the 2014 Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run at the age of 70

There have been three Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Runs since 2010. It’s held every other year in large part because it’s so difficult to coordinate, and most riders need the extra time to get their bikes together between events. The ride is as tough on the 80- to 100-year-old motorycles as it is on the riders.
After hearing about the last two runs, Dottie Mattern was determined to enter herself. She began preparing the Scout in the winter of 2013. It was rebuilt from the ground up by Dennis Craig. Craig serves on The Antique Motorcycle Foundation with her.
Although she’s been riding since she was 19, and owned the Scout for 30 years, she didn’t really start to spread her wings until she retired in her 50s. She took up tennis at 50. She went to a week-long baseball fantasy camp where she was both the oldest and most valuable player at 54. 
In 1999, at age 55, Dottie decided she wanted to become a ball “kid” for the U.S. Tennis Association. After a five-week tryout, she was accepted — along with roughly 100 children aged 12 and under. She did it for six years.
It was in September of 2001 that she’d be diagnosed with colon cancer. Like everything else in her life, she approached it with steely determination.
After beating it, Dottie became active in raising funds and awareness regarding testing. She hoped to raise $70,000 for the cause before, during and after her ride.
Her experience didn’t slow her down. Eight years ago she became a U.S. Tennis Official. In 2007, at age 63, Dottie Mattern set the East Coast Racing Association land speed record in Maxton, N.C., on a stripped down ’37 Indian Scout doing 74.1 mph.
Oh, and somewhere in between all this she found time to become a vice commander with the Coast Guard Auxillary. The moral to the story? Life can begin at any age, if you let it. Ride, Dottie, ride!
Source: Dottie Mattern, Seventy-Year-Old Cancer Survivor, Rides 1936 Indian Scout Coast to Coast On Challenging 2014 Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run [EXCLUSIVE] : From A to B : Design & Trend

Spirit of Munro rides on with John Munro

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 One of John Munro’s earliest memories involves him riding to school on the tank of his dad’s motorbike.

   He thinks he would have been 5 or 6. That memory is a cherished one because the bike would go on to become world-famous – while his dad would become a motorcyling legend.

   John, now 80, is the youngest of Burt Munro’s four children, and has been living in the shadow of his dad’s success since the release in 2005 of the movie dedicated to his father’s achievements: The World’s Fastest Indian.

   John, along with his three sisters, has helped Indian Motorcycles keep his father’s name alive.

   Burt Munro was a motorcycle racer famous for setting an under-1000cc world record in 1967. He spent 20 years modifying his 1920 Indian motorcycle.

   His life is celebrated in permanent displays around Invercargill, including both the Southland Museum and Art Gallery and E Hayes and Sons.

   Following the success of The World’s Fastest Indian, the Southland Motorcycle Club created the Burt Munro Challenge to honour him, his love of speed and motorcycles. The challenge is one of New Zealand’s major motorsport events.

   Ahead of the Burt Munro Challenge this year, John relaxes at home with a glass of wine and recalls his colourful childhood and “normal” family life. It was full of vacations and events and helping his dad in the shed at their family home in Tramway Rd.

   John fondly recalls working together on bikes and cars, holding a spanner on the other end of a bolt.

   His father was a hard-working man. Burt would often come home after a busy day at work, sit by the fire and read the newspaper.

   In 1945, when John was 11 or 12, his parents split and John’s mother, Florence Beryl Martyn, left the city with him and two of his sisters. He went to school in Hastings and later Napier.

   It was seven or eight years before John was reunited with his father.

   In 1953, when John was 19, he rode his Velocette, one of Burt’s favourite bikes, from Auckland (where he was living) to Invercargill to spend the Christmas holidays with his dad and other family.

   The pair continued to stay in touch.

   Once the family had gone, Burt had plenty of time to spend doing what he loved. In fact, he spent 57 years doing what he loved.

   He would devote hours to his bikes and if he was preparing for a race would work day and night.

   Burt brought a property in Bainfield Rd but was unable to build a house because he couldn’t get a permit for the type of house he wanted.

   So, not long after the second world war, when building materials were sparse and the biggest garage was 20 feet by 10 feet, he built his own garage.

   He lived in it for 25 years and John remembers it well.

   Did it have any facilities?

   “It had a lathe. A grinder. A vice. A bed. What else do you want?”

   After 25 years, Burt built a house on the property. When he sold it, the house was moved and used as a crib and another house was built.

   John was 44 when Burt died of natural causes in 1978.

   One of John’s most prized possessions is a scrapbook his father had given him, full of motorbikes, events and newspaper clippings.

   John’s life was relatively anonymous until the release of The World’s Fastest Indian. Until then, people across the world, including many in Southland, thought his father was nothing but a “crazy old bugger riding bikes in his 70s”, but opinions quickly changed when the movie was released.

   People also got to know exactly who John Munro was and, even now, he’ll get stopped in the street and asked if he’s the famous Burt Munro’s son.

   Film director Roger Donaldson made a documentary about Burt in the 1970s and, at the time, said he wanted to make a movie.

   He finally did that 30 years later.

   John recalls Roger staying with him and his wife, Margaret, going through family history and talking to other family members and people who Burt had ridden with. He spent six years writing the script and started filming in 2004.

   Burt’s children spent plenty of time on set.

   John remembers travelling to the salt flats in Utah for the first time to watch filming. He also watched a large part of the filming in Invercargill, Winton, Tisbury and Timaru.

   “I was invited to be in it. But I said to him, I’m no bloody actor. But, in hindsight, it actually would have been nice.”

   A passion for motorbikes runs deep in the family. John himself has owned and tinkered with several bikes and his youngest son has travelled the world on a motorcycle.

   Mechanics and inventing also runs in the family.

   One of Burt’s uncles, Jim, invented the Munro topdresser and the Munro seed sower and John has also patented his own inventions.

   Among those are his innovative way of insulating underground pipes for hot and chilled water, and control systems for school boiler houses.

    John was a cabinet maker, farmer, earthmover and telephone operator before starting his own heating and ventilation business. He’s still inventing but now works from home with his wife in the energy management industry.

   At the age of 80, he has no desire to retire. “My brain is working 24 hours a day. I gotta keep up with it.”

   He also has seven children (aged between 42 and 57), 21 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren, and a great-great grandchild is due.

   John has been to every Burt Munro Challenge. He and his siblings are invited to do the race starts and prize presentations. His has carried on his father’s legacy and has been an ambassador for Indian Motorcycles since his father went to Bonneville.

   “Indian Motorcycles have done Dad proud and we all want to continue supporting that. As an ambassador for Indian, I’m happy to do that because of what they’ve done to support dad’s achievements.”

   When Polaris Industries bought the brand about three or four years ago, they wanted to build something to commemorate Burt, and got in touch with John, wanting to call a new machine the Spirit of Munro.

   “As a family, we were delighted to give them permission to do so.”

   Everywhere he goes, John says ‘thanks Dad’, because without him, he never would have got to participate in such events.

   Follow Nicci McDougall on Twitter.

Source: Spirit of Munro rides on | Stuff.co.nz