6 Fun Facts About Indian Motorcycles

July 21st, 2010 by Microvanmom

Photo: Tony Warren from Orlando. Wikimedia Commons.

Old-School Vvvvvrrrooooom: Scouts, Chiefs & Their Wacky Precursors

I admit it. I’m attracted to shiny objects in general, and the Indian motorcycles video posted on Motortopia this morning stole my heart away.

And yes, I’m a history nerd, so my initial attraction was sealed once I learned more about them. Here are some fun facts about my new favorite ride.

Hendee, on the far left, was Old School. Really Old School.

#1. Yes, it took awhile for co-founder George Hendee to catch on to the “motor” part of “motorcycle.” He started off as a champion cyclist, and for a few years held the speed record for the “High Wheel” on a half-mile dirt track — 2 minutes and 27.4 seconds.

#2. It took a watch case maker to get the whole “motor” thing going. Young immigrant Oscar Hedstrom was an apprentice for a watchmaker, but ever since he’d come to Brooklyn as a boy, he’d loved to ride his bike round the city.

#3. Put two cyclists together, add a little engine know-how and you get …the partnership that gave us the first “motorized bicycle.” Check out Hedstrom with an Indian prototype in 1901.

#4. Record-setting Indian rider Erwin “Cannonball” Baker later became the first commissioner of NASCAR and the inspiration for a Burt Reynolds movie. In 1904, Cannonball drove from San Diego to New York in a scant 11 1/2 days. I didn’t research the details, but apparently, it’s a short leap from motorcycles to moonshine.

#5 One more reason World War I’s a bummer — Indian Motorcycles takes a financial hit. As wars go, WWI’s always been my least favorite. All that trench warfare. People who can’t decide whether they want to use horses or planes. Well it turns out dastardly WWI also dealt a blow to the Indian.

Cuter Than CHiPs: Police in the 1920s with their Scouts.

As the war kicked in, Indian sold a lot of its cycles to the U.S. Government, which means that dealers lacked cycles to sell to consumers. The company bounced back in the 1920s, but by then Indian was facing stiff competition from Harley-Davidson.

#6. War is hell, part II. Or, why the Nazis had the coolest motorcycles. Whenever I watch Hogan’s Heros reruns or a World War II movie, I always wonder why those jaunty Nazis are always toodling around on motorcycles. Turns out the motorcycle had some hefty strategic importance for the German army. The BMW R71 was their ride of choice.

The U.S. Army asked Harley Davidson and Indian to do some prototypes of desert fighting motorcycles and one result was the Indian 841. American army brass chose the Jeep instead which, while serviceable, just isn’t nearly as cool.

By Microvanmom.

Do you have an automotive history question you’d like MicrovanMom to research? This nerdy gal is on the case. Just drop by my garage

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One Response to “6 Fun Facts About Indian Motorcycles”

  1. GoldyLocks says:

    Very nice. Lots of good information about this great machine. Certainly looking forward to more.

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