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Posts Tagged ‘Indian Motorcycle’

1916 Indian Powerplus

Let’s start with a bit of history… on America’s first motorcycle company.

In 1897, George M. Hendee founded a bicycle production company called Hendee Manufacturing. Hendee Manufacturing would eventually come to be called the Indian Motocycle Company (without the “r”), shortened to simply “Indian” and became Hendee’s primary brand name due to a need for recognition in foreign markets as an American product.

1916 Indian Powerplus

In 1901, bicycle manufacturer, racing promoter, and former bicycle racing champion George Hendee hired Oscar Hedstrom to build gasoline engine-powered bikes to pace bicycle races. The machine he created proved to be powerful and reliable, establishing the company’s reputation for outstanding performance. Later that year the company’s first factory was established in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts.  The first Indian Motorcycle was sold to a retail customer in 1902, and later that year an Indian Motorcycle won an endurance race from Boston to New York City in its public racing debut.

This activity predates Harley-Davidson by two years.

Indian Motocycles Porcelain Signage

I’m not disparaging or trying to exploit Native Americans. The “wokerati” will undoubtedly object and fan the flames of hysteria on the signage reference, but the first half of the 1900s is when Indian Motocycle featured depictions of Native Americans on their products, signage and in their advertisements.

In 1916, co-founder George Hendee resigned as company president.  It was the same year that the United States was embroiled in a conflict with the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, as he repeatedly made raids into the U.S.  It was also the first year of a new 61ci (990cc) ‘flat head’ (Gustafson side-valve) V-twin – the Powerplus, which replaced the F-head (inlet over exhaust) type.

1916 Indian Powerplus

The Powerplus motor was designed by Swedish immigrant Charles Gustafson. He was spurred on by Indian’s defeat at the 300-mile board-track race in 1915 by Harley-Davidson.  He knew a side-valve motor could be made more reliable than the F-head design and could be tuned for speed more reliably than Indian’s 8-valve racer.  The motorcycle oil consumption was stated at 30 mph, 400 miles/qt.; at 50 mph, 100 miles/qt. with an estimated top speed of 60 mph.

Then in 1917 the United States entered into WWI. Indian Motorcycle dedicated much of its production to the war effort. As a result, dealers had limited inventory and retail sales dropped significantly. The company provided the U.S. military with nearly 50,000 motorcycles from 1917-1919, most of them based on the Indian Powerplus model.

1916 Indian Powerplus

In 1923, the company changed its name from The Hendee Manufacturing Company to The Indian Motocycle Company—no “r” in motocycle when the word was used with the name Indian. Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company ceased operations and discontinued production of all models in 1953. In 1955, Brockhouse Engineering purchased the rights to the Indian Motorcycle name and sold imported Royal Enfield models branded as Indian Motorcycle models until 1960.  More Indian Motorcycle history is HERE.

In 1999, Indian Motorcycle Company of America (IMCA) emerged. America is at a crossroads … they opened and started operations in a different social climate than that of the original Indian Motocycle Company. IMCA was sued in 2000 by the Cow Creek Umpqua of Oregon under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 for their use of “Indian”. Today, the company is now a subsidiary of Polaris Inc. as Indian Motorcycle International, LLC, having refocused its branding with far less focus on Native American imagery.

Edison-Splitdorf Magneto

You might recall that I previously posted articles on “Bob”… a remarkable motorcycle restorer and his vintage motorcycle collection in the northwest.

This original motorcycle is from that collection and shows an aged patina as one of the first-year Indian Powerplus V-twin’s from 1916.  It is in excellent running condition and was ridden and showcased regularly at vintage events. The Powerplus is a 61ci (997.6cc) ‘flat head’ (Gustafson sidevalve) 42-degree V-twin. The bore and stroke is 3 1/8 x 3 31/32 (18HP), the primary drive was a single-row chain under stamped metal dust cover, the suspension in front was cradle spring front fork with a single multi-leaf spring; the rear had an optional swinging arm and leaf spring, or the rare rigid version.  The transmission is a three-speed, hand-change gearbox and foot-operated clutch.. The Powerplus was an influential design of sidevalve engines and encouraged rivals such as Harley-Davidson to follow suit.

1916 Indian Powerplus

This Indian Powerplus is the rare “hard-tail” configuration, which implies to have been manufactured in Toronto Canada and made for the export market.  At the time, it was approx $25 less than the rear suspension model.  It was purchased in somewhat of a dismantled state and restored using Indian original components. Refurbishment included a complete reconditioning of main-shafts, bearing, cylinders, valve seats and various springs and gearbox bearing/pinions along with spokes and tires.  Bob also reconditioned the carburetor, but had to replace the original magneto with an Edison-Splitdorf magneto from the 1930s.

This motorcycle is a fantastic older restoration of a desirable early Indian in original patina condition. It might even be ready for use in an upcoming Motorcycle Cannonball!

1916 Indian Powerplus idling video:

UPDATED — Another post on this vintage motorcycle collection is a deep dive on a restored 1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL Flathead (HERE).

UPDATED — Another post on this vintage motorcycle collection is at: Every Restored Motorcycle Has A Story — The 1913 Single

Photos and video taken by the author.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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Indian Challenger vs Harley-Davidson Road Glide

Earlier this week, Indian announced the “Challenger Challenge,” a campaign that invites motorcyclists to test ride the Challenger and the Harley-Davidson Road Glide® Special back-to-back for a head-to-head comparison.

It’s not the typical, behind-the-scenes advertising effort by Indian to sell a product in its own time and in its own way.  Instead, it’s a high-visibility campaign marked with in-your-face marketing which proclaims — the Challenger will absolutely “smoke the competition.”

That’s a blue-collar craftsmen and beer-bellied “motor-head” inflammatory call to battle!

Will Harley-Davidson laugh and say, ‘Good try, bad result‘ expecting it to reinvigorate the Road Glide sales or will the Milwaukee gurus sit up and make a hard-eyed comparison of the competition’s strengths?

I’ve posted previously that motorcycle growth rates domestically are decelerating.  Wall Street is worried that the motor company has tapped out demand for their line-up as sales cool.

Challenger Challenge Stats

My initial reaction of the Indian campaign was, it being reminiscent of the 1980’s when commercials were a sign of the times — desperate, struggling times that car manufactures hoped would turn prosperous.  You might remember, “If You Can Find a Better Car, Buy It” ad campaign?  The face behind that familiar slogan was Ronald DeLuca — the advertising whiz hired by Chrysler Corporation chairman Lee Iacocca to turn around Chrysler’s late-1970s death plunge in a recession-weary America.

Indian has the not-so-simple task of convincing Americans that the motorcycling passion isn’t an archaic lifestyle teetering on the edge of the toilet bowl.  Or if Millennials are truly killing motorcycles, then why not ride it out in style with a new Indian Challenger!

Carey Hart and Big B

The Challenger Challenge is set to launch at Daytona Bike Week on Friday, March 6th.  The product demo tour will visit Indian Motorcycle dealers around the country, as well as select motorcycle rallies and events, including Sturgis in August. In addition to the national tour, select Indian Motorcycle dealers will have a Road Glide on hand to ensure that any customer who visits their dealership can take the Challenger Challenge.

Of course there will be a full-court press with social hashtags and digital media including a video series where Carey Hart and Bryan “Big B” Mahoney, pit the new Indian Challenger against the Road Glide Special in a series of rubber burning tests that showcase power, torque, braking and handling.

We will know soon enough if the campaign is more about finding new customers who don’t necessarily want to own a motorcycle or boosting the Indian public image and extending the brand’s good name.

Photos courtesy of Indian Motorcycle.

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2017 Indian Chieftain Elite

The marketing guru’s claim that Indian is authentic, was born with a dedication for pure performance and now are adding even more capability.

First a bit of history — the first Indian Motorcycle was sold to a retail customer back in 1902, but I’ll spare you a 100+ year recap of the motorcycle.  In modern day history, the Indian Motorcycle brand has been part of Polaris Industries since 2011, and began selling new motorcycles in 2014. The motorcycles are American made and built in Spirit Lake, Iowa.  The are distributed via 200 dealers across North America and nearly 450 dealers globally.  You might recall that the Victory Motorcycle brand, was recently shuttered by Polaris and ceased production.  To the dismay of many, many satisfied customers, it is now winding down operations after 15 years on the market leaving Indian as the only mass-produced American motorcycle brand other than Harley-Davidson.

2017 Indian Chieftain Limited

Jump ahead to April 2017 and we learn that Indian has announced expansion of its Chieftain model lineup with the addition of the Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite.  If you’re keeping track this brings the total number of 2017 Indian models to twelve.

It should be noted that the Chieftain was one of the first three bikes that Indian released in 2014, along with the Chief Classic and Chief Vintage.  Although model details differ, the bikes share a common platform — engine, transmission and chassis.

All three motorcycles come with Indian’s proprietary Thunder Stroke 111 V-Twin engine, cast aluminum frame with integrated airbox, air-adjustable single rear shock and many other shared mechanical features.  As it turns out, the Chieftain was the modern-looking of the three, showcasing a unique fork-mounted hard fairing which housed its gauges and electronics, while the Chief motorcycles came with accessory windscreens.

2017 Indian Chieftain Dash

The newly announced Chieftain Limited imitates some details from the custom bagger scene.  It has a skinny 19-inch front wheel replacing the 16-inch front. The “old-school” valanced front fender has been chopped to follow the design line of the wheel and exposes the mag wheel and oversized dual front brake rotors. There is a sleeker seat design, and the headlight bezel is painted, not chromed, to match the Thunder Black paint scheme.  The remaining elements of the Chieftain Limited match the Chieftain feature-for-feature, including the 7-inch touchscreen-operated Ride Command Infotainment/Navigation system and hard saddlebags.

For the well-heeled enthusiasts familiar with and looking at a Harley-Davidson CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) motorcycle, you’ll appreciate the new Chieftain Elite. Let’s start with the 12-layer paint treatment which is built on a foundation of gold paint. Black accents are added with marble textures, and the bodywork is coated with layers of Fireglow Red Candy clear.  Yeah, it’s a looker with a stunning paintjob, thanks in part to that brilliant red candy color.  Some of you would drop a lot of money with a custom painter to achieve this look, but this one comes direct from the factory.  In addition, the Chieftain Elite gets billet floorboards, a flip windscreen, Pathfinder LED headlights and a 100-watt saddlebag audio system.

At first blush the Chieftain Elite is a factory custom that will hold its own against Harley-Davidson CVO’s.  As to price?  The new Chieftain Elite (starting at $31,499) and Chieftain Limited (starting at $24,499).  Both motorcycles are feature rich, available now and aggressively priced compared to Harley-Davidson.

With warmer weather and longer days on the way, the new Indian Chieftain’s might be the spark of inspiration you’ll need to explore a wide-open two-lane world.

Photos courtesy of Polaris/Indian Motorcycles.

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screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-11-15-09-amPolaris, the MN-based maker of motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles announced today that it’s winding down the Victory brand effective immediately to concentrate on its better-performing Indian Motorcycles business.

Polaris said it will assist dealerships in liquidating inventory and will supply parts for another 10 years and honor warranties in place.  Victory motorcycles are primarily manufactured in Spirit Lake, Iowa.

The first Victory motorcycles rolled out in 1998, yet never took much market share from Harley-Davidson Inc., in the cruiser-bike category. Indian Motorcycles, which Polaris relaunched after a 2011 acquisition, has performed better, however Harley’s market share remains at 48 percent to Indian’s 3 percent.

Polaris Industries Chairman and CEO Scott Wine stated, “This decision will improve the profitability of Polaris and our global motorcycle business, and will materially improve our competitive stance in the industry. Our focus is on profitable growth, and in an environment of finite resources, this move allows us to optimize and align our resources behind both our premium, high performing Indian Motorcycle brand and our innovative Slingshot brand, enhancing our focus on accelerating the success of those brands. Ultimately this decision will propel the industry-leading product innovation that is core to our strategy while fostering long-term growth and increased shareholder value.”

Photo courtesy of Victory/Polaris.

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Chief-2014Traditional product launches often act as a big corporate “Lighting Bolt.”

Meaning the company plans a big event, creates loads of new sales tools and collateral and places those important ad campaigns in the trade rags.  All the while keeping everything in hush, hush secrecy ‘til they near the big day. Then comes the big ‘Ta Da’. The press release hits the wire, they hold some big chest-thumping events and then start selling, having trained the sales force in the weeks prior.

Spirit of Munro -- Named in honor of Burt Munro’s “Munro Special,”

Spirit of Munro — Named in honor of Burt Munro’s “Munro Special,”

The Indian Motorcycle (Polaris Industries) launch plan is different.

Their launch process is a more gradual, momentum-building approach that is often called “Rolling Thunder.”  Not to be confused with the Rolling Thunder® Inc., and POW/MIA topic, the rolling product launch approach dribbles out information, builds credibility over time, creating anticipation, and leverages social media to feed the various channels and momentum.

Case in point is the dribbling out of key information from Indian Motorcycle. First up at Daytona Bike Week was the reveal — a release of information about the new 111 cubic inch engine, called Thunder Stroke 111™ made in Osceola, WI and assembled at the Polaris plant in Spirit Lake, Iowa. Next up was the back story of the custom-built streamliner named “Spirit of Munro” and then last weeks announcement of their intent to unveil the new 2014 Indian Chief motorcycle at the 73rd Sturgis Motorcycle Rally followed with a sneak-peek video and the subtle announcement (HERE at 0:43) of the $18,999 price. The previous Indian Chief sold in the $26-$37K range and the previous owners may stare at that in slacked-jaw envy!

Thunder Stroke 111™

Thunder Stroke 111™

Clearly the supply-chain scale and negotiation mojo that Polaris brings to the Indian table brought better component pricing and improved labor rates.

The Indian brand dates back to the early 1900s.  Polaris acquired it in 2011 and 27 months later will release a new classic motorcycle line.  Polaris continues forward with their Victory 15-year old brand of motorcycles.  They each draw on different customers.

I’m not sure how many more “dribbles” they have planned, but the press buzz and excitement of the launch in social media circles is clearly throttling up.

Photo’s courtesy of Indian Motorcycles.

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Springfield-era Indian Motorcycle

Back in 2004, Stephen Julius, a British-Italian financier with a talent for extracting valuable brands from the junkyard (remember Chris Craft?) did just that as he scooped up the Indian Motorcycle marquee and brand rights.  Partnering with Mr. Julius would be his Harvard Business School classmate Steve Heese.  The two would be the 5th set of entrepreneurs who purchased the intellectual property rights and have tried to resurrect the iconic Indian nameplate.

Last week I received an email from Indian Motorcycle.  They plan to provide an exclusive VIP space in downtown Sturgis for any motorcyclist who rides/trailers a Springfield-era Indian motorcycle to the mother of motorcycle rallies.  It’s a cool idea to reinforce the relationship and I would anticipate that rally attendees will be able to stroll through the area and gawk at the vintage motorcycles.  I’m planning to attend the rally and hope to snag a couple of photo’s.  You can participate by sending an email to Etracy at indianmotorcycle dot com if you plan to attend Sturgis and want to participate in the VIP area.

The email message led me to do a quick scan of the Indian.com web site to see what’s new.  What I found was shocking.  Marketing heads should roll!

The main page is stuck in 2009!  Yeah, I know they aren’t on the same release schedule as other motorcycle manufactures, but the view is the same as it ever was.  The news/press release page is stale.  I’m not talking about “brown bananas” stale here… it’s full on AWOL.   Not a single press release since January 2009?  That’s 17 months?!   In April they re-launched on the West Coast and posted some Facebook banter along with tweets, but the lack of any pure play press release boggles the mind.  This is at best a scattershot approach and I don’t know any 20-something willing to shell out $30,999 for a Bomber in this current economy.  This “new-wave” thinking to do all your evangelizing via Facebook is… well ‘da bomb… not meant in a good way.

I’ve been critical about over hyping products in this new-era of marketing, but if the good folks at Indian plan to make their motorcycle company the de-facto standard in premium cruiser motorcycles a little more press information now and then to let us know you remain alive and well would be a good thing.

Photo courtesy of Indian.

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C4CNavajo, or Dine -they call themselves, is the largest tribe of North American Indians.  They used sheep for its wool to make clothes, blankets, and rugs.  They also used the sheep for food.  They traveled by horse back on long distances to trade.  Then Navajo began making items to trade in towns.  There were also trading posts built on reservations to sell their handmade crafts, such as pottery and blankets which continues to this day.

But, I’m talking about the Indian Motorcycle “trading post”.

The “trading” started with the “It Pays to Ride” promotion where you could purchase a 2009 Indian motorcycle and the company would pay the first 6 months of your payments up to $500/month. Basically it’s a $3000 discount (at the $500/month maximum) off the purchase of a new Indian motorcycle.  Now they’ve taken a page from the “Cash-for-Clunker” (C4C) program and in the process Indian out markets Harley-Davidson!  Bring in any motorcycle** and get $3000 trade on the 2009 Indian Chief model.  **The trade in must be street legal, 100 cc or larger and in running and ride able condition.  No mopeds, scooters or dirt bikes and must have a clear title.

The good news here is that taxpayer money will NOT be used to enable the dealers to offer discounts off sticker prices to extract higher profit margins.  I think this is smart marketing on Indian’s part and will likely boost the number of consumers visiting Indian motorcycle dealers.  I’m very doubtful that consumers will buy comparable quantities to the automotive program, but some new motorcycles will be sold to consumers who thought they had a motorcycle clunker to trade in.

Photo courtesy of Indian Motorcycle.

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At Street Vibrations this year I visited the Indian Motorcycle “booth”.  They had a large display of motorcycles set up in the show truck on 3rd and Virginia Street which is right under the “Biggest Little City” sign in Reno.  It was often crowded and interest was high.  Unfortunately they didn’t sell t-shirts.  If so, I would have drop a bit more coin for some so, maybe it was a good thing. 

At any rate, the Indian Motorcycle Company, owned largely by Stellican Limited (a London-based private equity firm) has quite the history and you can learn much more about Americas first motorcycle HERE.

Recently Indian opened the first dealership in Charlotte, NC and provided factory tours in Kings Mountain.  Here is a video of the tour.  I know people who have several old Indian’s and it’s exciting to see the brand return.  I hope they are very successful as they represent the only other American-made heavyweight cruiser to compete with Harley-Davidson.  Competition is good.

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Ray Sotelo was the first recipient of the JC “Pappy” Hoel Outstanding Achievement Award and retired as the CEO of Indian Motorcycle in 2002.  The Gilroy Dispatch reported he was arrested by state and federal agents on suspicion of racketeering and conspiracy of trafficking stolen parts, loan-sharking, and doing business with outlaw motorcycle clubs.  He is accused of helping a California chop shop send a stolen Harley to Sweden.  Additionally, the owner of Road Dog Cycle in Denair, CA., a retired Stanislaus County sheriff Robert Holloway and his son Brent were also charged in the indictment along with 9 others.  You can read more in the Department of Justice press release.   Others indicted include:

  1. Alfredo Rincon – East Bay Dragons
  2. Ray Heffington – Hells Angels (Merced Chapter President)
  3. Joseph Tyler – Retired CHP officer
  4. Michael Orozco – Alky Haulers (Chapter VP)
  5. Fredrick Noreberg – Red Devils (Sweden Chapter President), official supporter club to HAMC

Ray Sotelo

Ray Sotelo may be a bonehead fencing stolen iron to Sweden, but he began working in the motorcycle industry in 1979 when he opened a retail outlet, South County Motorcycles, in Gilroy, CA. and knows motorcycles.  He built custom motorcycles for celebrity sports figures including Karl Malone, Ralph Tamm, Dusty Baker, Erik Wright and even a recreation of the Captain America bike from the move Easy Rider for Peter Fonda.  He then opened California Motorcycle Company (CMC) in 1995 – a full scale manufacturing operation – to meet the demand for his bikes.  CMC was purchased by Indian Motorcycle in 1999.  Things began a slow decline and is the making of a good conspiracy where Judges were being paid off, investors getting money under the table, parts kickbacks, gigantic executive salaries, the little guy getting nothing – again ….. it doesn’t get much better than this except in the movies.

I’ve never met Ray or have I rode an Indian, but I’ll keep an open mind until there’s more proof.  Being charged isn’t the same as being found guilty…but, it looks bad as the Fed’s are involved and it means he has some serious issues to take care.  It also looks (at least on the surface) that there are a number of ex-sworn officers who may have been involved in a criminal enterprise.

Photos courtesy Indian Motorcycle and The Gilroy Dispatch.

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