Who am I and why the hell should you care about reading my blog?

Avid motorcyclist & freelance writer, specializing in motorcycles & motorcycle related topics, with a healthy dose of good humor, good vibes & general advice on simply being a good person.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Can Indian Motorcycles really claim they've been around "Since 1901"?

We've all seen their ads... "Indian Motorcycles, America's First Motorcycle Company, Since 1901."

BUT... how true is that, really? I always say that an omission of the truth is still a lie and isn't that what Indian Motorcycles is doing here? Omitting key facts and details about their heritage? After all, they've only been resurrected this last time since 2014, thanks to Polaris Industries buying the rights to the name. For that matter, if we're being fair... can Harley-Davidson really claim that they've been around since 1903? Let's not forget that the American Machine and Foundry Company, aka AMF, bought out Harley-Davidson Motor Company in 1969. Well, the easy argument here is that Harley-Davidson has been in constant production since 1903, where Indian has not. 

So, let's take a closer look at the history of Indian Motorcycles and how they have evolved to their latest iteration. 

In 1897 George Hendee started a bicycle company, with one of the popular models being the "American Indian" or "Indian" for short. Now, this wasn't unique, after all, William Harley and the Davidson boys were building bicycles, too. They just had a much smaller operation. At some point, some ole boy decided to mount an engine on one of these bicycle frames and the motorcycle was born. Who did this first is up for debate... because it seems like everyone claims to be the first ones that did it. Either way, it was done and every bicycle manufacturer with any sense jumped on the idea and ran with it. Back then, there were a plethora of choices when it came to picking a motorcycle- Excelsior, Indian, Harley-Davidson, Pierce, Merkel, Marks, Thor, Norton, Triumph... the list goes on. 

Hendee established the Hendee Indian Motorcycle Company and they produced their first motorcycle in 1901, while Harley and the Davidson brothers built their first production bike two years later, in 1903. So that's a win for Indian... they can claim to be established in 1901.

Before we get ahead of ourselves though, let's talk about that little, unfortunate detail from the early 1950's first. Indian Motorcycle enthusiasts absolutely HATE it when Harley guys bring up 1953. You see, that's when the original Indian Motorcycle company went tits up for the very first time. So... if we were engraving the Indian Motorcycle headstone, it would say, "Indian Motorcycles, 1901-1953." Look, 52 years of building motorcycles isn't actually a bad run, especially when you consider that so many of those other American motorcycle companies had long since passed away by the 1950's. 

Indian's demise actually started in 1930, though. That's when the Hendee Manufacturing Company, sold the company to Paul DuPont (yep... the paint guy). In 1945, DuPont decided to sell the company to Ralph Rogers. Why,  you might ask, would George Hendee allow the board of directors to sell off his beloved motorcycle company in the first place? Well that's easy... he had no say in the matter. Hendee "retired" from his company years earlier, in 1916, after he had a disagreement with the board of directors about the direction of the company. George Hendee was raising cattle when all this was going on, unlike the founders of the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company, who were still very much in control of their company.

In 1950, Rogers hired John Brockhouse, of Brockhouse Engineering Company out of jolly old England, to preside over the company. After several failed attempts to compete with the British companies and their lightweight bikes, Indian Motorcycle Company walked it's death march under Rogers' ownership, ceasing operations in 1953. When Rogers was liquidating the company, Brockhouse bought the rights to the Indian name and logos, recognizing their potential marketing value. He started selling small, lightweight, air-cooled Royal Enfield motorcycles rebadged with Indian logos, but the venture turned out to be, yet another, dismal failure and seven years later, in 1960, the Indian Motorcycle name died again.

For several decades, Indian Motorcycle Company was the biggest (American) threat to the Harley-Davidson Motor Company and as such, they always kept them on their toes. The spirit of competition is what drives companies to try to outdo each other and make better, more affordable products for their customers. When Indian shuttered it's doors in 1953, Harley-Davidson started getting lazy... so much so that in the next decade, their sales waned and they were being forced to meet the same fate. Had it not been for the American Machine and Foundry Company buying them in 1969, Harley-Davidson would be just another page in the history books, much like all the rest. But this isn't about Harley-Davidson... this is about Indian... so where were they during all this? 

Dead. Indian was dead. After Brockhouse's failure, he sold the rights to the Indian name and logos to Associated Motor Cycles of England, who held on to them from 1960-1963. Floyd Clymer (the service manual guy) bought the rights from them and held on to them from 1963 until he died in 1970. His widow sold them to Alan Newman who had them until his failed company went bankrupt in 1977. American Moped Associates bought the Indian name and head dress logo in 1977 and used them on their Derbi-Manco go-cart engines until 1984. From 1984-1994, there were several talks, and even a couple of attempts, at re-starting Indian as a motorcycle company, but none of them ever got off the ground, so it appeared as if Indian's story had finally reached the end.

Or so we thought. In 1998, a small group of investors was awarded the rights to the Indian motorcycle name and logos in a Colorado bankruptcy court and announced their intent to bring back the Indian Motorcycle Company, over 45 years after the last real Indian motorcycle rolled off the assembly line. The group was based out of Gilroy, California... across the continent from Indian's original birthplace of Springfield, Massachusetts. The investors called their company, the Indian Motorcycle Company of America, or IMCA for short. They built their first machine for the 1999 model year using an S&S clone of Harley-Davidson's Evolution Engine. They built the Spirit, the Scout and the Chief... right up until they went bankrupt 4 years later, in 2003. The Indian was dead again... more or less.

Five years later, in 2008, a company called Stellican Ltd (the owners of the Chris Craft Boat Company based in England), bought the rights to the Indian name from IMCA and they, once again, breathed life back into the company using a factory in the mountains of North Carolina. Stellican Indians were beautiful machines and, unlike their IMCA counterparts, had their own unique engine (not a Harley-Davidson clone). The problem? They were expensive. Really expensive. Stellican Ltd held on to Indian for a whopping three years before selling the whole shebang to Polaris Industries of Minnesota in 2011.

It took Polaris three years to develop and premiere their first production Indian Motorcycle, taking many features from their other brand, Victory, instead of using the Stellican platform. Polaris developed their Indian's power plant using the Victory engine as the platform, utilizing a one piece engine and transmission unit, instead of using individual components like it's predecessors (and Harley-Davidson). Polaris introduced their new Indian Motorcycle Company to the world with the Chief Vintage. It had long, sweeping lines, full skirted fenders and fringe and tassels reminiscent of the 1930's. The most important detail though, was the price tag. Unlike the previous iterations, the Polaris Indian was actually affordable on a working man's salary.

So, with all that said, let's ask the questions again and let's see if we can answer them without stirring the pot too much for my Indian riding friends (Lee, Mike and Brian, I'm looking at you guys). 

Can Indian Motorcycles really claim that they are America's FIRST motorcycle company? I don't think that there should be any question here- out of the current American motorcycle brand's that are in production at the time I'm writing this, the Indian name came first in the history books, so yeah, they can have that one.

Can Indian Motorcycles really claim "Since 1901"? I'm going to have to say that, while technically, the "since" could be loosely interpreted as the originating year (despite it's many failings that followed), it's a lie by omission. For Harley-Davidson, they have been in production since 1903. They were bought out for 12 years, but during that time frame, they were still developing and building new motorcycles under the Harley-Davidson name, unlike the original Indian Company that died off in 1953. There was a 45 year gap in time, from when the last, original company built, Indian Motorcycle rolled off the line in 1953 until the next Indian Motorcycle was built in 1998. For all intents and purposes, Indian Motorcycles was dead and buried in 1953. It may have been resurrected a few times after that, but, let's be honest with ourselves here- the only thing that is genuine "Indian, since 1901" about all of the new iterations of Indians (including the Polaris built bikes) is the name. To their credit, Polaris designed their own, original power plant, they designed and built their own frames and suspension and they are using their own bike designs. There isn't anything that was taken from the original 1901-1953 Indian Motorcycle Company except the name, though, so no... Indian's slogan of "Since 1901" is a lie, as there is no true heritage or design evolution in their bikes. Not like there is with Harley-Davidson motorcycles, anyway. With Harley-Davidson, you can see the evolution of the machine, year after year, decade after decade, for the past 117 years. 

A lot of people that read my blog and watch my videos might come to the conclusion that I'm a died in the wool Harley-Davidson guy. While I do have a few Harleys, I wouldn't classify myself as a Harley guy. Instead, I'm just a motorcycle guy. I happen to have Harleys because I've managed to score some really good deals on some broken down bikes and I have just enough knowledge to get them running again. I'm not opposed to owning an Indian (or any other make for that matter), but I just haven't come across the right deal on one. 

Look, the bottom line is this, Polaris is building some amazing bikes under the Indian moniker and I, absolutely, love it. Maybe, just maybe this latest revival will force Harley-Davidson to step up their game and start building a better product at a more affordable price. I'll be doing a long-term (three years!) review of my 2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special on my vlog soon and, while I like the bike... I've got a few bones to pick with the MoCo about it. 

So, if I like the Polaris Indians so much, why didn't I buy an Indian Springfield Dark Horse instead of a Road King Special? Simple, I like the dealer network offered by Harley-Davidson better; I like the enormous aftermarket that is available for Harley-Davidson motorcycles better; I prefer going to exclusive dealerships for my bikes and parts, instead of having to walk past lines of jet skis, side-by-sides, ATVs and several other brands of street bikes, just to get to the section of the shop where I can find a specific part for my bike and; most of all, I simply like the Road King better. 

That's not to say it's a better bike, it's just the one that I like the best and ultimately, that's the only thing that really matters. 

Indian Motorcycle Script Icon - Since 1901 Indian Motorcycle Logo ...
Polaris Indian logo, "Since 1901"? I don't think so.
1953 Indian Chief - New Old Stock - Starklite Indian Motorcycles
The last original Indian, the 1953.

1999 Indian CHIEF CLASSIC, Newport Coast CA - - Cycletrader.com
IMCA Indian, a Harley dressed in Indian clothes?
The Stellican Indian, a beautiful original.
The Polaris Indian, possibly the best version yet?

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Motorcycles and Coffee

I actually wrote this a few years ago for a magazine, but they didn't like it enough to publish it, so I just let it sit... until now. I hope you like it more than they did.        -JD, aka, the MotoWriter.

Coffee. Americans drink the glorious drippings of this majestic bean to the tune of nearly 12 billion pounds per year. With health benefits like reducing the risk of diabetes, to reducing the risk of heart failure, it’s no wonder why there are cities and towns all across this country named for the little roasted gems. I set out to find a couple.

I woke to a cool summer morning in south Mississippi. I poured myself a cup of coffee then advanced to my front porch, to bask in the sounds of the Deep South morning. From the moment I opened the door, I knew it was going to be a great riding day. The skies were as clear and blue as an angel’s eyes, the wind was blowing with an easiness that begs to be challenged by a Hiawatha headlight and the temperature was just under 70 degrees.

While watching the hummingbirds buzz and the leaves shimmer in the early morning sunlight, I took a drink of my coffee. Black, hot and full of flavor- it was good. Really good. Inspired by the contents of my favorite mug and contemplating where the road might take me, I remembered a small-town community a few hours away named, appropriately enough, Hot Coffee. As the story goes, L.J. Davis built a store at the crossroads of two popular travel routes and served coffee that he claimed to be the “best hot coffee around.” Davis used only pure spring water to brew the fresh coffee beans that he got from nearby New Orleans and sweetened it with molasses drippings. His coffee became so popular that the community became known as, “Hot Coffee.” With a name like that, how could I resist?

Looking on the map, I saw another “coffee-inspired” town, Coffeeville, Alabama, which was situated along the same highway as its Mississippi cousin. Coffeeville wasn’t named for the hot brew though, instead, it was named in honor of Brigadier General, John Coffee. While both communities are connected by US 84 and share similar names, they share little else historically. Nevertheless, I was intrigued, so I grabbed my riding gear and headed out.

I pointed my Harley-Davidson Road King north, taking mostly backroads up to Collins, MS. The South is full of great, two lane highways that are perfect for motorcyclists. With good asphalt, light vehicle traffic, some curves and a few rolling hills to keep the scenery interesting, they wind through beautiful farmland and countless small towns and communities all over the state. 

Just east of US 49, along MS 532, I nearly missed the first tiny green sign that read “Hot Coffee.” A few hundred feet down the road, I saw another, slightly larger sign that read “Downtown Hot Coffee.” I soon discovered that Hot Coffee was not a town at all, but rather, a single dilapidated building that had “J&H Harper Grocery” painted on the front. The building was interesting and obviously very old, but in it’s current state it was just sad, like an old horse suffering from years of being worked too hard. The fa├žade was aged, the paint was peeling and stained with mold, and there was junk piled up by the front windows. Next door sat an old barn, it’s faded red paint adding a certain old-time charm to the scene. I imagine that Hot Coffee was likely one of those places that, at one time, was a favorite stop for travelers before the highway bypassed it. After snapping a few photos, I saddled up and kept moving east.

A few miles past the state line, I saw a much bigger, more modern, sign that welcomed me to “Coffeeville.” The town was tiny, though, with just a few old buildings on its main street and a modern gas station along the highway. I rode through, but the day was waning, and I wanted to keep exploring, so I didn’t stay long enough to get any pictures. I started meandering my way back toward the Coast when, on the western outskirts of Wagarville, AL, I spotted an old dogtrot cabin with a historical marker out front. I stopped to check it out and learned that I had stumbled upon “The Sullivan Cabin,” named for its original owner, Gibeon Sullivan. The cabin had a unique and interesting feature- a wood table perched between the wall and the porch railing, which also served as a long bench seat. Apparently, Sullivan was the impromptu undertaker for the community and the table was used to prepare the dead for burial. Weird and morbid, but interesting.

I headed south once more, passing through one small town after another, along the tree lined highways. I reached the Coast a few hours later and pulled into my favorite local coffee shop, Coast Roast Coffee & Tea, in Gulfport, MS. While my travels of the day may have taken me through towns named in honor of one kind of coffee or another, the town where I would ultimately find my prize was named for a major seaport of the Gulf of Mexico. While I had set out “in search of coffee,” what I discovered instead, was something as equally rich and satisfying- a small serving of local history.

After having one of the finest cups of coffee in the south, served by the nicest folks in town, I headed out once more, this time in hopes of getting home in time for dinner.  

Hot Coffee was established in the late 1800’s at the crossroads of Jackson’s Military Road, and Fort St. Stephens Wagon Road. 

The barn next door served to remind passers-by that this was a farming community in its beginnings and it is a farming community still.

Despite the modern sign, Coffeeville was tiny, with a few old buildings in the downtown and a modern gas station along the main highway.

The dogtrot cabin, named for the breezeway separating the two halves, had a unique feature- a strange wood table perched on the front porch.

A homemade sign posted on the front of the cabin tells of it’s ominous history.

My Road King, waiting patiently for me to return from exploring the Sullivan Cabin’s dark history.

About to hit the road, once again.

Coast Roast Coffee & Tea is the perfect coffee shop for the more mature coffee drinker- modern and classy without being pretentious.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Who is “the MotoWriter”?

Who is “the MotoWriter”?

Well, it’s pretty simple, really- I’m just a regular guy that works 5 days a week, who is perpetually stuck in middle management, has a motorcycle, a few ideas and just barely enough skill to write them down in a, sort of, interesting way or maybe make a cheesy video about them. That pretty much sums it up.

You see, if you speak highly of yourself, your'e conceited or arrogant; if you're humble, you'll most likely be called meek or insecure. Everyone will have something different to say, depending on how they know you and how they feel about you. The only thing that really matters at the end of the day is, how do you see yourself? Do you like yourself? Are you satisfied with who you are and where you are in your life? 

My family has always been the driving force in everything I do. They give me cause and reason, inspiration and motivation to try new things, get a little silly, have fun and be bold. In my 9-5 job, I'm mostly satisfied, but it could definitely be better. I've had several bosses over the course of my career and I've been passed up for promotion more times than I can count. Literally… I’ve lost count. I make just enough money to keep the lights on, put food on the table and pay the mortgage. It’s pretty disheartening at times, especially considering the fact that my employer hasn't given us raises in over a decade... yes, over 10 years. So, how do I afford to feed my motorcycle addiction? Simple- my loving wife. She not only supports my motorcycle obsession, but she also helps to pay for it. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that I also have a knack for finding good deals on broken down bikes and I have just enough skills and mechanical ability to get them running again, thanks to my dad teaching me, all those many years ago, how to turn wrenches and fix stuff that breaks or is broken. 

So, why did I start writing, blogging and motovlogging? Why not? I seem to have a knack for telling a story in the written word, I like motorcycles and videos are a fun way to express my love of motorcycling to other people. I started out by just writing and putting together slideshow articles. It’s fun to do sometimes, I can get a little bit creative and I even get a few bucks for doing it. But, with the slideshows, I am limited in what I can write about, so that’s why I started the blog. I don’t get paid anything for the blog, but it’s a good outlet to just be able to write, without having the constraints of company guidelines and needing to get advertising clicks. I suppose that the motovlogging part was just a natural transition from the blog. I saw plenty of guys with YouTube channels that were making cool, fun videos about stuff they liked.

I don't know how you might classify my writing or my video producing and editing skills. I know that it’s rudimentary, at best, and I’m OK with that for now. Of course, the sacrifice of doing the blog and the videos is that it takes a lot of time and there is no pay. I get to be as creative as I want, but creativity doesn't pay for dinner and it sure as hell don't pay the mortgage on my house or my Harley! I know that some blogs and YouTube channels can make a little money, but I’m sure as hell not close to that point yet. So, for the time being, I’m just going to have fun writing some, hopefully, interesting stuff for y’all to read and making some, hopefully fun and entertaining, stuff for y’all to watch. Maybe, if I do this whole thing right, I might even inspire someone to go out and ride, or maybe even do some writing or motovlogging themselves.

So, to answer the question, I suppose that’s who the MotoWriter really is… he’s an agent of motorcycling inspiration who is trying to spread the joy of riding to as many people as possible, in as many formats as he can. I hope you stick around and stay for the long haul… and maybe you can help spread the word, too.