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Indian Motorcycles: an American legend

Indian Motorcycles have been around for a very long time, since 1901 to be exact. Despite the company’s untimely demise and having been eclipsed by their now more famous rival, Harley Davidson, the aura of mystique associated with the brand has persisted through to the present day. This iconic status has firmly established Indian as an American legend among motorcycle enthusiasts. Over the years, there were a number of groundbreaking innovations and other notable achievements. Like when in 1907 the New York Police Department chose Indian Motorcycles to be a part of the first ever motorcycle police unit. And in 1902 Indian Motorcycles produced one of the first ever motorcycles to be fitted with a chain drive. In fact, during the 1910s Indian were turning out more motorcycles than any other manufacturer in the world, reaching a peak of 32,000 units in 1913. However, this illustrious chapter in the history of American motorcycle manufacturing eventually ended after a long decline in 1953 when the company was forced to close due to bankruptcy. After several largely unsuccessful attempts to revive the brand, the most recent owner, Polaris Industries, began production in 2013. There are 3 models currently sold, faithfully reproducing the distinctive styling of the originals and which have attracted a whole new generation of fans both in America and around the world.

The Indian Motorcycle Company

The Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company was founded in 1897 by George M. Hendee and Oscar Hedstrom and was initially known as the Hendee Manufacturing Company.

Having previously raced and produced bicycles, Hendee and Hedstrom announced their arrival on the motorcycle manufacturing scene with a single cylinder model that proved popular from the outset. In 1902, they released the first model to use the company’s signature diamond frame and soon after began a production series featuring their famous deep red color scheme. In the decade that followed the company went from strength to strength and by 1910 had become America’s premier motorcycle manufacturer.

From it’s first beginnings, the company had a focus on technical innovation and record breaking which gave it a competitive edge over other manufacturers. It also continued to maintain its racing heritage by competing in various events and, as is often the case, many design innovations were first seen on the race track before making their way into general production.

The company began producing it’s own engines from 1906 onward. Initially, these engines featured a single cylinder but the V-twin design became increasingly prominent in later years. Many Indian Motorcycles saw service during World War One but in the immediate post-war years the company lost a significant share of the market and by 1920 Harley Davidson began to outsell Indian for the first time. The company continued to produce various models with limited success in the inter-war period but after WW2 struggled to stay afloat in the face of increasing competition. In 1953 all production ceased when the company entered bankruptcy proceedings.

Famous Indian Motorcycle Models

The two most popular models to be produced by Indian were the Scout and Chief which first made an appearance in the early 1920s. The last of the original Chiefs rolled off the line in 1953 whereas the Scout’s production run ended a few years earlier in 1949. Some earlier designs featured a single cylinder engine but the V-twin became standard on both models in later years. The Scout, however, was both lighter and more nimble than the chief with a maximum displacement of just 45 cu compared to the Chief’s 74 cu. Among the innovative technology and design features to be introduced on these models include electric lighting and starter, front brakes, and advanced rear suspension. Originally called the Ace when released in 1927, the Four is another highly regarded model which continued to be produced until 1942. As the name suggests, the Four was notable for having a in-line 4 cylinder engine. This was significant considering the era was dominated by single and twin cylinder motorcycles.

It is worth mentioning that both the Scout and Chief names live on among the current line up of Indian badged motorcycles. You too can own a piece of American motorcycling history.

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