Aug 23, 2021
Ok so the beginning. Well first I want to talk about the beginning of the brand I love. Can you guess what it is? When I say beginning, I mean the first 15 years ISH. Why you ask, uh because that is truly the beginning….and that’s the only chapter I’ve read so far so then there’s that.
FYI I’m reading 120 Years of America’s First Motorcycle Company, Indian Motorcycle since 1901 by Darwin Holmstrom. And anything I say is me paraphrasing. So, let’s get right into it.
Indian Motorcycle was started by a highly accomplished penny farthing racer named George Hendee. Now I know I already lost some of you with the penny farthing comment. That is the alternative name people in the late 1800’s gave to those weird looking bicycles with the giant front wheel and tiny back wheel that was actually called a High-wheeler, so original right?! Well, these cool high wheelers were really dangerous and not very practical.
So Hendee decided to stop racing and start selling bicycles, why you ask? He was very accomplished and raced in front of nearly 30,000 people winning nearly all of his races. Why would he stop at the top of his game?
The answer is because he was a smart businessman. He knew the game was changing. The creation of the smaller safety bicycle created a demand for sales!!
People needed a faster way to get around before the rise of the modern car. Safety bicycles could help you get to town and back in a day, which previously took about 2 with traditional horse and buggy. Now all this was happening in the late 1890s, so the Hendee Manufacturing Company was way ahead of its time producing and exporting motorized bicycles for average everyday use.
Now I know what you’re thinking, Hendee Manufacturing Company, I thought you said Indian Motorcycle? I did we are getting there. Ok so these new safety bicycles were immediately used in racing because people back then didn’t really have much to keep them occupied. But someone thought “Let’s put an engine on it and use it as a pacer for the races” Genius!! Only problem was the motors sucked and cause more of a spectacle than the actual races did.
Enter Oscar Hedstrom. I know Hendee and Hedstrom. It may get confusing, but you got this!! So Hedstrom was like a mad scientist for machining. He took it upon himself to take the bicycle engine and update it. Basically, he carbureted it! Now I’m not a gear head so I have no idea what else he did, but people loved it. Any Pacer bicycles Hedstrom created, people wanted to buy for personal use.
Now here is where Hendee meets Hedstrom and they join forces. Hendee saw the pacers as a huge selling point for the general public and the two joined forces in January of 1901. And that my friends is why 1901 is all over Indian Motorcycles and the gear. I’ll explain the name change later.
Eventually they figured out bicycle frames didn’t work for these amazing engines that Hedstrom was creating. Enter the motorcycle. The new frame allowed more room for the engine, and I think it helped with the heat no longer melting stuff too. Along with the change in frame came more changes to the engine. They created the v-twin engine in 1907 and eventually created the kick-start around 1913. These innovations led Indian Motorcycle to become a heavy hitter in the world of racing with a 61 cubic inch /998 cubic centimeter v-twin engine. Some of the racing motorcycles could reach speeds over 100 miles per hour. I know insane right!!
During these years the motorcycle business was booming and more than doubling in sales with each passing year. Indian Motorcycle wasn’t just an AMERICAN industry leader, but the worldwide motorcycle manufacturer, until…… the Ford Model T. Cars are more practical for families, and they took over, but this is not where the story ends….
Oh yea, I forgot to tell you about the name. So originally Hendee went with Hendee Manufacturing Company. He was selling his motorized bicycles labeled as Indians. During this time American Indians were actually at war with the United States government, but it wasn’t really publicized. Yea not much news out there so people had a completely different view Of Native American’s as noble and living off the land with a sense of regality. Also, the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show was huge, so this made the name Indian really good for marketing.
And there you have it, Indian Motorcycle’s infant years. The beginning was nowhere near what I thought it would be. Actually, I had no idea where it came from which is why I got the book in the first place. Knowledge is key. But someone started with an idea. And really isn’t that what everyone starts with.
So, you’ve got this idea in your head to ride a motorcycle. NOW WHAT?!
It’s so weird how things happen because I recently had a similar conversation with a friend when we rode to breakfast the other morning. You may remember her. Emy, the one with the new Chief. FYI, I mentioned her in a previous episode and said she finished her masters, but I was mistaken it was her PHD. Anyway, this bad ass lady and I were talking about all the crazy things that go thru our brains especially when we first start out riding. You’re excited and slightly terrified, exhilarated and kinda don’t wanna even try.
So, once you decide to go down the road towards riding a motorcycle, what’s next. Well, for each person the answer is going to be different. I had the idea in my head and decided to drag my friend to dealerships every weekend for 2 months trying to find the perfect bike for me. After the first month I realized I was completely unprepared to actually ride it and better learn. I signed up for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation or MSF course at a local dealership. I’ll link the MSF website in the show notes if you want to do more research.
I was really lucky. I did the course over during covid, so my class size was super small. I’m talking 6 people in the classroom and only 4 of us on the range. I was the only one who had never ridden so the instructor was able to spend a lot of time helping me. I’m an uber learner. What I mean is that when I set my mind on something, I am probably going to research the hell out of it to find every shred of information I can. Riding was no different. If you are nervous, there are lots of videos on YouTube that show you the basics and give you a general idea of what to do without actually doing it. My personal favorite was Blockhead. I will link his video in the show notes. His breakdown was easy to understand and fun to watch because you can tell he has a true passion for motorcycles. Side note, he also lives in Florida and I hope to meet him one day!!
Off topic, so where was I??? Oh yeah, if you want to ride a motorcycle then you must take the MSF course. You need it to get your motorcycle endorsement on your license, but it is also amazingly helpful in learning all the basic skills you need to ride. After you pass the course you’ll need to practice.
So what do we have so far?
Step 1: decide to make your idea a reality
Step 2: find a local Motorcycle Safety Foundation course and sign up
Step 3: Get the gear
Having the right gear is vital for safety as well as being a requirement for the MSF. Search for local motorcycle places and go check out what they have. You’ll need a helmet, gloves, boots, and long sleeves. The helmet should have and ECE and/or SNELL rating sticker on the back. If it does not, then do not buy it. There are lots of brands with lots of styles and fits. Find what’s best for you. I have 2 helmets a Scorpion and a Sedici. They both fit me completely differently but well.
Gloves are the same, try them on and find what fits you best. I have full finger for winter and cutoffs for summer, but both have knuckle guards in them.
Boots need to cover your ankle. I found a great pair at Harley, and I wish I had bought 2 because they fit so well. See the trend, fit is everything.
I have about 3 jackets, one for winter, one for spring, and one extra. I chose to have removable liners for water resistance and some extra warmth. I am currently searching for a bright orange vest for summer.
Jeans are a must. I am looking for a good pair of motorcycle jeans that are stylish and protective, but I’m on a budget. I think I want to try the band Tobacco. So, if anyone has tried them, I’d love your feedback. For now, I just wear my regular jeans.
Let’s see. Where are we now? You got the gear and took the course. Now find the bike of your dreams. This process is fun and frustrating. I bounced back and for from Indian to Harley and couldn’t decide. I was also too scared to test ride anything because I was so new. I finally decided on the Indian Scout Bobber because she just felt too good to let go.
Now you get to practice. Ride your motorcycle every day. I rode around the block every day for weeks. One block then 2, then I slowly became braver and went a little farther each time.
Find a friend that rides and ask them to practice with you. See if your local MSF course people offer private lessons. Practice, practice, practice. That really is the key.
Remember, we all started as a beginner. We all felt nervous. We all practiced until we got so good you think we could ride in our sleep. Don’t try that please!!!
I took my journey towards riding alone and with people who love me supporting me, but I am so glad I took my idea to learn to ride and ran with it.
Motorcycle Safety Foundation: https://www.msf-usa.org/
Blockhead: How to ride a motorcycle Part 1 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roki562M2m8
Blockhead: How to ride a motorcycle Part 2 –
Blockhead: How to ride a motorcycle Part 3 –
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