|February 2000 Column||www.virtualindian.org|
|Home / Features / Bob's Column|
do we love Indians? I think it all starts with the gorgeous, classic styling
and the images it evokes of a simpler time, when people probably had a
better appreciation than we do today of such innocent fun as exploring
the countryside on a motorcycle. In the period photos, the riders look
dusty, but boy do those grins beam through! Maybe people had less to prove
then through trappings of wealth and lived more fully in the moment. You
would almost have to with no credit cards, no e-mail, no mind-numbing television,
no grimly isolating, fortress-like sport-utility vehicles.
Just the sight of an Indian rolling by seems to grab people on some deep emotional level, judging by the spectators I get every so often practically jumping up and down with enthusiasm, yanking others by the arm and pointing. I make every effort not to be smug about my status as the owner, reminding myself that I’m only the humble custodian of a heritage we all share. My 1928 101 Scout stands out in traffic because it’s so obviously very old, almost like an insect with its spare proportions and clattering engine, but the magic most people associate with “Indian” comes from the guilelessly extroverted curves of the postwar Chiefs and the deep-rooted heritage they conjure up. It’s as if it never occurred to the designers to do anything but broadcast “isn’t this grand?” to the whole world. The Chief burbles along with the swagger of a guy who just won a sports bet and bought drinks for the house, not that of someone who hit the big time and came back to impress the old crowd. The illuminated Indian head, a beacon of well-being in our collective memory, emerges from the front fender as a natural and inevitable extension of the Chief’s flowing, swelling lines.
And beyond all this visual and cultural allure, riding the Indian has me hooked because it’s a simple, honest machine that rewards intense rider involvement in the mechanical operation. In so many respects, it just has a lot of “feel.”
As you kick-start it, you sense the engine finishing the stroke for you — that is, if you’ve reached an understanding with your bike on its individual preferences for throttle and choke openings on the priming and starting kicks. You bear in mind that if you manage to kill the engine somehow, you may find yourself having to roll this attention magnet out of an awkward spot in traffic to restart it. Riding along, you see a heave in the pavement ahead and realize that might not be the best place to be reaching down to change gears — shifting weight to your feet leaves you at the mercy of the rudimentary suspension — so you hold the speed down till you’re past it. Then with your fingertips, you coax the shifter over till you feel a gear meshing directly with another gear. If you can shift into second silently, congratulate yourself as a properly functioning link in the mechanism, because you had no help from the transmission in avoiding a clash. When downshifting, you goose the throttle to approximate what the engine speed will be once you release the clutch.
Through the curves, you think way ahead because the brakes are spongy and you can’t lean the bike very far without scraping a footboard. These may sound like simple shortcomings, but imagine yourself in a cowboy movie where you’re the only one who can ride this balky horse, which becomes the envy of everyone else once it hits its locomotive-steady stride. With the stiff leaf-spring front and rigid rear found on my 101, you feel the shifting of the low-slung weight very precisely, not filtered through springs.
Then as you find yourself cruising effortlessly down a straightaway, you turn your head away from the wind roar and cock an ear back to hear the softly popping thrum of the exhaust.
I suppose all of this would apply to a Knucklehead or early Pan, but they look starkly functional next to the rich curves and glowing paint and aluminum of a Chief. So we’re right back to talking about the styling! But for me at least, the passion for Indians goes way beyond that. It has to do with recapturing a sort of innocence and a heartfelt pride not corrupted by pretentiousness or deceit.
Bob lives in New Jersey
and regularly rides his 37"
1928 101 Scout. Bob is an
occasional contributor to
the AMCA magazine, and
Bob at the controls of
his first 'ride'. Baltimore
in the early 1960s