February 2000 Column www.virtualindian.org 
Home / Features / Cotten's Column
   Living Indians! Commentary on Indians: Are they Alive or Dead?
   By Cotten
Motorcycling, as we know it, is certainly a century old now. The pioneering generations have long departed with their fountainhead of genius and inspirations; Those among us who saw the light of motorcycling's golden age are becoming rare now also, and in a blink of an eye, a great deal of understanding and appreciation shall have perished in the wake of future generations bred on disposables and consumer protection fail-safes.

How ironic it is, that self-reliance (the very root of the romance of motorcycling) has been bred out of the modern machines also!

When a classic motorcycle enthusiast finds himself needing hardware and assistance in a twenty-first century world, where a dealer is a mall booth full of bubble-packed vanity goods, what must he do? 

He learns the do-it-yourself basics the hard way, hopefully not under some bridge abuttment in the rain. It is tedious trial and error that takes time, especially if helpful resources aren't handy. But when he does remedy the situation, there is the reward of getting back in touch with what the Founders surely endured, as well as his self-reliance.

Most of us have tasted this reward enough to enjoy it as a creative outlet. Yet even though modern society has elevated motorcycles to 'high art', we are still suspect of eccentricity rather than artistry. I would guess this is because high-tech manufacturing has made repair no longer pragmatic.  Face it, a cell-phone IS more practical than a tool kit (The tool you need is always the one you didn't pack).

I am certain all of this stirs up the preservationist in all of us. You don't have to schooled in Freud to associate our reverence for a bygone way of life with rejuvenating our Indians. But at the height of cultural revival, Indians on the street are as rare as ever. How can this be, when the entertainment media teases us with two-wheeled icons incessantly in order to sell us more disposables?

Could it be that after the years and tears and megabucks that it takes to get that pristine restoration that you always wanted, the machine is too precious to ride? I, too, am guilty of saving the motorcycle at the expense of motorcycling. I have projects that have been in progress for many years, but stagnant until I can make them "correct". Am I resurrecting them, or embalming them? 

Motorcycles are pragmatic art. We may love the visual aesthetics for the memories that they may evoke, yet the creative genius within is irrelevant without the human experience that it was built for. They only come to life when you can hear, smell, and feel them pulse.  And by this measure, is it not the personalized machines that are most "alive'?

They are certainly more cost-effective!

We can be proud of our innovations, even the blaringly 'incorrect' alterations, for they are proof of our involvement with a living classic. Not only do radical chops make a statement, but even the runners and rats testify to a resourcefulness that is nearly extinct among the professionals at modern dealerships. 

Run your machines to death. Fix them and do it all over again. In this way the spark of our forebearers is truly kept alive....Cotten

Click for full size + browser BACK

There are many fine organizations and institutions dedicated to preserving the icons of classic motorcycling; I am proud to be long term member of the AMCA, the AMA, and my state's motorcyclist rights organization. These serve us well to preserve active riding, and I urge everyone to participate with their local counterparts. Cotten

Fact File:
Cotten is the proprietor of Liberty Motorcycle Specialties in Lacon, Illinois since 20 years back. Liberty exclusively works on restoration of HDs and Indians from 1930 through 1969.
Liberty VI Dealer Page here!
Or call 1 (309) 246-3509

Click to see full size
Liberty storefront