March 2000 Column 
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   Luddite Nation
   By Bob Kelley
If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit our Indians are relics, but that’s why they mean so much to us.  How refreshing when all that vintage character jolts us out of today’s shrink-wrapped, bar-coded stupor. Yes, we’re truly alive, our senses are soaking up the surrounding beauty and the bracing fresh air. Either the machinery is instinctively doing our bidding or it’s the other way around. We’re so attuned to the language of the controls’ feel and the drivetrain’s mechanical chatter that it’s hard to tell which.  

Thanks to Kiwi and the other reproduction parts suppliers, once we have a solid platform in the form of a sound frame, good cases and a few other durable essentials, we can and most assuredly should be riding the bejesus out of these old bikes – well, at least as often or as far as we want, respecting the performance limits.  With the assurance that new parts are out there for an engine rebuild on that distant day of reckoning, our consciences are clear. If not abused, the transmissions seem to hold up pretty well, and the clutches just shrug off combat duty in traffic or slipping to avoid downshifts. We know all this, but few others do. All too often, the highest compliment from other motorcyclists is to be told we shouldn’t be out flogging something so old and valuable. Still, the last thing we should do is take offense at this seemingly meddlesome advice – the person is just in awe and poorly informed. 

So our Indians are cheating time, but what about us? Are we the real relics? I sometimes wonder this as I park my bike in the driveway after an afternoon ride when the nearby school is letting out. Often, I duck into the garage for tools to make some minor and probably unnecessary adjustment, and meanwhile the minivans are massing and clusters of young girls are walking by smoking cigarettes and boys are strutting and posturing in a style they probably learned from rap recordings. I wouldn’t be surprised if a fair contingent of the students and parents alike see the denim-clad form hunched over the weird old noisy wheeled contraption, a jumble of tubes arching every whichaway, and think, “There’s that nut case again.” Perhaps some of them don’t know quite what to make of this tragi-comic figure on the stage of modern life, maybe not trampled by progress but booted around a bit and perplexed by where things seem to be going. 

And they could have a point. A more reasonable person could have the enjoyment of riding a traditional-style cruiser while making a nostalgic statement on one of those Harley Heritage Springers, in white with the low chrome exhaust, without having to waste saddle time kneeling in the driveway to adjust the brake linkage or carb needles. Most folks seeing one ride by could scarcely distinguish it from a nicely restored postwar Chief. 

So why must we have this full measure of antique flavor, not just for display or gentle putts, but for regular riding? Are we like the drinker with a powerful thirst who simply must have malt liquor rather than beer? Or are we perversely rebelling against the rational clearheadedness of technological progress, a sort of underground Luddite Nation operating on the fringes of polite society? Well, hardly on the order of the Unabomber – peeling paint in other area codes with his body odor as he bicycled into town for provisions – but contrary just for the sake of being contrary. 

I fully appreciate the conveniences of modern-day life and don’t feel repelled by the necessary technology that comes as part of the package. At the same time, I’m strongly drawn to the elemental involvement of coming to terms with simple old machinery. The racing crowd may pass on this one, but I even relish the feeling of opening the throttle wide coming out of a turn and having to exercise a little patience as the engine builds speed gradually. It has its limits, just as I have my own on how far I may want to lean in the bends. Together, we fare surprisingly well in traffic where we should be hopelessly overmatched. 

I don’t see this hobby as being fueled by any sort of flight from the mainstream. Instead, the motivation is   a timeless appetite for the undiluted mechanical essence of an antique motorcycle – more immersing than a car or train because you’re out there in the airflow balancing the thing, straddling the barking, shaking engine, speaking face to face with startled pedestrians at a light. Flying a biplane is undoubtedly far more intense, but then you’re completely removed from the present day up there in the sky, lacking any brushes with today’s bustling streets and storefronts to remind you that this conveyance transports you much farther in time than it ever could in space. Besides, even among the most fortunate hobbyist aviators, how many can pull a radial-engined Sopwith out of the back yard and buzz the neighbors for a half-hour before work? 

It’s a refined taste we should all pride ourselves on, a heightened appreciation. Think connoisseur, not cave man, even if we’re more at home wearing animal skins than an ascot.  Some folks will always be happy with a cold Coke out of the machine, while others don’t mind going out of their way for fresh-squeezed orange juice – and it just wouldn’t be the same without the pulp and seeds.

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 Bob lives in New Jersey  
and regularly rides his 37" 
 1928 101 Scout. Bob is an 
occasional contributor to 
the AMCA magazine, and 
other publications 


Bob at the controls of
his first 'ride'. Baltimore
in the early 1960s