June/July 2000 Column
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   Fossils in the Fast Lane
   By Bob Kelley
When I got involved in this hobby, I figured it would be excitement enough if I could keep an Indian running and occasionally ride it around the neighborhood, away from traffic. Taking into account my limited mechanical experience, I bought one that appeared to be roadworthy already. I could certainly learn to do the maintenance, I reasoned, and with any luck, the fragile conversation-piece relic would hold up under the easy life of the garage and infrequent low-speed putts.

Less than two years later, I found myself hundreds of miles from home riding the 71-year-old 101 Scout at pretty close to top speed in driving rain that stung like BBs. That day, I covered a distance nearly equivalent to riding from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C.

The occasion was the Empire Chapter’s first AMCA national road run, a tour of the Finger Lakes region of New York in August. I had given no thought to participating until a friend who had worked on my 1928 101 contacted me from his new home in Florida and said he knew the roads in that area and thought my bike’s performance would be adequate for the conditions. Dave Grassi also offered to lend me his truck to haul the 37” 101 from my home in New Jersey. With support vehicles following us in the event of a breakdown and a truck to take it from there on the way home, I started thinking, what have I got to lose? Besides, for years, Andrea had been saying she wanted to see Niagara Falls, which was only about 125 miles from the gathering point for the run. Then I looked at the calendar and found we had put in for vacation that week with no particular plans, and that settled it. With that many stars lining up, you just go with it.

As a longtime night worker accustomed to rising around noon, the best I could manage on the first day was a 9:30 start, with the support vehicle leaving around 10. Nearly everyone was long gone by then, but organizing team members Tom and Karen Thomson kindly invited me to join them as they brought up the rear to scout for trouble and alert the support crew by cell phone. Also with us were Tom’s cousin Al Sorensen and, as Tom’s passenger, a youngster who happens to be the great-grandson of Don Cole, a late, much-beloved stalwart of the Empire Chapter. Karen led on her three-wheeled Harley-Davidson Servi-Car, which she generally limits to about 45 to 50 m.p.h. – perfect for me.

On our way to the lunch stop at the Curtiss Museum, featuring many gorgeous old airplanes and motorcycles, we stopped twice to sit out brief spells of rain, and it really started coming down as we neared the museum. People riding ahead of us had escaped the heavy stuff. There were times on long stretches of 55 m.p.h. state highways when I looked forward to the “reduced speed ahead” signs signaling the approach to a town. This may have been the fatigue factor of keeping a rather small motorcycle pretty wound out, averaging about 50 m.p.h., but maybe it was more my lack of road seasoning. After all, people have ridden 101s across the country in recent years.

In any event, there was ample reward when we soaked up the peaceful lakeside scenery or wound our way through the woods or chugged at leisure through the idyllic little towns. What better way to pass through a village seemingly of yesteryear than on a machine with the proper vintage feel and sound and looks? We got some admiring stares from pedestrians, and I took pride in riding the oldest Indian on the run, though of course no one would expect an award for such a narrowly defined distinction.

Those pedestrians may not have realized it, but there was far more to admire than the brief stately procession of nostalgia on wheels. With 101 motorcycles at least 35 years old out on the road, many for all three days of the run, ranging from 135 to 150 miles, not once did a chase vehicle have to load one up, though some riders made roadside repairs. So much for the frail old iron, best limited to displays or chuffing up and down the block. One night in the motel parking lot, a member of the support crew told me a Henderson Four had taken a tumble, snapping off the brake pedal. Well, good to hear it was nothing serious, I replied, thinking only in terms of the cost of the repair. I felt kind of dumb when he pointed out that it is rather serious if you have to ride the thing back with virtually no brakes – not much in the way of a front stopper on that one, and plenty of weight to stop. Fortunately, the resourceful crew found a shop that was able to help fabricate a repair.

It was gratifying to be out using these machines as they were intended, though on roads allowing higher sustained speeds than the manufacturers could have imagined. In fact, we not only held our own in the modern traffic but apparently even blended in at times. During a gas stop, another customer who was complaining about the cost of gas motioned at my 101 and the Chief beside it and said, “If it goes any higher, I’ll have to get one of those things.” Only then did he realize that these were not modern bikes. I guess people either are or are not attuned to motorcycles, and maybe only a trained eye would notice a rigid rear end or a hand shifter, but how about handlebars a mile wide? Enormous leaf springs over the front wheel? I wonder if we have the latter-day Harley springers to thank for this. People may have come to see antiquated-looking features as retro styling statements.

I decided to skip the second day of the run so Andrea and I could visit Niagara Falls, and it was a bad call because that day turned out to offer the best weather for riding. The night before the third day, the forecast worsened to rain likely, so I didn’t bother setting the clock. About half the participants went anyway, and I understand that they did get wet, but the rain in the morning had given way to periods of sun by early afternoon. After I took a last spin on the 101 through Waterloo, where we were staying, we got in the truck and did some sightseeing.

 Clearly, the organizers put an enormous amount of work into planning this run, starting a year and a half in advance, and the results paid off handsomely. Smooth-running, pleasing to the eye, and emotionally captivating – like a properly tuned and maintained classic antique motorcycle.

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 -and, 
of course, one of the
monthly VI columnists!
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