been abducted by time travelers, a straight-60-based life form. Just when
I decided to set aside some money toward eventually branching out with
something more practical than an Indian 101 Scout for highway riding, another
101 crested into view, flashing enough go-fast features to tempt me into
giving it a shot. Now at age 44, I have never ridden any motorcycle other
than a 101 and I’m starting to think I never will. It’s not that I’m on
some sort of mission to maintain “purity”; rather, the little buggers just
won’t turn me loose.
I learned to ride at age 41. Previously, I had no burning desire, but then I realized an antique bike, with its intense rider involvement, might be the best ticket for drinking in the leafy riverside roads near my home, balancing through the curves and slicing my way into dappled rays and cool breezes. This was my dream vision, but I would have settled for coming to terms with the old machine enough to wheeze about awkwardly in the immediate neighborhood.
A little research told me that the 101, built from 1928 to 1931, is regarded by some as the best-handling motorcycle ever and possibly Indian’s finest model. The low center of gravity probably has a lot to do with the stability and effortless handling that make this machine a favorite of stunt riders to this day. The 101 is the quintessential purist’s ride, with a rigid rear and stiff springs in front for direct tactile connection with weight transfers during cornering, a shifter coming straight out of the transmission so you can feel the gears mesh, and the simplicity of a magneto that needs no battery to fire the engine. The oil is always clean because it drips slowly into the crank and doesn’t return, thanks to total-loss oiling. If too much backs up, you reduce the flow, and the auxiliary hand pump juts from the tank as a proud “rider involvement” badge, though it’s really not needed. To my eyes, the racy, low-slung styling, lithe and uncluttered, rivals that of the skirted-fender Chiefs.
Most 101s are 45”, but an almost identical 37” version went mostly to export markets. I found one in Australia at a modest price that was not very correct, though not overtly customized either. Finally it arrived, and later my idyllic image came to ground as I heaved the beast onto its rear stand, kicked and kicked until I was soaked in sweat, and smelled oil burning as it inevitably seeped out here and there. The learning curve took longer than I expected, and chasing down the mechanical gremlins longer yet, but then the 1928 101 upheld its end of the deal by proving itself the ideal mount for this setting, as well as other low-speed roads nearby connecting little business districts.
With the speed limits generally 25 or 30 m.p.h., though the flow is often more like 35 and you can top 40 briefly on woodsy straightaways, even the little engine was up to the task. Only in accelerating up one long, moderate grade from a stop was there any issue with traffic, and even there I could reach third gear with a little patience. I can’t imagine any serious antique being more pleasant burbling along at 30 to 35 m.p.h. and leaning effortlessly into curves. I’m probably kidding myself, but I wonder if the specs of the 37” vs. the 45” could be coming into play, with the short-stroke engine (shortest relatively of any Indian V-twin) smoothing out the vibes and the center of gravity ever so slightly lower. The catalogued weight is 14 pounds less, an amount no one could feel overall, but if the entire difference is toward the top of the smaller barrels and heads, I suppose it could affect the balance a little, though probably less than filling an empty tank. In more concrete areas, this bike starts on the first kick every time, has plenty of stopping power thanks to an oversize rear drum, and throws out a fat headlight beam that comes in handy for a night prowler like me. So I plan to keep it, maybe even teach my wife to ride it eventually.
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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More from Bob on the VI:
|When I ventured out onto a multilane,
limited-access route, I started to discover my trusty workhorse’s limitations.
In traffic, it could manage fine in the slow lane, but with the road to
myself late at night, I took the middle lane and realized keeping the engine
that wound out would become grating pretty quickly, even though the vibes
are more buzzy than harsh and the engine may well be up to the job. Later,
on a tour of New York’s Finger Lakes organized by the Antique Motorcycle
Club of America, I felt like I was flogging the little guy to keep up with
some riding companions, though I got a huge sense of accomplishment from
covering all that ground. I decided then that while the bike had acquitted
itself well, maybe I’m just the sort of laid-back person who would feel
more relaxed on an unstressed Chief in that situation. I squirreled away
some money and kept an eye out for those lowball deals you hear about once
in a long while.
Then I saw a 1929 101 with Sport Scout barrels and heads being advertised, and I inquired because a friend had expressed interest in putting a Chief engine in a 101 and I thought this alternative hop-up approach might merit a look. These later heads yielded significant power gains through improved flow. The bike looked very good for the price, and even better when the seller said it was roadworthy aside from some problems a person could live with in a pinch. At a swap meet, I saw a 101 that appeared a lot rougher and less complete for a higher price. That and discovering the value of a generator being included sealed it. Though I hadn’t been in the market for this sort of thing, the deal just looked too good to pass up.
The engine has those gorgeous deep-fin cylinders and heads that started in 1940, a big carb for a 1928 Chief jutting out almost too far into my left boot, and straight pipes that are obnoxious only under full throttle. It uses sturdy “Z metal” flywheels but is not stroked. Bigger straight pipes, different cams and conversion to return oil may lie ahead, and replacing the 20-tooth tranny sprocket with a 21 to bring it up to stock 45” gearing almost certainly does. As I had heard about Sport Scouts, you have to wind out the engine a bit to feel the dramatic power that comes from free breathing – enough to paste you back in your seat if you build some revs in second, then crack it wide open – but the compression also is higher than a 101’s, so the bottom end benefits somewhat as well. On a brief but steep hill where my 37” just holds its own in second, I have tried the same thing on this one, even though it’s geared taller and is bordering on lugging as I straighten up from a turn at the bottom. It starts off with a “glub glub glub” and builds speed steadily, and then the grade eases just as the engine is about to hit the furious zone. I’m getting used to downshifting into first as I make right-angle turns, where my 37” might not even need any clutch slipping in second.
Considering all the high-profile modifications, I was surprised to find this bike is correct in some respects. It has the right wheels and brakes, and I lucked out because the front brake is strong enough to make up for the standard vague feel from the contracting band in back, more like a vigorous gumming than a bite. I now have a 101 with a properly functioning magneto (the other uses battery juice) and hand oil pump. The frame shouldn’t be black, but the red on the sheetmetal may even be correct, with a tank decal that’s pretty close and even pinstriping. The light switch appears to be original, and the brake lever could be. The rear fender is the 1930 style with the hinge, and the headlight has roughly the 1930 shape, behind a convex lens. The taillight looks right, with a different lens. Never mind correct, you can stand back and see a certain dignity to the package, nearly everything appearing to belong on an Indian from the period or a few years later.
The open road beckons. Maybe by next season I will have this project sorted out well enough to trust the reliability and venture out. Who knows, it could turn out to be too far off the pace of Chiefs to justify having as a special-purpose machine. Or somewhere way in my future there may be a correct 45” 101 that will have all the power any sane person could want in a smallish hardtail. I don’t want to maintain more than two bikes, so I’d have to sell one of mine before buying a correct example, not to mention save a whole lot of money first. I’m in no hurry. I can’t see giving up either one.
The Other 101