December 2000 Road Test
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    VI Road Test: Beginners' Bikes
   By Jim Jones
A major American motorcycle manufacturer, known throughout the world, was aware that they were not getting their share of the entry level market. Reviewing their options, the decision was taken to create a totally new machine, unlike anything else they had manufactured in recent history. The layout and feel of the bike would be small and light, unlike the cruisers that had brought them to their industry leading position.

When the bikes hit the street, traditional riders of the company’s product were sure that the small machines were not for them. After all, American bikers like a large, heavy, mile-eating monster. These were toys, suitable for children and small women. An advertising campaign was launched, aimed not at the hard core, but at the young and those new to the sport. Corporate executives and dealers waited to see what would become of this new approach.

It didn’t work! Or perhaps we haven’t found out yet… This depends on whether the above discussion is in regard to Indian or to Harley Davidson.

This is the first of what is hopefully a series of VI Road Tests of various Indian models. 

NOT reprints of contemporary tests, but articles about what it's like to ride Indians today.

Maybe compared to a modern bike aimed at the same kind of rider or riding (like this test), or maybe just stand-alone impressions of how it feels to ride a particular Indian model.

If you have an idea for a VI Road Test, get in touch!

HUH?

In 1949 Indian suspended production of the Chief to concentrate on the Vertical single and twin. In 2000 Harley Davidson added the Buell Blast to their successful line of motorcycles.

An example of each of these bikes took up residence in my garage. They were both acquired with the same excuse: “Honey this would be a nice bike for you to learn to ride on.”  And the with same secret plan “I think I can BS her. Then I can ride the wheels off of it.” The higher intelligence that shares my domicile was thinking: “This will shut him up for a while. Perhaps I can keep him from blowing major bucks on a big bike!”



249 and Blast sizing each other up
The 249 (marketed as the “Scout”) is a lightweight (280 pounds dry) antique bike that is available in running condition for around 5,000 dollars in the US. It was originally marketed as a modern motorcycle designed to bring new riders into the sport. Here is a scan of an Indian Advertisement from the era. Click on pictures for full size!
INDIAN PRESENTS A SENSATIONAL NEW LINE OF LIGHTWEIGHT MOTORCYCLES

The introduction of the Indian "Arrow" and "Scout" - six new models in two new series - represents years of study and analysis on the part of the Indian Motocycle Company. With its background as the original American motorcycle manufacturer . . . with its record of introducing practically every major improvement in motorcycle design during the last half-century . . . Indian set out to design and build motorcycles so safe and simple to ride, so light in weight and easy to control, that anyone could handle them, even though he or she had never ridden before.

YEARS AHEAD IN ENGINEERING

The combination of war-born metallurgy, American know-how, and high-speed, high-compression engines has resulted in machines that deliver more horsepower per pound of weight, more horsepower per cubic inch, and consequently, more brilliant performance than any motorcycles ever built before, anywhere in the world.

SAFEST MOTORCYCLES EVER DESIGNED

But spectacular performance alone is not enough. Indian insists that performance must be matched by safety. And these new Indians provide safety never known in motorcycles before. Perfect balance inherent in this design, full control "aerodraulic" fork, unitized chrome­molybdenum frame, instant maneuverability and light weight ... all contribute to greater safety.

AMAZINGLY EASY TO HANDLE

These new Indian lightweights are so nicely balanced, so simple in design, so easily controlled that anyone can learn to ride in a few minutes. No mechanical knowledge is required. No special strength or skill. Their whole purpose, the whole thinking behind them, is to open up the sport of motorcycling to everyone. When you take a ride on an Arrow or a Scout, and find out how simple and safe it is to operate, you'll realize why so many people are taking up motorcycling.


World's Most Modern Motorcycle!
 


Some of the features really were a radical break with Indian's engineering tradition

At 376 pounds dry weight, the Buell Blast is almost 100 pounds heavier than the 249. The seating position is a little higher, too. The design philosophy is the same though. Get the beginning rider to use your product by offering a non-threatening, responsive bike that anyone can learn to ride. And the manufacturers of both bikes claim(ed) that you do not need to be a mechanic to own and operate one.

The dream becomes a nightmare

The Indian Verticals were a good idea, but in retrospect, one of the final nails in the coffin of the once great Indian Motocycle Co. Why? The bikes were rushed to the market without sufficient testing, and the warranty work and subsequent damage to Indian’s reputation hurt sales. At the same time, British imports were helped by a devaluation of the pound, rendering the inferior Indian product non-competitive with British imports. Indian was trying to make a major shift in their product and who it was marketed to and did not have the capital to see it through when times got tough. By the time they solved the technical problems with their vertical bikes it was too late. (For more on the history and death of the Indian Motocycle Co read this discussion by motorcycle Historian Jerry Hatfield.)


249 is lower and lighter than Blast
 
 
 


249 may not have been a bestseller when new, but it's pretty cool today!

The dream is still a dream

Harley Davidson is in its second model year of production with the Blast. There are some real differences between their effort and Indian’s. Harley has a large range of product and has positioned the Blast in the Buell lineup, where it cannot be confused with their traditional offerings.

The financial picture is such that if the Blast does not work out it can be scrapped, at no great loss to the mighty Milwaukee co. While Indian’s effort was do or die, Harley is attempting to broaden their market share with an introductory bike. The same thing they have tried before and what Indian did with the models K, O, and Prince.

Not all is perfection in Blast land. With a little over 3000 miles, mine has had two warranty visits. Once to reattach the carb, and another time for a recall due to a possibility of the rear wheel sprocket breaking. The problems were handled, and the bike was only off the road for a day or so each time.


Blast had a couple of minor problems, but they were solved smoothly
Which should you buy?

If you’re a beginning rider, you’ll probably outgrow a Blast in one season. Then it’s just another small modern bike.

If you like the way a 249 looks, and you’re vertically challenged, it might be the right bike for you. (At 6’ and 210 pounds, I fit a 249 like a Shriner on a Cushman!) Still, it’s an Indian, and if you get sick of it you can always chop it and put in a Sport Scout motor! So if you’re a beginner in the old bike game, consider a 249 as an inexpensive start.

Buell Blast Specs         Official Buell Blast page

Motorcycle Online Blast Review and Introduction


Which will it be then?
(or will you manage to smooth-talk your wife into getting both?!)
 
 
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