Indian Book Reviews
Updated December 2000
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The Art of the Motorcycle  Back to the book list
(Guggenheim Exhibition Catalog) 
By: Matthew Drutt (Editor)
Publisher: Solomon R Guggenheim Museum
ISBN: 0810969122
Book Reviews:
Art of the Motorcycle
Illustrated Buyer's Guide
The Indian (Rafferty)
Iron Redskin
Michigan Madman

In 1998 The Guggenheim Museum in New York City ran their most successful and profitable exhibition ever: The Art of the Motorcycle. On display were no less than 132 motorcycles. They had 5 times the usual number of visitors, many of which undoubtedly were husbands getting a sweet revenge on their wives, after years of being dragged to see Monet's incredibly boring water lilies and the like. Even the more snobbish intellectual NY critics loved 'The Art of....', and eventually it was shown in Bilbao, Spain, and is to be shown in Chicago next year. In connection with the exhibition, the museum had a 440-page book with the same title published. It is, physically, the largest book that I've ever owned. It is also one of the best.

The first 95 pages consists of various essays about bikes, written by people who clearly are not traditional motorcycle journalists. Most pieces are about certain aspects of motorcycling and are easily read, some less memorable ones are raving about in the stratosphere, but one is a real treat: "The Song of The Sausage Creature", by infamous gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. The US bike mag 'Cycle World' accidentally let him loose on a Ducati 900SS a few years ago, and published his views on the bike. This prompted a flood of letters threatening to cancel subscriptions if they ever ran that sort of garbage again,- as well as equally many threats of cancelling subscriptions if  'Cycle World' did NOT bring more of the kind. In any case, it is wonderful reading.

After this one gets to the motorcycles, if only about 4/5 of those from the exhibition. They are shown in chronological order, from the first, primitive steam-driven contraptions, to the latest MV Agusta. Chapters divide them up under titles like "The Machine Age", "The Consumer Years" or "Popular Culture/Counterculture". The latter chapter is where the 'Captain America' H-D chopper from the movie 'Easy Rider' fits in.

Inevitably the choice of motorcycles shown at The Gug caused some controversy,- but then show me an art exhibition where that is not the case. So also in the book one finds, amongst a lot of fine and distinguished machinery, a number of obscure, technically and historically rather insignificant two-wheelers. Then again, the motorcycles were not  chosen for their part in the evolution of motorcycling, but for their aesthetic or technical significance. Still, one wonders why there are 4 British large singles from the early 60's, and not - say - one Danish Nimbus or an Indian Four.
Even if BMW - bless 'em - played a major part in getting the exhibition off the ground, the brand is not overrepresented amongst the bikes. Nor is Indian, though still 4 of the redskins made it into the book: A 1901 single, a 1915 eight-valve Board Track Racer, a 1948 Chief and - best of all - Dave Edwards' immaculate 1940 Sport Scout Bob-job. That last one has to be seen to be believed, and anyone not the slightest affected by this period hooligan tool should be considered all but legally dead.

Every motorcycle is shown in a large colour photo or 3, plus a b/w photo and perhaps a contemporary brochure or a still from a movie. The quality of these photos are, without exception, absolutely great. It is clear that the photographer, unlike his colleagues taking pics for mc mags, has seen the bikes as pieces of art, as sculptures rather than just - motorcycles. Occasionally the accompanying texts are about a lot of other stuff than the actual bike, like historical events or traits that somehow can be associated with this one model or brand of motorcycle.

There are a few insignificant errors or typos, like when a BMW R90 gets equipped with an electric 'cock',- it is fair to assume that they really meant  'clock'. The print quality will probably not be seen better anywhere else, and behind the dust cover with a 5-cyl. Megola, one finds that the book is bound in some sort of silk-like material. In the Guggenheim museum store it costs US$ 65 ( The softcover, with has a Kreidler Florett instead of the Megola, the price is $45. The book is available in Spanish or German too, although only as $65 hardcover versions. It is probably cheaper if you shop at an on-line bookseller like Barnes & Noble or Amazon. Considering the quality and the size of this book, the price is very reasonable. Kim Scholer 12.20.00

More info on Guggenheim's site.

Click here for more details or to buy this book at  (buying your books from helps keep the VI free, and usually saves you money too; the hardcover version is $52 from amazon. Moen)

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Illustrated Indian Motorcycle Buyers Guide  Back to the book list
By: Jerry Hatfield
Publisher: Motorbooks International
ISBN 0-87938-999-0

This was the first book I ever bought about Indian motorcycles, and it’s still one of my favourites.  Jerry Hatfield himself remains one of my favourite motorcycle authors regardless of marque, because his enthusiasm for actually riding the bikes always shines through.

It’s instructive to compare this book with its stablemates in the Illustrated Buyers Guide series, like the Triumph book by Roy Bacon and the Harley book by Alan Girdler.  All these books follow a similar format.  There’s a chapter devoted to a particular type or model within the marque, for example, the Indian book has chapters on Scouts, Chiefs, Fours, verticals, the early models, imported models, and “specials”.  After a short history and model description, the bikes are then rated with a star system according to their worth as investments.  The books are well illustrated, but only in black&white.

Now, regarding Indians as “investments” may or may not turn you on.  It doesn’t seem to turn Jerry on all that much, as he explains in the first chapter.  This opens with the words “There’s a real problem here” - meaning, a problem with logically valuing your illogical and emotional attachment to that bone-shaker of a motorbike - and is sprinkled with phrases like “Money isn’t everything”.

I tend to agree.  After all, a “good” investment means only that something was bought at a time when nobody else wanted it.  On this basis, Jerry doesn’t rate Fours as a “good” investment (only three stars out of five) because it costs so damn much to get one now.  They will certainly hold their value, so you won’t lose out, but will you make much money by buying one?  Nope.  If making money’s what you’re into, then you’re better off to buy a McDonald’s franchise.

There’s two features in particular that make Jerry’s Guide on Indians stand apart from other books in the Guide series, and indeed from other books on Indians.

Firstly, he’s devised a system for expressing the value of each Indian as a percentage (or, more usually these days, a multiple) of the value of a new Harley Electraglide.  This means the book will be useful even when the dollar values given are long out-of-date, because he’s chosen a benchmark bike that’s going to remain available at a roughly similar value for a good long while yet.  To know what’s fair to pay for that 1938 Four you’ve fallen in love with, just call an HD dealer for the price of a new Electraglide and multiply it by the factor in Jerry’s book.

The second feature of the book I really like are the side-boxes where he’s chosen a significant Indian model, tracked down an example, borrowed it from its owner, and taken it out for a spin.  He reports his ride impressions, warts and all.  For example, he wasn’t so fond of Fours, reporting that they seemed characterless and inanimate by comparison with Chiefs.

This ride-impression feature alone places the book apart from others, especially from Roy Bacon’s Triumph Buyers Guide which only contains that author’s usual drone about year-by-year specification changes.  For somebody who’s getting interested in the Indian marque, but hasn’t yet settled on a particular model or even decided on the level of practicality that they require, this ride-impression stuff provides a valuable insight into what these bikes are like AS RIDING MACHINES. Which, after all, is what Indian motorcycles were designed for.

Get this book. You won’t regret it. Tim Pickering 10.5.00

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The Iron Redskin Back to the book list
By: Harry V. Sucher
Publisher: Haynes Publishing
ISBN 0-85429-181-4

I originally bought this book in 1989, so that I’d have something to read whilst on honeymoon.  Don’t worry, my marriage survived that affront, and is still intact.  Honeymoon notwithstanding, one does after all need something to do for the remaining ten and a half hours of each day (yeah, right!).  The point is, when returning from honeymoon some of our luggage got stolen.  Harry Sucher’s “The Iron Redskin” was one of the casualties.  And I’ve never bothered to replace it.  Why not?  Because quite frankly, it was tedious to read, and poorly illustrated.  Even though it’s now ten years since I last looked at it, I still recall the book having about as much verve and panache as a PhD thesis on hydrozoan taxonomy.

Sure, it’s the authority to which all other Indian authors turn, when they want to know the production of Indians vs. Harleys in 1923, or how much money was left in the company Treasury after the outboard-motor debacle.  It’s the most complete history of the Indian factory yet available in a single volume.

But how does the author manage to make such potentially exciting subject matter so dry and dull?  The exploits of Cannonball Baker and Jake de Rosier, the genius of Charles Franklin, the unstoppability of Ironman Ed Kretz – I get my best glimpses of these topics from other authors’ works.  Maybe the subject matter is too far-ranging and the author is spread too thin, so can’t do it justice.

The other thing missing from the book is – what were the bikes actually like to ride?  How were they regarded by riders of the day?  How did they stack up against competing products?  Again, only glimpses of the subject most interesting to me as an Indian enthusiast, namely, the bikes themselves.

The book is a work of considerable scholarship in terms of the information that’s been collected together.  This Indian hobby of ours means different things to different people.  If you want to know about the Indian factory from whoa to go, right down to the last dollar and cent at the end of each financial year, then you’d better have this book.   If you want to know about the actual bikes from whoa to go, and gaze at glossy pix of them from all angles, then get Tod Rafferty’s book instead.  If you want to know what the bikes are worth and what they’re like to ride, get Jerry Hatfield’s Illustrated Indian Motorcycle Buyer’s Guide. Tim Pickering 10.5.00


The Iron Redskin, First book I got on Indian motorcycles. Still I think one of the best written, very interesting. The book brings you back and you come away with a real feel of Indian history. If you're an Indian fan - you won't be disappointed! Tom Lovejoy  9.1.00


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The Michigan Madman (click pic for full size)  Back to the book list
By: E.J. Potter
Publisher: ?

Review by Grizzy here! 9.3.00


The Michigan Madman (click pic for full size)  Back to the book list
By: E.J. Potter
Publisher: ?

Review by Cindy here! 9.11 00

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The Indian  Back to the book list
The History of a classic American Motorcycle
By: Tod Rafferty
Publisher: CLB
ISBN 1-85833-843-3

I showed this book to Kevin Lowe and he straightaway said “Now that’ a really useful photograph!”  He was looking at the frontispiece, which shows a roughly 1927 Chief and sidecar, beautifully photographed at an oblique angle.  He meant “useful” because he himself has a 1927 Chief, has been wanting to make a sidecar for it, and this was the first photo he’d seen where the angle permitted a really good view of all the mounting hardware.  So expect to hear a lot of hammering and sawing from the Lowe shed sometime soon.

Mr Rafferty’s book contains a lot of useful photographs.  It contains a lot of photographs, period.  Beautiful photographs.  All in glorious colour, and chronologically arranged from 1901 petrol-bicycle to 1978 Made-in-China moped.  Standard models, and “specials”.  Fully-restored examples, and completely unrestored examples.  Mostly from side-on but with enough at oblique angles to break the monotony and provide additional visual insights such as the one afforded by the frontispiece.

Interspersed among the gorgeous pictures is text that contains about as much historical commentary as I’d ever want to read about the factory itself (unless somebody’s going to really spill the dirt on fascinating matters like, what actually happened in the lead-up to Paul E DuPont’s takeover of the company?).

I really can’t fault the way Tod Rafferty has selected and presented his material for this book.  He’s even got the Dean Hensley-restored incarnation of New Zealand’s Munro Special in there (Yay! Yay!).   The only thing missing is a picture of an Indian chopper – there are, however, several bobbers.

If, upon coming in from the garage after gazing at your Indian, you feel that you still need something to gaze at, then this book is highly recommended. Tim Pickering 10.5.00


Apart from being full of wonderful color photography of all sorts of Indians, the one thing I like best about this book is that is shows quite a few racers and "specials" -customised and hot-rodded Indians. Moen 12.12.99


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