THERE’S a shed tucked away in the hills on the outskirts of Perth, Western Australia, where everything old is new again, and everything new is old.
The private collection of Indian motorcycles and memorabilia is akin to a living museum, because a slow but steady stream of magnificent machines come and go — sometimes because the man who owns the shed has sold one or bought one, and sometimes because people who know him have brought in their incomplete, broken or newly-acquired machines for repair, restoration or modification.
And occasionally, a bike comes in the door for some work — but doesn’t leave.
The man at the centre of this shed is a likeable, softly-spoken guy by the name of Wayne. People in Western Australia’s vintage and classic bike community know his full name but, if they are talking about him and there’s any doubt, they will say: “You know, the Indian guy.”
For the uninitiated, the Indian Motocycle (no ‘r’) story stretches back to before the dawn of biketime. In 1897, an American bicycle racer by the name of George M. Hendee started the Hendee Manufacturing Company, building a range of bicycles. One of those bikes was initially sold as the “American Indian” and, later, just plain “Indian”.
In 1901, George hired Swedish-born designer and fellow racer Oscar Hedstrom to build a petrol engine to power a small number of bikes, mostly to be used as pace bikes for bicycle racing. The 1.75 horsepower single-cylinder engine proved reliable and powerful and, predictably, George and Oscar quickly saw the business potential.
George and Oscar sold their first motorcycle to a paying customer in 1902, built their first V-twin in 1906, took out the first three places in the Isle of Man TT in 1911, and by 1913 sold 32,000 bikes in a single year — making Indian the biggest-selling motorcycle company in the world.
Their two most successful models were the Scout, a smallish (up to 750cc) sports bike used in racing (most famously, perhaps, by Kiwi Burt Munro of The World’s Fastest Indian movie fame), and the Chief which was more of a highway bike with a seriously big engine. Both model names have been dusted off by Polaris for the 21st Century Indian line.
Indian’s glory days came crashing down after World War II and, in 1953, the company went bust, leaving Harley-Davidson as the only surviving American motorcycle manufacturer.
The Indian name subsequently was stuck, painted and bolted onto a whole lot of bikes, from two-stroke Italian-made minibikes to cloned Harleys and rebadged Royal Enfields, until giant American snowmobile manufacturer Polaris bought the Indian name in 2011 and resurrected the brand as a global force.
Polaris had already made a start in the motorcycle cruiser market with a line of well-made and beautifully finished ‘Victory’ motorcycles, but they could not compete with Harley-Davidson in the showroom. The Indian name gave them an instant entree to American motorcycle history and, in 2017, the company gave up on the Victory brand and turned all its two-wheel attention to Indian.
Wayne (the Indian guy) says the new Indians “aren’t real ones” and, not surprisingly, his collection of bikes and bits is almost exclusively pre-1953.
A modern-day Indian Chief Dark Horse stands in contrast to all Wayne’s vintage machinery. “The bike was written off after a crash,” he says. “I picked it up for a good price and got it back on the road. It’s great to ride!” (We rode a Dark Horse last year, and thoroughly agree. See our ride report here.)
The Dark Horse isn’t the only bike that came into Wayne’s world under unusual circumstances.
One, a 1948 Roadmaster Chief that was first used by the New York Police Department, was a surprise 50th birthday gift from his wife Linda and daughter Abigail. (Me? Socks and undies. Thanks for asking. * See disclosure.)
Another, a 1953 Chief, came in for modification and never left. “The owner had bought the bike but couldn’t come to grips with the hand-operated gear change. He wanted me to convert it to a foot-change. I wasn’t keen. In the end, I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse — I bought him a brand new Indian Chief, and he gave me the old one. We were both happy with the deal!”
We recently visited Wayne’s shed, our trusty Nikon camera in hand, and were given a guided tour of his collection. Here’s some of what we saw …
* Disclosure. In the name of full disclosure, I didn’t only get socks and undies for my 50th birthday. I also had a six-week holiday in Italy with visits to the Piaggio (Vespa) museum (story here) and the Moto Guzzi factory where I got to see Otto, the most famous Guzzi of all time (story here). But I didn’t get a vintage Indian.
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