Select a topic



Indian Motorcycle enthusiasts who have been at this for decades certainly know a lot more about Indian history than I do. I freely admit that I'm no expert on the subject.

I suggest that anyone serious about learning about the history of the Indian brand look for the following books on Amazon:

Indian History Part 1

First steps and the first motorcycle

The first crankshaft (crucial to engines) appears to be Roman from the 2nd century and was found in modern day Turkey. This machine used a water wheel to turn a crankshaft that operated a saw. The Romans used this to cut both wood and marble.

In the 17th century an engine was developed using gun powder as fuel. This was probably too explosive an idea to actually work.

In 1807 an engine was developed using Hydrogen as fuel. This is remarkable because these days Hydrogen fueled vehicles are considered very cutting edge high-tech.

In 1860 the first practical gasoline powered engine was developed. It was extremely in-efficient and got terrible gas mileage.

In 1885 Gottlieb Daimler invented the first motorcycle. This used a single cylinder, 16 cui engine that developed a whopping ½ horsepower at 600 rpm. It's maximum speed was 7 mph.

Gottlieb's son Adolf was the first to ride. Legend has it that Gottlieb's wife came home and saw her son riding the motorcycle and threw a fit. So right off the bat motorcycles had a bad reputation.

Gottlieb Daimler later went into business with Wilhelm Maybach and formed a company Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG). DMG would later become Mercedes Benz.

First production motorcycles

The first production motorcycles were made in Germany by a company named Hildebrand & Wolfmuller in 1894. This bike used a two cylinder, 91 cui engine that developed 2.5 hp at 240 rpm. It was a water cooled engine with a maximum speed of 24 mph. For igniting the fuel this engine used a glow plug, and so ignition was not immediate. This reduced the maximum rpms the engine could produce.

To start this motorcycle you had to push it, then while running along side you would jump on to the seat. Only a few hundred of these motorcycles were built.

In 1895 Jules-Albert De Dion developed an engine that used a spark ignition. This allowed fuel to be ignited and burned more efficiently. This innovation developed more power and allowed the engine to have higher rpms.

The first American production motorcycle was produced by the company Orient-Aster. This company existed from 1900 to 1908, and was founded by Charles Metz. The company name came from the Orient Fire Insurance Co., where Metz had previously worked, and the town of Aster in France where the De Dion engine was made.

This venture is credited as the first American mass produces motorcycle. However it was not completely American because it used an imported a De Dion, one cylinder, 2 hp engine.

Charles Mets is credited with the first use of the word "Motorcycle".

George Hendee

George Hendee was born in 1866, and died in 1943. In his early years he was a professional bicycle racer. During that time bicycle racing was the equivalent of our modern day NASCAR.

Hendee was famous and an icon of High Wheel bicycle racing. He set world records for speed over really rough terrain, and from 1881 to 1886, of the 309 races he entered he won 302. In 1886 he was the American National Cycling Champion.

In 1892 he retired from racing and started a successful business manufacturing SAFETY bicycles in Springfield MASS. Safety bicycles had both wheels the same size and used a diamond frame similar to modern day bicycles. He called his bicycles "Silver King" and "Silver Queen".

In 1897 he started the Hendee Manufacturing Company, and then a year later he changed the trade name of his bicycles to "American Indian" (shortened to Indian). This name was chosen to honor Native Americans and the pioneer tradition of freedom, independence, and pride. The name was also chosen with consideration of the nobility of character, strength, honor, and courage of the Native American people.

Carl Oscar Hedstrom

Carl Oscar Hedstrom did not like to be called "Carl" and so always used his middle name. He was born in 1871, and died in 1960. He was a Swedish born machinist and an amateur bicycle racer. In fact he was a genius design engineer.

At 16 years old he went to work machining watch cases, but on the side he manufactured light weight, durable bicycles of his own design. He also redesigned the De Dion engine, and designed his own carburetor. He was known as one of the finest engine builders of his time.

His love of bicycle racing propelled him into designing bicycle racing pacers. Essentially these were tandem bicycles with an engine attached. The front seat would be taken by the bicycle racer's trainer, and the rear seat taken by an engineer tasked with keeping the engine running. Most of the non-Hedstrom racing pacers frequently broke down, so much so that several pacers had to be on hand and ready to step in when one machine broke down. Hedstrom pacers were very reliable though.

The Birth of Indian Motorcycle

George Hendee met Oscar Hedstrom at a bicycle racing event at Madison Square Garden in 1899. Throughout the event Hendee was impressed by the reliability of Hedstrom's pacing machines.

During the event Hendee asked Hedstrom to design a motorized bicycle that could be mass produced. At that time other bicycle companies were experimenting with motorized bicycles, and Hendee saw a business opportunity.

Hendee and Hedstrom drafted their first business contract on the back of an envelope, and with that their company was formed. In 1901 Hendee Manufacturing Company became a partnership with Hendee as the President and General Manager, and Hedstrom as the Chief Engineer and Designer. It was the perfect match of a charismatic front man and a genius engineer.

Hendee raised $20,000 through the sale of shares in the new company and used the money to set up a production line.

The First Indian

In 1900 Hedstrom developed a completely new motorcycle, with a purpose built frame and his redesigned De Dion engine and centrifugal carburetor. The first of these new machines were produced in the spring of 1901. Only three motorcycles were sold that year.

The new 1901 Indian had a 13 cui engine that generated 1 ¾ hp, and had a top speed of 25 mph. The most significant innovation was the chain driven rear wheel. At that time other motorcycles used a leather friction belt which would often fail when climbing hills. Hendee demonstrated the new motorcycle for dealers and investors by climbing hills; often he would ride halfway up a steep incline and deliberately stop, and then to show off the climbing power if the new Indian he would ride the rest of the way to the top of the hill.

All the early Indians were painted Springfield Blue.

From a 1905 Indian Motorcycle Ad
The Indian Motocycle is the acknowledged standard. It was awarded the highest honors at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, second award going to a foreign make. In appearance and efficiency the Indian holds first rank over ALL Motocycles, both foreign and domestic. It's long string of consistent victories in every class of contest during the past three years prove every claim made of its power, speed, strength, simplicity, durability and reliability. It won the great Endurance Contests of 1902, 1903 and 1904. It has no equal in Hill Climbing Contests. Although designed primarily as a practical ROAD machine for every-day use, the Indian has no mean speed, and it is only surpassed in this feature by the high powered and most costly automobiles. It will run slow as well as fast. It is controlled entirely be a twist of the wrist, the rider almost unconsciously directing its every movement, with a range of speed from six to forty miles an hour. It "picks up" instantly and can be stopped quicker than an ordinary bicycle.

One of the many questions people often ask about the early Indians is, "why is the bike called a Motocycle, rather than Motorcycle?" The reason for this was due to fear of patent infringement. None of the names for automobiles and motorcycles were standardized at that time, and companies would often claim a "Trade Name", such as "Motorcycle" (coined by Charles Metz of the Orient-Aster Motorcycle Company), and when other companies tried to use even a part of a registered Trade Name law suits would fly.

Early innovations & milestones

The original 1901 model was considered cutting edge technology, and the reliability of it quickly brought a lot of fame and attention. The use of a chain final drive, a centrifugal carburetor, and the improved De Dion IOE engine made the first model dependable, rugged, and ahead of its time.

In 1904 the Indian Red color that Indians are so well known for was introduced. That year the first V-Twin motorcycle was prototyped and racing competitively. Actually, the V-Twin was more than competitive, with that engine Indian basically won every race they entered. The new engine displaced 26 cui and was rated at 4 hp.

In 1905 Indian introduced the twist throttle grip. The throttle was on the LEFT grip, this was favored by Police departments so they could ride and shoot at the same time. Prior to this innovation the throttle was adjusted via a lever on the top tube of the frame. This same year Indian introduced the first adjustable front suspension on a motorcycle.

The first production V-Twin was introduced in 1907. This was a 39 cui engine that developed 4 hp. This year Indian introduced dual twist grips. The throttle remained on the left, and the spark timing advance was on the right. Prior to the development of the distributor, which automatically adjusted the timing based on engine speed, this adjustment was done manually by the rider.

In 1908 Indian introduced mechanical intake valves and atmospheric (pneumatic) brakes. This year they also started using the leaf spring front suspension.

In 1909 the frame was changed. The new "loop frame" supported the larger engine better and lowered the center of gravity of the bike.

In 1910 a two speed transmission and a spring seat was added. Innovations through racing yielded an oil pump that was standard on new bikes. This was the first year the now famous Indian script logo was used.

Racing Innovation

The founders of Indian believed that the best innovations came through racing. Racing pushed the limits of what the bike could do, and really pushed the dependability of their engineering.

Racing also brought attention to their brand. The old maxim of "Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday" proved time and again to be a good idea.

During this time Indian won many hill climb, and endurance events, and they also set a number of speed records.

In 1908 Indian won the first ever 1,000 mile endurance race.

In 1910, Volney Davis, a rider from a San Diego Indian dealer, rode from Los Angles to New York, setting a record time for the trip riding a 5 hp Indian V-Twin. When he got to New York, he had so few problems with his bike that he decided to ride it back to San Diego. This was a 10,000 mile round trip, during which he had no mechanical problems with his Indian motorcycle. For the time this was an astounding feat.

Around this same time Herbert Le Vack, an Indian sponsored factory racer, set a world record speed of 107.5 mph on an 8 valve (4 valves per cylinder) racing Indian. Considering that these bikes, by today's standard, were little more than bicycles with engines, this feat seems incredible.

The first Isle of Man race was held in 1911. Three Indian factory racers entered, and won 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. This same year Indian again won 1st place in the 1,000 mile endurance race, and set several other land speed records.

Through racing a number of technological advance came about including, the "torpedo tank", the oil pump, overhead valves, 4 valves per cylinder, overhead cams, and many intake and exhaust performance improvements. Testing Indian designs through racing yielded greater longevity of their engines.

In 1912 Indian introduce the Model TT, a bike that is acknowledged as the first true Café Racer.

In late 1912, Jake De Rosier who was an Indian factory racer and close personal friend of Oscar Hedstrom died. De Rosier was a renowned "board track" racer, but had suffered many injuries during his career. He had broken his left leg 3 times and his left arm once. He also had one of his ribs removed and suffered several skull fractures. In his final racing accident he broke his left leg again, and went through three surgeries to repair the damage. He died on the operating table due to complications with his injury.

In 1913 Oscar Hedstrom resigned due to the loss of his friend Jake De Rosier, and was succeeded in his position as Chief Engineer and Designer by Charles Gustafson.

Ahead of their time

In 1913 Indian introduced the "cradle spring frame", creating the first motorcycle with front and rear suspension. The engine size was increased to 61 cui that year.

That year Erwin "Cannonball" Baker would set a world record for the Los Angles to New York endurance race of just 11 days. "Cannonball" attributed his win to the cradle spring frame innovation.

In 1914 a limited edition Indian called the "Hendee Special" was introduced. This model used the cradle spring frame, and added the first ever electric starter on a motorcycle. This bike also had electric front and rear lights and electric turn signals. This model did not run for very long because battery technology was in its infancy at the time. Batteries back then could not hold up under the vibration that occurred due to the state of the road system.

In 1915 George Hendee resigned. Selling stock in the company to raise money for production as he did, Hendee had over time lost control of the company. As time had passed he became increasingly disgusted with the actions of the Board of Directors. The main issues he had were the push for profit over quality and innovation, corruption – overstating projected profits to drive the stock price up, and a decline in the dedication to racing. He sold his stock for $950,000, which amounts to about $22,400,000 today.

The Power Plus engine

Charles Gustafson came to Indian from the Reading Standard motorcycle company, where he designed one of the first "Flat Head", or "Side Valve" engines. Soon after joining Indian he began the design process to develop the Indian "Power Plus" engine, so called because it developed more power than the Hedstrom IOE engine.

A Flat Head engine has a lot of advantages, it's simple, reliable, compact, has good low speed power, and can use low octane fuel. This ability to use just about anything that would burn as fuel was a real advantage in a time when octane levels were not standardized and rarely even measured. With a Flat Head engine you could buy fuel anywhere and your engine would run fine.

Another advantage of the Flat Head engine is that it's cheaper to build. The engine has fewer moving parts; with the valves mounted in the main engine casing, there were no push rods or rocker arms to assemble. This design also made these engines reliable and easy to work on.

In 1915 Erwin "Cannonball" Baker, set a record time riding from Vancouver BC to Tijuana Mexico in 3.5 days on a prototype Indian with a Power Plus engine.

In 1916 Charlie Franklin from Ireland, a former Indian racer, joined the Indian design team in Springfield. Franklin was responsible for improvements to the Power Plus engine, and he would later design both the iconic Scout and Chief motorcycle lines.

World War 1 (1914 - 1918) put the company under stress. The war effort hurt exported motorcycle sales, which amount to almost half its production prior to the war. Indian then banked on hoped for windfall profits from military contracts, and in so doing starved their domestic dealer network. The government reneged on paying for many of the parts and machines they had received.

In 1925, the company changed its name from Hendee Manufacturing Co. to the Indian Motocycle Co.

The Scout

The Indian Scout, designed by Charlie Franklin, debuted in 1920. This was a model that was aimed at smaller or first time riders. Bikes of this size were popular in Europe, and the company hoped they would do well at home.

The original Scout used a 37 cui Flat Head engine that developed 12 hp. It was one of the first unitized constructs, with the engine, the gear driven primary, and transmission built as a single unit.

Floyd Clymer rode an Indian Scout to the top of Pikes Peak in 1923, this was the first motorcycle to successfully make the climb.

The engine power was almost instantly an issue, and due to market pressure the engine displacement was increased to 45 cui in 1927.

A modified frame was added to a new model called the 101 Scout in 1928. This had a longer wheel base and a lower seat, which gave it better handling. This model was discontinued during the Depression in 1931.

The Standard Scout model was introduced in 1932 and ran until 1937. This was a price/cost reduced model with a heavier frame. It was not a popular model.

The 30/50 Scout, so called because its engine displaced 30.50 also cui debuted in 1932 and ran until 1941. This used a light weight frame from a small Indian motorcycle called the "Indian Prince". The strength of the engine proved too much for the light weight frame.

The Sport Scout debuted with a stronger frame in 1932 and ran until 1942, and it is still considered one of the best Indian motorcycles ever made. An Indian factory rider on a Sport Scout won the first Daytona 200 race in 1937. By 1940 the bike had been given the signature full fenders and had a plunger rear suspension.

World War 2 (1939 – 1945) was yet another disaster for Indian. All the same mistakes they made during World War 1 were repeated. Indian starved their dealer network, bet on military contracts that would not pan out, were left with parts the military and had ordered buy would not pay for.

The Chief

The Indian Chief that debuted in 1922 was also a Charlie Franklin design. It did not initially come with the iconic skirted fenders, those would be added in 1940. The 61 cui Power Plus engine was renamed the Standard for this model. Like the Scout it used a unitized design wherein the engine, gear driven primary, and transmission were all manufactured as a single unit.

The "Big Chief" was brought out in 1923. This model boasted a huge (for the day) 74 cui engine.

The last Chief Model of the Springfield era was the "Blackhawk" or "Roadmaster" model. These models ran until the factory closed in 1953.


Indian History Part 2

The Indian 4

One of the most iconic Indian Motorcycles continues to be the Indian 4. This motorcycle used an in-line four cylinder IOE (Intake Over Exhaust) engine that was mounted longitudinally. These motorcycles were known for their torque, reliability, and smoothness of operation.

What would become the Indian 4 started its life not as an Indian, but instead it was developed by William Henderson, who along with his brother formed the Henderson Motorcycle Company in 1912. The Henderson 4 displaced 57 cui and developed 7 hp, and came with only a 1 speed transmission.

In 1912 Carl Clancy, who was also known as the "Gasoline Tramp" rode a Henderson 4 literally around the world. He was among the first ever to attempt such a feat on a motorcycle. These were times before gas stations became common place, and most roads were dirt and frequented by more horse drawn wagons than motor vehicles.

The Gasoline Tramp rode through Ireland, Scotland, England, Belgium, France, Spain, Algeria, Libia, and Egypt. There was a war raging in the middle east, so he ended up taking a boat to Ceylon (Sri Lanka today), where he rode extensively. On his way back to the United States he rode in Malaysia, and Japan. Once back in home he rode from San Francisco to New York City. He said that the worst roads he encountered on his adventure were between San Francisco CA and Cheyanne WY.

In 1917 Ignaz Schwinn (of bicycle fame) bought the Henderson Motorcycle Company, and integrated it with his existing Excelsior Motorcycle Company. This company continued to produce "Henderson 4's" until 1931.

The Great Depression was on and Ignaz Schwinn saw no sign of it ending soon. In fact he predicted that the Depression would last at least 10 years. So while business was still good, even while his company had back orders of motorcycles that people wanted, Ignaz Schwinn closed his Excelsior Motorcycle Company, and of course Henderson died with it. He literally walked into the factory one day and told everyone to go home. In doing this he preserved his own wealth but drove his employees into poverty.

Soon after the acquisition of his company, William Henderson was assigned to work in the Excelsior Engineering Department. He soon became dissatisfied with the direction and the decisions being made with regard to engineering, and he left the company in 1919.

After leaving Schwinn / Excelsior, William Henderson started the Ace Motorcycle Company. He had to redesign much of his work because Schwinn owned the Intellectual Property (IP), but very soon he had a working and much improved Ace 4 cylinder motorcycle in production.

Unfortunately the Ace Motorcycle Company was short lived. In 1922 William Henderson died while out on a test ride of his motorcycle; a car hit him. In 1924 Ace went out of business. The business and IP traded hands several times in the next few years.

In 1927 Indian Motorcycle bought the Ace Intellectual Property, and started making four cylinder motorcycles. The first year Indian made a four cylinder bike it was called the "Indian Ace", however in the following years the model names changed to the 401 and the 402.

The Indian 4 was a popular but expensive motorcycle. Much of the expense in manufacture came from the IOE (Intake Over Exhaust) engine design. Had Indian chosen to invest the money in a flat head engine rather than the expensive IOE, the Indian 4 may well have had a longer run.

In 1936 Indian introduced an EOI (Exhaust Over Intake) engine that was supposed to perform better, however the hot exhaust burned riders legs. This new engine lasted only a single year due to customer complaints.

In 1940 the Indian 4 received the skirted fenders as did both the Chief and Scout. In 1942 the Indian 4 model was discontinued. This motorcycle remains iconic to the brand, and in the view of many is one of the most attractive motorcycles ever built. In fact a 1941 Indian 4 remains on exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum.

The Indian "Chout"

It seems that many of us want to tinker with our bikes to make them our own, and also to make them go faster. One of the most popular modifications made to Indian motorcycles over the years as a semi-custom build referred to as a "Chout".

Many people felt that the Scout was the best handling motorcycle ever made, but some felt that it lacked power. The Scout came with a 3050 engine, or 30.5 cui, and many felt it would do better with a larger displacement engine.

The Chief had a larger 74 cui engine, but used a heavy frame and so did not handle as well as the Scout.

So the solution seemed simple; swap out the Scout's 3050 engine for a 74 cui Chief engine. This solution seems simple, but in fact it is not. The height allowed for the engine in the Scout frame was barely enough to squeeze in a Chief engine. Once done, simple maintenance such as changing spark plugs would require pulling the engine.

People made this modification though, and put up with the consequences. The result was one of the fastest and best handling motorcycles of the day.

The World War 2 years

Paul DuPont was the President of Indian Motorcycle from 1930 until 1945 when he resigned due to failing health. He's credited with cleaning up much of the corruption of the board of directors during that time.

During World War 2 it was declared that all relevant manufacturing output be dedicated to the war effort. Indian, being the patriotic company that it is directed 100% of its output to supplying the US and allies with motorcycles for Combat. Unfortunately this had the effect of starving their US dealer network of motorcycles. The dealers were left trying to survive on maintaining customer bikes.

That other motorcycle company, the one that started business in1903, paid off government officials and was able to trickle out enough new motorcycles to keep their dealer network happy. This was in my opinion unpatriotic, but good business.

During WW2 Indian shipped roughly 30,000 combat equipped Scouts (model 741) to the US allies; mostly British. Indian also developed the model 841 for the US military, which was a revolutionary all terrain motorcycle. They turned the flat head engine 90 degrees for better cooling, integrated the transmission into the engine case, and introduced a drive shaft to power the rear wheel. This was literally the first purpose designed "Adventure Motorcycle".

Unfortunately after all this development, the US cancelled their order after deciding to use the newly designed four wheel drive Jeep instead.

After the war the US government reneged on paying for what they ordered, and Indian was stuck with a bunch of parts they had no purpose for.

Ralph Rogers and the decline of Indian

After DuPont left, the Indian Board of Directors sold the company to Industrialist Ralph Rogers. Rogers's prior experience was primarily in management and sales of Cummins Engine Company, producing light weight diesel engines, marine engines, tractors, and lawn mowers.

As President of Indian, Rogers studied the market and concluded that the trend was toward smaller displacement light weight motorcycles, similar to what the British were producing. He then obtained outside financing for and contracted with the Torque Engine Company to design a vertical single and a vertical twin for Indian.

The Torque Engine Company made marine (boat) engines, and so didn't understand the rough environment that motorcycle engines are subject to. However they produced two engines; an 11 cui single, and a 22 cui twin.

The engineering and design ran much longer than was planned and so once completed the engines were rushed into production without much testing beforehand. Gilroy Indian owners, when they read this will likely feel a strong sense of Deja-vu.

The new engines did not fare well because they were extremely unreliable. A redesign of the Torque engines were ordered, and this brought in another round of seeking outside financing. The new engines, a 13 cui single and a 26 cui twin, were reliable and good well-made machines. However the cost of manufacturing these new engines was double the original estimate.

Throughout this entire time, Indian dealers were screaming for the company to resume manufacture of the Sport Scout. This was a proven design, well known and trusted by customers, and this motorcycle was still winning races around the country including the 200 mile National Championship at Daytona. However Rogers refused to budge from his position that the future was with British style vertical twin motorcycles.

Soon after the vertical twins were released into production it was discovered that in actual use the engines did not stand up to extended high speed riding. The cause of this oversight again was insufficient time testing prototype motorcycles because the design was so late getting into production. The main engine bearing would disintegrate after cruising at high speed, and often the overhead valve rocker mechanism would fall apart. These bikes were under warranty, and this caused the company further hardship.

During all this time the Indian Chief with the old flat head engine was continuing to be produced. In fact the faint pulse of the company was kept going by sales of this venerated model.

1955 - 1962

It was apparent that the company needed a further infusion of cash, and so Rogers sold 50% of the company to John Brockhouse of Brockhouse Engineering in England. Brockhouse then started importing British bikes rebranded as Indians.

It was in this environment when the near death blow was delivered. Following the war inflation in England had risen dramatically, and this caused the English pound was devalued 30%. Suddenly the well-made and more reliable British motorcycles were selling for 30% less than Indian's competitive models.

The Springfield manufacturing plant (aka "the Wigwam") was officially closed in 1953, however it is known that an outstanding order of 50 Chief motorcycles were put together from older parts in 1954, and it is rumored that a 5 more were built in 1955 by departing factory workers.

Rogers was booted out and Brockhouse took over. Under Brockhouse the company was split into two parts. The manufacturing division (the Wigwam) was sold to Tileflex Corporation. The other part was renamed the "Indian Sales Corporation" (ISC), which remained an American company that imported rebadged British motorcycles.

At some point along the line ISC flirted with the idea of putting a Vincent Motorcycle Black Shadow engine into an Indian. Unfortunately nothing came of this and only two were made.

1963 - 1982

In 1963 Floyd Clymer (of automotive service manual fame) purchased ISC and the associated intellectual property (IP) of Indian. Clymer allowed his friend Sammy Pierce, who was also a friend of Burt Munro (Fastest Indian) to manufacture some of the ugliest Indians ever.

For his part, Clymer slapped the Indian name on pretty much anything he could find including mini-bikes, and English, German, and Italian imports.

Clymer died in 1970, and after his passing his rights to the Indian name went to his attorney Alan Newman. Newman then contracted with a Chinese company to produce Indian- branded moto-cross bikes. These bikes were made in Taiwan from 1971 to 1977, and were fairly well received here in the USA.

Newman also started a project with Ducati to produce street bikes.

Unfortunately the Japanese began to dominate the moto-cross market and Indian sales in that area began to falter.

In 1977 Newman sold the rights to the Indian name to a American Moped, and soon those types of bikes were showing up with the Indian name slapped on the side. Indian Mopeds were manufactured from 1977 until 1982.


Indian History Part 3

In the last article about Indian history, it was mentioned that Indian President Ralph Rogers made some very poor choices and had some very bad luck when he decided to change the direction of the company such that it could compete against the light weight British bikes that were very popular at the time.

The choice of a marine (boat) engine builder to design a power plant for street bikes was a disaster, with the result being engines that broke down left and right, tarnishing Indian's stellar reputation of reliability. The redesign of these engines was more expensive and took much longer than projected, which delayed these bikes from entering the marketplace. Then by the time the new engines were ready for production, the English Pound had been devalued by 30%, which reduced the price of British motorcycles in the American market, making the new Indians expensive by comparison. In short it was a complete disaster.

With the company strapped for cash and Indian's credit stretched beyond its limit, Rogers approached the English company Brockhouse Engineering with hat in hand. To obtain the financing necessary to keep Indian afloat, Rogers sold half the company to John Brockhouse. After this sale, in very short order as the company continued to spiral downward, Ralph Rogers lost his position at Indian and John Brockhouse took over. Almost immediately Brockhouse split the company into two parts; these were Indian Manufacturing, and Indian IP (Intellectual Property).

After the sale of Indian Manufacturing to Tileflex Corp., Brockhouse created a new company around the Indian IP called the "Indian Sales Corporation" and under this marquee imported British bikes to America with Indian branding. When John Brockhouse died, his company Brockhouse Engineering was dissolved, with the Indian IP passing to another British firm, Metal Profiles Limited.

Metal Profiles Ltd. was never interested in producing Indian motorcycles, and so they never challenged any use of the Indian patents, logos or remanufacturing rights to Indian products. Without challenging those who were using the Indian IP without authorization, the patents passed into the public domain after 17 years, per patent law.

Sometime in the 1960's Floyd Clymer re-registered the Indian IP as the "American Indian Motocycle Company". There was some argument about whether Clymer had the legal right to do this because 17 years had not passed since the death of John Brockhouse. However Metal Profiles Ltd did not dispute Clymer's use of the name and IP, and so nothing was done.

Clymer used the Indian IP to rebrand imported motorcycles, just as Brockhouse had done before him. During this time period Robert Stark started "Starklite Cycles" manufacturing parts to fit older Indian Chief Motorcycles and doing restorations. Starklite Cycles is still in business.

In the late 1960's Charles Mathos, who owned an Indian Motorcycle museum in Springfield MA, developed a new prototype Indian Chief model. His prototype used 12 volt wiring and lighting, and had an electric starter, a four speed transmission, and a foot shift (in the modern style).

After Clymer's death in 1970, Mathos negotiated with Clymer's widow, offering her $10,000 for the Indian rights. Instead of selling the rights to Mathos, she accepted an offer of $10,500 for the Indian IP from Alan Newman, who had been her husband's lawyer. Mathos was put off by this because the deal with Newman was done without letting him know, and had he known he might have increased his offer. After losing the rights to the Indian IP, Mathos abandoned his project.

Alan Newman renamed the company the "Indian Motor Company" and started importing off road endure style motor bikes that were manufactured in Tai Wan. In the period between 1972 and 1978 roughly 75,000 Indian branded enduro bikes were manufactured. After Newman's death in 1979 the Indian Trademark was offered for sale in the LA Times newspaper.

In 1978 Carmen DeLeone purchased the Indian trade mark and IP from the LA times for $10,000. He then rebranded Manco go-carts, a company he owned, and light weight mini bikes with the Indian logo. There remained disputes over who owned the Indian due to the IP being taken from the public domain. But after years of court battles over who actually owned Indian patent rights, in 1990 DeLeone had legally won full rights to the Indian IP.

Soon after being notified that he had exclusive rights to the Indian IP, DeLeone sold one-half interest of Indian to a Spanish citizen named Phillip Zanghi. Zanghi then traveled to New York NY where he issued a press release stating that he was going to revive the iconic Indian brand. He then began to take in money from people wanting to buy stock and dealer franchises.

Other than having part ownership in the Indian IP, Zanghi had really nothing to show the public about what he was going to do with the company. It didn't take long for potential investors to become suspicious.

Zanghi then moved to Boston MA and repeated this process. He sold stock and franchises, and when people became suspicious he moved on, this time to Springfield MA. Once in Springfield Zanghi incorporated under the name, American Indian Motorcycle Company in 1990. Zanghi then sent out a press release stating that production would start on the new motorcycle lines by 1993. He also advertised for executive and production positions within his new company.

The government in Springfield welcomed the news that Indian was about to start up manufacturing again. The area had been hard hit economically due to a decline in manufacturing. Businesses had left the area due to high taxation, excessive union labor demands, and extreme environmental regulation. So the return of Indian to the area seemed to be really good news.

Zanghi started up what he claimed was a multi-million dollar corporation, and again began selling dealer franchises. He also created a program for outside vendors and manufactures to use the Indian logo on related and unrelated products. It wasn't long until officials within Springfield grew suspicious when there was no sign of actual motorcycle manufacture forthcoming.

Zanghi continued to claim that his corporation had millions of dollars in banks overseas. These officials soon involved Interpol to investigate the veracity of Zanghi's claims, and after investigation were told that the accounts Zanghi claimed did not exist.

Around this time Wayne Baughman of New Mexico formed a company called Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Inc. Baughman began a yet another court process to dispute Floyd Clymer's appropriation of the Indian IP via the public domain, stating that not enough time had passed since the founding of his company and John Brockhouse's death. This placed DeLone's and Zanghi's ownership in doubt.

During this time Zanghi continued to sell franchises, but in 1991 DeLone sued Zanghi because he was not getting his share of the franchise money. In this case Delone lost and Zanghi was granted 100% ownership of the Indian IP, however everything remained in doubt due to Baughman's law suit which was a separate case.

After winning his case against DeLeone, Zanghi got a building permit to refurbish one of the original Indian (Wigwam) manufacturing buildings for the purpose of future manufacture. He put a sign in front of the building that read, "Home of the Indian Motorcycle Company". Zanghi then started selling stock in the company even without any sign of prototypes or work on the building.

In 1990 Wayne Baughman registered the Indian trade mark in New Mexico and California. He also began selling dealer franchises and company stock. By 1992 Baughman had produced a prototype of what he called the "Continental Chief". This bike was supposed to be a modern take on the old design, with a 100 cui water cooled engine and EFI. The actual prototype though had an engine that was carved out of wood, and so became known as the wooden Indian.

By 1993 Baughman was able to show off a running prototype of his Continental Chief in New Mexico. The prototype featured a unitized engine and gear box (similar to our modern Indians). Baughman kept this prototype in the window of a proposed franchise location for some years, but beyond that nothing seemed to be going on.

Meanwhile for Zanghi, things were getting uncomfortable in Springfield, and so he moved his operation to Hartford CT. The change in location changed nothing regarding how Zanghi operated; he ran the same scam and continued to make promises to revive Indian, while selling stock and franchises.

By 1992 a class action law suit had been filed against Zanghi by the Springfield stock and franchise holders. As soon as this law suit was filed, Zanghi moved his operation to Raleigh NC. Once in Raleigh Zanghi continued to make promises and cheat investors. In 1993 Zanghi's creditors forced his company, American Indian Motorcycle, into Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation.

Zanghi wasn't finished yet; he went to Georgia and continued to try selling stock and franchises. Court orders for Zanghi to appear in Massachusetts were ignored, and he soon fled to Spain where he held citizenship.

The law suit continued, but with empty bank accounts and no assets the plaintiffs had no recourse. Extradition was tried, but as it turns out those laws cannot be used in civil cases.

Estimates are that Zanghi bilked investors or more than $830,000, with this money he bought Ferraris, Rolex watches, and furs for his lady friends. He also gave $42,000 to his daughter and deposited $500,000 into his personal bank account. In the end, the IRS as well as the Security and Exchange Commission issued warrants for his arrest. In 1997 Zanghi was brought back to the US where he was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison and ordered to pay $700,000 in financial restitution.

By 1994 back in New Mexico, Wayne Baughman had vanished. It's estimated that Baughman had taken in over $800,000 from those who had purchased franchises, but by 1995 only $22,000 was left in the company treasury.

Then in early 1995, Eller Industries which had been one of the early investors in the Baughman enterprise took over its assets. Eller Industries brought in John Britten, a well-known motorcycle designer and engineer to head up the effort to bring Indian back to the market. Unfortunately Britten died later that year from Cancer, and sadly this was the end of the Eller effort.

Over all these years, interest in Indian motorcycles continued to grow. More and more people were seeking parts and expertise in order to restore, or remanufacture older Indians. If anything, the Zanghi and Baughman fiascos demonstrated that there was continuing interest in, and a market for the return of the Indian brand. Strengthened by this resolve, it was during this time that Kiwi Indian started business, and they continue today.

In late 1995 a Colorado company called "First Entertainment Inc." announced that it had taken over the trademark and logos that were previously owned by Eller Industries. This new player in the Indian game announced that had formed a new company named the "Indian Motorcycle Classic Kit Company", and intended to offer parts and kits for the assembly of pre-1945 Indian Chiefs and Fours.

In 1996 another company called "Evo Indian" marketed items intended to make Harley-Davidson motorcycles look like Indians. And at roughly the same time yet another company named the "Ace Advantage" aimed at producing an Indian Motorcycle look-alike based on a 93 cui S&S engine.

Still another company, out of Englewood Colorado, called the "Sterling Consulting Corp." issued a press release stating that they intended to revive Indian Motorcycle. This company was headed by David Noonan, a trustee of the Zanghi bankruptcy, and Richard Block, a receiver of Baughman's empire, combined and asked the court to transfer all trademarks to a single corporation.

Eller Industries, who felt they still had rights to all the Indian IP contested the Noonan / Block effort in court. However even though Eller had two working prototype motorcycles by 1998, they were not awarded the legal rights to manufacture Indians.

In 1998 a group of investors paid Noonan/Block $22 million for the IP, including trademarks and the right to manufacture Indian Motorcycles. However due to contracts with various investors, this group had just one year to produce a prototype, otherwise they would give up their trademark claim. This group teamed up with a Gilroy motorcycle manufacturer called CMC (California Motorcycle Company), who had their own manufacturing plant, and built Harley Davidson clone motorcycles to make this happen.

By 1999 this coalition became "Indian Motorcycle of Gilroy", and the first real modern Indians started rolling off the assembly line. These first bikes were pretty much the basic CMC motorcycle with skirted fenders. So rushed was this process that the Indian emblems used on those first motorcycles were purchased from Starklite Motorcycles.

Within the first couple of years Indian Motorcycle of Gilroy introduced three models; these were the Scout, Spirit, and Chief. The Gilroy company started up the IRG, "Indian Rider Group" as a way to bring owners of the new Indian motorcycles together.

From the start there were problems with the CMC bikes, notably cracked fenders were an issue. Customers at that time had an on-line forum with which they could communicate with each other and the factory. However when customer complaints started showing up on the company sponsored forum, those complaints were simply deleted.

In response a grass roots community started up, and established the Indian Motorcycle Community Forum which continues to this day, and remains the oldest and (in my opinion) best place to find expertise and non-company biased information for all Indian motorcycles (including the new Polaris Indians).

As part of the initial agreement with the investors, Indian of Gilroy had to produce its own proprietary power plant within three years. The Power Plus 100 engine was the response to that demand. The engine was a good design, that in some ways was similar to the Harley-Davidson Evolution engine, but the development time constraint resulted in it being rushed into production without enough testing.

There were literally several thick binders of errata that had been compiled during initial testing, and this was all tossed aside. I have personally met people who worked in the Gilroy factory back then, and they told me that on test bikes the new engine vibration was so extreme that it broke the filaments in the headlamps. Even with all this, in 2002 the Power Plus 100 engine was released to production and the first bikes that were completely Indian rolled off the assembly line. This new bike was entirely re-engineered, with a new mono-shock frame, suspension, and power plant.

Obviously problems with the new design became apparent almost immediately. One of my friends who purchased a 2002 Chief had his engine blow up on the day of purchase, on the way home from the dealer. Customer complaints went through the roof, but again these were stifled by the company and it was becoming apparent that IRG (Indian Rider Group) was just a tool of the company.

It was at this time that the Iron Indian Riders Association (IIRA) came into being, with the motto "By the Riders, For the Riders" and remains a completely autonomous organization without any company backing or control. It remains the best organization (again my opinion) simply because there is no influence from the manufacturer. The IIRA is still strong and active today with chapters all around the world. By its nature the IIRA is a much less hierarchical organization than was the IRG and is the IMRG.

Sales of the Gilroy Indians were strong; as fast as the factory could get the bikes to the dealers, they were sold. However overhead and warranty claims were killing profits. Estimates were that to balance the warranty costs alone, the company needed to sell 70 motorcycles per day, but the factory could only produce 25 per day.

I bought my new Gilroy Chief in June of 2003. By then a lot of the problems with the Power Plus engines had been fixed, but there was a lot more that needed to be done. My engine blew up at 6000 miles; fortunately I was sitting at a stop light when this happened. Indications were that for the 2004 model year huge improvements were in store.

That year the dealer meeting which would preview the 2004 models was set in Las Vegas. Dealers had sent their representatives to have a look at what was coming up. These were reported to be major engine corrections, better all-around reliability, and two new models; the "Midnight Sun" Chief, and a fat-tire Scout.

But the investors had seen the books, and didn't like what they saw. The day before the dealer meeting was set to begin they pulled the plug. The company and factory doors were locked that day and everyone was laid off. Indian Motorcycle of Gilroy was liquidated in September 2003.

In January of the following year a crowd of IIRA members and others came to the factory auction and bought the remaining factory parts for the 2003 models and the few 2004 prototypes. Seven months later, in Stellican Ltd. Purchased the Indian trademarks and IP.

Stellican had made a name for themselves by bringing companies back from the dead. Previous to purchasing Indian they had done this with Chris-Craft Boats. Stellican was a company that specialized in bringing a company back, making it profitable, then selling it to another company. Stellican executives Stephen Julius and Steve Heese, who became known as "The Steves", moved the factory from Gilroy to Kings Mountain North Carolina, and began the process of redesigning the Chief.

In 2008 Mark Moses opened what remains to be called the Flag Ship Indian dealer in Charlotte NC. He is one of the most knowledgeable people I've ever met on the subject of Indian motorcycles. He has a museum at his dealer that is worth a look if anyone ever finds themselves in the area.

In 2009 The Steves started selling Indians, which in the common vernacular are referred to as "Kings Mountain Indians". Right about that time the world economy tumbled, and the Steves revised their business plan to accommodate the current economic condition. They realized that even in a down economy the rich still have money, and so they started producing hand built unique and quality motorcycles.

Each motorcycle was built by hand by three or four master mechanics, and with each purchase the new owner was presented with a certificate with the VIN and date of manufacture, signed by each of the men that built the bike. Many refer to Kings Mountain, or KM Indians as "Bentley Motorcycles" due to their limited number and how they were manufactured. It's estimated that in total only 1,100 Kings Mountain Indians were produced, making them very rare.

Over time The Steves introduced several different versions of the Chief including the Darkhorse and Bomber (2010), and the Blackhawk (2011). I bought my Darkhorse in November of 2011.

In April of 2011 Polaris Industries purchased Indian Motorcycle from Stellican Ltd. The Kings Mountain factory was closed in July of that year, with production moving to Spirit Lake IA. In 2013 the last of the Kings Mountain Era motorcycles were made. This last limited run was only a total of 85 Chiefs, LE and FE models.

In March of 2013 the Thunder Stroke 111 engine was first shown and demonstrated at the Daytona Motorcycle Rally. Then in August 2013 the Chief Classic, Vintage, and Chieftain were introduced at the Sturgis Rally in South Dakota, but it wasn't until October that the bikes started arriving at dealers.


At the time of the birth of the company with Hendee and Hedtrom, it was competing with many other motorcycle brands. In spite of this Indian quickly grew to be the number one production motorcycle in the world. Those other brands faded away and for the most part, and no one misses them (except perhaps for Crocker which has made a limited come back). Indian was never forgotten though; even in the company's darkest hours people were building them, restoring them, and in so doing keeping the brand and the legend alive.

It's apparent that even with all the starts and stops, even with all the scams and fiascos that the love of Indian Motorcycles has never died. Regardless of its stumbles and bankruptcies, the brand remains iconic as the quintessential American Motorcycle.

We are all very fortunate to be here for the rebirth of an icon; to own an Indian Motorcycle, and ride an American legend.

 + Open : 2003 Chief

Here you will find the unvarnished story of my experience owning and riding my 2003 Gilroy Indian Chief. The mother company does not endorse or influence anything I say here. What you read here is simply my experiences and my opinion, and as is often said – your mileage may vary.

Owning a 2003 Gilroy Indian Chief

Buying the Gilroy Indian

All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire.
      - Aristotle

Perhaps more than anything, my choice to purchase my first Indian motorcycle was a matter of a whim of passion.

Of course I had heard about the latest incarnation of the Indian Motorcycle brand in Gilroy, but really hadn't given it much thought. The Indian bikes looked good, but at that time I had been riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles for many years and I liked the attitude and the ridability of their bikes. My Harleys were proven reliable over several long trips. I had also recently purchased a 2003 Harley-Davidson Softail Heritage and was really enjoying it, so Indian really was not on my bike purchase radar at all.

I was at work one day in the early summer of 2003 with nothing much to do. I had recently finished a major project and was relaxing a bit while cleaning up my files and archiving my work in preparation for my next design challenge. That day my thoughts were on my father had who had passed on late the previous year. I was thinking a lot about our tumultuous relationship and how I wished our time together toward the end of his life had been better. I was also wondering what to do with the money I had received from a small inheritance from him.

My mind was idly thinking of my father as I surfed the web. He had always loved Indian motorcycles and actually gave me my first ride on a motorcycle on the back of his Indian Chief when I was two weeks old. So I found myself thinking of my father while looking up Indian dealers on line. I had no intention to buy, it was simple idle curiosity that drove me to the San Jose Indian web site, and it was there that I saw the most beautiful motorcycle I had ever laid eyes on. The black 2003 Chief Standard with silver pin-striping and those gorgeous full fenders was truly a site to behold, and it was love at first sight.

The specifications seemed impressive. A 100 cubic inch PowerPlus engine was standard while my Harley only had 88 cubic inches. The engine itself seemed to be a work of art. The bike also came with fully chromed forks, beach bars, and more than I could ever want except possibly saddle bags but they could be added later. The price was good, coming in at about $21,000. So with all this in mind, I went out to the San Jose dealer at lunch.

The San Jose Indian dealer was just a small store front located in the downtown section of the city. The place was about the size of a small book store or café, probably only about 1200 square feet. The sales floor took up most of the space with a small service area (as I would find out later) located in the back.

The bike I had seen on-line was sitting poised in the center of the store. I don't recall if there were other bikes there, I only saw her. She was bigger than I thought she would be, both longer and taller than my Harley Heritage, but with the sleek art deco styling her beauty could not be denied. I wanted this bike.

That afternoon while back at work I called my wife to talk to her about the bike. She had never seen an Indian motorcycle, but said "well it's your money do what you want with it". That night I made a detour to the San Jose dealer, wrote a check for the bike, and added a "Warpipe" exhaust, a free flowing intake, and had the service department re-jet the Mikuni carburetor.

The following Saturday I had my wife drive me to the dealer to pick up my bike. Her first words upon seeing the bike were, "my God, she's beautiful!" She fell in love with the full fenders and the styling, and to this day I've not met a woman yet that didn't love the look of my Indian.

Riding a Gilroy Indian

A loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge.
      - Thomas Carlyle

The breaking in of my new 2003 Indian Chief was done on a cool day on a winding mountain road. In my mind there is no better way to break in an engine and drive train than in those conditions, winding up and down through the gears while gliding through the twisting turns in the cool mountains.

My Gilroy handled very well, it felt substantial although a bit top heavy through the turns; a little heavy but still a very comfortable bike in that situation. Later on the freeway I would discover that the Gilroy was a dream at straight line riding, probably due to the 34 degree rake on the front forks.

Riding a motorcycle is always a good experience. You meet other riders and complement each other's bikes and talk about riding and the road in ways that people who never have ridden cannot comprehend.

Riding a Harley is a similar experience in many ways. The changes are that other Harley riders will check out your ride and talk goes along the line of improvements to the bike you and other Harley riders have made. It's also frequently the case that non-Harley riders will lament or make excuses for not buying a Harley.

I've never really understood those lamentations, because everyone who rides shares a similar experience, and anyone on two wheels is deserving of some level of respect no matter what they ride.

Riding an Indian is a different, or perhaps enhanced riding experience. Other riders, both Harley and non-Harley, will come by and admire your bike and talk about the history of the brand. Many times you will hear stories of their Father or Grandfather who rode an Indian. Non riders, especially women, will also come over and tell you over and over how beautiful your bike is.

One of my favorite aspects of riding an Indian is when Original Bikers come on the scene. By "Original Bikers" I mean those of the World War 2 generation that perhaps lived through the era of the '47 Hollister Rally and all that went with it. The fun loving ex-servicemen that risked their lives for our country and way of life through that war, then came home and just wanted to have some fun riding motorcycles. Listen carefully when they tell you of their escapades for they are teaching you history.

Many times I have been with my Harley riding friends and come out of a gas station, or coffee shop, or bar and found a cluster of these great men gathered around my Indian. My Harley friends are usually put off when this happens as these Original Bikers pretty much ignore their tricked out Harleys and gather around the Indian to tell their stories. These are the precious times in life to remember.

Back in September 2003 I rode my Gilroy Indian with my best friend Ben, a dedicated Harley guy and his Son Kellen (my God Son) from the SF bayarea up to Reno NV for the Street Vibrations rally.

I remember being nervous about the engine because I had heard through the Indian Motorcycle Community (website) that the Power-Plus engines were having problems. At the time the cause was considered to be related to low oil pressure due to problems with the oil pump. I had purchased a pump on-line and was intending to tear into the engine and replace it. The Indian Motorcycle Community suggested that rather than fix an engine that may not have problems, that I just ride the bike and if it blew then I would know I had a bad engine and could fix it then. The bike ran fine for the entire trip, so I was glad I took it.

Somewhere west of Sacramento we stopped in for fuel and a bathroom break. When we came out there were two or three guys that looked to be in their 70's or 80's standing by my Indian. My friend Ben had (and still has) a '97 Harley Softail that he has really fixed up nicely. His bike is beautiful and yet none of these Original Bikers gave it more than a quick glance. Instead the conversation went to their experiences riding an Indian. Even those who had not owned an Indian still talked of their friends who had one and all the troubles and adventures they had back then.

One gentleman named Ray told us of how he races on the flat track and cross country on his Indian Chief. He told us of one night when he and his friends had gotten roaring drunk and were racing on the back country dirt and gravel roads. Ray said he missed a turn, went right off the side of the road and tore through a barbed wire fence.

When Ray told his story I asked, "How long were you in the hospital?" Anyone that had ridden their bike through a barbed wire fence surely should be laid up for quite a while. Ray just laughed at my question. He said that his buddies had helped him pull his Indian back onto the road. He shook the dirt out of it and started it up then just kept riding. He didn't know how he had escaped with only a few scratches and bruises other than to speculate that maybe he was lucky or perhaps the big fenders had cut through the barbed wire.

I remember Ray laughing and could see in his eyes all his memories of fun and friendship back when he was young. It was an honor and a priceless experience speaking with him.

Conversations like the one I had with Ray is really the essence of the Indian riding experience.

The PowerPlus 100 Engine

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.
      - Confucius

When I first saw an Indian Chief with the PowerPlus 100 engine, I thought it was the most stunning motorcycle engine I had ever seen. There's just something about the clean lines, the round cylinders, and the "bottle cap" rocker boxes that is as unique as it is beautiful.

There has been quite a lot of static from Harley Loyalists (sheep) about how the PowerPlus shares so many design characteristics with the Harley Evolution engine. I believe though, that no internal combustion engine is actually unique, except perhaps the Wankel Rotary Engine If an engine has a crank shaft, pistons, pushrods, and cams, then it owes much of its design to previous iterations created by numerous design engineers. Nothing then is truly unique, and anything that seems new is only an improvement on something done previously.

The PP100 has a lot of lower end torque and is quick off the mark and runs nicely at low rpms at highway speed. The engine is a single camshaft, 4 cam design that utilizes pushrods to open and close the intake and exhaust valves, as such it is similar in design to the Harley Evolution engine, however the engine has different crankshaft, camshaft, and lower end designs, and is in no way, shape, or form a "knock-off" of a Harley Evolution engine.

The PP100 engine was designed by Indian Motorcycle Company, and is proprietary and part of the intellectual property of IMC. Contrary to many misinformed rumors, the PP100 was not designed or built by S&S engines.

Prior to 2002 Indian motorcycles did come with S&S engines. As part of the financial agreement required to obtain funding for IMC, a proprietary Indian engine had to be available by 2002. The engine design was rushed, as were testing and verification. In the rush to get the engine into production the initial errata (test data) were set aside and the engines built without many of the changes suggested by testing and verification. As such these engines were suspect.

Adding to the issues related to the PP100, many of the component parts were "farmed out" to outside vendors for manufacture, and some of these vendors did a very poor job. Many of the component parts were out of specification, but the engines were built in put in bikes anyway for the sake of meeting the financial agreement obligation.

I really enjoyed my 2003 Chief with the PP100 engine. The bike had an "in your face " rough edge to her; she vibrated, rattled, and the engine/exhaust roared.

Fortune smiled on me when I bought my 2003 Chief because, unknown to me, IMC was about to go bankrupt, and when I bought it I received an aftermarket 2 year warranty. At the time of purchase I did not realize how significant that warranty would become.

About a month after IMC went bankrupt, I was riding my Chief through the coastal mountains. I had taken Kings Mountain Road, then out to the coast road (the PCH) then back through the town of Pescadero to Alpine road, and was just riding home. As I sat at a red light about 2 miles from my house, the engine made a loud BANG and started running really poorly. It was suddenly running on just one cylinder. Had this happened at highway speed, things could have gone badly, but the Indian Gods must have been smiling down upon me.

A few days later I rode my Indian down to Indian Motorcycle of San Jose with my wife following behind in the car. Fortunately that dealer was still open; again the Indian Gods were on my side. A mechanic removed the engine and tore it down. He showed me how one of my pushrods had somehow jammed in the lower end of the engine and had snapped one of the rocker arms in half. He said he had never seen anything like that.

My engine was crated up and shipped back east to Blackhawk Motors and completely rebuilt. New cases, new crank, new lower end; the engine was better than new. Once the engine was returned and reinstalled in my bike, Indian Motorcycle of San Jose shut their doors forever.

I rode that bike another 15,000 miles with absolutely no further problems. Other issues had started to come up though. With the factory closed and the dealer network shutting down, it was becoming increasingly difficult to get even the most basic of parts. Looking forward that situation seemed like it was only going to get worse, and so I sold my 2003 Chief to a member of the Indian Motorcycle Community Forum.

I rode Harleys for years after that, and although Harley makes a pretty good bike, I always missed my Indian.

 + Open : 2010 Darkhorse

Here you will find the unvarnished story of my experience owning and riding my 2010 Kings Mountain Darkhorse. The mother company does not endorse or influence anything I say here. What you read here is simply my experiences and my opinion, and as is often said – your mileage may vary.

Owning a 2010 Kings Mountain Darkhorse

Buying the Kings Mountain Darkhorse

"Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting."
      - Ralph Waldo Emerson

It was a late summer's evening in 2011, and my wife and I were watching television. Actually only she was watching because the program was some sort of show that she was more interested than I, and so I was in the room with her, glancing at the screen from time to time as I surfed the web on my laptop.

Ever since selling my 2003 Chief I had missed the unique experience of riding an Indian. So it was that it caught my eye when a Facebook post came up advertising the new Kings Mountain Indian Darkhorse. I clicked on the ad and just stared lovingly at the sleek curving lines of the Art Deco style of the bike. I couldn't help myself and said to my wife, "Hey, want to see something pretty?"

I showed her the image on the laptop screen and she agreed that the bike was beautiful. Then she said, "Why don't you just buy it? You've been staring at those pictures for years now, so just buy one already."

Kings Mountain Indians were pricy bikes though, and I told her so. $30,000 - $35,000 for a motorcycle that was bound to break down a lot like my Gilroy Indian did seemed more than excessive.

My wife's reply was, "Well you have your Harley for dependability, if the Indian is not running you can always ride that." About the expense she said, "You've worked hard for years, do you want to just work and save all your life, then when you die leave all that you worked for to our kids?"

Opportunities like this in life and marriage are rare, and when they come upon you it's best to seize the day; Carpe Diem as Julius Caesar would say. So I quickly looked up the Indian Motorcycle Community Forum on line, and joined the discussion.

I asked about the reliability of these newly redesigned Indians and found that the new owners of Indian had done a great job ironing out all the problems with the engine. All the issues had been worked out, the engine was reliable, and they had added 5 more cubic inches to the displacement while they were at it. There still seemed to be issues here and there, but there were a few dealers around and a 2 year warranty would take care of whatever problem I had.

I made contact with various dealers close to my home in Colorado and started the process of getting a firm price. I ended up purchasing a 2010 Darkhorse from Indian Motorcycle of Fargo North Dakota for about $27,000, then added saddlebags, windshield, front and rear crash bars, a passenger seat, sissy bar and luggage rack.

My bike was delivered to my house on November 11, 2011, or 11-11-11, and she had 16 miles on her when she arrived.

Often bikes do not look as good in real life as they do in the promotional literature. This was not the case with my Darkhorse. She looks better in real life, and especially in my garage. As of this writing I have about 25,000 miles on her now, and love her even more now than the day I first saw her in my driveway.

Electrical issues

"Life experience is not something to be denied, but to be celebrated."
      - Madeleine M. Kunin

It was early in December, one of those few nice days that time of year when riding your motorcycle 20 miles won't result in hypothermia. I had been riding my 2010 Darkhorse for roughly a month and still getting used to it. It was after dark, and I was riding home from work. The Darkhorse was running smooth at 80 mph, the muted sound of the stock exhaust thudded into the night as I chased my headlight beam through the darkening evening heading north on I-25.

Then without warning the lights went out. I pulled in the clutch to ease my rapid deceleration as the lights and fuel pump cycled back on and off in rapid succession. I flicked the emergency flashers on, and nothing happened. Then as quickly as possible I pulled onto the shoulder of the road and brought the bike to a stop in the dark.

Fortunately I had not been rear ended or hit by a car or truck; in the dark on a black bike with no lights rolling down the freeway at 80 mph, this was a recipe for disaster that I had somehow by luck or providence avoided.

At the side of the freeway using the light from passing traffic, I had trouble reading the phone number of my insurance agent off the card I carried in my wallet. Once I got her on the line I could not write down the number for the towing service she rattled off. To top it off my cell phone was low on charge. So I called my wife at home and told her where I was and asked her to call a tow truck to pick me up.

I had learned 2 things so far.

  1. Carry a flashlight on the bike.
  2. Make sure my cell phone is fully charged whenever I go out on the Indian.

It took about an hour for the tow truck to find me, then another half hour or so to get the bike loaded on the back of the flatbed tow truck.

Once home I pulled the seat and saw the cause of the problem immediately. The negative battery post had sheared off. I had never had such a problem on a motorcycle before.

The next day I called Indian Motorcycle of Fargo ND, where I had purchased my Darkhorse. I was told that all the updates and recalls on my bike had been done before delivery, and that this battery issue must be due to a bad battery or some other unknown circumstance. They also said that battery problems were not covered by the warranty.

So I pulled the battery and replaced it, which seemed to solve the problem.

Some months later on a February morning on the way to work (in the daylight) it happened again. Again on the freeway at 80+ mph, the electrical system just shut down. This time I had a charged cell phone and had the towing number from my insurance company on speed-dial.

While I was waiting for the tow truck I used the tools I now carried in my saddlebag to pull the seat and have a look at the battery. Low and behold the negative battery post was sheared off again.

That night after work I took pictures of the cabling and the sheared terminal and posted them on line on the Indian Motorcycle Community Forum. Almost immediately I was told that I had the wrong negative cable on my bike. I then emailed the dealer and told them what I was told and sent along the pictures I had taken.

A week later I received the new cable plus a check for 2 new batteries from the dealer. I replaced the cable and have not had any problems since.

ECM issues

"The expectations of life depend upon diligence; the carpenter that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools."
      - Confucius

By far the biggest problem I've had with my Darkhorse has to do with the ECM mapping. This is the Engine Control Module, which regulates the timing and how much fuel the engine gets at a given RPM and throttle position.

Kings Mountain Indian Motorcycle Company (KM or IMC) was run by a small corporation that specialized in bringing companies back from death or near death experiences. That is what they were attempting to do with IMC after the Gilroy debacle. As such, their goal was to get IMC up and running, producing good and reliable bikes while spending as little as possible to do so. Their goal was never to run IMC in the long term, only to get the company back on its feet and then sell it to someone else to run it for the long term.

They took some short cuts to do this, and one of these short cuts was the ECM map. The ECM was an addition by the new owners, and not found on Gilroy bikes which ran off an old fashioned (and reliable) carburetor. The map they developed was set to run best at sea level, which it did. However above 4,000 or 5,000 feet the timing and fuel mixture were not optimum. As I live at over 7,000 feet elevation, the problems I experienced were extreme.

I must point out that those owners that lived at lower elevations did not experience near the problems I did. My problem mostly occurred when starting out from a stop at idle, or accelerating from a low rpm such as adding power when pulling through a turn. In these circumstances the engine would suddenly cut out or skip as if the fuel had suddenly been shut off. then violently surge back on again.

One of the first times this happened was as I started to make a left turn in front of oncoming traffic. The bike felt as if it nearly stalled, and with the fast oncoming cars it certainly gave me a fright. Then the engine surged and I shot across the intersection, this surge was strong enough that it nearly pushed me off the back of the saddle.

Another time this issue would show up was when I was going through a turn. It was unpredictable, but many times as I was banking through a turn and started to apply the throttle the engine would again sharply cut out then surge back on again. This would jerk the bike down into the lean angle, then when the engine surged on again it would jerk me more upright. I almost dumped the bike several times before I came to expect this hazard and be prepared for it.

I asked around on the Indian Motorcycle Community Forum but did not get much feedback since not many lived at the altitude I did. Finally one member mentioned that Indian Motorcycle of Fargo ND (where I bought my bike) had a genius mechanic that had found a way to improve the breathing of the bike and bypass the stock Magneti Marelli ECM. His name is Joe Karvonen, and he is still doing this work up in Fargo.

In June of 2012 I rode my Darkhorse up to Fargo and had Joe work his magic on my bike. He modified the stock airbox and increased the size of the filter, then mounted a V&H ProPipe HP with his own bracket, and finally used a Power Commander 5 (PC5) ECM to piggy back the stock M&M ECM. He dyno-tuned the bike and brought it in at 97 hp and 110 ft. lbs of torque.

The changes Joe made to my bike not only fixed the cutting out and surging problems I had, but also woke the bike up. I don't know how else to describe the difference in performance other than to say that now my Darkhorse hauls ass. She's faster than pretty much any Harley out there with similar mods. For a Harley to beat her, the owner will have to dump thousands of dollars into increasing displacement and radical cams.

I am entirely satisfied with the way my bike turned out after Joe's modification.

Exhaust Header Bolts

"If the human race wishes to have a prolonged and indefinite period of material prosperity, they have only got to behave in a peaceful and helpful way toward one another."
      - Winston Churchill

I was about 1,300 miles from completing a 5,000 mile trip from Colorado to Montana then to California and back. Leaving Missoula MT on that cool morning I had followed I-90 to Billings without any mechanical issues with my 2010 Indian Chief Darkhorse. She was running like a dream.

It was mid-afternoon in Billings when I gassed up and prepared to head south on I-90 which would take me to I-25 and then on home. I planned to spend the night in Casper WY and head back home the next day.

It wasn't long after leaving Billings that I first noticed an odd noise coming from my engine. It was sort of a fluttering sound that was accompanied by an occasional clacking noise. As I rode I tried to identify where the noise was coming from, but could not pin it down. The bike though seemed to be running fine, but the noise concerned me.

At one point I stopped at the side of the freeway and let the bike idle while I listened and tried to pin it down. When stopped though the strange noise stopped as well. Nothing seemed loose or out of place, and so initially I thought that perhaps some road debris had gotten caught on my bike somewhere and was making the sound as I rode. There didn't seem to be anything functionally wrong with the bike, so I mounted back up and hit the road again.

As soon as I got back up to speed the noise started up again. As is common when problems like this are encountered, my mind went through ever changing possible causes of the noise. These causes my mind came up with ranged from the inconsequential issues, to possible imminent mechanical failure and break down. My mind just would not let it rest.

When I stopped for gas south of Sheridan I did another walk around inspection of the bike, and this time I found the problem. The two nuts securing the front exhaust header to the head were missing. The pipe was just sort of floating there, and so would sometimes clack against the studs coming out of the head. I surmised that the fluttering sound was the exhaust gases pushing around the loose head pipe and dispersing with the wind.

I had no idea what size the missing nuts were, and did not have to tools to properly secure them even if I could obtain replacements. There was no local shop or supplier I could turn to get replacements even if I did know what size to purchase. After considering my situation, I elected to continue on my way down to Casper where I could find replacements and possibly secure tools to make the repair.

That night I stayed in a Quality Inn near the freeway in Casper. I chose this area because I knew there was a Harley dealer nearby and assumed that I could probably find the nuts I needed there. The problem I was having with this was that I did not want to pull into a Harley dealer with a broken down Indian. It seemed like "bad press" to me, and I didn't want to give the HD sheep any fuel to criticize my beloved Indian brand.

That night I took my laptop out and looked for places where I might find nuts to secure my exhaust header to the head. I also logged into the Indian Motorcycle Community Forum and asked the experts there what size to get. I had numerous responses, all with good and accurate information. One person even called Mark Moses at the Charlotte Indian dealer to confirm the correct size. With this information I looked on-line for hardware stores.

I found an ACE Hardware store that would probably have the parts I needed, and so I felt confident that while I may be a bit delayed, that I could get what I needed and be on my way by late morning or early afternoon the next day.

However, later that evening I happened to be looking out the window of my hotel room and I saw a Victory dealer sign about a half mile from my hotel. I then went back on line and saw they were open early and decided to try and get my parts there. Since Polaris had purchased the Indian brand the year before, I thought this would be my best bet. If it fell through, I still could get what I needed at ACE Hardware.

The next morning, after enjoying a cup of coffee I showed up at the Victory dealer. As soon as they opened their doors I was in and at the parts counter. I wish I could recall the name of the guy that served me because he was so helpful and I'd like to give him credit.

He said he wasn't sure what size the nuts were on my bike but thought they'd probably be the same size as the ones used on Victory bikes. He didn't have any in stock, but he pulled a pair off a Victory High Ball he happened to have on the show room floor. We then went outside and he checked to see if they fit, and they did. He then installed them on my bike right there in the parking lot. He also checked the tightness of the nuts securing my rear head pipe and made sure they were tight as well.

My bill came to something like 25 cents, but I gave him a $20 tip for his great service.

I rode my Darkhorse the rest of the way home that day and had no trouble at all.

Check Starter

"If you have a positive attitude and constantly strive to give your best effort, eventually you will overcome your immediate problems and find you are ready for greater challenges."
      - Pat Riley

One day I fired up my bike after work to make the commute home and saw a message on my speedo that read "[check symbol] STRTR". The bike had started fine, and was running well, so I decided to ride home and hope for the best.

That night I posted on the Indian Motorcycle Community Forum and asked about the error message. The members of the forum suggested that I check my battery (which was new) and all the connections, particularly the negative connection from the battery that goes to the starter. I also got a message from Mark Moses of the Charlotte Indian dealer asking me to give him a call.

I spoke with Mark over the phone the next day. He had me start the bike while he was on the line and tell him what I saw. He also had me pull the under seat cowling and the headlight nacelle. Together we worked through the problem and the possible causes. Our conclusion was that the Body Control Module (BCM) was reporting a fault where there wasn't one due to a short in the wiring harness.

Apparently the harness is subject to wear in two areas due to vibration of the motorcycle. The first was under the seat, but my bike showed no wear at that location. The other area of concern was within the headlight nacelle, where the harness came into contact with the lower triple tree. It was there that I saw some signs of wear.

Mark had me use a zip tie to pull the harness away from the triple tree and use electrical tape to insulate the worn wires. He further suggested that if the error message persisted that I have an authorized dealer look into why the error message continued to show up.

Initially I thought this fixed the problem, but soon the check-starter error message was back. This bothered me a lot because I had been planning a long ride, and was worried that I could be stranded should the bike fail to start. However the bike actually was starting fine, the starter motor spun the engine well enough so that it always started. Again I consulted with Mark at Indian of Charlotte, and we came to the conclusion that the problem would not be a concern while on my long trip, but that I should contact an authorized dealer when I returned.

So I took my 5,000 mile vacation trip into some very remote places, and although I must admit to having been a bit nervous that my bike would fail to start, but as it turned out my fears were entirely unjustified.

When I returned from my riding adventure I contacted my closest dealer (500 miles away) about what I should do about this persistent error message. Justin, an Indian dealer General Manager I trust, contacted Polaris for me and was able to authorize the repair at a Polaris/Victory dealer (Rocky Mountain Cycle Plaza in Colorado Springs, CO) close to my home. All the necessary warranty information was transferred, and I brought my bike in for testing.

It took a few days, but eventually it was discovered that both the starter and a section of my wiring harness needed to be replaced. All this was done under warranty at no cost to me.

While I waited for the starter to be delivered to RMCP, I had my bike back and was still able to enjoy riding it around.

It took a few weeks for the starter to come in, but when it did I brought my bike back to RCMP and they did the work. It actually took several days for it all to be completed, but I am entirely happy with the result.

The new starter really spins the engine, and so it starts quicker than it ever did, and the check-starter message is now just a memory.

Overall Experience

"The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance."
      - Aristotle

Overall my Kings Mountain Indian Chief Darkhorse is a good solid bike. The design of the components are very dated, but still good and reliable. These bikes were all built by hand, not created on a production line. As such each have their own character and flaws. A hand build motorcycle is not going to be perfect; there will be issues.

I love my Darkhorse. She's loud, fast, and has a lot of rough edges. She's rugged, dangerous, and has a mean streak. To summerize, she is at the core what a motorcycle should be.

Over the past years I've worked through all the bugs and issues with the design and construction of this bike. As such I feel she is very reliable, and I would not hesitate a second before taking her on a long cross country ride.

Polaris has now come out with a Darkhorse verson of their Classic Chief. In my estimation this new "Darkhorse" model is but a cheap immitation of the original Kings Mountain original.

Some could argue that the Polaris verion is more reliable because it uses new technology. However I have experienced more problems on my 2014 Vintage than I ever have on my Kings Mountain Darkhorse. These problems on my Darkhorse are less severe simply because it's possible to figure out what the problem is and fix it. My 2014 Vintage is basically a computer with wheels, and diagnosing and fixing software problems that shut down my bike are much more difficult to deal with than mechanical issues such as I had with the battery cable.

Add to this that my Kings Mountain Darkhorse is very rare. The total production at Kings Mountain over their entire 5 year run, amounted to a mere 1,100 motorcycles and the number of Darkhorse models produced is but a small subset of the total production.

My Darkhorse has a lot of personality, and I love her more every time I ride her.

 + Open : 2014 Vintage

Here you will find the unvarnished story of my experience owning and riding my 2014 Indian Chief Vintage. The mother company does not endorse or influence anything I say here. What you read here is simply my experiences and my opinion, and as is often said – your mileage may vary.

2014 Chief Vintage

Buying the Vintage

"There are many talented people who haven't fulfilled their dreams because they over thought it, or they were too cautious, and were unwilling to make the leap of faith."
      - James Cameron

In March of 2013 Polaris introduced the engine that would be going into the new Indian motorcycles at the Daytona Motorcycle Rally. Prior to this release, my fear was that they were going to just install the Victory engine into a bike with skirted fenders. When I saw the new engine, the Thunder Stroke 111, I just knew Polaris was going to rock this new design.

The engine resembles a late 40's Indian flat head engine, and yet is completely a modern design. It uses a triple cam lower end for near ideal pushrod geometry and a counter balanced crankshaft for smooth operation. Also, with 111 cubic inches of displacement I knew the new Chiefs were going to be powerful.

In early April, Justin (the General Manager of the Lincoln NE Indian dealer) sent out a message offering a really good deal for anyone willing to take the leap of faith and pre-order the new bike sight unseen. No one had any idea what models would be offered, or what colors, or really any idea at all what the bikes would look like. Ordering at this stage would be a huge leap of faith.

I thought about this for a day or so, and then called Justin from work. We talked on the phone for nearly an hour, both of us speculating on what would be offered and what to expect. The deal that was being offered was that if I put $1000 down and absolutely committed to the purchase, I would get $2000 off the purchase price. At the end of our conversation I gave Justin my credit card number and committed to buy the new Indian sight unseen.

My wife was not too pleased about this decision, mostly because she was not consulted beforehand. Fortunately she got over it.

On August 4, 2013 Polaris introduced the new Indians at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. I did not attend the rally, but watched the videos of the unveiling over the internet. Three models were released, the Chieftain the first Indian with a fairing, the Vintage a traditional Indian with leather saddlebags and a windshield, and the Classic a bare bones Chief model. The next day I called Justin and ordered the Vintage model.

My only problem with my decision was what color to get. The bikes came in only three colors, black, blue, and red, and the only color leather available was distressed tan. Normally I prefer black bikes but I don't like the look of a black bike with tan leather, and so I was perplexed as to what color to order. I talked with my wife about this and eventually decided to go with a blue vintage because in my view that is the only color the tan leather looks good with.

And so the wait began.

Initially I was told that my bike would be delivered by the end of August. Then I was told that there were quality issues on the manufacturing line and the delivery dates were being pulled back by a few weeks.

Around this time Justin, the General Manager I had been dealing with at Lincoln Indian, left to take a job as the GM of the Indian dealer in Scottsdale AZ. After his departure the level of communication with the Lincoln dealer dropped off significantly. Jeff, the new GM pointedly told me "don't call us, we'll call you."

Because I was trading my Harley for the new Indian and needed to ride both ways to Lincoln, the further the pick-up date went into winter the more difficult the transaction would become. Having heard nothing and received nothing but hostility when I called the Lincoln dealer, I eventually opened a case with Indian Corporate Customer Service. Perhaps not so remarkably I received a call from Lincoln about 2 weeks later that my bike was in and available for pick-up.

I rode my Harley-Davidson Street Bob up to Lincoln on October 14, and picked up my new Vintage on October 15.

The transaction at Lincoln took nearly all day; this was mostly due to me having to wait around for another customer to finish their transaction. I got out of there eventually though, and started breaking in the engine by riding the back roads over to North Platte NE, where I spent the night.

The electronics on this bike are pretty darned amazing. One thing that's nice is that the bike tells you what gas mileage you're getting as you ride. During that first day I was only getting a bit more than 30 mpg. I hoped this was due to the engine not being broken in yet; perhaps everything was too tight, and would loosen up as more mileage was put on. This turned out to be true because by the time I got home I was getting just about 37 mpg.

Over the next few months the gas mileage continued to improve, and now I usually get about 45 mpg on the back roads, and about 40 mpg on the highway.

Having 500 miles on the bike when I got home, I did the first oil change soon after arriving. Even though there is only a single oil reservoir that services the engine, primary, and transmission, the oil change process is a bit complex. I followed the instructions in the owner's manual to the letter and did not have any problems at all.

Return to top

Leather Issues

"Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age."
      - James Joyce

I ordered a blue Indian Vintage that came with distressed tan leather. This ends up being seven pieces of leather, 2 saddlebags, rider seat, passenger pillion, rider backrest, passenger back rest, and fuel tank bib. I have to say that initially I absolutely loved the look. People who are not even motorcycle riders would walk across the parking lot to complement my bike. The attention was nice, and I personally liked the look.

I had never had tan, or any other color than black, leather on any of my bikes before. Over time though the leather began to fade, and soon my distressed tan bags turned a color reminiscent of zombie skin. The color of my leather turned from a beautiful reddish gold, to greenish gray. I have to admit that I ride a lot and so my bikes are always out in the weather, but motorcycle leather should be designed and finished such that it can be outside, and it quickly became apparent that the leather on my Vintage was finished in a way that was more suitable for indoor furniture that is kept well away from any window.

As my leather faded I became increasingly unsatisfied.

I contacted other Indian Chief Vintage owners on the Indian Motorcycle Community Forum and discovered that literally every other 2014 Vintage owner had the same problem. Those of us who had our bikes out of doors more than others had a greater amount of fading, but everyone's leather was fading some degree.

We began to complain, but when for many of us, when we went to our local dealer it seemed our grievance was largely ignored. My dealer told me that they had opened a case for me with Indian Customer Service, but were not hearing anything in return.

In the end it became more expedient to make a comment on the Indian Motorcycle Facebook page. Once I registered my complaint on Facebook a case was opened for me within 24 hours, and I received a call from Customer Service within a day or two.

Indian knew there was a problem, but with so many Indian Vintages sold, they were struggling with how to best handle the situation. A number of months passed during this process, but in the end we all received a personal call from Gary Gray at Indian. I don't exactly know what Mr. Gray's position is, but he definitely had the authority to deal with it. In his call he informed us that Indian would supply us a leather dye kit, and we could either re-dye our leather ourselves or have our local dealer do it.

I dyed my leather myself about a week before I left on my riding trip to the northwest. Initially I was very happy with how the re-dye turned out, however within only a few days of riding in the sun my leather began to fade at a very rapid rate.

I was very unsatisfied with the results of the dying, and I contacted Indian Customer Service again in this regard. The Customer Service Agent told me over the phone that aside from possibly sending me another re-dye kit, there was nothing she could do. I told the Indian Agent that this was clearly unacceptable, that motorcycle leather should be treated such that it can be outdoors.

The situation escalated and eventually I was asked what would make me happy? Essentially, what could Indian do that would resolve this situation in my mind. I answered this question by suggesting that they replace my tan leather with black leather that was finished such that it would withstand the elements. I was prepared to pay part of the cost of this, but Indian Customer Service agreed to replace all my distressed tan leather with new black leather at no cost to me.

Within about three weeks my dealer received my new leather, and I took my bike in and they installed everything for me. I am extremely happy with the result. My new black leather is top quality and seems pretty bullet proof when it comes to the weather. I love the look; the black bags give my bike a very different attitude. My bike Is also relatively unique as there are not many other blue 2014 Indian Chief Vintages with black leather. My bike looks awesome now and I'm very happy.

UPDATE: Since writing the above I have run across some Vintage owners who are unsatisfied with the look of their faded leather, but do not want to change their leather to black. My local dealer (Littleton CO) has offered a solution that many are finding satisfactory, which is to have the customers leather re-dyed professionally with oil based dye.

The dye supplied by Indian was water based. The reason for this is a matter of speculations among many Vintage owners. Our opinion is that Indian chose the water based dye due to environmental regulations or concerns, again though, this is pure speculation and may be wide of the mark.

The oil based dyes seem to be holding up much better than the water based dyes did. So there is a solution for those that want to keep their distressed tan leather if your local dealer is willing to go the extra mile as the Littleton Indian dealer does.

Return to top

Performance Upgrade

"Don't lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations. Expect the best of yourself, and then do what is necessary to make it a reality."
      - Ralph Marston

With every Harley-Davidson I've ever owned, the first thing I did, often before bringing it home, was to change out the intake and exhaust, then have it tuned for better performance. I did this immediately after purchase because Harley-Davidsons perform horribly without it, in my opinion. With my 2014 Vintage it was a different story however.

Initially the performance of my Vintage was quite adequate. The engine response was quick and competent, however it wasn't exciting and my 2010 Darkhorse with the 105 PowerPlus engine was noticeably much more powerful. So over a years' time and 23,000 miles, I began to crave something more from the bike; more torque, more sound, and more attitude.

I researched the intake and exhaust options for my bike extensively, and eventually settled on Vance & Hines mufflers and a Thunder Manufacturing Air Cleaner. I purchased these items and had my local Indian dealer in Littleton Colorado install them along with a Power Commander V which would be tuned by a local tuner the Service Manager recommended called "Black Widow Cams".

After the install and the tune all I really noticed was that the bike was a bit louder, but the performance was not noticeably different than stock. When I questioned our service manager about the poor performance I was told that I should not expect anything more than what I got because that was the best Black Widow Cams could do.

With the tune done by Black Widow Cams I was running at about 78 hp and 103 ft lbs of torque, which was only slightly better than stock.

To better understand what was going on, I went on line to the Indian Motorcycle Community Forum and started asking questions. Several members of the forum had done similar performance improvements and had gotten very strong results.

One member sent me the dyno-tune map from his motorcycle, and I loaded his map into my Power Commander V. The difference was startling to say the least, she now literally runs like a scalded dog. The power is smooth and strong at any speed and rpm.

I recently checked the power of my bike on a dyno-tune and I am now running 85 hp and 111 ft lbs of torque. I've had practically no change in fuel mileage, and still average between 44 and 45 mpg.

The one thing that still irks me about this entire experience is the $350 Black Widow Cams charged me for practically nothing. Because of that I advise anyone interested in doing any performance work on their Indian to STAY AWAY FROM BLACK WIDOW CAMS.

UPDATE #1: Performance upgrade

If you read here regularly, then you've seen articles relating to the performance upgrade that I had the Littleton CO Indian dealer install on my 2014 Chief Vintage. Overall I'm very happy with the result; my bike runs cooler, gets excellent fuel mileage, and runs like a scalded dog. There have been a few stumbles here and there because… well because an Indian will test you.

For reference, what I had done was to install Vance & Hines mufflers, a Thunder Manufacturing air cleaner, and a Power Commander 5 so the engine could be properly tuned to run well with these modifications.

The problems I encountered were: the initial performance was poor, and the bike developed a high and strange idle on warm days at high altitude. Let's look at these issues separately.

Poor performance (Note: all performance numbers are measured at the rear wheel)

There are very few engine tuners who have any experience with the new Indian TS-111 engine. Some of these tuners think that because they tune Hardly Ablesons that they can tune an Indian. Maybe they think the Indian engine is a clone of the Harley Twinkie engine, but if they do believe this they're dead wrong.

The Littleton dealer contracted with Black Widow Cams, a certified Dyno-Jet Power Commander tuner with experience with Hardly Ablesons to get the engine tuning done. Black Widow Cams should have been embarrassed by their result; they charged me $350 and delivered a bike with what amounted to stock performance; 78 HP and 103 ft lbs of torque. When I protested their lack of results I was told that what they did was the best they could do.

I checked with my contacts and found someone who had installed the same modifications I did, and through him I got the Power Commander tuning map which I loaded myself. The difference was startling; 85 HP and 111 ft lbs of torque. The performance is awesome and I still get fuel mileage in the mid 40's.

I strongly suggest that anyone considering these modifications steer clear of Black Widow Cams. Anyone wishing to get my Power Commander tuning map can contact me directly at

Engine idling issues

Soon after I got my bike back from the Littleton Indian dealer I noticed that the idle was higher than normal. I thought this was an aberration at first, but the issue became acute when I rode in warm weather at high altitude.

Normally my engine idled as it should, at about 800 rpm, however on warm days up at and above the altitude of Woodland Park CO (8,500 ft) my engine would idle at 1,100 to 1,200 rpm. This was odd enough but things got even stranger. At times my engine would start idling at 1,200 rpm and then slowly increase in speed up to 1,500 rpm, and then suddenly return to 1,200 rpm, and this pattern would repeat itself continually.

Because of the correlation between ambient air temperature and high altitude I suspected the TMAP sensor on my bike. The TMAP is a sensor that sits behind the horn and between the cylinders. Its job is to measure the air temperature and pressure inside the intake manifold.

The TMAP sensor was checked by the Littleton CO Indian dealer service department, and it seemed fine, however since this condition persisted I asked that it be replaced. Once it was replaced the idling issues seem to have eased quite a bit. My bike still idles high at elevated altitudes, but not as high as before and the rev up and down seem to have subsided.

I contacted Dyno-Jet regarding this issue and described the install of my Power Commander. Their recommendation was to move the ground connection of the Power Commander from the frame ground to the negative battery post as shown in their instructions.

Moving the ground connection seems to have finally solved the idling issues. I now have the performance I wanted and my bike is now running as it should.


The stock power of these new Chief motorcycles is actually excellent. The stock bike runs fine, handles high temperature conditions fine, and gets good fuel mileage. If you're fine with "fine" then leaving your bike stock is the road you should take.

If on the other hand you'd like your bike to have a more edgy attitude, with a little more sound and a lot more power, then perhaps you should consider following a path similar to mine. If this is the case then I suggest that you:

UPDATE #2: Removing the PC5

As it's been noted here before, I've had nothing but problems with my bike since the install of the Power Commander 5. The Power Commander 5 (PC5), produced by Dyno-Jet, allows the air/fuel ratios and timing to be adjusted by a trained technician on a Dynamometer. It's not entirely legal to make changes like this, but enriching the fuel / air mixture is generally a good thing because the engine runs cooler, and we get the added benefit of better performance. The rear wheel torque on my bike went from 103 ft lbs (stock) to 111 ft lbs with the PC5; a very noticeable improvement.

I have a PC5 installed on my 2010 Kings Mountain Indian Darkhorse and I absolutely love the result. My Darkhorse is very fast for a bike of that size, and runs exceptionally well even at high altitudes. My stock Darkhorse had issues with the engine timing because the EFI system could not adjust to the altitude here in Colorado; installing the PC5 solved that problem.

When I installed the same device on my 2014 Indian Vintage I expected similar results, but that just did not happen. Initially my fuel gauge went haywire, then my VCM went out, then I experienced the weird idle at high altitude which created issues with engine braking when I was riding in the mountains. I can't say whether or not the fuel gauge and VCM issues were related to the PC5 install, although it certainly was an odd coincidence that both of those issues came up shortly after the work was done. The high idle at altitude is certainly a PC5 related problem.

Finally I had enough of dealing with an undependable bike. Frankly it irks me that my decision to go for better performance by installing the PC5 may have caused most of the problems I've experienced. This is why I had the Littleton Indian dealer remove the PC5 and load the Indian performance flash into the bike's ECM.

Since the removal of the PC5 (aka 'the tumor') my bike is running better than it has in a long time. The high altitude idle issues have vanished, and the engine seems to run smoother than it did before. I've lost some lower end torque but have gained in the areas of reliability and riding ease. I could not be happier with the result.

It remains to be seen whether the problems I experienced were a result of a bad PC5 unit, or the unit install, or perhaps even a premature release of a product by Dyno-Jet before it was adequately tested. There is doubt as to whether I will ever know the answer to that question. In the end though, I have a fine running and dependable bike, and for me that's what matters the most.

Return to top

Electrical Shutdown

"Do not brood over your past mistakes and failures as this will only fill your mind with grief, regret and depression. Do not repeat them in the future."
      - Swami Sivananda

In late March of 2015 I was riding my 2014 Vintage through the California desert on Interstate-10 toward Indio CA, when suddenly the electrical control system shut down. The engine continued to run fine, but all the console controls ceased to function and the engine warning light was blinking.

I pulled off the freeway at the first safe opportunity and parked at a gas station. Once stopped I could not shut down the engine, neither the console power button or the starter switch worked. I eventually used the kill switch on the right handlebar to shut down the engine. However once the engine was shut down the headlamp and tail light continued to shine, and nothing I could do would turn them off.

I had the bike towed to the El Cajon Indian dealer, arriving just minutes before they closed. The next morning they discovered that a simple update of the Vehicle Control Module (VCM) software corrected the problem. I paid the price of a new battery and was soon on my way.

On my way home to Colorado I stopped at Indian dealers and spoke to their Service Managers about what the cause of the electrical shutdown could be. The consensus opinion was that my battery was probably edging toward its end-of-life, and was unable to accept the charge that the bike was delivering to it. The VCM software detected this problem and shut down the console in order to prevent damage of the instrumentation from a power overload.

No one can say if the new software will handle this condition differently because no one other than the Polaris programmers know what is included in each revision of the software. I hope it does, but I find it disturbing that if such a catastrophic failure could be caused by software. If this problem were corrected by a software revision why were the motorcycle owners, who are at risk of experiencing this failure, never contacted and told to get their bike into a dealer for a software update?

It could also be that the new battery corrected the problem. Or it could also be that the VCM system reboot that occurred when the battery was disconnected reset the system, as what happens when you reboot your home computer.

The uncertainty of cause bothers me because without a cause it's impossible to take preventative action. I've ridden all over this country, and so I know that there are many places where it would be very dangerous to break down. For now I have determined to replace my motorcycle battery yearly (instead of every other year as I have previously done), and to be sure that my bike's software is updated every time it goes to the dealer for new tires or anything else.

For now that's all I can do, I hope it's enough.

UPDATE: Polaris replaced the VCM under warranty, hopefully that will fix the problem but without knowing what caused the VCM to shut down as it did, I remain uncertain.

Return to top

Drain Plug Issues

"A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying."
      - B. F. Skinner

The oil sump/tank on our motorcycles is made of cast Aluminum. Aluminum, especially in its cast form, has a hard but brittle exterior and a soft interior. The hardness of Aluminum actually comes from corrosion on the surface.

Screwing into this casting we have two drain plugs, one for the oil tank and one from the oil sump. The drain plugs that screw into the casting are of harder material than they are screwing into. This is a condition that could distort or strip the casting threads should the drain plug be either cross threaded or over torqued.

The torque of both drain plugs is spec'd at 15 ft lbs, and if whoever installs them is very careful everything should be fine – in theory. The problem with this theory is that it is only valid if the plugs and what they are screwing into are exactly the same. However this is not the case, because the sump drain has only about half the thread depth as does the tank drain. If you screw something in to fewer threads, each thread will be subjected to greater force and distortion than when screwing into a greater number of threads. The torque is distributed equally over the number of threads, so fewer threads mean more force on each thread. In short, 15 ft lbs for the sump drain plug is too great a value, and this is obviously a design defect.

I have spoken to a number of owners who have the threads strip on the sump side, and even though I have been extremely careful about installing my drain plugs, I am starting to see signs of distortion on my bike as well. The solution seems to be to install a "Time-Sert" into the sump drain hole.

A Time-Sert is a self-locking solid bushing that inserts in a drilled out hole. Installing a Time-Sert is definitely not something an everyday person can do in their home garage; it must be done at the dealer. Because it can't or shouldn't be done by the owner, it's costly to do. Prices I've heard other owners pay range from $200 to $270.

UPDATE: As of this writing Polaris has agreed to pay for the installation of a Time-Sert.

UPDATE 2: The engine case near the drain plug has been thickened on my 2016 Indian Springfield. This seems to be only an issue on the 2014-15 bikes.

Return to top

Overall Experience

"In business, the idea of measuring what you are doing, picking the measurements that count like customer satisfaction and performance... you thrive on that."
      - Bill Gates

If I had to use only one word to describe the experience of riding my 2014 Indian Chief Vintage, it would be "smooth". Almost everything about the bike is well thought out and designed, and everything operates with a slick sort of efficiency.

The aesthetics of the bike are simply beautiful. Everything about the design, from the skirted fenders to the engine design that mimics the look of the 1947 Flat Head, just screams Indian. The designers of this bike really paid homage to the legacy of the brand, while pushing the design into the 21st century.

The engine runs so smoothly that the rubber vibration isolators on the floorboards really have no practical use. The engine purrs with a deep throaty yet thumpy growl, and when you crank the throttle she just goes, and goes smoothly. Although you can feel the torque during acceleration, it is not overwhelming. The torque curve is so flat that there are no sudden increases with added rpm; instead the acceleration is steady, constant, and quick.

The suspension is firm enough to still grant you a good feel for the road, yet soft enough to not be jarring. There is a peculiarly strong sense of connectedness with the road as you ride. Overall the bike is so well balanced that it inspires confidence. The low center of gravity coupled with the good lean angle allows you to just eat up the curves without even working at it.

The lighting on the bike is excellent. I really appreciate the spot lights as they provide some additional safety due to increased visibility. Also, the Indian head fender light is much brighter than it was on my Gilroy and Kings Mountain Indians. That fender light always attracts the Harley admirers; it's just a very cool feature.

I've used the standard cruise control many times and absolutely love it. The LED readout provides excellent information, my favorites being the current mpg and the miles to empty. I also like the gear indicator as I seem to always forget what gear I'm in (I'm not used to counting anymore), and the indicator keeps me from wanting to up shift when I'm already in top gear as well as downshifting when I'm already in 2nd gear.

There are some things I would change if I had the power to do so. I believe the hand controls could be situated better. I would swap the location of the starter switch with the cruise control on button. I would also rearrange the left control switches to match the locations on the Kings Mountain bikes because for me those locations just made more sense. These are pretty minor changes though.

If I were working for Polaris I would also be paying close attention to owners who are having problems. In the design process it's impossible to anticipate every environment and situation, so some things will get missed in the process. The drain plug issue and the electrical failure that I've experienced I believe should be corrected. If there were one thing I could change it would be how Polaris communicates with owners and dealers, because there seems to be a pretty significant disconnect happening.

Another thing that bothers me a bit is the windshield frame. The metal frame for the Vintage windshield is not well formed and does not match the curve of the windshield. Because of this bugs find their way between the frame and the windshield.

I now have over 37,000 miles on my 2014 Chief Vintage and in spite of the problems I've had still feel it is an absolutely stellar bike. It's beautiful to look at, and a blast to ride.

Return to top

 + Open : 2016 Springfield

Here you will find the unvarnished story of my experience owning and riding my 2016 Indian Springdield. The mother company does not endorse or influence anything I say here. What you read here is simply my experiences and my opinion, and as is often said – your mileage may vary.

REVIEW: 2016 Springfield

"Don't lower your expecations to meety your performance. Rais your level of performance to meet your expectations."
      - Ralph Marston

2016 Springfield Review

I purchased my Indian Springfield from Indian Motorcycle of the Rockies on March 12, 2016, which was very soon after they were available for sale. Long distance touring is the type of riding I do the most, and because I dislike fairings the new Springfield seemed like it might be the perfect bike for me. Upon seeing the Springfield at the dealership, I knew it was destined for my garage.

My singular issue regarding deciding whether to buy was related to garage space. I have space in the garage for only two motorcycles, and both those spaces were filled with Indians, a 2010 Kings Mountain Indian Darkhorse (1 of only 1,100 made), and a 2014 Indian Vintage (#463 of the first 1901 made). I chose to sacrifice my Darkhorse, but it was a very hard decision.

My 2010 Darkhorse with the proprietary Indian Power Plus 105 engine is still in my opinion the best looking motorcycle I've ever owned. Simply put, it's an absolutely gorgeous bike. Unfortunately, Polaris's support is tepid for Kings Mountain era bikes, and so accessories as well as replacement parts were becoming increasingly hard to come by. My Darkhorse was a rare and beautiful bike and could be worth something years from now as a "collector bike", but I purchase motorcycles to ride not to store in my garage, so the writing was on the wall.

The salesman I worked with was Jeral Parret (aka "Birdman") who is an Iron Indian Riders Association member as I am. We negotiated a bit on the trade-in value of my Darkhorse and eventually settled on a valuation that worked for us both. So I said goodbye to my Darkhorse, wrote a check, and then rode my Springfield home. The bike as it was delivered to me by my dealer, was put together well and in perfect shape; a tip of my hat to the service department at IMOTR for that.

The first 500 miles break in period is critical to how well an engine will perform over time, and so I kept the bike mostly on the back roads through the Rocky Mountains during that time. My Springfield handles exceptionally well on twisting mountain roads, even a little better than does my Vintage. The Springfield's handling advantage is more noticeable in slow speed maneuvering, such as tight U-turns and such.

The disparities in handling characteristics between the two models is related to the steering geometry differences of rake and trail. Rake is defined as the downward angle of the front forks, and trail is the distance between the center of the front tire contact patch with the pavement, and where an imaginary center line of the steering head would meet the ground. My Indian Vintage has a rake of 29 degrees and a trail of 6.1 inches, whereas my Indian Springfield has a rake of 25 degrees and a rake of 5.2 inches.

So what does that mean? In excessively general terms, the greater the trail, the better straight line stability the bike has at speed, when the trail is reduced as it is on my Springfield, low speed maneuverability improves. While my Vintage is a little more stable on the freeway, I believe the overall handling is better with the Springfield. I really appreciate the low speed agility and the bike remains steady and comfortable on the highway.

For touring I really like the larger capacity hard saddle bags of the Springfield. The lockable bags can handle a greater volume and weight than does the leather saddle bags on my Vintage. The hinges of these bags are on the outward side, so opening the lid with luggage occupying the back seat is easy. However, it was necessary to change the back seat bag I use for long trips due to the finish of the Springfield bags.

For the last few years I've traveled with a Saddlemen TS3200 bag laid across the passenger seat of both my Vintage and Darkhorse; this large capacity bag hung over both sides of the seat with the ends resting on top of my leather saddlebags. With my Springfield, I was concerned that the TS3200 would mar the painted finish of the hard saddlebag lids, so it seemed a taller and narrower piece of luggage was necessary. After looking carefully at carrying capacity and luggage dimensions, I purchased a Saddlemen S3200 sissy bar bag that fits nicely on my passenger seat. This bag has less capacity than my TS3200 does, however it's enough for even long multi-state tours, and is narrow enough to allow access to my hard-bags without risk of marring their finish.

While the performance of my stock Springfield was perfectly adequate, I opted to have the dealer install a set of Rinehart mufflers and the Thunder Stroke High Performance Air Cleaner along with the Indian ECM remap download. To be honest these additions yield little in terms of a performance improvement, all they do is allow the engine to breathe in and out much easier and improve the sound. For me, that's enough, because extensive performance improvements tend to shorten engine life, whereas work that allows the engine to run easier will lengthen its life.

I recently completed a 2,600 mile shake down tour on my 2016 Springfield. This round trip ride took me from Colorado, over two high mountain passes (+10,000 ft. elevation), out across the official "Loneliest Highway in America" US-50 from Delta Utah to Fallon Nevada, and then out to the San Francisco bay area over Donner pass (7,000 ft. elevation) through cold rain and hail. My Springfield performed flawlessly on this ride; I averaged 40 mpg, and the newly shaped Springfield rider seat made long days in the saddle less of a comfort issue.

The single issue I've had with my bike is with the TPMS. The Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) seems somewhat twitchy, in that it will throw a warning when the pressure actually is fine. This can be like having a dog that barks all the time, and when someone is actually breaking into your house you disregard the noise your dog is making.

First of all, the pressure sensors seem to be off because the pressure indicated on my speedometer LED display is about 3 psi lower than the pressure measured with a tire pressure gauge, and this maybe the source of the problems I am having. If I start out in the morning and ride only a very short way, such as to a gas station that's next door to my hotel, then shut down to put fuel into my bike, then afterward start out riding, the pressure warning light goes on. If I check the tire pressure right then, it reads two or three psi lower than the recommended pressure.

Second, I've also found that in the circumstance described in the previous paragraph, if I just continue to ride with the warning light on, it eventually goes off once the tire warms up. So the initial warning is pointless, because there is no way of knowing whether the warning is regarding a significant tire pressure issue, or if the pressure is actually ok.

One other issue of note is the peculiar tire pressure recommendations. According to the Springfield Owner's Manual, the rear tire should have 41 psi, and the front tire a whopping 46 psi. I have contacted Indian Customer service regarding the unusually high front tire pressure, and had them check with engineering to be sure the specification wasn't a misprint. It's not a misprint. I've also checked with Dunlop about this, and after some back and for the between them and Indian Engineering, the pressure specification was confirmed as correct.

Unfortunately, there are Indian dealers that are not aware of this peculiarity and will deflate your front tire if you don't alert them to the specification. I think this is due to the Springfield being a new model, that the Service Technicians are not completely familiar with yet.

Even considering these issues, overall my 2016 Springfield is the perfect touring motorcycle for me. It's the perfect blend of comfort, utility, and dependability, with none of the clutter and fuss of unnecessary electronic gizmos. As the future unfolds, I anticipate that I will ride many miles over most of this country on this bike.