I’ve been researching and writing about motorcycles for years and I’m still a newbie when it comes to general motorcycle knowledge and history. Last weekend was perfect to remind me of how much I don’t know about motorcycles when I attended the Oregon Vintage Motorcyclists (OVM) show in Corvallis.
Last Sunday was also a perfect day for riding, the warmest day of the year so far around here, and it turned out to be a perfect opportunity for me to learn more about Indian motorcycles, the featured marque at this year’s OVM show.
I’m privileged to have met very knowledgeable motorcyclists from whom I’ve been learning about motorcycles. Last weekend I spent time with Doug and Carl as they prepared and loaded two very special and rare Indian motorcycles to take to the OVM show in Corvallis. Besides talking motorcycles, spending time with them gave me an inside perspective on what it means to own an older motorcycle.
My participation in the action started Saturday, when I helped them load their motorcycles to take to Corvallis.
We took Doug’s 1921 Indian to Carl’s, where he was setting up his 1958 Royal Enfield Indian for the show. Every load and unload of the bikes followed a lot of conversation about motorcycles. Just to unload the Indian it took us about 30 minutes. It was one minute of actual moving the bike and 29 minutes of story telling. Great stuff, my friends.
This 1921 Indian is quite a piece of machinery. It was great to take a closer look at this bike, learn how builders took care, in the 1910’s and 1920’s, of mechanical challenges we take for granted today. There was a time we worried about how manual chokes on cars and motorcycles operated. New riders and drivers of today probably don’t even know what a choke is, let alone what it does, as the basic concept of managing fuel and air on a cold start motor is managed by computers. And to think that on this 1921 motor, where you manually injected a dab of fuel in each cylinder head on cold starts, a manual choke would had been a high-tech, luxury item?
What about the oil pump? It is manual. Chain adjustment? Move the transmission or the rear wheel, depending on what chain you need to adjust and adjusting the one that goes from the engine to the transmission will require you adjust the one going to the wheel. A distributor? The bike requires manual adjustment to advance or retard the spark. Brakes? Only rear brakes, and then it is not much better than what we used to find on bicycles 20 years ago.
Riding skills at the time guys were racing these bikes were of a different sort than today’s. It required the rider knew enough mechanical knowledge to keep the engine running, and knowledge to make it perform at its best, a heavy dose of courage mixed with high levels of insanity, and then, yes some riding skills as well.
In contrast, today’s riders often complain about bikes with traction control, ABS, “too many nanny features” they say, as they ride motorcycles with excellent and linear acceleration, sticky tires, and disk brakes that can stop the motorcycle with a one finger operation. They should be riding a motorcycle with no front brakes, to adjust their feel to what really are “nanny” features on today’s bikes. Where do you draw your line?
The bottom line is that innovation is inevitable and we all ride safer today and require lower insanity levels to conquer the hills. What we take for granted today (or complain about today) is exactly what gives especial value to these older motorcycles and the riders of that time.
This 1921 Indian, which actually is not a production motorcycle but a motorcycle built for racing, can be considered very primitive, but everything that made it run fast was well thought out. Today it is a working piece of art, a quick study of its details will teach you a lesson in motor operation, and I bet you will find beauty on the solutions they invented to made it work. It is a photograph, a frozen image, documenting where we were in technological development 100 years ago.
Carl’s 1958 Royal Enfield Indian is on another level of innovation, it is another picture of technological development of another era. Motorcycles by this time were more popular and when compared to the 1921 Indian they are high-tech what with the manually operated choke, drum brakes, front forks with integrated springs and shock absorbers.
One of the interesting aspects about this motorcycle was to learn the marketing strategies of those days were not too different than what we see today. Royal Enfield badged their motorcycles with the Indian brand as a strategy to expand its presence in the American market.
Royal Enfield Indians were exported with the Indian badges beginning in 1955 and through 1960, from what I learned, although Royal Enfield motorcycles were being sold by Indian dealerships already before that time.
Carl’s motorcycle is a 500cc twin, built on the Royal Enfield Constellation frame.
On my internet search to find out more about these bikes I came across a slightly different model, a 1958 Indian Woodsman, which was an American dealers request for a scrambler version of the Royal Enfield Indian. Although this is also a 500 cc parallel twin, there are many differences between this bike (photo below) and Carl’s bike.
These bikes are part of the “scrambler” movement of that time, which included Triumph, Ducati, and Honda motorcycles among others during that time. Ducati’s Scrambler line was also an American dealership request, brought to market in 1962. Which reminds us of how much power dealers had, during those days, in shaping what the motorcycles looked like. Today motorcycle companies have marketing departments, design teams, it is a much more sophisticated operation.
Anyway several hours of story telling later we managed to spare 10 minutes of time to load the two bikes into the trailer.
Sunday morning Carl drove the bikes to Corvallis. I joined Doug, riding to the OVM in Corvallis. Because Doug was going to ride his 1000 3C Laverda, a triple cylinder motorcycle, I decided to take my triple as well, so the Triumph Tiger 800XC was prepped for the trip.
I met with Doug at the Friendly’s market.
Soon other riders showed up, the Friendly’s market is a gathering point for Sunday rides in Eugene, and we became a group of five riders going to Corvallis.
On the way I worked with the guys to take some drone shots but I failed miserably. The drone was reading a “magnetic proximity” error when I tried to start it from the motorcycle, and did not operate properly. I managed to untangle the drone issues in Corvallis.
At the Oregon Vintage Motorcyclists Show
We made it to Corvallis after the drone fiasco. This was my second time attending this event, great to see so many nice motorcycles available for display, bump into old friends, and enjoy the overall atmosphere. Here are a few photos.
Various other motorcycles
These are just a sample of the many interesting motorcycles that were shown at this year’s OVM. It was well attended, as always, which makes the parking area an interesting area to look at bikes as well.
The president’s choice for this year’s OVM was the 1912 Indian.
And Doug’s bike got the popular vote for best in the featured marque for this year’s show.
And that was it. We rode back home and went through a similar process to unload the bikes: a few minutes of action, lots of minutes of motorcycle stories.
It was a perfect day, including an Indian Pale Ale and a nice burger at Meiji’s with great friends after all bikes were unloaded, the trailer was parked, and all gear was put away.
And I concluded the action with a walk back home, crossing the train tracks into the wrong side of town.
More Sundays could be like this one.
Thank you for reading.