Starklite Cycle as shown on American Thunder. They interview Bob Stark about his dedication to keeping the Indian Motorcycle Brand alive for most of his life.
If Invercargill man Hamish Alan idolises anyone, it would be the Indian Wrecking Crew, a group of three motorcycle racing champions who rode their Indian Scouts to victory against Harley-Davidsons in the 1950s. Alan tells reporter Hannah McLeod how images of one of them racing inspired him to build his very own Indian racing bike.
I’m the only gearhead in my family but my love of bikes probably began when I was a kid, riding a little Benelli, or with my dad’s old Indian motorcycle, which was in our garage under a bit of canvas.
My brother, sister and I would pull the sheet off and sit on it, bouncing up and down, pretending we were riding it, as kids do.
I think that old motorbike was a bit of an impulse buy of Dad’s. It never ran during my lifetime, until I was about 18, when I decided to restore it.
I had to outsource a lot of the work because I simply didn’t have the skills.
But a few years ago I saw 1950s race photos of another Indian motorbike, which I decided I wanted to build.
Fortunately, in my 20s, I quit my day job and started an adult apprenticeship as a fitter-turner, purely so that I could develop my skills to work on motorbikes.
I’ve built a 1948 Daytona Scout. The body’s almost entirely original, but the engine is reproduction. I’ve managed to do most of the work on this myself, with a little bit of help from local man Ray McCulloch.
I hate to think how much it’s cost me. There’s a pile of receipts I haven’t even looked at, but that’s not the point.
This weekend, I’ll be racing it for the first time at Teretonga as part of the Burt Munro Challenge. I’ve had a couple of test runs, and I’ve already figured out I’ll never be satisfied.
I’ll probably rebuild this bike three times over to reach my goals of developing the engine and getting to a good top speed.
Racing in the United States. these bikes could do 120mph, but they had been rebuilt in aluminium, not steel.
This bike won’t get up there – it has brakes!
But, eventually, I’ll probably start developing my own skills so that I can work with aluminium and continue working on this bike.
I’ve owned fast road bikes before, a Honda and a Ducati.
Problem was, I was getting faster and faster on the road, and I was probably pushing legal limits.
While I certainly respect and appreciate Burt Munro’s achievements and his Munro Special, his Indian was a land speed bike, not a racing bike.
Mine looks like an everyday motorcycle but it’s built for the track.
You can do things there that you can’t do on the roads legally
When the new Crocker motorcycle was unveiled at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering last May, Michael Schacht, who owns the Crocker name and built that first prototype, told me I could have a test ride next time I was in L.A. That would mean I’d be the only person besides Schacht to have ridden the new bike. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that, so I met him at his warehouse/assembly shop, where sat the rough makings of the next 15 Crocker V-Twins.
Yep, Schacht is already making a limited run. As he put it, “Whether I have orders or not, I’m just going to build them.” He has invested heavily in cash, time and reputation to make the patterns and cast the parts necessary to build a whole motorcycle, and that first Crocker Big Tank discussed in Cycle World last May was made from the same batch of rough metal seen in these photos.
A deconstructed motorcycle is an excellent teaching device, and Schacht pointed out the changes that Al Crocker incorporated during the evolution of his big Twin between 1936 and 1942, when WWII restrictions put an end to civilian motorcycle production. Schacht doesn’t reproduce the first hemi-head engine, which powered the rare original models Crocker built in 1936. Although the hemi variant commands the biggest prices from collectors, issues with rapid wear on the valve gear means the later parallel-valve heads are more suitable for the modern road. Those first hemis had open rockers, springs and valves, whereas the valve gear in the later engine was totally enclosed. Because of these issues, the hemispherical cylinder head is the only option not available when ordering a new Crocker V-Twin. The early Small Tank frame with different steering-head lugs and unbraced gearbox/lower-frame castings is ready to assemble, as is the later Big Tank style, which most newbies love, since they’re more glamorous. Aficionados prefer the smaller tank, which really shows off that fantastic big Twin engine.
Michael Schacht has something to prove. He’s happy to regale anyone within earshot with tales of attempted intimidation from a few old-time Crocker collectors who take serious issue with his style, his business methods and perhaps the mere fact that he’s done what they said couldn’t be done. In a way, his tales mirror the difficulties Al Crocker faced after building a better bike than Indian and Harley, the last two American motorcycle manufacturers left standing following the Depression. After H-D allegedly threatened its wheel supplier (Kelsey-Hayes) with a massive loss of business if that company sold wheels to Crocker, Al suddenly found he couldn’t buy wheels for his bikes. Solution? If you wanted a Crocker, you had to supply your own wheels.
Such tales are meat and drink to Crocker lovers, who have embellished the reputation of their favorite marque to such effect that you’ll need $300K to buy an original. Schacht is asking half that for his new machine.
How does it compare to the originals? Schacht’s test machine is completely paint-free to show the world how it was built and that it’s indeed all-new. It’s a Big Tank, with those lovely cast-aluminum panniers customizers have been copying for 70 years now. Same with the taillight, as seen (ironically) on thousands of Harleys and bobbed Triumphs through the decades. Like George Brough, Al Crocker was a masterful stylist; unlike GB, he was also a trained engineer, and with the help of Paul Bigsby (inventor of the “whammy bar” on electric guitars), he built his own engine and gearbox. Those designs were an advance on anything available in the U.S. at the time, even after H-D introduced its Knucklehead six months after Crocker got the jump on big
Don’t despair, though: it never was a real Indian.
Often e-bike builds start with a cheap mass production bike, or a pre-existing but aftermarket frame, and the electric motor gets stuffed into a rear hub. This bike is a bit different.
There will always be cafe builds that people disagree with. Lots of people have emotional attachments to certain motorcycles, and when a builder cuts up something rare to turn it into a bobber or a cafe project sometimes the reactions get… a bit extreme.
On that note, I present to you the E-ndian – a 1916 Powerplus Flathead which, if it were actually a Powerplus Flathead, would have the brand faithful absolutely and thoroughly wadded up.
Good news: not only was no part of this bike ever an actual Indian, no part of this bike was ever actually a motorcycle. It’s a ground-up custom build. The motor, which is hidden inside a 3D-printed housing to look like an internal combustion engine out of a 1916-era motorcycle, is in fact taken out of a BMW DTM e-scooter. A belt and pulleys connect the electric motor to the rear wheel and act as a rudimentary transmission. The frame is completely custom fabricated out of steel pipes. The “gas tank” is made from fiberglass and plastic plumbing tubes. There is a single front hydraulic brake (there is no rear brake) which was sourced from a mountain bike.
While the paint job is pretty fantastic, and the “E-ndian” on the tank gives it away, a casual glance might make you believe this bike is 100 or so years old. The owner and creator of this art piece is named Achilles; his shop is in Jesolo, Italy. His vision for this bike was not one of extreme performance, obviously. He set out to create a machine as art and he succeeded. It’s not an exact copy of the 1916 Indian since, as Achille says (translated roughly), “we did not want to pretend it was a real Indian Powerplus, and so we put the e-ndian on the tank and we redid the engine a bit differently, to put the worm in the head of the beholder.” I’ve never heard the saying before but it sounds very Italian and I love it.
This build will never win any speed records, and by all accounts it’s kind of frightening to ride, but from a purely aesthetic point of view it’s a real stunner. The attention to detail, like the painted-on oil drips on the engine, are real showstoppers.
Not only did the team get the best riders, but Indian also scooped up arguably the two best teams in the Howerton Motorsports team, which won the championship last year with Bryan Smith on Kawasakis and Mee’s powerful squad with the machines being prepped by legendary flat track tuner Kenny Tolbert. Most pundits believed after the announcement, that the Indian squad would be practically unbeatable.
In spite of the challenges, which to a large extent, all forms of motorsports are trying to overcome, there is an undeniable buzz about American Flat Track. The series is no longer opening on the sidelines, at the small Daytona Short Track venue, but the Thursday, March 16 season debut of the Daytona TT (with the big twins) promises to be a massive, high-profile launch in front of the main grandstands at Daytona International Speedway.