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The First Production V-Twin Indian: Setting the Record Straight

12 Mar

The scruffy blue motorcycle fitted with two gas tanks and a tandem seat stopped me in my tracks. Standing in the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, NC the realization dawned that I was looking at a piece of nearly forgotten history.

The prototype Hedstrom V-twin engine made its first appearance on August 5, 1904 at Newport Beach, RI on the first Indian V-twin. The 3hp V-twin was run in Orange, NJ on November 26 and raced at Ormond Beach in January 1905. One might consider this to be the origin of factory race programs being used for retail product development since the new 2.25hp single-cylinder engine, designed to power the new Indian Tri-car, was in production by November 1905.

Oscar Hedstrom and his new V-twin Indian at Ormond Beach, FL in January 1905.

Oscar Hedstrom and his new V-twin Indian at Ormond Beach, FL in January 1905.

The question as to when the Hendee Manufacturing Co. first offered a V-twin to the public is put to rest by a company sales brochure dated June 1906. “In presenting the Indian for the season of 1906 . . .” clearly states that the two motorcycles offered to retail customers were ’06 models. One of

Restored 1907 Indian racer.

Restored 1907 Indian racer.

these was the Indian Double Cylinder Racer rated at 4 hp, weight of 108 lbs. and priced at $350.

The new V-twin was patterned after the factory racer and didn’t have twist grips or fenders. The gas tank was a torpedo design that straddled the horizontal bar of the frame and not the camelback gas tank on the regular model. Other details were pedals with toe clips (just like those on modern bicycles), shorter handlebars, and the crank chain didn’t have a metal guard. It was fitted with a special split saddle positioned behind the seat tube.

The 1906 sales was titled: “Indian Motocycle, Which Renders Possible the Indian Tri-Car Indian Tricycle, Indian Tandem, Indian Triplet, and the Indian Van. Substantially Six Vehicles In One.” These six variations of the 1906 Indian were based on two attachments, a rear tandem seat and a chassis that replaced the front wheel of the motorcycle with a frame having two parallel, steerable front wheels.

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Edward Bulter and the Petrol Cycle

9 Jul

Petrol Cycle_6298           I discovered the Petrol-Cycle on the front page of the February 14, 1891 edition of the Scientific American. Invented by Edward Butler of Greenwich, England, this three-wheel fore-car had an elegant 650cc twin-cylinder, four-stroke, water-cooled engine with electric spark ignition. Years ahead of DeDion and Boulton, the Petrol-Cycle made Gottleib Diamler’s “Reitwagen” look like something from the Medieval Period. Regardless, most reference books about the history of motorcycles don’t even mention it.




Butler designed his “Velocycle” while working for an engineering company and filed for a provisional patent in 1884 under the title “A petroleum motor tricycle or small automobile carriage since it is not provided with auxiliary pedalling [sic] gear and was fitted with a comfortable seat and footboard.” That year he exhibited drawings of the vehicle at Stanley Cycle Show in London and in 1885 at the Inventions Exhibition, but neither produced financial backing. Unknown to the English inventor, in Germany Karl Benz was developing his own gasoline-powered internal combustion engine, as was Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach.

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The Hendee Special: 1914 Indian

13 Sep

Over a hundred thousand V-twin Indians had been sold since 1907 and 31,950 motorcycles were built during 1913 alone. By1914 the Hendee Manufacturing Company was the largest producer of motorcycles in the world and had over 3,000 India

Hendee Special with Princess sidecar

Hendee Special with Princess sidecar


Hendee Special -- 1914 sales brochure.

Hendee Special — 1914 sales brochure.

The two-speed gearbox was introduced in1910 and the success of the Indian race team at Isle of Mann in 1911 led to the design of the Tourist model the following year. The Tourist models featured dual rear brakes (drum and band), knockout axles, roller bearings on the rear hub, and were fitted with the new Gustafson kickstarter. The innovation for 1913 models was the “Cradle Spring Frame” that, along with the front leaf spring of 1910, provided the first complete suspension system for a motorcycle. Something impressive was required for the next model year.


Patented Indian kickstarter.

Patented Indian kickstarter.

Seven Indian models were introduced for 1914, one with a single-cylinder engine and six V-twins. The Hendee Special was the elite model and featured the first electric starter used on a production motorcycle. Unlike on the other two electric models where the batteries had to be removed and manually recharged every 12.5 hours (or less), the starter motor also functioned as an electric generator to automatically recharge them. Another innovation was the use of waterproof condenser coils to provide the spark, which improved the reliability and efficiency of ignition and certainly made starting easier. It was a brilliant design and it utterly failed.

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Searching for Lost Indians: An Archival Journey

5 Oct

During the late 1920s there were 5,000 of them in Newark, NY and Baltimore, MD alone, but who has ever heard of an Indian taxi?  Photos of these vehicles must exist in old family albums or are stacked in dusty drawers of historical societies, but the only ones I’ve discovered were in the archives of the Indian Motocycle Company in Springfield, MA. One reprinted photo appeared in the in-house promotional magazine, but all other references seem to have disappeared like an Apache covering his tracks. These, and others, are the lost Indians.

Indian Taxi_Kenzo


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The Benzine Motorcycle: the first production motorcycle.

3 Aug


It wasn’t just the illustration that caught my eye it also was the date of the newspaper –1896. The front page of the December 12th issue of the Scientific American was devoted to two illustrations of a sophisticated two-wheel vehicle that were identified as a “motor cycle using benzine.” My curiosity was piqued. Continue reading

The Fastest Man Alive: the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum

4 Mar

If he hadn’t been seduced by speed the history of motorcycling would read differently. He was known as the “the fastest man alive,” but that just wasn’t fast enough and so he took to the skies. If not already known as “the father of naval aviation” Glenn H. Curtiss would be proclaimed as America’s motorcycle pioneer. Continue reading

Fashion and Style

18 Oct

My girlfriend has often—quite often—accused me of not dressing stylish and having no fashion sense. The reality is quite the opposite. My boots are from Italy, my jeans are not something you’ll find anywhere but in the most exclusive boutiques, the logos on my shirts are very limited editions, and my suits are absolutely haute couture made by some of the best designers in the business. Even some of my underwear is made of high-tech, micro-mesh, space-age fabric. The problem is that we read different magazines and I ride motorcycles. Continue reading

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