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Indian bikes on the comeback trail at Auburn dealership
Once it was the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world.
Founded in Springfield, Mass., in 1901, the Indian Motorcycle Company – famous for its two-toned paint, flared fenders, war bonnet emblems and brown saddles – owned the boulevard cruising title.
But in 1953 the company went bankrupt and the crown passed to Harley-Davidson.
Since 1953, many different manufacturers have branded the Indian name, including overseas brands such as Royal Enfield and AMC of England, and American companies such as the California Motorcycle Company in Gilroy, Calif.
None has been particularly successful.
In 2011, however, Polaris Industries, originally a snowmobile manufacturer in Medina, Minn., acquired the name and moved its manufacturing division to Spirit Lake, Iowa, where Polaris’ other motorcycle brand, Victory, is also made.
Now, local enthusiasts can check out, test ride and even buy the newly redesigned classics from the newly-opened Indian and Victory dealership on West Valley Highway.
Spike Addis is the head salesman at the new dealership – owned by the Hinshaw group – which opened in early July.
“Opening this store was an opportunity to sell America’s oldest manufactured motorcycle,” Addis said. “Polaris’ motorcycle sales are up 140 percent, and it’s all due to Indian. They are taking the world by storm again.”
The key to the success, according to Addis, is the redesign of the Indian’s Thunderstroke 111 V-Twin Engine.
“Polaris has a really good reputation in the industry as far as building a quality project,” Addis said. “So they did a lot of research and development before they brought out this new Thunderstroke 111. Polaris redesigned Indian from the ground up.”
According to Addis, the new engine was road tested over more than a million miles, more than a half-billion engine hours, and more than 2,000 dyno hours to ensure the engine’s performance and reliability before its release.
“They launched at Sturgis (S.D.) in 2013,” Addis said. “The old Indians used the three-piece engine, transmission and primary, much like the Harley. What Polaris did is make it an all-in-one. The engine and transmission share the same oil. The engine is designed to look like a 1948 Indian 80-cubic-inch flathead.
“They wanted new technology but wanted to pay homage to Indians of the past,” Addis said. “They maintained the fenders because that’s an Indian thing. When you see one going down the road, you’ll know it’s an Indian.”
Which is perfect for riders looking for an alternative to the Harley.
“People want an alternative, as far as the technology of the Indian versus the Harley. As far as the engine goes, I mean, Indian uses a steel-forged crank in their motors. Harley uses a two-piece, push-together crank,” Addis said. “The Indian has 2½-inch main bearings. That’s bigger than the bearings on your car.”
Addis said independent reviews of the bike’s new engine have been glowing.
“They call it the 200,000 (mile) motor,” he said. “Indian doesn’t say that, but the reviews do. Cycle World called the Indian Chief Classic Cruiser Bike of the Year for 2014.”
The manufacturer is so confident about the durability of its engine, Addis said, that it offers a five-year unlimited mileage warranty.
Other notable Indian details are back.
“They still have the war bonnet on the front fender, and that lights up when you turn it on,” he said. “They also make many models with a brown saddle.”
Addis said the new manufacturer even makes the wrench originally issued with the bikes.
“It’s a wrench that is supposed to take off the serrated cap where your oil dipstick is located,” he said. “But when you flip it over, it’s a bottle cap opener. Every Indian since they started making them has come with that.”
In 2014, Indian offered three models – the entry-level Classic, the Vintage and the top-of-the-line Chieftain.
With new 2015 models expected in September – including two new additions to the line, the Scout and Roadmaster, and the return of two-toned paint jobs – the Auburn dealership has just five new 2014 models left on the showroom floor.
The motorcycle dealership is at 1611 West Valley Highway S., Auburn.