Indian are doing a sterling job of linking the current Minnesota-based company, owned by Polaris, with the history of the original company, founded by Hendee and Hedstrom in 1901, a firm that ceased trading in 1953.
The brand recognition and history is valuable. Polaris's previous two-wheeled effort, Victory, struggled to get traction in a crowded market, despite making bikes of identical quality and performance to some of the current Indians. As much as some of you might dislike this thought, much of Indian's success is purely down to canny, targeted marketing of that brand, that badge.
Here is the latest effort to link the past and present, distributed by Indian's PR brain trust, a rather grim story of a racing death...
This year marks 120 years since the birth of one of Indian’s earliest heroes – Albert Burns.
In 1912, when Albert was just 14-years-old, he built himself an Indian racing bike and began to take part in competitions alongside more experienced and adult riders. He started to win, which prompted his older rivals to complain about his age and small size. He was even turned away from some motordrome races, but the young Albert Burns did not lose heart and would climb the fences to make faces at some of the racers who had complained about him or he would sneak on to the track after the racing had started, and in some instances then go on to win the race. His short, thin size and cheekiness earned his the nickname “Shrimp”.
Shrimp’s first appearance for Indian was the opening event of the 1920 season, a week of racing at Ascot Park that had 25 and 50-mile National Championships. He crashed on the 25-mile race at 107mph, filling his hands and arms with splinters from the wooden board track. For the 50-mile race, Shrimp borrowed a teammate’s Indian and took to the track wrapped in bandages. He was behind the leaders for most of the race, but used the high banks to gather enough speed to pass on the final lap, winning with an average speed of 102mph and breaking all existing records.
Four months later Shrimp died in a race on August 14, 1921, in Toledo, Ohio just two days after his 23rd birthday. He connected the back of Ray Weishaar’s bike while coming out of a turn and crashed into the railing. He later died of head injuries. Shrimp’s fiancée, Genevieve Moritz, had come to deliver a birthday gift and witnessed the fatal accident.
His death sparked tributes like this one: “His superb grit, coupled with the battling instinct, made him the greatest motorcycle rider of the present age. His record will stand on its own merits, for he was never known to quit as long as he had a motor left under him.”
“Times without number he has fought single-handed against the field, sometimes winning, sometimes bested, but always fighting, fighting until the chequered flag fell and then always game to come back and try again.”
Shrimp won a place in the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998, exactly 100 years since his birth.