- Historic Sites
The Lost Tribe Of Indian
Recently a company tried to harness history by resurrecting a great American motorcycle. What happened is a cautionary tale about business, and memory, and the seductive urge to recapture the past.
August/September 2005 | Volume 56, Issue 4
On November 1, 2003, I flew to Los Angeles to attend a support rally for the second incarnation of an American legend. Defunct since 1953, the fabled Indian Motorcycle Company was kick-started back to life in 1999. But four years later it found itself, once again, on the verge of extinction. Organized by the Indian Riders Group, the $20 rally buy-in included T-shirt, rally pin, and a 12-mile ride from Indian’s flagship dealership in Marina del Rey to the Petersen Automotive Museum in Hollywood.
By one o’clock hundreds of second-generation Indians were thundering up the ramp to the Petersen’s rooftop parking lot. Manufactured in Gilroy, four hours’ ride north, the new Indians were spectacular in ensemble: multihued, graceful, and powerful-looking. In contrast with the vintage (or first-generation) rallies I’ve attended, there wasn’t a graybeard or leaky old bike to be seen. Indeed, these riders were mostly strapping workingman types, in their twenties and thirties. On arrival, they greeted one another warmly, arranged their bikes for the cameras, swapped the latest gossip about the embattled company’s prospects. But when its deposed CEO Frank O’Connell rose to address them, they fell immediately silent.
Slight, close-cropped, and fiftyish, the former Reebok executive, managing to look almost preppy in his riding leathers, began his remarks tentatively: “As you all know, Indian Motorcycle closed its doors six weeks ago.”
The crowd drew a breath.
“The company’s now for sale, and we’re currently entertaining bidders. We have not yet declared bankruptcy, but it does remain an option… .”
O’Connell surveyed the anxious faces. He seemed pleased by the turnout, pained by the occasion.
“It’s great to be here with you today,” he continued, “because we all know these bikes are not just pieces of metal. That it’s a—a spiritual thing to ride them and that it can’t stop now.”
His voice broke.
“It just can’t. We’ve all come too far… . So, thanks for the support, and let’s hope there’s a way for us to go on from here.”
There was light applause, plenty of murmuring. It’s hard to say exactly what this crowd was looking for. But if it was Moses come down from the mountain, they sure didn’t get it.
A few minutes later I went over to speak to O’Connell and found him fending off the questions of a Harley-riding motor press journalist known as SuperGlide Gail.
“So,” said Gail, in total hardball mode, “I’m thinking these new bikes of yours are basically Harley clones tricked out to look like Indians. Is that pretty much why you guys went under?”
Though her timing couldn’t have been worse, Gail had managed to put her finger right on the second-generation Indian’s biggest problem: credibility.
In the course of his IMC tenure, O’Connell must have fielded this question hundreds of times, and he responded patiently, almost dreamily that while in some ways the new Indians resembled Harley-Davidsons, Indian designers had assiduously and painstakingly made them different enough to earn original equipment manufacturer (OEM) status in 2002 and that whatever resemblance might still remain was now, for a variety of reasons, a totally moot point.
It had become easy to see my life in two phases: Before the Indian and After.
Meanwhile, a catering truck pulled in, and tubs of soft drinks and a sumptuous Mexican buffet were set up on folding tables in the concourse. But before the crowd could descend upon this, a black rider stood on a tabletop and offered a benediction. “In the Bible it says, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish,’” he began.
As examples of people who had such spirit, the rider cited Black Elk, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King but stopped well short of including Frank O’Connell. Then the rider proposed a moment of prayer and invoked the gathering to “all join hands.”
The crowd seemed tentative.
“Come on, you guys,” he entreated. “This is tough on all of us. Let’s reach out and touch somebody.”
“No way, man,” muttered a heavyset rider. “This here’s West Hollywood.”
Still, it’s not every day your bike goes extinct right out from under you, and after an awkward minute the group of riders gradually took one another’s hands and, on a rooftop lot in the heart of Los Angeles, proceeded with great dignity to pray for the survival of Indian Motorcycle.
Ontologically speaking, the Petersen rally might seem a spectacularly unlikely event—unless you’ve ever poured heart and soul into such a machine.
My own story began in 1996, when I undertook the restoration of a postwar Indian, a basket case that was little more than a large box of parts. In the throes of midlife burnout—I and my motorcycle were both in our fifties, lending a curious urgency to the project—the deeper my involvement got, the more convinced I was I’d find answers there. In 18 months’ time, with the help of biker friends and a mechanical aptitude I’d not known I possessed, I rebuilt a fringed and studded vintage 1947 Chief in dazzling midnight blue. Wherever I rode, my ride turned heads, but beyond this, the process seemed to precipitate a joyous and surprising string of events, for along with the bike came a new baby, and with that a new outlook and, in short order, a book about these adventures, Rebuilding the Indian , that ultimately brought me to what was likely the first-ever book-signing event the great Sturgis Motorcycle Rally ever hosted. It had become easy to see my life in two phases: Before the Indian and After.
I didn’t know it at the time, but in this sort of thinking I’d gained membership in a particularly crusty tribe of Indian zealots, most of us old enough to have seen these bikes in their heyday. For years we ate, slept, and breathed old Indians, trailered our restorations around to “Indian Days” rallies, swapped maintenance tips like banana-bread recipes at a bridge club. We had these bikes to ourselves for so long that we came to feel like those stalwart monks who’d kept Christianity alive through the Dark Ages. We were the keepers of the Indian faith and, as such, authorities on whatsoever was Real and whatsoever was Fake.
There was something special about these bikes right from their beginning. The Indian was designed by a Swedish immigrant named Oskar Hedstrom in 1901, two years before the birth of Harley-Davidson. The similarity of their large-bore V-twin engines somehow inflamed brand loyalties, and the two marques grew up through America’s motor adolescence as the bitterest sibling rivals. If Indian stroked its motor, Harley followed suit. If Harley had a new transmission, then Indian made one too. Always slightly faster, Indian posted speed and endurance records Harley chased for years. As for style, there was no machine to match the full-dress Indian Chief. With their graceful, valanced fenders and brilliant color schemes, there is an innocence, an exuberance about these bikes that is almost touching. Tricked out with enough studs, fringe, and frippery to be at home in a Hopalong Cassidy movie, the 74-cubic-inch Chiefs were a wonderful blend of the preposterous and the fabulous—equal parts cow pony, fire-breathing dragon, and mechanical wizardry—and when Indian went bankrupt in 1953, the bikes became an instant classic.
Quickly the marque was snatched up by Britain’s robust Associated Motorcycles Ltd., which, for the next five years, marketed its British-made bikes in this country using the Indian nameplate.
It was all terribly confusing, but it only got worse. Over the next few decades a succession of crackpots and rip-off artists worked the bereaved Indian faithful like third-rate mediums. Conjuring Indian “prototypes” out of pot metal and duct tin, they conned thousands of believers with the promise of, as one hustler put it, “the return of an American icon.”
The scams happened so regularly you’d think the fans would get wise. Yet so potent was the idea of an Indian revival that by 1998, 45 years after the business had folded, the defunct Indian marque still managed to sell $26 million in worthless stock and nonexistent bikes. Such blind and unwavering faith made us restorers deeply cynical, but it also managed to bring about the first “serious” revival attempt yet mounted.
In the late 1990s a Denver attorney named Rick Block thought to assemble dozens of Indian rip-off claims into a single receivership, the idea being that thenceforth whoever wished to use the trademark would first have to pay off the debt. Of all who contended for the name, perhaps the least likely was the Canadian entrepreneur Murray Smith, who had just purchased a growing Canadian concern called the Indian Manufacturing Company. Contrary to what this implied, Indian Manufacturing actually produced an extensive, Hilfiger-style line of sportswear, over 300 items ranging from Windbreakers to camisoles, all bearing the distinctive retro script and warbonnet logo of the Indian motorcycle. Despite the fact that the Indian Motorcycle Company hadn’t made a bike in close to half a century, the Indian Manufacturing Company was worth a cool $16 million when Smith bought it in 1997. He figured if a defunct American classic could sell that many BVDs, it didn’t have to stop there. In fact, Smith became so convinced of its marketing potential that he envisioned a billion-dollar global “lifestyle brand,” one that would go head-to-head with Harley-Davidson’s. The resurrected Indian marque would include not just motorcycles but cigars, after-shave, bottled water, oxygen bars, and a chain of bistros modeled on the Hard Rock Café.
There was a hitch: To prevent the chronic pie-in-the-sky fraud long associated with Indian revival attempts past, prospective buyers were required not only to demonstrate their fiscal accountability but also to produce a feasible, viable, bona fide motorcycle.
To come up with such a design quickly, Smith needed somebody who knew a tailpipe from a tank top. To this end he engaged the talents of Rey Sotelo, a California-based builder of high-end custom Harley-Davidsons. With receivership proceedings just a few months away, Sotelo dove into the project head-first. Using $50,000 worth of after-market Harley parts, fabricated sheet metal, and Indian badging, in just eight weeks he created a stunning black and red modern-day Chief, a bike that was not only faithful to the traditional Indian lines, not only plausible in appearance, but drop-dead gorgeous to boot. Sotelo’s bike was no mere mockup but a bike you could bring right into a federal courtroom.
Talk about a winning argument. According to one account, the presiding judge, Vita Wineshank, was so taken by Sotelo’s handiwork that she actually came down off the bench to swing a leg over it and hop on board.
Sotelo, at least, was under no illusions about what he’d done. There’s a huge difference between building a single “replica” bike and creating a genuine original-equipment-manufacturer revival. Still, Sotelo’s motorcycle was so persuasive, so thoroughly Indian-looking, that the next day Murray Smith, haberdasher and visionary, wrote a check to the Colorado Federal Claims Court for $26 million. The Indian marque was his, free and clear. Now came the hard part.
There’s a huge difference between a “replica” bike and a genuine revival.
Early in 1999 the rejuvenated Indian Motorcycle Company, formerly of Springfield, Massachusetts, set up shop in a converted garlic-processing plant in Gilroy, California, not far from the San Andreas Fault. Flushed with success, the new company pledged, as many had before, to reinstate a true American classic. But the honeymoon was short.
In its first year IMC built 2,500 motorcycles, but what the buyers were getting was essentially the same Harley-powered kit bike (one composed of after-market parts) that Sotelo had rolled into the courtroom the year before. Cycling press and public alike were unkind. For many, an Indian motorcycle with a Harley-designed motor was more than a disappointment; it was an anomaly akin to a Ford-powered Corvette.
By the end of 1999, facing increasing public skepticism, Indian Motorcycle needed to move quickly toward a proprietary motor, yet the board of directors was deadlocked on how to proceed. Murray Smith thought the estimated $250 million needed for the Indian’s OEM motor should be generated by his lifestyle-brand paraphernalia. Other board members disagreed. They felt they had enough on their hands just reviving the motorcycle and that the OEM funding should come from going public. After much dispute, it was decided that Smith would complete an IPO offering that fall. Alas, the board tarried in hope that the booming pre-Millennial market would rise even higher. With the collapse of 2000, the newly reborn Indian Motorcycle Company was in trouble.
Eventually, Indian turned to Audax, a Massachusetts-based investment group, for the much-needed cash infusion. Audax was good for $100 million—but only pending Indian’s complete corporate overhaul, and there followed in Gilroy a period of major transition that one disgruntled worker characterized this way: “The blue jeans all left, and the suits came to stay.”
Still, another two years would pass before Indian finally delivered a 100-cubic-inch high-performance proprietary motor it called the Powerplus. Redesigned around this engine, the 2002 Chiefs finally had a new motor to go with their retro-pizzazz styling. The new Indians were fast, elegant, powerful. After stumbling badly, the operation finally seemed to have its own motorcycle, and by 2002 orders were coming in, production was ramping up, and the motor press was beginning to take the rebirth seriously.
Up to this point these new Indians were easy to dismiss. Many was the cocktail party where I damned them with a sniff and the following line: “They’re not a real Indian, they’re a custom EVO motor on a soft-tail frame.”
And yet there was something subversive about IMC’s latest efforts. From all accounts, these new Indians ran great. What’s more, they looked right. But mostly, the new Indians managed to sow seeds of doubt whether my ’47 Chief was really enough fun.
In fact, the whole vintage experience had become a bit shopworn for me. Everyone knows that vintage Indians are the ultimate real-deal bikes. They are handsome, proud and studly. Yet five years past my restoration and its accompanying feel-good themes, there had come the inevitable back-swell of reality.
Many is the ride I’ve failed to take simply because my vintage bike wouldn’t run. Sometimes it was a glitch—a short circuit or bad battery—and sometimes it was more serious, like a leaky gas tank. I find its cold start drill as intricate and unforgiving as a sobriety test, while a total mastery of its left-hand throttle and “suicide” tank shift remains as elusive and unrewarding a proposition as mirror writing or Esperanto. If my vintage Chief was indeed a kind of metaphor for getting on with your life, well, it wasn’t the kind of metaphor you rode very far from home.
Gradually, in my mind, the sepia-toned ambience of my ’47 was being eclipsed by the sheer excess of these new Chiefs, which were big and shiny, fast, scary, and larger than life. Movie stars had discovered these bikes. Arnold Schwarzenegger even ran his into the back of a city bus. Once again, Indians were happening. And if my ’47 was a slow, difficult putt down memory lane, with twice the horsepower the new Indians were a screaming, bat-out-of-hell run down some shimmering, existential blacktop.
By June 2003 I could stand it no longer. I called the Indian publicist Martin Hendess (an Audax-appointed M.B.A. from Villanova) and asked him for a demo bike.
“But you write about vintage Indians,” he said.
“Yeah. But now I want to write about a new one.”
“Wow. Well. What do you want to write about it?”
“I dunno, I haven’t ridden it yet.”
“But you will write about it?”
“Hell, yes, Martin. If I can ride one, I’ll write about it.”
And so it happened that on a sweltering August evening two years ago, when the air was blue with forest-fire smoke, an enormous high-rise semi crept up our quiet Missoula street and rolled to a stop. The truck, a brand-new snow-white Kenworth, was so big it rendered toylike the modest bungalows of our neighborhood. Painted on its cab was a winged grand piano, and a rolling flight of keys unfurled along the oversized trailer.
The driver bounded out. He was young, ginger-haired, clad in shorts. He punched a button at the back of the trailer and lowered the hydraulic lift to the pavement.
I glanced at my five-year-old son, Tobin. We were waiting for a motorcycle, not a piano, so we must have looked perplexed.
The driver climbed aboard the gate, grinning at us. “You guys coming up or not?” he said.
The three of us rose grandly to the trailer door. The driver unlatched it briskly and opened it with a flourish.
A scrim of road dust hung briefly in the air and there was a pungent pharaoh-scent of cedar chips and high-priced lacquer. It was dark as a tar bucket back there, but when our eyes adjusted, we caught a flash of chrome, a wink of headlight glass coming from between two Steinway crates way to the front. The three of us made our way toward it.
It was hard to get a good look in that gloom, but the bike sat upright, strapped to a wheeled pallet something like a skateboard. I helped the driver, a moonlighting journalism student, slide crates around to make a path. He told us that his company’s forte was high-end pianos, but that sometimes motorcycles rode shotgun to fill up a load.
“Big bikes and concert grands?” I said.
The driver shrugged. “My boss, he’s a total cycle freak.”
We locked the pallet wheels down, gently ferried the big machine toward the lift gate in the back.
By now kids, passersby, and neighbors had gathered to see what was up, and when the bike finally emerged, there was a faint collective gasp.
“That’s no piano,” someone finally whispered.
Glistening there beneath the streetlights, poised to descend, was a hulking, coal black, fringed, dressed, and studded Indian Powerplus “Chief,” a machine that, for all practical purposes, had been extinct for 50 years.
Looking back, what impresses me most is that the bike came with no manual, license plates, or instructions of any kind.
What impressed my son most was the fact that there was no kick starter. He had yet to learn bikes could have electric starting.
After we’d landed on the ground, I climbed on the bike to steady it while the driver released the tie-down straps.
I thought Tobin’s point—that there was no apparent way to start it—was well taken: Beyond the fact it had two wheels, the black Chief resembled my ’47 about the way an F-16 does a biplane. But I managed to roll it away without incident while the driver stored the lift. The bike felt long, wide, and slightly top-heavy.
“Crank it up!” someone said.
“Yeah, see what it’s got!”
These weren’t exactly suggestions. Wow, I thought. What a tough crowd! For me to ride this bike without a clue was almost too dumb for words. Yet with an entrance like this I somehow had no choice.
The driver grinned, showed me the starting drill.
In a moment the bike was idling robustly beneath me while I sat and blipped the throttle like a boob.
The driver cocked his head. “You do have a valid cycle permit. Don’t you?”
I’d been meaning to get one of these for some time—about eight years, to be exact. For a moment I was sure he knew this, but I said, “Of course! Jesus! Are you out of your mind?”
With that I slipped the clutch, bumped off the curb, and blasted off just as fast as I could go, through the worst fire season Montana has ever had. I downshifted badly for a traffic light, sailed through the yellow, then tweaked the throttle hard. Holy Christ, I thought, my face is flying off! This is what’s been missing!
Within weeks of the black Chief’s arrival—about the time it took for me to stop riding like an idiot—I got an e-mail from Hendess with a one-word message: “Argh!” Web site down, the phones disconnected, the new Indian company had gone under with barely a whimper, leaving me with a peculiar kind of orphan, one of the biggest, most expensive, and, suddenly, most collectible cruiser bikes in the world.
It was much to ponder. Amid my garage’s clutter of skis, mowers, shotguns, snow tires (basically, none of the things you’d see in the kind of garage this bike was obviously meant to sit in), the black Chief sat in kickstand limbo. For the moment it belonged nowhere—not with me, not with a dealer, not with the factory.
I found these events had a double-edged effect: First, there was morbid fascination. It took Indian 50 years to get out of hock, 5 years to claw back into the market, and yet the company still managed to blow it! It was the exquisite cut-your-throat style of falling short only a longtime Red Sox fan could fathom.
My cycling friends were quick to lend advice: “Tell ’em it’s been stolen.”
Second, there was a ghoulish kind of excitement. I thought there was an excellent chance that this particular press bike, so far away from home and in the midst of such chaos, would somehow fall through the cracks and become my own.
My cycling friends were quick to lend advice:
“Move it out of state!”
“Tell ’em it’s been stolen!”
“Part it out!”
I meditated on the situation every day. I couldn’t avoid it. The black Chief was an Exotic, a $25,000 glamour bike, stranded far from home. During its stay I’d managed to chip its fender on the tailpipe of my vintage. One of Tobin’s friends muddied the tank with his sneakers, and one of the boys—it was never clear which—bent the ignition key, trying to start it up. The truth was the bike was in the way. What’s more, I couldn’t figure out my feeling for it—what it was to me or how far I was prepared to go to keep it. But instead of riding, I mostly let it sit.
A month passed before an e-mail broke the spell. It was vaguely clandestine, yet to the point: The black Chief was scheduled for pickup “inside of a weak [ sic ].”
I was stunned. It was all so low-rent! However faulty my reasoning, I really had expected to keep it awhile—at least until spring.
Within an hour a whiskey-voiced truck dispatcher from Santa Anita called for directions to my house. I hedged a moment, then grudgingly gave them up.
“Great.” She chuckled. “So we know how to get there. Now who the hell’s gonna pay for this? You?”
“Wow!” I said. “That’s a good one. How about the guys that want it back?”
The dispatcher snorted. “Know what? It’s hard to get hold of folks when their number’s disconnected.”
Time was tight. I hung up the phone and made for my garage. I swung the door open, propped it with a gas can. For a second, I was surprised to see the black Chief there. Somehow I had already imagined it gone.
October 2003 was as gorgeous as August had been dreadful. For weeks the air stayed warm and fragrant, the skies fair and open, the mountains bathed in sunlight. The month was like a gift, one could think, for hanging in through the fires.
I didn’t know where to ride or how long. I knew only that it would be a strange swan song. That in the course of it, I might figure things out. Or not.
In the end I chose Route 200, the kind of rolling scenic blacktop winding east along the Blackfoot River for its first 50 miles, then rising steadily into the Rockies. I’d ridden my vintage bike on this route several times. Loping along at 60 in the absence of traffic, I always imagined Route 200 was just the road it was built for.
And yet my last vintage ride had been a travail. Forest fires and construction made for stop-and-start traffic, and 10 miles out, my ’47 began to stutter. The farther I rode, the rougher it ran, so by Mile 20 I U-turned and limped home, all the way berating myself for whatever bit of maintenance I had once again failed to perform.
The black Chief started, idled flawlessly. While I sat warming it up, I realized how I’d come to believe there was something heroic in riding vintage, that there was something banal in a new bike. That, without even meaning to, I was now conducting a comparison test: the best of the present versus the worst of the past. Simply put, my vintage is a ride that makes demands. To keep it running and ride it well requires a fierce concentration along with a certain suspension of disbelief. And while it’s true my vintage has never broken down on the road, the possibility has kept me from taking many long trips.
I flipped down my face screen, rode out in this magic autumn. I ran east with the cool of the Blackfoot River, burst through the shadows of the Lubrecht Forest, plunged down toward the Potomac Valley plain. A twist of throttle sent me blazing past semis and road whales, and the Swan Range, 50 miles ahead, sprang toward me with each acceleration. I downshifted, banged a left at the concrete Hereford colossus marking the Clearwater junction, then shot north up 87, into the Swan River valley. The sun behind me now, my shadow pooled ahead like dark water as I sped along the glacier-pocked ridges I’ve hunted half my life.
The farther I rode, the less I thought about getting back. What’s more, I was beginning to get the whole piano connection: My old bike was ragtime on a barroom upright. This new bike? The Emperor Concerto on an ebony concert grand. I knew I couldn’t keep it, yet I was falling in love with it anyway, which made us fated, star-crossed. Mostly, I was beginning to think of how wrong I’d been about these bikes. That, with the company out of business, maybe, after all, they were real Indians.
The following afternoon, October 21, a pair of movers from North American Van Lines arrived, six hours late. They were sheepish, solemn as pallbearers. I was annoyed from waiting and did not conceal it. They parked their seedy-looking van in the alley while I opened my garage and rolled the black Chief out. The day had grown dreary, and I told them I would leave now, that it would be hard to watch them load. They allowed they understood.
“Are they taking the black bike?” Tobin asked.
“So where’s the piano truck?”
I thought it was a pretty good question actually.
Half an hour passed before I went out to check on them. The movers had been joined by a third man, and they all circled the bike warily.
“Hey, man,” the oldest one said, clearly embarrassed, “can you give us a hand with this? None of us ever been on one before.”
When we’d finished loading and they’d buttoned up the truck, I stood in the alley, watched this slipshod outfit pack the black Chief away to wherever unsuccessful motorcycle revivals finally end up.
There are many good reasons why the second-generation Indians failed: They were too pricey. They were overmarketed, underproduced. There were quality issues, and there were too many car guys in the mix. But mostly, the new Indians stayed too derivative for too long.
Still, when I realized what I’d let slip through my fingers, it was tough. Someone had finally built an Indian that would start on the button, cruise at 80, stop on a dime, and give you an odds-on chance of getting where you wanted to go. Whatever its exact pedigree, the black 2003 Powerplus Chief was one hell of a ride.
Ford or Chevy, Bud or Miller, Harvard or Yale. Fifty years ago there was Harley or Indian too. With most things American, you always have that choice, so maybe Indian’s indomitable mystique can be best explained as a kind of phantom-limb syndrome.
Basically Indians are machines to bear stories. That is what they do best.
The name alone sold millions’ worth of Canadian sportswear but fell well short of being the billion-dollar brand name Murray Smith envisioned. Depending on who you talk to, Indian came wrenchingly close to the Rip Van Winkle comeback so many had hoped for.
On a closing note, one deposed executive told me that before he joined Indian in 2001, he did his own “mother-in-law” survey, an informal name-recognition test to see how many people knew of these bikes.
“Considering Indian hadn’t made a machine since the Korean War, the recognition factor was off the charts,” he said. But what impressed him more than that was the volume of stories his survey produced.
I thought of the many tales I’d heard over the years, the way they changed from the apocryphal to something like to oral history. Like that of the San Diego grandmother whose family had fled the Dust Bowl in 1934. She recalled how her brother had loaded his Indian sidecar with household stuffs “till it looked like a damn pack mule.”
Or like that of the Orange County defense attorney, who high-fived the photo of his uncle on a flattrack racer whenever he tried a difficult case. Or the Nevada rancher whose granddad rode an Indian in France during World War I and whose father rode one in Burma in World War II.
“Not only was the recognition there—there were these amazing stories to go with it.” The exec shook his head. “Really, what I was getting from these folks was something more akin to religion.”
By which he probably meant a uniquely American motorized kind of Shinto, in which whole twentieth-century family histories were intricately connected with Indian bikes.
I don’t know if old motorcycles make a good religion or not. Mostly, I’ve come to the conclusion that while they might sell a lot of polo shirts and while they still might make a great comeback someday, basically Indians are machines to bear stories. That seems to be what they do best. Exactly why this should be is probably for the next generation of cyclists to figure out, and along these lines I have thoughtfully provided my son, Tobin, with more than enough stories to hold his own in this regard, stories of a life caught in the flux between vintage and modernity and of a father’s fateful weakness. Stories of two mythic bikes that once shared his garage, of the muddying of their tanks with sneakers. Stories of a night long ago, when a giant semi pulled in out of the smoke. It would seem to bear great pianos, this spectral white Kenworth. But in fact it brought something far more exotic. And far more enduring.