In late September of last year Indian rocked the flat track racing world by hiring three of the elite riders in the championship – Brad Baker, Jared Mees and Bryan Smith. Between them that trio won the last five Grand National No. 1 Plates. It was obvious that Indian was serious about winning the 2017 title.
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.
Harley-Davidson responded last month by announcing its own very strong squad with Kenny Coolbeth and Jake Johnson (both multi-time champs) and Brandon Robinson, a rising star in the series.
Another semi-shocker was that Harley announced the factory team would race the new liquid-cooled XG750R exclusively, with development being done by Vance & Hines. That was a big move by Milwaukee, especially considering the venerable Harley-Davidson XR750 has been the team’s racing machine almost exclusively for 46 years! And as long in tooth as the XR seems, it’s still probably the best overall flat track race bike on the planet, bolstered by years of refinement.
But while the move away from the old-school, air-cooled, pushrod two-valve XR750 seems a bit risky, with the advancement of the Kawasaki EX650-based machine and the apparent head-turning speed of the new Indian, the XR was being pushed well beyond the design limits and as a result the bikes were breaking at an alarming rate.
Indian brings a truly international program to the track. The engine was designed in conjunction with Swiss Auto, a company that has built both Formula One and Motorcycle Grand Prix race engines.
To give you an idea of potentially how good the new Indian FTR750 is, Joe Kopp, a 47-year-old retired rider, hopped on the bike in last year’s season finale and actually led the race early on! Not bad for a debut run. Jared Mees helped develop the FTR and he’s very enthusiastic about the prospect of racing it in 2017.
On paper it seems the battle for this year’s championship is going to be strictly between Harley and Indian, if for no other reason than the sheer talent of the two teams. That may well be, but it also seems to be a window of opportunity for other squads to use the already proven Harley XR750 or the Kawasaki EX650 and possibly pull a major upset over the factories.
The state of professional flat track racing is still an open question. Certainly, it seems that since the DMG sold road racing to MotoAmerica a couple of years ago, that more resources are being directed at flat track. Nearly half of the races on the schedule are being promoted by an arm of the DMG, so they have a major incentive to put butts in the seats.
On the plus side, the DMG has new and visionary leadership. It’s hired a large PR agency to promote the series and there’s been big time exposure like never before in national magazines and newspapers. You’ve got Indian coming in a big way, Harley is stepping up its game and rumors persist that both Yamaha and Honda are considering joining the fray in the not-too-distant future.
On the other hand, flat track’s fan base is among the oldest of any motorsport and there does not seem to be enough young fans coming in to replace them. Fan’s Choice TV’s excellent live coverage has proven to make it a tough decision for some fans to justify coming to watch the race live, when they can see everything from the comfort of their family rooms.
There are just a few races that have proven to be able to draw big crowds year after year and even the strongest races on the calendar like Springfield, Peoria and Sacramento, have seen inexplicable ups and downs in attendance in recent years. And consider races like the Indy Mile, which could not sustain itself without the help of being on the same weekend as MotoGP.
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.
This momentum and renewed factory interest is either going to work or it’s not. We won’t be able to tell for a couple of years, but you cannot fault the organizers. They certainly seem to be reaching for the moon and it’s going to be fun to watch.
Springfield was also the home of Duryea Motor Wagon Co., the first American car company, launched in 1896. Gunmaker Smith & Wesson is still headquartered there. In 1901, retired bicycle racer turned manufacturer George M. Hendee, who had originally launched his company as a bicycle maker, exhibited his first motorcycle. Hendee Manufacturing Co. began volume production of Indian motorcycles the following year.
While it is commonly associated with art deco streamlining, especially the skirted fenders and a prominent swept-back Indian chief-in-headdress ornament, that styling didn’t arrive on the company’s Chief model until the 1940s.
These are the styling cues that anchor the new Indian Roadmaster Classic, a heavyweight highway cruiser fitted with abundant leather, a large touring saddle, two-tone paint, loads of chrome and, of course, valanced fenders.
“The Roadmaster Classic is an undeniably beautiful motorcycle that our riders have been asking for,” says Indian Motorcycle marketing director Reid Wilson.
It was the smaller, lightweight Scout that was Indian’s most endearingly popular model. The Scout was the machine that won the very first Daytona 200 motorcycle race in 1937, and it won over riders as one of the world’s first sport bikes. Many of us got our first glimpse of an Indian Scout race bike in the 2005 Anthony Hopkins film The World’s Fastest Indian. But management mistakes doomed Indian to financial collapse in 1953.
Today Indian, a 20th-century hero, is back from the dead, reanimated with modern technology. Outdoor powersports company Polaris Industries Inc. took over ownership of the long-contested rights to the Indian brand name in 2011 and introduced a new top-of-the-line Indian Chief to the public in 2014.
As before, however, a lightweight model is a key component of Indian’s plans, so the company unveiled a new Scout in 2014. It’s a bike that incorporates more modern technology than the traditionalist Chief, and naturally, the new Scout is hitting the racetrack, too.
Today’s Scout model is available as the regular 100-horsepower Scout and the entry-level 78-horsepower Scout Sixty, models that appeal to an entirely different group of customers than those who prefer the massive, old-school Chief in its fully skirted Indian dress.
These new Scouts preserve Indian’s tradition of V-twin engine designs, while updating them with liquid cooling and overhead camshafts for the muscle a Scout deserves.
“We’re really proud of the Scout because it has a great sales performance and has had a great impact on the market,” Wilson explained.
Indian has also introduced the Scout FTR750, which is contesting the AMA Flat Track (AFT) series for the first time since the factory-led “Wrecking Crew” team raced in the 1950s. The company’s stylists toiled to produce a bike that effectively bridges old and new, but any good motorcycle needs to also serve as a suitable canvas for customers to personalize their machines.
Illustrating the Scout’s limitless potential as a custom bike foundation, Indian challenged its dealers to create their own versions of the bike in the Project Scout contest. Interest was so high that fans crashed Indian’s website as they rushed to see the creative results of the shootout.
The customs that emerged from that event should not only inspire prospective owners but also point the way to variants we’ll likely see coming from the factory. “Those designs inspired us,” Wilson says. “We can’t do it next month, but years into the future you’ll see bikes come out based on some of those designs.”
John Gee’s extraordinary Antique Motorcycles collection
Antique Motorcycles, in Moorabbin, outside Melbourne, Australia(Credit: Loz Blain/New Atlas)
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Tucked away in Melbourne’s urban sprawl is one of Australia’s true hidden gems. Antique Motorcycles features the amazing and ever-changing motorcycle collection of owner John Gee, who was nice enough to take us on a guided tour and tell us about some of his favorite machines.
I’ve lived in Melbourne, Australia nearly 40 years, and been into motorcycles for about half that – and yet this hidden treasure has somehow managed to remain completely off my radar until now. Tucked away beside Moorabbin Airport is a historic motorcycling wonderland, almost a museum, built on one man’s personal collection.
Antique Motorcycles is a monument to owner John Gee’s passion for anything interesting with two wheels. Walking in the front door, through the cafe/bar area, you step into a huge showroom/museum area where dozens upon dozens of bikes sit in beautifully chaotic displays. Model planes, minibikes, snowmobiles, bicycles and speedway cars hang from the rafters, and the place is chock-full of all kinds of memorabilia.
John took the time to take us through the museum area and talk about a few of his many favourites. We’ll let him take it from here in his own words:
Antique Motorcycles started in 1988, believe it or not. I’ve been going to the States since 88, buying classic bikes and bringing them back to Australia.
I got bitten by the motorcycle bug as an 8-year-old and the bug kept getting worse. By the time I was an apprentice motorcycle mechanic at 17, I owned half a dozen road bikes that I kept at a friend’s house so my parents wouldn’t know. It was around this time I started buying and selling bikes, and building a collection.
In the late 80s, I was traveling across the United States, and I noticed that Triumphs, Nortons and BSAs were cheap. So I planned a trip over there, went and bought 30-odd bikes, shipped them back, and I’d spend the year doing them up in the garage. Eventually when you amass a collection of motorcycles it attracts other people with the same passion. Before you know it, you’re importing bikes for other people and working on their projects for them. One day you wake up and you own a motorcycle shop! It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you do it long enough, you end up with a place like this.
We’ve got a bit of everything here. I’ve got a pretty big mini-bike collection – a hangover from that bug I had as a kid. I prefer original condition bikes. I’ve spent most of my life taking chopper forks and handlebars and Craig Vetter fairings and touring bags off motorcycles and returning them to their original condition. I’ve got choppers from the 70s, I’ve got turbo bikes, I like my British bikes, I love my German bikes … but Indians is my #1 passion.
We became a dealer for Indian about 12 months ago. We’re very happy to sell them, they’re not a hard product to sell at all. They sell themselves out of the box because they’re such a good bike. It’s great to see a serious competitor to Harley Davidson.
Destroyer II – Billy Gibbons’ custom Kawasaki Z1R
We’ve got a lot of famous stuff here … This is a bike that Billy Gibbons, from ZZ Top, had made. He called it Destroyer II, because that’s the kind of guitar he plays.
He got a ’78 Z1R turbo, which was probably one of the most expensive bikes available on the day, and he sent it back to the factory. They put a stage 3 kit in it, which is a bigger sump, a welded crank, 6:1 forged turbo pistons, undercut the gearbox, all that sort of stuff.
Then they sent it off to this mob called RC Hill’s of Orlando, and they did all the gold plating, and the painting, and the custom work.
We haven’t restored the seat, because the seat had Billy Gibbons on it. The time’s come, it sort of needs to be done, but I’ve held back, because it’s Billy’s own seat. Pretty cool bike, it’s only done about 6,000 miles.
I found it in a collection in Michigan. I was buying about 20-odd bikes off one guy. It was in a pretty poor state. But they were the fastest bike in the world at the time. They still currently hold the record for an 11-second quarter mile, sitting on the bike backwards. Quite incredible!
Mad Max Honda Four
This bike here’s out of Mad Max. The guy lived five Ks from here, and he came in and said he had an old Honda and he wanted to sell it. I went and looked at it, I didn’t know it was out of Mad Max, he wanted too much money … I was leaving, I was in the car ready to drive away.
But just as I was leaving, he told me the story of how he rode the thing in Mad Max, and I quickly changed my mind and bought it. There’s a picture of it, right here… There was only two Honda Fours in the film.
When you watch the movie and slow it down, you can see the Star mags, you can see the twin-disc front end, which is unusual for a Honda, they only had a single disc front end. And you can see the calipers are behind the fork – normally Hondas had the caliper in front. He customized his own bike, way back when, ’74 or 5.
They had a Mad Max reunion last year. We all went to Clunes. And they had just about every vehicle from every Mad Max film made. All the people in the clothing and whatnot.
I had this bike there, and nobody knew about it – it doesn’t exactly jump off the page. By the end of the weekend, I found out I had the only genuine vehicle out of any of the Mad Max films at the event. There were at least 10 Interceptor cars, and the MFP police cars, 10 or 12 of those … There’s a lot of passion out of there for Mad Max.
TZ750 race bike
Here’s a TZ750, this was one of Trevor Flood’s bikes. Reputedly raced by Michael Dowson … and Kevin McGee in the ’84 Swann series. I think they raced it to second place in the championship.
It’s a GP bike you could buy off the shelf. This one’s got around 130 horse, it’s running Lectron flat-slides, White Power suspension, Dymag wheels and Brembo brakes. All products that the Floods were the importers for at the time. I bought it from a deceased estate about 25 years ago.
I’ve ridden this one on track. You go flat chat down Phillip Island straight, and when you hit the hump where the tunnel goes underneath, the thing does a huge wheelstand and you have to back off. Whenever you ride this bike, you have the utmost respect for it. When you get off in the pits, you’re shaking, and you go “whew… I lived!”
2002 Indian Chief: Schwarzenegger bike from Terminator 3
This is out of Terminator 3, Arnie Schwarzenegger. They made four bikes, they destroyed two, and two survived. This is the one he actually rode in the scene where they’re chasing the crane truck, and the crane’s jib is pointed sideways and the whole world’s blowing up. It’s taking down the power lines, flipping all the parked cars upside down. Pretty spectacular scene.
This particular Indian was known as the Gilroy Indian. Made in Gilroy, California. Not to be confused with the Polaris product of current times, which is a much superior motorcycle. The chase scene was only a small part of the movie, but Indian fans would’ve been sure to notice what Arnie was riding. It was the first time an Indian had been used in a movie in a very long time. They had a lot to live up to, as previous Terminator chase scenes involving Harleys were also spectacular.
Honda CBX1000 Turbo
In 1978, Honda came out with the CBX1000 six cylinder. A stunning bike, with a motor that was described as “a block of flats.” Absolutely an instant classic. So what to do to improve it?
Meet the Honda CBX turbo! They only made 10 kits, which were dealer fitted. They weren’t factory endorsed, but the factory would’ve been happy they had a product that could run with the Kawasaki Z1R turbos of the time … So that’s one of ten of those. I’ve had a fascination for turbos and have owned many examples, from all the four Japanese brands. I currently still have quite a few, and also some pretty wild Frankenstein home-built turbo bikes. Always fun.
This kit doubles whatever horsepower it had. What’d they have, like, 75 horsepower new? Not much … It might have 140 now.
1942 Harley-Davidson WLA
This WLA was restored by the US army, it’s probably the best example of a WLA in the world. It’s cool shit. Like all bikes here, it goes. Bit of fuel, bit of choke, couple of prime kicks, ignition … (bike starts) Hey? Not bad!
It had the radio instead of the Thompson machine gun. It’s a communication bike. It’s probably the best example of a WLA in the world, since it was restored by the army. It’s not like WLAs are very rare – they made 90,000 of them. But they are rare to find like this.
I didn’t have to do any work on it. The work I had to do was count out the bills and hand ’em over. Haha! Serious stuff. This bike is now owned by one of our very best customers, and is part of his extensive collection.
1951 Harley-Davidson WR
WR Harley-Davidson up there, a 1951 WR, they made 23 in the world. That was Harley’s weapon on the flat tracks. This bike comes from one of the oldest Harley Davidson shops in the USA. It was a spare bike that only saw a few practice laps in its life.
In ’52, they already had the KR top end on the WR – the WR was on its way to morphing into the KR. By ’53, WRs were gone and the KR was born. Very fast bike for the time. They’d pull wheelstands down the main straight at over 80 miles an hour, I’ve seen it myself at the Davenport flat track.
1966 Triumph Bonneville XR750
That’s a Triumph. We use that to test whether people know their shit or not. You just failed. Haha! I just put a Harley tank on a Triumph, because it fit … I was building a bike to race in New Zealand at the Burt Monroe challenge, and the tank came up in Just Bikes magazine, and it had a brand new paint job on it, so I stuck it on there. I was reluctant to take the Harley badge off, because I didn’t know if I was going to keep that tank.
One thing led to another, next thing, people are coming in and telling us they used to have one exactly like it … We left it on there for a bit of fun, we use it to qualify people. It’s amazing how many people will swear black and blue, that that’s exactly how the one they owned was – much to our bewilderment!
1975 Hercules Wankel
We’ve got two Hercules rotaries, we’ve got two Norton rotaries, the water-cooled and the air-cooled, and a Suzuki RE5 Wankel.
They’re a different thing to ride. We don’t call ’em a motorcycle, we call ’em rotorcycles. They’re a bit … heavy and slow to get going, but they’re quirky, and we still like ’em. When I was an apprentice motorcycle mechanic, we used to work on these things. I’ve got fond memories. We used to look at the engine and go “what the hell do you do with that?”
The Hercules is a very surprising motorcycle to ride. It is very quick off the line, it has unexpected power delivery, and it’s very quick and nimble. Quite the opposite to the Suzuki RE5.
The Garage display
That’s the old garage. We use all the stuff in here. It’s all rare stuff. ’23 Indian, there’s a ’39 Indian engine, a ’38 Indian engine, all kinds of important stuff in there. Transmissions, magnetos, carburetors … Whenever we’re restoring an old bike, this is where we come to get our bits.
We did it up like an old ’20’s servo you’d find in outback Australia. Couple of gas pumps out the front, a collection of stuff under a lean-to. We’ve got a bit of junk piled up in there today, it’s not really as good a display as it normally is …
Steve McQueen sidecar
Chad McQueen was just in Australia. I know Chad from the States, he’s one of those identities that kind of turns up at a lot of things.
I met him up at the Rock Store once, up on Mulholland Drive. He was driving an old Porsche. I just noticed this car, you know, it had cut slicks, and a full camber job, and all the body panels were fiberglass, and racing seats … It was a pretty rough old looking car.
I was looking at it, and this guy yells out from across the street, “get in! knock yourself out!” Like Americans do … Next minute, of course, he’s there, and he’s on for a chat. I was asking questions about his car, like how fast does it go, it looks pretty serious … He said “aw look, I’ve lost my nerve these days, after I hit the wall at Daytona doing 200 …” I was thinking to myself, typical American, bragging, or making up stories …
Anyway, he said “what’ve you guys got?” Well, I told him we had a rental car and we weren’t very proud of it, we’d parked it ’round the corner. But we’re into Indian motorcycles in a big way, and that’s what we ride at home. He said he had an Indian motorcycle with a sidecar. So we listened to his story about that. And I said, well, I’m not a fan of sidecars, but I do have one. I only keep it because it belonged to Steve McQueen … And he said “well that mah daddy!” And then I realized, shit, this is Chad McQueen – and that story about hitting the wall at Daytona at 200, that was actually true!
That’s the sidecar up there, and that’s the bike it was on, down below. It got caught in a fire at my previous address – one of the buildings burned down. It got a bit singed, but it’s still in pretty good condition. And I told him about it. He remembered the bike – and he said he hated it, because his dad used to make him polish it! Pretty funny.
1951 Indian Squad bike
This is my favourite Indian, it’s a 1951 New York police bike. It’s got a siren on it, still. I bought it off the original cop. Some of the towns, depends where you came from, you had to own the bike to be a cop. I don’t think that’s what happened to him, I think this was a fleet bike.
It was never a pursuit bike, it was a parade bike. So, when the president or whoever came to town, there’d be two of these out in front and two behind as a police escort, that kind of thing.
I’ve ridden it around the grand canyon, I’ve ridden it around New Zealand … It’s been my rider for about 25 years now. I can’t put my finger on why, this bike has something that reaches out to me. Whenever I’m going out for a ride, I look round the shop, and I always end up choosing this one. Actually I’d better get that bike up on the bench, I’ll be riding it the weekend after next. We’re going up to Mansfield in the high country. We’re doing the 25th annual Great Race – Harley vs. Indian.
2016 Indian Scout custom cafe racer
Here’s one we’re building right now, a cafe racer, something a bit different. It’s home grown, right here. We’re just giving people examples of what can be done using a Scout as a base. It’s about getting people’s imagination going, so they can then buy a bike and either get us to customize it, or run off and go and customize it themselves. It’s an awesome platform – 100 horsepower and very nimble handling.
1974 Norton Commando (supercharged)
There’s another bike up here that’s a bit far out … That’s a supercharged Norton Commando. You could buy a kit back in the 70s, bolt on a Drouin supercharger, and double your horsepower. So that’s just one that I knocked up. It’s a … let me think, a ’74 Commando. It’s got a Dunstall kit, Norman Hyde fork brace, alloy rims and clip-ons, a 2-into-1 exhaust …
Not everything’s for sale. Obviously I got into this because I was passionate about bikes and I wanted to build a collection of bikes. All of a sudden you end up being a motorcycle shop, and you’re buying and selling and you’re head-first into it.
But my passion is still collecting. And there’s still plenty of bikes on my bucket list that I want to get before I’m done. So once in a while, maybe I’ll sell a couple of bikes to get something else on my bucket list. It’s about experiencing them.
I got to about 130 bikes in my collection, that was stupid, I couldn’t keep the tires pumped up. It was a major job just looking after them, and there were bikes in there that were quite rough. So I cut it back. I’m probably at about 70 or something at the moment. I try to keep it round about there.
I’ve got a warehouse over the road, I keep a bunch more over there. I like to swap ’em around, keep it all alive. This isn’t a museum you walk into one time – you come back next week, it’s different. Come back the week after, it’s different again. There’s always a reason to come back.
Same with the museum we’re building upstairs. I know a lot of people with collections of very rare and exotic motorcycles. We’ll do a Brough Superior display, we’ll do a Harley-Davidson display, we’ll do all sorts of things, maybe an American brand display with Thors and Merkels and Popes, things like that. It’s always going to be changing, so it’s important to keep coming back.
Friday nights we have our Tapas night, which is where we open the bar and get drunk. There’s some live music, lots of fun. Two bands every Friday, and the cafe’s open every day except Sunday. So there’s the new Indian dealership, and the workshop and the team of mechanics. We work on vintage and classic bikes, which not a lot of shops would touch.
We’ve also got the Classic Racer Club based at the shop, we have rides every Saturday morning, 8 o’clock, heading off in whatever direction the riders choose on the day. Anywhere between 5 and 40 bikes, it depends who turns up.
After several hours chatting with John and photographing the bikes out back, I never felt like I’d scratched the surface of what’s in there – and John’s perfectly happy about that, telling me I should come back again and feature more of the bikes he rotates in and out of the museum.
We might take you up on that, John! There’s a ton of other stuff in the shop we’d love to feature.
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
It’s selling a lot more bikes, but the powersports vehicle maker is cutting off an important profit source.
Since reintroducing the Indian Motorcycle brand to the market in 2013, Polaris Industries(NYSE:PII) has been stealing large swaths of sales and market share from industry leader Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG). Its rival may still own the majority of the heavy bike industry, but Polaris has been able to challenge its supremacy all across the board, both on the road and on the track.
Part of Polaris’ success has been a result of introducing a bike in each market and at every price point. From touring and cruisers to sportier models, too, there’s an Indian Motorcycle that can rival a Harley.
The fringe on the handlebars
Though sales of the actual motorcycles bring in the biggest bucks for the bike makers, there’s another component that’s often overlooked but, many times, is just as lucrative, if not more so: the sale of parts, garments, and accessories.
When you buy a motorcycle, you might also buy a helmet, a new leather jacket, chrome handlebars, or new exhaust pipes. Beyond the safety components necessary to ride a bike, many buyers want to look the part, too. In fact, you’ll find many consumers will buy gear before they even own a bike, just for that reason.
Across all of Polaris Industries’ segments, parts, garments, and accessories, or PG&A, totaled $224.4 million in the third quarter, or 19% of the $1.19 billion in total sales it recorded for the period. That makes these ancillary items a bigger contributor to the powersports vehicle maker’s performance than the motorcycles themselves, a division whose sales came in at $183.2 million — inclusive of its respective PG&A sales.
A growing part of the business
Such sales are also just as lucrative for Harley-Davidson. For its third quarter, PG&A totaled $296.6 million, or almost 38% of the total $789 million it reported in motorcycle sales.
However, because Polaris also sells ATVs, snowmobiles, and utility vehicles, these parts and accessories sales are not equal for each division. Polaris generates the most money from its off-road vehicles and snowmobiles — $923 million last quarter. As a result, it sells more stuff into the PG&A category for that division than it does for motorcycles or UTVs.
Still, as the motorcycle segment becomes a larger component of its overall business, PG&A sales will grow, and therein lies a problem.
A graying market
The motorcycle industry is changing. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, the median age of the typical motorcycle owner in 1990 was 32, and the typical owner was a married male who had a high school diploma. Today, the typical owner is still likely to be married, but he’s got at least some college education under his belt, maybe a college degree — possibly even post-graduate. But the median age has climbed significantly, to 47 years old. Just 17% of riders today are under 30, compared to 41% 25 years ago.
That’s a big swing for the industry, and it highlights how it needs to begin attracting younger riders again for the overall health and future of motorcycling. Both Harley and Polaris say they are reaching out to this demographic.
A couple of years ago, Harley-Davidson introduced its Street 500 and 750 models, which were geared to new and urban riders as well as to females, blacks, and Hispanics. Polaris answered that first with its Indian Scout, and then with the Scout Sixty. Both have enjoyed considerable success — perhaps too much.
According to CEO Scott Wine, Polaris is “selling disproportionately more” of its Scouts, Scout Sixtys, and even Victory Octanes, another model targeted to that demographic — but those bikes actually don’t sell as much in PG&A goods as the bigger bikes do, so its segment sales fell for the quarter even though motorcycle retail sales were up.
A volatile mix
Even though Polaris has suffered a collapse in ATV sales as safety recalls impacted RZR sales — off-road vehicle sales plunged 23% for the period — PG&A sales were off only 3%. In contrast, while motorcycle retail was 3% higher in the third quarter, PG&A sales tumbled 10% because of the product mix. As this is the market Polaris (and Harley) is increasingly targeting, it could carry with it the unwanted side effect of losing on higher-margin parts and accessories sales.
The motorcycle industry is in the midst of a slowdown that’s affecting everyone, but as Polaris Industries gains traction in the heavyweight bike class, it’s selling more smaller models, so it will lop off an otherwise profitable piece of business. It’s a small one still, but investors should recognize the collateral damage the company will suffer for getting a bigger slice of the overall market.
1912 Indian Single is a two-wheeler that Jay Leno just couldn’t pass up. In this episode he highlights the stock 1912 Indian Single and talks to its owner. The motorcycle was part of the Motorcycle Cannonball Ride and given its age, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try it out. Yes, this 1912 Indian Single can still hit the streets. It’s owner Alex Trepanier tells us more about its history.
According to him, the 1912 Indian Single has been in their family since before he was born. His dad bought it for $650, back in 1962. Leno, of course, was pretty quick to offer twice the price. However, in this state, the 500cc bike has a current market value in the $70,000 range. Given the fact that it is unrestored and is still functional, the prize range makes sense.
When it comes to power, the 1912 Indian Single has a 4-horsepower single-speed. It has completed more than 3,000 miles in the Cannonball event. Also, it features a total-loss lubrication system. Thus, an interesting fact is that the engine probably consumed 5 quarts of oil each day.
Nevertheless, what Jay Leno is trying to point out is how much effort was put into making motorcycles in the early days. Not many could do it as Indian’s hand clutch and twist-grip throttle was pretty challenging. That’s why it took several false starts by Leno to make the vintage thumper run along. The 1912 Indian Single motorcycle’s top speed is around 35 mph.
But be that as it may, it surely is an exceptional experience to hop on this machine nowadays. The sound of the engine isn’t as pleasant as you would imagine but, all in all, it’s totally worth it. Check it out!
Two motorbikes that featured in The World’s Fastest Indian movie will roar back into life at this week’s Burt Munro Challenge event in Invercargill and Bluff.
The Burt Munro Challenge is being held for the 10th time from Thursday until Sunday and features six events ranging from hill and beach racing to track and road racing.
The event is named after former Invercargill resident Burt Munro who set numerous land-speed records for motorcycles with engines less than 1000cc at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in the late 1950s and 1960s.
Burt Munro Challenge committee member Stephen Winteringham said they wanted to do something special to mark the 10th anniversary of the event this year.
So they have got hold of two replica motorbikes, from the Southland Museum and an Invercargill arcade, which featured in the movie a decade ago.
The bikes will be ridden in demonstrations before numerous Burt Munro Challenge events begin this week if the weather permits.
The event organisers wanted the public to see and hear the motorbikes in action for the first time since the movie a decade ago.
The motorbikes on show will be an Indian, which was ridden on Oreti Beach near Invercargill during the movie, and a Ducati which was under a fibreglass shell when ridden on the Bonneville Salt Flats during the movie.
The two people charged with riding the two motorbikes during the Burt Munro Challenge are Rhys Wilson and Francie Winteringham, the 2012 and 2014 winners of the Burt Munro family trophy.
They took the bikes for a spin for the first time on Monday, and Wilson was buzzing after riding the throaty Indian around the Teretonga track.
“Exhilarating. Every motorcyclist’s dream,” he said.
Francie Winteringham said riding the two bikes was a lifelong dream fulfilled.
“Burnt my leathers a bit, both bikes were a handful to ride, definitely unlike anything I’ve ever done.”
Stephen Winteringham also rode the Ducati around the Teretonga track, and, like Munro in the movie, burnt his leg on the exhaust pipe.
“She’s a mission, I take my hat of to Burt.”
The bikes will be ridden at Bluff prior to the hill climb on Thursday, before the Oreti Beach racing on Friday and around Teretonga track on Saturday, Winteringham said.