2 Wheels

A Piece of Motorcycle History is Uncovered in Rare Indian ‘Superbike’ Find

An Indian motorbike from 1914 has been discovered in a barn in Uruguay and is being sold at auction, The Drive reports. This Indian board track racer is a pre-war bike, built in the early 20th century. It was one of the first racing bikes ever created by Indian, and could go upwards of 120 miles per hour — a truly incredible speed for a bike of this era.

About the motorcycle

The board track racer was able to reach its incredible speed due to the work of Oscar Hedstrom, Charles Gustafson Sr., and Charles B. Franklin. These three men worked together to devise a solution to a common problem facing motorcycles at the time: poor gas flow through the intake and exhaust cycles caused the engines to overheat and slow down. Hedstrom, Gustafson, and Franklin solved this issue by developing the eight-valve engine, which vastly improved the power output of these early motorcycles. 

By the 1920s, however, eight-valve bikes were largely obsolete due to the invention of the side-valve PowerPlus. This bike is therefore an excellent relic of the early days of motorcycle racing. While its particular build was abandoned after technology advanced, the board track racer was a vital stepping stone for enabling those advancements.

This 1914 bike in particular was one of the very first factory-built superbikes. You can see traces of it in every modern motorcycle that uses a clutch-gear-chain drive — the 1914 board track racer was one of the very first bikes to use this drive. It also helped to pioneer the V2 engine.

History of the bike

This motorcycle was originally owned by a South American racer named Lucchese. Because of the bike’s impressive specs, Lucchese planned to use it in his races. He was unable to do so, however, because the bike simply outclassed all other contemporary bikes. Lucchese was restricted to using the bike for exhibition races until around 1930, when he finally garaged it. It was eventually rediscovered and restored before it was garaged once again, this time in Uruguay.

According to the seller, the bike still has 70 percent of its original paint. Its worth is estimated to be between $75,000 and $85,000.

The brand behind the bike

Indian Motorcycle was the first motorcycle company in the United States and was founded in 1897 by George M. Hendee, a former racing champion. It was originally named the Hendee Manufacturing Company, but donned the name Indian in honor of the American Indian brand of bicycle that it carried. 

The company’s first factory was established in 1901, with its first motorcycle sale in 1902. The company rapidly gained notoriety; by the end of 1902 one of its bikes had won an endurance race in its racing debut. By 1903, an Indian motorcycle had achieved a world record in speed after reaching 56 miles per hour. In a feat unheard of at the time, an Indian motorcycle also drove 31 days with no mechanical problems, reaching New York City from San Francisco.

Indian Motorcycle built the very first V2 racing bike in 1906, and its racing engine debuted in 1907. Throughout the 1910s the company made enormous strides in motorcycle technology, helping to pioneer the automatic oil pump, electric lighting, starter hand cranks, and the first electric start on any motorcycle. 

32,000 Indian motorcycles were sold in 1913, giving the company yet another record. Indian also worked closely with the United States government in its early years, providing the military with approximately 50,000 bikes between 1917 and 1918. Indian revived this military relationship in the 1940s, when it stopped focusing on building bikes for consumers and instead spent its efforts producing the Model 841 for the French and U.S. armies.

Indian went bankrupt in 2003, but its assets were purchased by Stellican Ltd. The brand was eventually revived, and continues to produce its iconic bikes today.