1912 Indian Board Track Racer
At its peak, American board track racing rivaled baseball as one of America’s top spectator sports. Between roughly 1909 and 1914 Motorcycle Board Track racing flourished in the U.S. Successful riders became some of the country’s first national sports heroes.
This 1912 Indian has the original 500cc single-cylinder engine with a Bosch American Magneto and Hedstrom carburetor. The rigid frame is factory-built, with turn-down handlebars, and is presented in the traditional factory Indian colors.
Although speeds could reach well over 90mph, there were no brakes or clutch. Riders also had to manually feed oil into the engine. The carburetors ran wide open and the bikes were geared so high they were towed to start.
Racing during this era took place on oval tracks constructed of 2x4 wooden planks placed on edge called Motordome’s. Banking of the tracks started at 25 degrees, and increased to as much as 60 degrees, which was common. The effect of such extreme banking was high cornering speeds and high G-forces on the riders.
The popularity of racing motorcycles on board tracks declined rapidly following a most unfortunate accident when Eddie Hasha, riding an Indian 8-valve, lost control of his machine during a race at the Newark, New Jersey Motordrome. The ensuing crash took the lives of four spectators (three of them young boys) and two competitors, including Hasha.
As a result of Hasha’s crash, the press labeled the motorcycle motordromes as “murderdromes”, and soon the fast, highly-banked wooden ¼-mile and 1/3-mile tracks disappeared.
Indian motorcycles were originally produced from 1901-1953 in Springfield, Massachusetts. George Hendee originally founded the Hendee Manufacturing Company in 1897 to manufacture bicycles badged as the “American Indian,” which was quickly shortened to just “Indian.” Oscar Hedstrom joined the company in 1900. Both Hendee and Hedstom were former bicycle racers and manufacturers, and they teamed up to produce a 1.75 hp, single-cylinder engine motorcycle in Springfield, Hendee’s hometown. That motorcycle was successful and sales increased dramatically during the next decade.
Hedstrom left Indian in 1913, and Hendee resigned in 1916. The Hendee Company name was changed in 1928 to the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company. During the 1910s, Indian became the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world. Unfortunately the company went bankrupt in 1953.
Various organizations tried to perpetuate the Indian brand name in subsequent years, with limited success. Polaris Industries purchased Indian Motorcycles in 2011 and moved operations to North Carolina. Since August 2013, Polaris has marketed multiple modern Indian motorcycles that reflect the marque’s traditional styling.
The 500cc, 31.5-cubic-inch engine in the Museum’s 1912 Indian motorcycle is an F-head design, with the intake valve in the head and the exhaust valve in the cylinder block, similar to several of the Harley-Davidson engines of that era.
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