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Bikernet Feature: Seeing a Red Blur

Heroes Motorcycles Indian Board Track Racers

Story by Paul Garson – Photos by Serge Bueno & Paul Garson
10/6/2015


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At a Paris, France bicycle racing stadium (Le Velodrome du Bois de Vincenes), the Hendee Indian recreates past Board Track glories. In addition, back in the day, motorcycles were once used to “draft” racing bicycles.
At a Paris, France bicycle racing stadium (Le Velodrome du Bois de Vincenes), the Hendee Indian recreates past Board Track glories. In addition, back in the day, motorcycles were once used to “draft” racing bicycles.

 
You can spot a vintage Indian board tracker racer a mile away thanks to its drooping handlebars as well as spindly “hardtail” bicycle type frame and narrow 2 ¼ inch tires. With clutchless ferocious motors and minus brakes, you counted on your feet when trying to come to a stop after 100+ mph. A splinter lifted up from the well-hammered timber boards could wreak havoc with bike and rider not to mention spectators.

There were two controls, a spark advance and a kill switch both used to control speed while leaving the throttle wide open. Of the “splinter” machines that carved their way across high-banked (65 degrees), oval wooden race tracks in the U.S. circa 1913-1930, they stand out as perhaps the most beautiful motorcycles ever made.

Sometime in 1900 George Hendee and Oscar Hedstrom sat down for a chat that led to the signing of the company’s founding contract on the back of a paper envelope, their goal to design a “popular motorbike.” Of the two founders of the company, it was Hendee who came up with the name Indian and in 1904 also chose the now famous red and gold color scheme. From their single cylinder models, the world’s first to feature twistgrip controls for both throttle and ignition, Indian then debuted its new V-twin in 1907.

By 1909 the Indian ‘F-head’ (inlet-over-exhaust) single was available in three different capacities: 19.3ci (316cc), 26.96ci (442cc) and 30.5ci (500cc). In 1910 Oscar Hedstrom, battling the up and coming Excelsior racers, decided to design new engines that would keep Indian as top dogs in the popular motordrome (board track) racing. In order to keep one lap ahead of the competition, so to speak, Indian departed from its ‘F-head’ arrangement, upgrading to overhead valves and using four per cylinder to keep the large valves cool. The enlarged port area also benefited the engine by better breathing.

Indian debuted the new 8-valve single cylinder motor in 1911 and quickly clinched their number one spot on the board track, in 1920 setting a world record of 114.17mph.

In response to Indian’s 1-2-3 win at the 1911 Isle of Man TT, the first ever victory for a “foreign” machine, the Springfield, Massachusetts factory went from producing some 20,000 machines annually to 60,000 by 1914, their machines sold through over 2,000 worldwide dealerships.

Fast forward to 1915 and another significant year for Indian as the production line saw some “firsts” as well as “lasts.” It was the last of the Hedstrom F-head engines in a cradle-spring frame. The list of “firsts” included the addition of Schleber carbs and customers could now opt for either the standard 2-speed or the new 3-speed gearbox with a stouter clutch and dual controls. Weighing in at 370lb. the Standard 15 hp Big Twin could transport its passenger to 55mph in considerable style.

It was Indian’s chief designer Charlie Gustafson who in 1916 came up with the 986cc side-valve v-twin engine. Indian sent Cannonball Baker to Australia in that same year where he established a world record of 1027 miles in 24 hours on a Powerplus. The first women to travel coast to coast in the U.S. were sisters Adeline and Augusta Van Buren, both on the Powerplus. In 1917 and the U.S. entry into WWI, most of the entire production of the machines “joined” the army.

Seen here are undoubtedly two of the “holy grails” of motorcycling including the exceptionally rare Hendee Indian 1000cc factory board track racer and the Indian Big Base 8-valve powered racer.

1915 was the first year Indian produced the 61 cubic inch 42 degree “Big Twin” a purpose build competition engine far more powerful and much quieter than previous designs and which garnered Indian multiple racing wins on the wooden motordromes of the time.

The Big Twin remained in production until 1924, which was quite a long production run in a period when engine technology and development was moving forward at a blistering pace.

The stellar Indians were meticulously restored by Serge Bueno, two of some 100 complete restorations he’s completed. For some 20 years he’s been pursuing his passion for 1910-1950 vintage bikes of all kinds with a specialty in racing machines. He was literally famous across Europe for his work at his Paris, France shop appropriately named Famous Motorcycles. His passion for motorcycles literally saw him scouring the planet for machines of interest including the hunt for the many semi-unobtainable parts he needed to complete their restorations.

But after visiting Los Angeles and sampling not only the year-round riding weather but also how well vintage iron held up in the dry climate plus the overall motorcycle fever of SoCal, he decided to move lock, stock and Manx barrels to L.A. He then set to work building his own shop, Heroes Motorcycles, literally from the ground up, “restoring” a grungy car repair shop into a world class restoration center and a “salon gallery” suitable for the display of his many rare machines…American, British, French, Italian…and within six months had sold 15 of his restored beauties, attracting a growing clientele of vintage bike fans who wanted the very best.

His bike building technical skills stemmed from his early training as an engineer working with a variety of metals…steel, aluminum, magnesium, etc., and he also mastered the old school painting methods, painting with rare pigments and finishing without applying the standard clear coat, instead polishing everything by hand thus creating their correct original appearance and including striping the tank graphics. Serge keeps his work area in “NASA clean room” condition; even his carefully stored vintage tools appear as works of art along with much of the artwork he created appearing on the shop’s walls.
Looking toward the future, Serge would like to see his garage gallery become a motorcycle focal point in L.A. enjoyed by visitors from around globe.

Contact Info:
Heroes Motorcycles
1210 S. La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles CA
3223.424.3162
www.heroesmotorcycles.com


White tires were standard for the era prior to the addition of carbon black to darken the natural of rubber, not only to help keep them cleaner looking but to greatly length the durability and thus lifespan of tires. Such “vintage correct” tires are available through the Coker Tire Co. of Chattanooga, TN.
 

While hurtling around the track at 100 mph, the rider had to adjust the spark advance and compression on the left hand grip to keep the timing spot on or else excess burning petrol would gush out of the short exhaust pipes. Note the “torpedo” tank used on the earlier models.


Two head are better than one especially when restored for the Big Bore Board tracker.
Two head are better than one especially when restored for the Big Bore Board tracker.



 
 
A special camera tracking device was special built for the Velodrome shots.
A special camera tracking device was special built for the Velodrome shots.

 

Bike’s bike pilot Alice.
Bike’s bike pilot Alice.

 

 
8-Valve Wonder
Another Indian Board Tracker, this powered by an 8-valve Hedstrom racing engine appears in L.A.’s Heroes Motorcycles beneath an original painting by famous British artist Conrad Leach who created the image of a Manx Norton especially for the new shop.
 
 
 
“Crate Engine” – awesome Big Base 8-valve racing motor. Bikes weighed only 245lb. and the 14-20 HP engine could propel it to 100+ mph.
 
 
Note the Hedstrom carburetor and exposed valves operated by two slender push rods via based-ported cylinders. Chromed plunger on right was used to hand inject extra oil lubrication while on the go. The bicycle type pedals were used to get things spinning as you bump started the bike to roaring life. On racing machines, the standard machines drive chane for the pedal crank was removed.

(photo by Harcourt)
(photo by Harcourt)

 
Serge Bueno and the 1932 “Moto Ball” 350cc single he restored, one only 11 made by the French company Koehler Escoffier. Bike was used in 1930s for French sport of soccer on motorcycles…we kid you not.
 
 
Serge is also a big fan of the legendary Brough-Superior SS100 – “The Rolls-Royce of Motorcycles.” He painted the larger than life-sized artwork to emphasize the point and his plans to have one of the British revivals of the bike on display at his shop as he is looking forward to be the California distributor for the new Broughs.
 
More info:
Heroes Motorcycles
1210 S. La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles CA
323.424.3162
 

Here you can watch the only known original and truly awesome 10 minute film of Indians board track racing, in this case winning in 1920 at Daytona, Florida. The construction of the monster wood tracks requiring the laying of untold thousands of individual boards boggles the mind. The film was shot by the Czech Republic’s Indian importer at the time, a Mr. Frantisek Marik who was also handy with a movie camera of the day. On the one mile track Indian clocked 212 kmph (131.73 mph), the fastest of all entries and garnering Indian the accolade as Fastest Motorcycle in the World.  
 

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