Motorcycle enthusiast Steve Brinton lives close to American Biker, so he freed up time Nov. 22 to take part in a demo ride of the recast Indian two-wheeler.
“Indian motorcycles are all new to Charleston,” said Brinton, whose personal bike collection includes a 1981 BMW, vintage Norton and Moto Guzzis and Kawasakis dating back to the early 2000s and before.
“Oh yeah, it goes back a long way,” said the motorcycle buff, gearing up for a 20 minute test-drive with a group of riders on the new Indians. “They’ve been through hard times,” he said.
Launched in 1901, the once-dominant Indian brand lost ground to competitors such as Harley-Davidson over the decades. Indian went bankrupt 60 years ago, and its manufacturing history has proven spotty since then.
In 2011, Polaris Industries bought the Indian name and moved operations from a smaller plant in North Carolina. The Minnesota-based company makes snowmobiles, ATVs, personal watercraft and Victory bikes.
“They’ve done a good job with the Victory motorcycle. It seems to be thriving,” Brinton said.
Polaris designed three Indian models, the Chief Classic, the Chief Vintage and the Chieftain. With the new brand manufactured in Spirit Lake, Iowa, “That’s good for America,” he said.
American Biker, which started selling the Indian lineup two months ago, held one of the earlier demo events in the Southeast. Larry Hanson, driver of the tractor-tractor rig carrying the new bikes, started in Miami, then drove to Myrtle Beach and Ocala, Fla., before trucking to the Charleston area.
The trip, Hanson said, has been “really good, a lot of positive (comments). This is the first year,” he said, noting that Polaris built the new Indian bikes “from the ground up.”
Thus far, American Biker has averaged sales of “two or three a day,” owner Rich Worley said. The cycles are on pre-order three weeks out because of the limited numbers. He said business picked up during the three-day demo show Nov. 21-23, and he expects Indian sales to keep climbing.
At the same time, American Biker bought a half-dozen or more bikes that stock the showroom so people can see them. The Chief Classic starts at $18,999 and the top-of-the-line Chieftain all decked out sells for $24,999 with radio and windscreen. The Vintage proves a big seller with its retro look including leather saddlebags, he said.
American Biker set up a large corner of its showroom at 679 Treeland Drive for the Indian bike displays and accessories, including shirts with the original logo of a Native American in headdress and citing the venture’s first home town of Springfield, Mass,
Worley called the Indian rollout “phenomenal. This is a huge deal, not just for us (but for) the motorcycle industry,” he said.
Polaris is a $3 billion company,” Worley said, explaining how the manufacturer has the money to finance a major motorcycle re-introduction such as this. Moreover, while rollouts can take a decade, “They did it in two years,” he said.
Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or firstname.lastname@example.org.