Centenary Celebration: Riding a 1911 Indian Racer Replica

No remnant remains of the Indian racer motorcycles that finished 1-2-3 at the inaugural Isle of Man Tourist Trophy race in 1911, but a close replica was part of the centenary celebration

| September/October 2011

1911 was a historic year for Indian, as three Indian motorcycles placed 1-2-3 in the Senior Tourist Trophy in the inaugural running of the now legendary Mountain Course at the Isle of Man motorcycle race. The cycles, special machines built at the Indian factory to comply with TT rules, were 580cc “little twins” with a two-speed transmission from the company’s 1,000cc “big twin” to cope with the demands of the hilly course.

Though none of these special machines survived intact to the present day, former Antique Motorcycle Club of America president and vintage bike collector Peter Gagan located a 580cc Indian racing engine in England some 10 years ago that may have powered one of the original TT machines. Unfortunately, the records to verify that do not exist, but Peter decided to use the engine as the basis for a replica using a 1911 Indian frame and transmission.

Since no drawings of the TT bikes exist, frame modifications and exhaust pipes had to be fabricated according to photos of the originals. The replica Indian racer bears number 26, the number on the bike that Oliver Godfrey rode to first place in 1911.

For the centenary celebration of the Isle of Man’s famed Mountain Course, Peter enlisted racer David Roper — the first American ever to win an IOM TT (in 1984) — to ride the 1911 Indian replica in the celebratory Milestones of the Mountain Parade Lap this past June 10 at the 2011 Isle of Man TT. A great idea, but, as David learned, one much easier said than done. What follows is David’s account of his bid to ride the Indian at the Isle of Man. — Editor 

The Die Is Cast

When Peter asked me to ride his 1911 Indian, I figured it would be a fun challenge. I knew it would take some practice to master the bike, as it has a left-hand twist-grip throttle and a right-hand twist-grip ignition retard/valve lifter. Then there’s the right-hand lever clutch, the right-hand gated tank side-shift lever, no front brake and two rear brakes: The first is an internal expanding brake operated with a right foot pedal, the second is an external contracting brake operated with a left handlebar lever. It’s a lot to learn.

Though I was hoping for some seat time on the bike before it left for the isle, it just didn’t happen. The Indian got to the isle just three days before I did, and immediately we noticed some things needed attention. First, we discovered there was a lot of drag on the rear wheel. Removing the wheel revealed the axle was loose in its bearings and, worse yet, that there was drag in the gearbox. Fortunately, the two resident Indian experts on the island, Richard Birch and David Plant, were on hand to help. David offered his well-equipped shop and Richard set to work making a new rear axle and spacers, while I removed the gearbox and stripped it to locate the source of the drag.

Ride 'Em, Don't Hide 'Em Getaway

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