Indian Powerplus — Plus

This 1921 Indian Powerplus was a truly modern motorcycle in its day. Riding one now is a different story.

| May/June 2012

1921 Indian Powerplus
Claimed Power:
Engine: 1,189cc (72.59ci) air-cooled side valve 42-degree V-twin, 82.5mm x 111mm (3-1/4in x 4-3/8in) bore and stroke
Weight (wet): 430lb (195kg)
Fuel capacity: 2.5gal (9.5ltr) gas/2.5qt (2.4ltr) oil
Price then/now: $510 (1921)/$15,000-$25,000

Modern motorcyclists have it easy. Suit up in comfortable riding gear constructed of space-age materials, swing a leg over the saddle, insert key, turn ignition on, thumb the starter button. Hey, presto, it’s running. Shift into first gear with a snick of the foot change lever, and away you go.

It’s not quite as easy for an enthusiast riding a machine of the veteran era. Controls abound, with levers, knobs and twist grips working everything from exhaust valve releases to ignition timing.

Such is the case with a machine like this 1921 Indian Powerplus, a uniquely rare machine (more on that later) that is fairly representative of other motorcycles of the era. On the handlebar are a right-hand twist grip spark control, a left-hand twist grip throttle and a left-hand lever actuating an external rear brake. A foot pedal for the clutch is on the left, while a foot pedal working an internal rear brake drum is on the right.

On the right side of the gas tank is a hand clutch lever, together with a shifter moving in a vertical plane and an exhaust valve lifter. Such a motorcycle is a busy yet charming machine to ride; at least it has a kickstarter, clutch and a 3-speed gearbox. Earlier models were more primitive, retaining bicycle pedal cranks for starting.

A truly modern motorcycle … in 1916

Motorcyclists and policemen of the day would have been overjoyed at the prospect of having a “modern” Indian Powerplus. Introduced in 1916, the Powerplus featured a new 61ci side-valve L-head engine, replacing the F-head (inlet-over-exhaust) layout first designed in 1901 by Indian Motocycle co-founder Oscar Hedstrom. It was Hedstrom’s V-twin engine that brought the company success at the 1911 Isle of Man TT races, where Oliver Godfrey was the first to ride a non-English machine to a TT win; Indian took the top three positions. By the time of the Powerplus in 1916, Indian founders Hedstrom and George Hendee had taken their not-insignificant earnings, purchased country estates and retired from the fledgling motorcycle industry they had helped create.

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