1936 Harley Davidson DL 1200

Harley Bike Week 2013 is upon us and it seems appropriate to feature the American made motorcycles which entered this year’s Johannesburg to Durban run. The commemorative DJ Run has always attracted a small percentage of American entries, mainly Harleys, in comparison to the British and European manufacturers. I was surprised to see that this year the other great American motorcycle, Indian, had more entries than the Harley Davidson marque.


1925 Indian Chief 1200cc

My father loved American engineering. The saying “Nothing makes up for cubic inches” was, according to him, gospel. He possessed encyclopedic knowledge of the American cars and bikes of the 1930s, 40s, 50 and the 60s. The “two candle power” ( in his words) British and European vehicles held no attraction for him. Big V8s and big V twins with tons of torque were more his style. The reason I am sharing this personal information is to try and explain how my thinking was influenced and where my love for the Harley Davidson motorcycles originated


1918 Harley Davidson 1000cc

Since the mid 1990s, Harleys have become a common sight on South African roads but in the 1970s and 80s Harleys were seldom seen. In the early 70s my uncle restored a beautiful WWII Harley 10/12 with a sidecar. Before he installed the sidecar he took me for a ride. I was eleven years old and I had never heard anything sound that wonderful. It was my destiny to ride Harley Davidsons.
1921 Harley Davidson Model J 1000cc

Retro Write Up, being a mainly custom bike focused site, will often feature Harley Davidsons which are the most customised motorcycles. I will therefore not go into much Harley history this time. It suffices to say that the first Harley was built in 1903, their first V twin was built in 1907 and that 15 000 Harleys were supplied to US troops in WWI. Probably the most significant Harley fact from the DJ era is that Harley Davidson was one of only two American motorcycle manufacturers to survive the Great Depression which started in 1929.

1936 Harley Davidson DL 1200cc


Indian was the other manufacturer to survive the Depression years. Their first production model single cylinder motorcycle went on sale in 1902 and by 1903 they had set the world motorcycle speed record. In 1904 the distinctive dark red colour was first used and their V twin engine reached the public in 1907. Indian built their brand on racing success and breaking speed records. In 1911 Indian came first, second and third in th Isle of Man TT. Before WWI, in 1913, Indian produced 32 000 motorcycles, confirming them as the largest, most successful American motorcycle manufacturer of the time.
1926 Indian Scout 600cc


During WWI Indian supplied most of its 1917 and 1918 production to the US military. No stock was available for the Indian dealer network. Dealers closed down or moved to other manufacturer’s products. This situation cost Indian its number one American manufacturer spot which was and would remain Harley’s title.
1928 Indian Scout 101 750cc


The Indians seen on this year’s DJ Run, except for one motorcycle, are all Scout or Chief models. After being introduced in the early 1920s, these models gained reputation for performance and reliability which made them Indian’s most successful models ever.
1929 Indian Scout 600cc


An interesting thing to note about most Indian motorcycles is the left hand throttle. In their early years Indian placed the spark advance and retard on the right hand handlebar and the throttle on the left hand side. The story that Indian did this to win military and police contracts as most people shoot right handed was probably just a happy coincidence
1929 Indian 4


The Indian 4 entered in this year’s DJ Run,although restored, features its original unpainted tank with all the patina that comes with age. Indian introduced the inline four cylinder model in 1927 and they are still considered very exotic.
1929 Indian 4


Love them or hate them, American motorcycles have always been in a class of their own. Right from the beginning they had their own look and feel. Harley Davidson still retains many of these characteristics today. Thank goodness I am not the only sucker for heritage!