Opinion The Game

Ask TMO: Why do Harley Owners Insist New Indians Aren’t Real?

Google search brings reader to TMO for answers about the "realness" of America's oldest motorcycle brand

As a website owner you can often get lost down the rabbit holes of statistics. I use several different stats tracking applications to help me stay aware of what’s working for TMO and what isn’t. True, I don’t tend to pay much attention to that information – choosing instead to run a site I feel proud of rather than a site that’s “clicky” – but it’s nice to know.

RELATED: Ask TMO: Is a Harley-Davidson Breakout a Good First Bike?

Anyhoo, it appears that recently someone stumbled upon The Motorcycle Obsession by asking the Google gods the following question: “why do harley owners insist the new indians arnt real?

Hitherto, the specific answer to that specific question hasn’t been addressed here, but I thought it would be fun to try to tackle it. So, here are a few possibilities as to why owners of Harley-Davidson motorcycles might not believe that the new Indians are real:

1- The H-D owners are adherents to Berkeleyian philosophy.

18th century philosopher George Berkeley famously stated “esse is percipi:” to be is to be perceived. He argued that nothing exists in and of itself. Instead, everything that we know to exist does so simply because we think it exists. We create that thing with our minds. And if we were not around to witness it, to perceive it, it would not be there.

George Berkeley pointing at his dog, which may or may not have existed.

In other words, Berkeley’s answer to the famous question of whether a tree falling in a forest makes a sound if no one’s around to hear it would be: “No. Because the tree doesn’t exist without someone to see that it exists.”

So, when a Harley owner goes to his or her garage and sees it is absent a shiny new Indian Chieftain, he may be inclined to think: “Well, then, such a thing does not exist. Indians are not real.”

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Sure other people may tell the Harley owner that Indians exist, but perhaps these people are only telling him this on the internet, so he’s not entirely sure whether they actually exist, let alone the thing they’re talking about.

Here’s a picture of me on an Indian Scout Bobber. But have you ever met me? Perhaps both of us are fake!

2 – They’re racist baseball fans.

Perhaps the “new Indians” in question here are not Indian Motorcycle models, but the Cleveland Indians baseball team, which is planning on dropping the Chief Wahoo caricature from all club-related regalia.

Many feel the caricature, introduced in the late 1940s, is a woefully inappropriate mascot for a sports team and have been calling for its removal for decades. Earlier this year, Cleveland’s baseball team announced it was finally in agreement with those folks, and plans to stop using the Chief Wahoo logo from 2019.

So, perhaps the Harley owners being discussed in this question are part of the regressive segment of the population that always loses its shit when we stop being assholes to other parts of society. They feel that the “new” Cleveland Indians won’t be the real Cleveland Indians without an undercurrent of racism.

Golly, what’s America’s pastime without latent racism?

3 – They’re zealots who are somehow offended by the fact Indian Motorcycle isn’t able to parade around someone who’s related to George Hendee.

It’s no secret that Indian’s history is a little erratic. The company founded by George Hendee and Oscar Hedstrom back in 1901 actually went bust in 1953. Ownership of the name and intellectual property then bounced from one ambitious entity to another over the next several decades, each interpreting the company’s spirit in their own way. These days, of course, Minnesota-based Polaris is the steward of the brand.

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The Harley owners in question* apparently don’t acknowledge Polaris as rightful successors. Because you can’t easily trace a line from George Hendee to Steve Menneto (Polaris president of motorcycles), somehow the bikes coming out of Spirit Lake aren’t “real.” I often joke about the “Church of Jesus Harley Latter-day Davidson;” it seems these H-D folks are drawing from the Mormon philosophy of authority.

In the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints, part of the process of being baptized involves someone physically placing their hands on you and praying – thereby giving you a physical connection to the person who baptized the person baptizing you, and the person who baptized him, and the person who baptized him… all the way back to when a resurrected John the Baptist placed his hands upon the head of Joseph Smith in 1829. This physical connection to the man who baptized Jesus is what gives the LDS church its authority, its realness.

This may be a picture of John the Baptist, Joseph Smith, and Oliver Cowdrey… or it may be William A. Davidson, Willie G. Davidson, and Vaughn Beals.

So, nevermind those Harley-Davidson models in the 1950s that were actually made in Italy by Aermacchi, nevermind those Harleys that were actually made in Japan by Rikuo, nevermind the fact the company was bought by AMF in 1969. No, because the Harley of today was partially put on its course by the son of one of the original founders, the Harley line is seen as pure. Whereas Indian, unable to wheel out someone with Hendee as his or her surname (Minnesota having been settled by Scandinavians, it probably wouldn’t be hard for Polaris to find a Hedstrom in its ranks, but he or she might not be related to Oscar) is blasphemous fakery.

Personally, I’d argue that Polaris understands the true spirit of Indian better than anyone since Hendee resigned from the company all the way back in 1916 (Hedstrom had resigned three years earlier – that’s right, the guys who set up the company actually left before the iconic Scout was even introduced).

Polaris is clearly dedicated to the brand. In fact, I think one could argue that the aspects about Indian that sometimes frustrate fans like myself, fans who are desperate to see bikes like the FTR1200 brought into production, actually stem from Polaris’ desire to ensure the longevity of the brand. It wants Indian to be strong and successful, and as such is wary of taking gambles that might threaten the brand’s future.

Meanwhile, it’s not just Indian and Harley that have broken bloodlines. Pretty much the only modern motorcycle manufacturers without muddied histories are the Japanese Big Four. And even there it’s possible to raise questions.

Is that a burning bush?

*It’s worth noting that I’ve not met any Harley owners who actually think this way. I have interacted with only one such person on the internet; for all I know, he may not actually exist.