An example of America's first production motorcycle, from an important Long Island collection
1905 Indian 2¼hp Camelback Single
Engine no. 1420
Bicycles begat motorcycles. They also brought together two of America's pioneering motorcycle industrialists. George Hendee was a successful bicycle racer winning 302 of 309 events entered! who had transitioned from athlete into a producer of bicycles. Carl Oscar Hedstrom was a machinist who looked at internal-combustion engines of the day and thought he could do better. In 1899 Hendee witnessed one of Hedstrom's motorized bicycles pacing the racers at Madison Square Garden. Impressed, he commissioned Hedstrom to design a motorized two-wheeler that could be sold to the public. Thus was born Indian Motocycles of Springfield, Massachusetts.
Within six months, Hedstrom had a prototype up and running, followed by two production examples that were used here and abroad on the 1901 show circuit. Production in earnest began in 1902, a year before William Harley and the Davidson boys hung out their shingle in Milwaukee, making Indian America's first production motorcycle.
The machine itself clearly showed bicycle roots, with Hedstrom's heavily finned single-cylinder engine taking up residence in the diamond of the bike's frame. An artfully curved tank atop the rear fender, segmented for gas and oil, gave the Indian its "Camelback" nickname. Three dry-cell batteries contained in a long tube attached to the frame's front downtube provided spark for the rudimentary ignition system. Chain final drive was a technological improvement over most other motorcycles of the era, which used slip-prone leather belts.
In 1903, to prove the design's worth, Hedstrom himself saddled up and rode an Indian Single to a new world motorcycle speed record of 56 mph. Within a few years would come a V-Twin engine, a two-speed gearbox, a spectacular 1-2-3 showing at the famed Isle of Man TT, and swelling sales figures. Prior to World War I, Indian held a 40% market share in the U.S.
This 1905 example, found in deplorable condition, was fastidiously rebuilt 10-12 years ago by two brothers skilled in automobile restoration, salvaging many of the original components whenever possible. The rusted fenders, for example, were heavily reworked with new sections grafted in rather than simply employing reproduction pieces. It is finished in Indian's trademark red, introduced the previous year as the "Crimson Steed of Steel" paint scheme.
As a prime example of America's first series-production motorcycle design, this Camelback would be a highlight in anyone's collection of pre-'20s models.