"This year marks 100 years since the U.S. declared it was entering the First World War. As the country braced itself for the conflict, Indian Motorcycles significantly ramped up efforts and dedicated virtually the entire production line to the war "
One little Indian motorcycle in beautiful Scotland
Where motorcycles and music meet
Motorcycles & rock ‘n’ roll. Strawberries & cream. It’s a cliché of course. But at the heart of every cliché there sounds a note of truth. Alan Forbes knows all about this.
“You can feel free when you play music, and you feel free as a bird when you’re out on your motorcycle”, says Alan. “Having both creates a souped up version of being alive…”
Alan, who is also known as punk rocker Eugene Reynolds, lives in a stone lodge on the side of a lush valley on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Alan is visibly sensitive. He is naturally intuitive. He is languidly philosophical. He is one of the creative forces behind punk rock band The Rezillos and their post punk tweaked avatar The Revillos. He has also become the go-to man when it comes to all things Indian Motorcycles.
“Motorbikes come into the story from when I was kid,” he says. “My grandfather rode bikes, my father rode bikes… so there were always Broughs, Nortons and all sorts of other machines around. But a friend of my dad’s turned up one day on a bike I wasn’t used to seeing. It had this oily V twin engine and big Buckhorn handlebars… and it had this Indian head on the tank. He’d turn up and the engine sounded, in my 1950s child’s imagination, like bullets ricocheting through the canyons…”
That initial encounter, a catalyst moment, turned out to be definitive of much of Alan’s life. It wasn’t long until the creatively inclined teenager found himself at Edinburgh art college, and with an Indian restoration project already on the go. “One of my lecturers saw this old Indian Chief in my studio, and he suggested that its restoration might become one of my Diploma pieces. He could see that the process involved all the creative things that we were supposed to be being taught.”
At the time Indian was a completely obsolete brand – and the only bikes that made it this side of the pond in any number were the somewhat agricultural machines left over by the US military who had been stationed here in WW2. Consequently, there were no signposts on the Indian road for Alan to follow.
“It took me about four to five years to suss out where everything went on these bikes”, he says. “No one knew what an Indian was. There were no workshop manuals, no books and no one to guide me.” Alan’s position was motivated by a necessity: If no one was around to show you the way to go, then go your own way. It is of course also an auspiciously punk attitude. Connections were made. Energy was created. Alan did it himself. And a legion of enthusiasts came along for the ride.
“During that time I built up relationships with lots of people who owned old Indians – through phone calls, postcards, personal calls and letters. I would go to them, and they would come to me, and eventually I began to be the go-to man.” All the while the band Alan and his art-school spars had created began to build their fast-driving sound and a wide and deep following. But as is often the case in the industry that is music, the bumps in the road almost proved fatal for Alan and his contemporaries.
“Wherever you go and whatever you do, there will be people who do not understand your vision of what you do”, he says… “I viewed the Rezillos and music in general as much more open than that. But I was wrong. When I got to the point where I felt I was becoming a cog in the machine, it became clear again that it didn’t suit me. I was the cog that didn’t fit the gearbox.” His love for ‘Indian Motocycles’ slipped into the space that was created, for a time, in his love of rock ‘n’ roll.
“The emporium I opened, dedicated to the Indian Motocycle, blossomed”, he says. “We began making parts for old bikes and breathing new life into them for customers – and we started collaborating with designers and fabricators to make new bikes as well.”
For a brand whose origin-story was lost (though not forgotten), and having been out of production for decades – I wondered how Alan set out to distil the essence of Indian? “Trying to define what is so special about these bikes is like trying to define what’s so special about the music”, he says. “If you could describe exactly what it is that moves you in music, then there would be no need for the music itself.” As Alan speaks, the twin passions of two wheeled moto machines and music glint in his dark eyes. “If you’re in love with someone, you shouldn’t try to analyse why you love them. If you do, you strip away the magic dust, the magic special something that makes you love them”, he explains…” You destroy the object of love in the process…I don’t really want to know what it is. If I had to explain it to you, you wouldn’t understand anyway. It runs in the soul. If you try to over analyse it, it’s gone in the ether…”
CLICK TO ENLARGE