The Hendee Moto-Cycle corporation is over half a century gone, but 100 years ago, they were the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world (lo, how the mighty do fall…), and originators of many ‘firsts’ in the business.  The first to create a ‘works’ professional racing team, with the first professional team rider (Jake deRosier), and certainly the first factory racing team sent abroad.  In 1910 Oscar Hedstrom (designer of the Indian) sailed to England to supervise the factory effort.  An Indian had placed 2nd in the twin-cylinder class in 1909 (Lee Evans aboard), and Hedstrom, mindful of potential export sales, subsidized Billy Wells’ London dealership, and racing exploits at Brooklands and the Isle of Man TT.

Lee Evans riding a 1909 Indian 750cc at the TT that year – he placed 2nd. [The Vintagent Archive]
Success eluded Indian in 1910 as well, as their team was plagued with a batch of rotten innertubes, which spat riders off like watermelon seeds.  Two riders were injured in spills, and the rest were exhausted from constantly re-inflating their tires. The best Indian could manage was Jake Alexander’s lowly 14th place.

Jake deRosier in 1911, on his personal ‘Big Twin’, which he raced at Brooklands. [The Vintagent Archive]
1911 was a different matter.  Hedstrom brought his own mechanics (3!) and Jake deRosier on a steamer from New York, determined to have a better result.  The ACU had changed the route of the TT to the ‘Mountain’ course (over Snaefell, a 1400′ climb), in an effort to force English manufacturers to adopt gears and clutches.  The whole ‘point’ of the TT was to ‘improve the breed’, and in this, the ACU showed much foresight…if you want to win races, you had better develop your product line.

Charles B Franklin, the Dublin importer for Indian who had been racing them for years already, as a true believer. After a 40% tarrif was added to ‘foreign’ vehicles in 1925, and the imported motorcycle business decimated, Franklin was brought to Springfield, where he took up a top design spot. His immortal design for the beloved ‘Scout’ is his lasting legacy. [The Vintagent Archive]
Indian was immediately at an advantage, as their machines already had two-speed gears, clutches, and all-chain drive as standard.  English makers scrambled to attach epicyclic rear hubs and bolt-on clutches to their belt-drive machines.  Only the Scott two-stroke twin had a two-speed chain drive as standard, and this revolutionary little machine was certainly a threat, being very quick and with excellent handling. The capacity limit of the twin-cylinder class had been reduced to 580cc, so Indian sleeved-down a few examples of their ‘little twin’ for the races.

Oliver Godfrey aboard his 1911 580cc Indian racer that won the 1911 Isle of Man TT. [The Vintagent Archive]
The result of their efforts could not have been better; Oliver Godfrey rode the first non-English motorcycle to win the TT, and after Charlie Collier (who had been 2nd) was disqualified for an illegal re-fueling, Indians took the top 3 spots – a clean sweep!  The delicate Scott twin had taken the fastest lap, but couldn’t keep the pace.  Jake deRosier’s velodrome tactical skills proved little use on the Island’s goat-path circuit, and he fell many times. Still, he did very well at paved venues, and in a battle of Titans, beat Matchless’ Charlie Collier, England’s top racer, in a 2 out of 3 race at Brooklands, just after the TT.

Godfrey escorted by Billy Wells, Indian importer for England, and Julia Hedstrom, with a grand hat! [The Vintagent Archive]
Indian sent factory racers to England until 1923, when Freddie Dixon placed 3rd on a single-cylinder model, and after that, silence.  No American-sponsored, American-made racers appeared in Europe for nearly 50 years, until the Trans-Atlantic Match Races began in the early 1970s, which saw the likes of Dick MannCal RaybornDave AldanaGene RomeroDon Emde, etc, battling it out on H-Ds against Norton Commandos and Triumph Tridents.  A worthy subject for another article!

The original over-the-fence papparazzi shot; Oliver Godfrey inside the Indian team paddock, celebrating his victory and the team’s 1-2-3 sweep. [The Vintagent Archive]


Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.