Indian Motorcycle Invented the V-Twin, Not Harley

by Gabrielle DeSantis

While Harley-Davidson is well-known for their V-twin engines, they were not the first American motorcycle company to produce them. That honor belongs to America’s first motorcycle company, Indian. The evolution of Indian motorcycles, the longstanding heated rivalry between the motorcycle giants of Harley-Davidson and Indian, and the cool history of the V-twin engine are fascinating. 

America’s first motorcycle company 

America’s first motorcycle company was founded in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1901. The company was originally called Hendee Manufacturing Company and was created by George M. Hendee and Oscar Hedstrom. After spending two decades in business and becoming the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world during the 1910s, Hendee Manufacturing Company went through a rebranding phase. 

According to Indian Motorcycle, the company changed its name in 1923 from Hendee Manufacturing Company to The Indian Motocycle Company, with no “r.” Meanwhile, Indian Motorcycle gets to claim the title of the “first American motorcycle company,” Harley-Davidson was never too far behind. Over 100 years later, the two giants of American motorcycles are still battling who America’s favorite motorcycle manufacturer is today.

The heated rivalry between Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle 

Founded just two years after Indian Motorcycle, William S. Harley, Arthur Davidson, Walter Davidson, and William A. Davidson got together to create Harley-Davidson. Mr. Harley and the Davidson brothers officially launched Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1903.

According to Cruiser, Harley-Davidson and Indian were the only two early American motorcycle manufacturers to survive the Great Depression. Thus, a heated rivalry was built between America’s two motorcycle giants.  

One rivalry between Harley-Davidson and Indian has been over the V-twin engine. While the V-twin engine was first invented in Europe, Indian was the first American motorcycle manufacturer to mass manufacture bikes with the V-twin engine.

According to Touring Roads, Oscar Hedstrom debuted the first V-twin Indian prototype at Newport Beach, Rhode Island, in 1904. However, Indian wouldn’t release its first V-twin motorcycles to the public until 1906. Harley-Davidson wouldn’t get its first V-twin engine out to the public until 1909. However, once they did, the battle was on between the two motorcycle companies to prove dominant as America’s favorite motorcycle.

Indian Motorcycle Company and the V-twin engine 

While the V-twin engine wasn’t invented in the United States, both Indian and Harley-Davidson worked diligently to have the V-twin engine become synonymous with the American motorcycle. After its 1906 release to the public, the Indian V-twin bikes boomed. In 1913, 32,000 Indian motorcycles were sold, and production only seemed to grow from there. According to The Drive, a rare piece of this period of Indian Motorcycle history was recently uncovered in South America. 

In 2019, an Indian motorbike from 1914 was discovered in a barn in Uruguay. This 1914 Indian motorbike was one of the first racing bikes ever created by Indian and helped to develop the V-twin engine further. With nearly 70 percent of its original paint left when it was uncovered, the bike is estimated to be worth between $75,000 and $85,000 today.

From early 1904 prototypes to 1914 race bikes to the 2021 Indian Scout, the Indian V-twin engine has gone through quite an evolution over the last 120 years. The 2021 Indian Scout Motorcycle sports a liquid-cooled V-twin engine with 100 hp, six-speed transmission and starts at $11,999. In the end, the V-twin Indian motorcycles available today are definitely a far cry from what consumers could get their hands on back in 1906.   

Related: This Is Why the Original Indian Scout Is a Classic Motorcycle Icon

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