Buy American Or Die: Kiwi Indian
Article By: Chris Callen
Originally Published In The July 2016 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
Sometimes the sentiments of the American made way comes from those individuals who look to produce a new quality item while also producing an American made component. By keeping control of the construction from start to finish they are finding ways to easily achieve this. One such individual is Kiwi Mike Tomas from Kiwi Indian Motorcycles Inc. Under his watch the first American made stock replacement rigid frame for antique (1936 – 1939) Indian motorcycles has made its way to market. It came about because of the availability of original frames, or lack thereof. There’s guys out there who want to build a ‘37 or ‘39 who just aren’t able to anymore. Mike got his hands on a 1939 rigid that had quite a few pieces chopped off, whole cast sections of the frame were missing. He posted it for a laugh and two guys replied from Australia grabbed it up no questions asked, they jumped on a plane, showed up and took it home. It ends up that the buyer of the chopped frame had a whole bunch of parts to make a 1939 Chief but no frame. Without a frame he could not make a bike out of all his parts. It occurred to Mike that there was a market for this product. Step one was to find a suitable stock frame to use as a donor then cut it up to engineer the manufacturing process from. Kiwi made his patterns and from the time of conception to the first finished product was about four and a half months. The biggest hurdle was to get the dimensions exact to build a replica part like this. Luckily for Mike he has re-engineered almost every other part of antique Indian Motorcycles so he only needed to reverse engineer an original frame based on all the components he manufacturers now, to get the proper location for the mating parts.
The next obstacle would be finding a suitable manufacturer for the castings. The type of casting material needed for the neck is called Ductile iron. When it comes to the construction of a motorcycle fame, it had to be of a very high quality not only in material but finish as well. The neck casting was done through a sand casting process and cored. The neck has a hollow core in order to not make it nose heavy and allow for out gassing during the welding process. Surprisingly, there aren’t many casting companies left that can fit Mike’s criteria and also meet the needs of a small manufacturer with specific needs of both price and turnaround. At the same time, there are more regulations all the time that chase the people out of that type of business over EPA standards especially in SoCal. This led Mike through quite a few inquiries that came up as dead ends. He visited company after company before finding an outfit in Pennsylvania that made the cut. The machining is also done in PA. Other cast components like the axle plates and seat post yoke, footboard mounts, etc. are made from a process called investment casting (aka lost wax). 4130 material was the choice of metal which is stronger than the original metals and it machines nicely as well. This allowed for a more net finish and saved some machining operations. It costs up more front in the mold but each part costs less due to less machine work. The Kiwi brand is known for doing things right. In all of their parts they set the standard for both quality and fitment. So when it came time to putting this frame together, Kiwi chose to stick with the traditional process and come out with the exact look and feel.
There’s a lot going on when it comes to frame construction so it had to start with a good jig, which he has the best going. It would also require a departure in the traditional welding process. Instead of going with TIG welding, the Kiwi frame is brazed together with brass, the way it was done back in the day. It begins by slip fitting all the castings and tubing together and locking it in the jig to be tack welded, just like the original. Then using an oxy-acetylene torch all the joints are brazed together. Not only is this the old way but it is a very relaxed process that doesn’t stress and pull the frame joints while it goes together. In the end it makes for a much straighter frame. This doesn’t mean that someone will not come along and try to compete with him on the price point of this new offering, but they will have to do it on a cheaper price point. That will mean the quality may have to be compromised. To that end, Mike says that he does this all from a place of passion so he doesn’t pay much attention to what other guys do. In the end, the creation of this product is not just about getting more Indians on the road, it’s creating history on the timeline of the brand he loves. This is the world’s 1st American made rigid Indian frame. “My engineering comes from behind a set of handlebars, I’m not sure where other people get their ideas.” This is the Kiwi way, the standard he sets are what his customers have come to expect. Check Kiwi Indian out today at www. kiwiindian.com or see the complete video on the Cycle Source Facebook page.