There And Back

Article And Photos By: Kiwi Mike Thomas

Originally Published In The February 2015 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine

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Back in 1982 I left the way down under country of New Zealand for a challenge at the other end of the world, Japan, Canada and America. Eventually my riding adventures brought me into the United States and the adventures have never stopped. I started hearing wonderful stories about Copper Canyon in Mexico about 12 years ago and it’s been a dream of mine to ride to the bottom ever since. In 2012 I built a 1945 Chief for the Coast Guard for Rolling Thunder 25th, Memorial Day in Washington DC. Rather than trailer it to DC like most folks would, I decided to ride it all the way crisscrossing America on her back roads. After all, the statement of the Coast Guard is “Semper Peratus” which means “Always Ready” and my bikes are always ready. I have a good mate Greg Johnson and M Article and Photos by: Kiwi Mike Tomas he, just like me, loves to ride Indians. We make a kick ass riding team: I’m the mechanical guy (build and outfit the bikes and keep ‘em maintained) while Greg is in charge of logistics (routes, sights, lodging, etc). We had a lot of fun taking the back roads, eating at dives, sleeping in cheap ass motels and enjoying meeting all kinds of people along the way. So when I got this grand idea of riding around the world on an Indian motorcycle Greg’s eyes lit up and next thing you know we were discussing it in depth more and more each day. It was obvious that we were a team and that this trip around the world was going to be a reality. This is a big endeavor and not just a putt around the block.

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We had to have identical bikes so we would have the same parts interchangeability. I’ve always liked the WWII era Chiefs and they are built like brick shit houses, robust and very utilitarian with their open fenders so needless to say my mind was set on what we needed. These bikes survived the abuse of WWII all over the world. 18” wheels are key for this model as they excel at handling in rugged off road terrain while still working great on the highway. They are awesome bikes and I love them dearly. I already had mine which was a 1944 Chief that I got in 1991 out of Peru. She was in need of a full overhaul so we pulled it completely apart, right down to a bare frame. Greg’s was a bit more of a challenge as we had to hunt something suitable down. Eventually we came up with a basket case 1945 chassis, perfect as the 1944 and 1945 are identical. Greg already had a basket case engine that he had stashed years earlier so we were well on our way.

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Building a bike for durability is a whole different ball game than doing your standard restoration of building a custom bike from new parts. Building a bike from new parts is pretty easy, everything is new and straight and for the most part it’s just a matter of bolting things together. Building a bike from all old parts, well you as you can guess everything is bent, thrashed, worn out, fatigued and every single part has to be meticulously reclaimed. With all of that in mind we started what we knew would be a monumental undertaking of rebuilding not one, but two WWII Indians. The frames and forks are always bent and are straightened in our fixtures. These bikes are in themselves pretty darn durable but I intended to take it to the next level. Indian’s Autolite 6v system was always marginal at best (6-7 amp output) so when you have the headlight and tail light on you are maxed out on the power draw and when you apply the stop light and needless to say my mind was set on what we needed. These bikes survived the abuse of WWII all over the world. 18” wheels are key for this model as they excel at handling in rugged off road terrain while still working great on the highway. They are awesome bikes and I love them dearly. I already had mine which was a 1944 Chief that I got in 1991 out of Peru. She was in need of a full overhaul so we pulled it completely apart, right down to a bare frame. Greg’s was a bit more of a challenge as we had to hunt something suitable down. Eventually we came up with a basket case 1945 chassis, perfect as the 1944 and 1945 are identical. Greg already had a basket case engine that he had stashed years earlier so we were well on our way.

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Building a bike for durability is a whole different ball game than doing your standard restoration of building a custom bike from new parts. Building a bike from new parts is pretty easy, everything is new and straight and for the most part it’s just a matter of bolting things together. Building a bike from all old parts, well you as you can guess everything is bent, thrashed, worn out, fatigued and every single part has to be meticulously reclaimed. With all of that in mind we started what we knew would be a monumental undertaking of rebuilding not one, but two WWII Indians. The frames and forks are always bent and are straightened in our fixtures. These bikes are in themselves pretty darn durable but I intended to take it to the next level.

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Indian’s Autolite 6v system was always marginal at best (6-7 amp output) so when you have the headlight and tail light on you are maxed out on the power draw and when you apply the stop light and you are going into the negative. We upgraded our system to Cycle Electric’s 12v systems which are absolutely bullet proof and provide excellent juice for lighting and anything else we may need. Joel at Headwinds made us some special 12v headlight buckets to take a modern 12v halogen seal beam yet still they still look like the stock Indian Motolamp head lights. He did a pretty sweet job! We tried accessory LED tail lights but these failed miserably. I’m into simplicity and they started giving us issues so out came the wire cutters and all was good. There are places we will be riding that have no services for hundreds of miles so if shit goes wrong, we gotta keep it simple in order to fix it on the side of the road…even though my plan is not to have shit go wrong. We needed an accessory socket for our iPhones. To find a good quality compact one that mounts to the handlebars and can handle rain was a challenge but we did find one. Greg and I are old school and use paper maps but the charger is necessary for the amount of pictures and video we take. Many will laugh at us using paper maps but there are many places in the US where we travel (back roads) that your phone will not get service.

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A few years ago I developed an electric starter for Indians to help a lot of riders out who either had aging issues or leg/ hip problems and could no longer ride their Indians. Greg has a bum hip and has one of my 1st prototype starters on his ‘37 Chief so it was a given to fit an electric leg to his 1945. Since both bikes are to be the same I quite liked the idea of fitting one to my bike as well especially where we plan to ride. After being on the road for many long days and taking into consideration the severe gravel and rocky road conditions fatigue can set in…you’ll read about this in later issues. I’ve ridden hundreds of thousands of miles on Indians and both of us have earned our electric starter patch. We upgraded the ignition to a dual firing coil for a little extra simplicity plus it’s cleaner without the 3 wires coming out of the distributor cap. Greg is not into original speedometers so I added one of our Kiwi electronic ones I came out with a few years earlier. It’s got the same looking face as a stock one but it’s simple and bullet proof. I feel we have to have speedometers as we gotta keep track of distances for fuel.

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I was determined to find USA made wheel bearings which proved very difficult indeed. Not that there is probably anything wrong with imported ones but I just wanted to have peace of mind. I like to remove the bearing sides and repack them with extra grease before installation. The brake shoes were upgraded to bonded woven linings which I’ve been using for years. Rear chains come in many different qualities and a cheap chain is just that, cheap. I hate chains that continually stretch that you gotta do regular adjustments. I use RK chains as they are one of the best I’ve found for Indians. This has to be non O’Ring as their standard links are heavy duty and wider as we have a side clearance issue. Lubing a chain every 2nd day is no big deal really, it’s called maintenance and gives us an opportunity to inspect our bikes regularly. We plan to ride in remote parts of the world so being on top of our game is important.

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We stayed with the stock 74” engine and stock cams and cam followers because we needed maximum fuel economy due to the distances between gas stops. The 3 speed transmission is bullet proof, however I did upgrade the gears to my Kiwi made USA gears and converted the internal gear bushings to roller bearings. I came out with these roller bearings in 1994 and they have more than proved their worth. Our choice of tires were Coker Firestone ANS series, these tires are made in the USA and stick like shit to a blanket…not that I’ve ever shit in a blanket…it’s an old saying…ok. They really are awesome tires. Wheels are rebuilt and laced with US made stainless steel spokes. I love powdercoat as it is durable and will take the punishment from the nasty rock and gravel roads we will most likely encounter.

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Jesse Luggage made us custom mounts for his saddlebags. We did a lot of research on bags and soon discovered Jesse bags are the cats meow. Al Jesse is an awesome guy and knows durable luggage bags, his are the best of anyone in the world. Security is also an issue and his bags lock up tight. The paint work was purposely painted with a patina to look shitty as we figured a shitty looking bike is less likely to be stolen. Greg is big on naming his bikes and named his Spanky. I have never asked why and I don’t intend to… lol. I’ve never given a bike a personal name however there is a first time for everything and I appropriately named it DV8 (Deviate). I thought it would be appropriate since loosing my son Ross, life has taken a huge deviation for me. Little did I know at the time that I would do all kinds of challenging and adventure rides, I did a lot of them for Ross. He was my biggest fan and would text me with questions. I gave him hope and made him challenge himself, explore and dream. He’s my Guardian Angel and has got my back covered on my adventures.

 

Just after Ross passed away a friend found a money clip in a gravel parking lot. We backtracked to everyone who had been there and no one owned it. I took it as a sign from Ross and carried it in my pocket. It now resides on my Round The World bike as he was looking out for us which you will read about in upcoming issues. Two guys couldn’t pack any more adventures into a trip so stay tuned…it’s going to be exciting. We weren’t in Kansas Toto.

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