Parker Indian put down its roots long before the current Indian craze, and somehow managed to ride a groundswell few people spotted. Located in Melbourne, Jim Parker has built up an enviable reputation for supply and repair of Springfield machinery. He’s also a little unusual in that he helped found, and retains a strong involvement in, the country’s biggest marque club.
The business didn’t exactly start out as a business. “What happened was that I had a Chief I used to ride and a few other projects I was working on and I just used to do these things by myself,” Parker says. “Indians were very rare in the ’80s. People would find out that I fiddled with them and would come around and see me.
“Sometime around the early ’90s it developed quite a bit more. I started working on other people’s bikes for them as a hobby; fixing things. In the work I was doing at the time I had Fridays off, so people would come down to the house and we’d play with motorbikes.
“Then I started working on them and charging people for it – at first it hadn’t occurred to me to do that as a job. It grew and grew and gradually I opened a shop. The shop was closed to the public at first, but people would find out where it was and come knocking on the door.
“I started stocking parts just to have them, because there was an enormous time lag back then, even if it was available. Was I an accidental businessman? Yes, there was no business plan, there never has been.
“I’ve been worried for 25 years that the work would stop coming in through the door and that would be the end of it, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Now I don’t worry as much as I used to – one job leaves and another comes in.
“I think people have always been interested in classic bikes. From my own point of view I just like motorbikes, I liked old motorbikes, then I liked old American motorbikes and then, as it turned out, Indians. The primary attraction is in riding them. Working on them, talking about them, looking at them is all great, but at the end of the day, the riding is the most important thing.
“We do anything at all regarding Indian motorcycles. You might come to me and say you want a particular model Indian. Why? Well, it might be their father had one and they show me a picture of it – so I’ll find it for them.
It might be in Poland, or Ohio in the US, it might be in England or just down the road somewhere.
“We can get them the motorcycle and then we can perform any part of the maintenance or restoration work. Sometimes people want to do some of the work themselves. That’s fine, they take it away and bring back certain jobs for us to do. We do anything at all.
“I have a fair range from the very early ones right through to the end [of Springfield models] and you need to adopt a different attitude for each period of motorcycle you’re riding. You can’t really treat them all as a modern motorcycle.
“I can’t pick my favourite. The way I’d answer that question is, if you said to me I could only have one Indian, Jim, which would you have? For my kind of riding it would be a 1950-53 Chief. A Blackhawk. It’s not the first model I owned but it’s the one I’ve done the most miles on. There are situations where I’d prefer to have different ones.
“What’s the appeal? It’s definitely nostalgic, I like to think I’m living in the 1930s, the 1940s or the 1950s and riding my motorcycle when things were so much simpler than they are now. I don’t regret living in the modern age. I like looking at a motorcycle like a 1925 model and thinking about the men who designed it in Springfield, Massachusetts, all the drawings and designs, people who did the castings, who went to work every day and built the engines and then went home. And they’re all buried now. I like to think I’m helping to preserve what they made and I’m able to ride it.
“If you’re looking for your first Indian, I’d try and find out what it is that attracts you to them – it could be beautiful to look at but too early to be practical. Whether you want to do short little rides, or want to do big rides, whether you want to do touring and go away for a week on it. The later-model Indians – I’m talking the pre-1953 stuff – are capable of being ridden a long way very reliably.
“I’d try to assess what you’re interested in and steer you towards what I think you need. You might say no, but I’d give you my opinion.
“From the mid-1930s Indians are reliable and useable motorcycles. Pre return oiling [models], they really can’t be ridden at moderate highway speeds a long way. I’ve ridden ’20s models to Sydney and back, but you take several days to do it. You need to have some dedication and perseverance.
“From mid-’30s on they’re reliable. They require fresh fuel and a good spark. Once you’ve set them up, built them and sorted out any little bugs in them, they’re quite reliable. Try and avoid riding too much with modern bikes, because you’ll ride them too hard. They won’t blow up, but it does tend to wear them.
“Really, with a minimum amount of knowledge, you’ll be able to ride one anywhere. My friends and I do extremely long trips on them without back-up or support. There’s not much needed to keep them going.
“The club I’m involved in was formed 20 years ago from a group of us who were riding Indians. Our interest is to preserve the history of and maintain Indian motorcycles.
“The club is very active, with 250-odd members Australia-wide. It has huge trips, including overseas.
“Am I surprised by its success? Yes, completely. Stunned. Surprised at the amount of work I’ve had. I thought when the club formed it would get to no more than 25-30 people. It steadily grew and grew. I don’t think it will grow any more, though I’ve said that previously.”
What makes you come to work each day? “I couldn’t imagine not coming to work every day and doing this. If somebody gave me a lot of money and I didn’t have to work, I’d get rid of the customers and do the same thing, except all the bikes would be mine,” Parker jokes.
“To balance that, I work with people who have one Indian and work three jobs to pay for it and struggle with the rest of their life, and with people who have well in excess of 50 Indians. Usually the person with the one Indian will get more pleasure out of it than the person with 50. So it’s not a quantity thing.
“Indian people cover the full range of society from people who don’t work, never worked, retired, company directors, lawyers, doctors, there’s bus drivers, electricians, journalists – every trade. Most of them are pretty decent people and are just interested in their Indians.”
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