Harley vs. Indian rivalry renewed at Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

It’s a rivalry as heated and hotly contested as Ford vs. Chevy. Motorcycle icons Harley-Davidson and Indian renewed their long-standing competition at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally over the weekend, and although, according to USA Today, Indian dominated flat-track races held earlier in the week, there were plenty of supporters on both sides.

That spirit of competition hasn’t changed in more than a century. Indian was founded in 1901, Harley-Davidson in 1903. The two are the last major U.S. motorcycle manufacturers still standing.

Roger Fridal, a Harley owner from northern Utah, told USA Today that he took two test rides on Indians at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. “I think rivalries are healthy. You don’t want one company to have the whole market for something because, once they get control of it, they can do whatever they want.”

Motorcycle ride through the badlands
Take a ride through the Badlands, you'll be glad you did! SturgisRally

The 78th annual rally drew an estimated 500,000 people to Sturgis, South Dakota, which hosted 10 days of rides, races, and music for riders of all ages. The first gathering of motorcycles in Sturgis was held August 14, 1938, when a group of Indian owners known as the Jackpine Gypsies got together for what it called the “Black Hills Classic.” While the beginning was all about Indian, the event is now sponsored by Harley, and has been held every year since, except during World War II.

Indian and Harley went toe to toe until 1954, when Indian folded. But Indian was revived by Polaris Industries, maker of snowmobiles and ATVs, which purchased the brand in 2011. Polaris told USA Today that Indian motorcycle sales grew by “mid-single digits” in the company’s recent fiscal quarter, but it didn’t provide specifics.

Worth noting is the decline in Harley sales, according to the newspaper, but Harley maintains its almost 50 percent market share. Still…

“There is absolutely a cadre of people who want an American V-twin motorcycle but don’t want a Harley. It’s too common for them…,” Robert Pandya, who has worked for Polaris, told USA Today. “When you have a sea of businessmen, it’s hard to pick out the one guy who has the $3000 suit. But when you throw a leg over an Indian, instantly you are sort of standing out.”

Dickie Bectchkal, 70, says he spent decades riding Harleys before switching to Indian in 2014. “At 69, I got my first tattoo and it says ‘Indian.’ I never had Harley-Davidson tattooed on my arm, as much as I loved their bikes.”

While Indian has definitively claimed dominion over Dickie’s arm, what’s clear is that competition for the hearts of American bikers is alive and well. There are plenty of un-inked arms out there yet.

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