Jay Leno’s 1930 Indian Chief has had a rough life, but keeps on motoring

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Jay Leno's Garage indian chief 1930 Jay Leno's Garage

By their very nature, vintage vehicles are more involving to operate than their modern counterparts. This, of course, wasn’t by choice but necessity. Ignition timing, transmission shift points, and crankcase oiling are relegated to non-thoughts while piloting any modern commuter. In the case of Jay Leno’s 1930 Indian Chief motorcycle, however, tasks like these will have all four of your limbs tied in knots by the end of an outing.

The Chief was given to Leno around 40 years ago. It was broken, worn, and absolutely unrideable. Cracks in both the cylinder heads and crankcase put a damper on restoration plans, as parts were scarce and welding proved an unreliable fix. It wasn’t until restoration technolgy finally caught up, providing a unique way to mend castings through the process of Lock-N-Stitch, that Jay was able to get the old motorcycle back up and running once again. He opted to keep the bruised and worn aesthetic while refreshing the mechanicals.

And the old Indian Chief has proven itself as a bike worth fixing. While the 40-horsepower, 1200-cc V-twin provides ample grunt to keep up with modern traffic, the rest of the experience is decidedly vintage. A hand-controlled ignition keeps the driver involved at both ends of the handlebars, while a foot clutch and “suicide” hand shifter keep your left leg busy and right arm doing double duty. But all the effort provides an awesome reward.

The big twin rumbles to life with a single kick, and Jay motors off to demonstrate just what this 89-year-old bike is all about. Its hardtail layout has it darting over the asphalt, all while producing that classic American soundtrack.

“Anything could happen which is always exciting,” Jay says. “With a bike like this, anytime you’re not dead or bleeding by the end of it, that’s a pretty good ride.” If that’s the case, you can count us in.

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