Monday, August 10, 2009

The Fastest Indian

He was the world's fastest Indian .... or he rode the world's fastest Indian. Both phrases are correct because man and machine were one when the speedometer climbed towards 200 mph. The bare facts of Burt Munro's story strain the credulity of anyone who's ever ridden a motorcycle or participated in the development of any sort of machine technology. When the truth of the story is know, hands covered in machine oil from around the globe come up into a silent salute. The man was truly incredible and an incredible inspiration to tinkerers and backyard mechanics tweaking their machinery everywhere.

So what did he do? What are these bare facts. Burt Munro was born in New Zealand in 1899. He came back from service in WWI and bought his Indian motorcycle in 1920. It was the 627th of a series that had only been in production a few years in Springfield, Massachusetts. It had a top speed of only 54 mph off the production line. Burt began to modify his Indian to gain speed in 1926. By 1967, after 40 years of tinkering Burt traveled to his personal mecca at the Bonneville Salt Flasts in Utah and set land speed records, some of which have yet to be broken.

Here's the thing. He did it almost single handedly. He had no team of engineers and mechanics and financiers behind him. He was it .... engineer, mechanic and driver on the budget of a handyman and retired motorcycle salesman. He cast his own pistons, rods and cylinders. He designed his own aero dynamic fairing. He jiggered with fuel mixtures and carburetor settings. He modified and tuned his suspension. Then he tucked his wool pants into his socks, squeezed himself into his machine and traveled like a bat out of hell at speeds that have yet to be equaled by motorcycles that displace less than 1000ccs. It boggles the mind.

Relatively unknown outside motorcycle racing and speed record circles in his own day, Burt has achieved some fame after his death with the help of the movie industry. The movie "The Fastest Indian" starred Anthony Hopkins in the role of Burt Munro. Burt left behind a legend of skill, perseverance, and courage which typifies the ingenuity and resilience of the New Zealand spirit. But you don't have to be a New Zealander to appreciate him. Anyone who's ever stood with a wrench in his or her hand and explored their own limits and "thirst for invention" find inspiration in the story of Burt Munro and his beloved Indian motorcycle.

Fair Journey,

Brian Shriver

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