Anything But Sedentary: The World’s Fastest Indian

Tuesday, February 28, 2006
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The new movie, The World’s Fastest Indian, is more than a worthy afterthought to an aging speedster–making the story come alive was a 30-year dream of director Roger Donaldson.

It is the true story of a phenomenal individual–Burt Munro of New Zealand–who tinkered with a 1920 Indian Twin Scout for most of his adult life, eventually setting a land speed record. Donaldson crossed paths with Munro over 30 years ago. Munro’s story has always fascinated me; my first full-size motorcycle was an Indian. His eccentric and orthodox ways of designing, building, and engineering absolutely mystified the motor speed community.

He used an old spoke for a micrometer and cast parts in old tins although one American report has him casting pistons in holes in the sand at the local beach! He built his own four-cam design to replace the standard two-cam system and converted to overhead valves.

He made his own barrels, flywheels, pistons, cams and followers and lubrication system. In their final form he in effect hand-carved his con-rods from a Caterpillar tractor axle, and hardened and tempered them to 143 tons tensile strength. He built a seventeen plate, thousand pound pressure clutch and used a triple chain drive. He experimented with streamlining and, in its final form, the bike was completely enclosed in a streamlined shell.The leaf-sprung fork was dispensed with and what appears to be a girder fork from a 1925 – 1928 Prince substituted.

The movie is at once sweet and sappy, as well as a compelling folktale about the need to live life to its fullest. Burt, however old, never seems to lose his quest for adventure. He never tires of toeing the line and daring life to kick him off of his frisky perch. An admirable man.

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