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Essential Journal

  /  Fashion   /  Freedom is… a Full Tank

Freedom is… a Full Tank

With an effortless blend of rugged utilitarianism and heritage nostalgia, the Indian Scout Bobber offers attitude and authenticity in equal measure. Sam Webb puts the all-American icon through its paces in the Great British countryside

words by Will HALBERT  photography by Colin DACK

‘Did you know Burt Munro was riding Indian when he set a new land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats back in ‘67?’ Sam’s anecdote is dispensed as he tugs on the oversized, glove-friendly ring-pull of his Barbour’s zip. ‘It’s true,’ he adds, now yanking on the chin strap of his helmet. ‘Burt was 68 years old, and hit 184.087 mph on a custom, 1920 Indian Scout. That’s quite a legacy to be sitting on.’

As far as ice-breakers go, Sam’s is right on theme. After all, the Bonneville Salt Flats have long since been the proving ground for piston heads, speed freaks and motorcycle manufacturers alike. They are at once a rite of passage and a point of reference. They stand as both the measure of a man’s mettle and as a marker of just how far he’s come. 

The same could also be said for the bikes that graced the flats, and with almost a century of history at its exhaust pipes, it’s safe to say that Indian Motorcycle – long-lauded as America’s oldest bike manufacturing company – has come a long way. Since its inception in 1901, Indian’s sole concern has been forging premium, homegrown, American bikes built to outlast trends and go the distance.

They’ve made a fair few friends along the way too, and Sam Webb is happy to count himself as one of them. International model and well-documented fan of all things timeless, tenacious, and two-wheeled, Sam’s love affair with motorcycles is longstanding: ‘I’ve never really been a car guy. I’ve always preferred bikes,’ says Sam. ‘There’s a demand for mastery and an invitation for adventure that just seems to come with the territory when dealing with a motorcycle.’ 

Sam should know. Setting aside his metaphorical journey from young, Birmingham-based pugilist to the face of fashion houses like Dolce & Gabbana, Diesel, Cavali, and Versace, it also turns out that Sam is quite the intrepid adventurer. Back in 2017, Sam embarked on a 700 km biking expedition to the now-demilitarised Upper Mustang, Nepal. The gruelling, six-day climb from the foothills of the Annapurnas to the 4000m-point of Muktinath was punctuated with high altitudes and deep gorges, heavy snowfall and landslides. ‘We did it in the name of the Gurkha Welfare Trust,’ recalls Sam. ‘The Gurkha are fearless, loyal fighters that have helped Great Britain throughout its military history, yet they often return home to significant hardship. The GWT looks to ease that burden where it can. It was a great cause to get behind, and it also made for one hell of an adventure.’

Sam tells us this while he’s perched atop his Indian Scout Bobber, aptly and affectionately named Betty. Stripped-down, blacked-out, and low-slung, Betty cuts a lean, mean figure, hinting at an attitude and an aggression that offsets Sam’s calm and collected demeanor. Easy on the eyes but ostensibly built with the ride in mind, the Bobber is, at once an all-American celebration of two-wheeled freedom, a striking visual metaphor of Indian’s rich heritage, and the perfect podium upon which Sam can extol the virtues of his favourite past time.

For those in need of a brief history lesson, bobbers of the forties and fifties were cut-down, tuned-up choppers seemingly purpose-built for hell-for-leather endeavours. Barebones by choice, these custom bikes – or ‘bob jobs’ – were stripped of excess weight and resistance to give post-war thrill-seekers an inventive, two-wheeled way to dance with danger. The Indian Scout Bobber pays homage to that same style and spirit, but does so with modern sensibilities in mind. ‘The Scout Bobber has got this incredibly classic vibe to it,’ Sam explains, grinning at the bike with obvious enthusiasm. ‘But the engine is state-of-the-art and smooth as anything’.

Sam’s not wrong. The liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, V-Twin engine offers up a healthy display of bark and bite as Sam fires it up. ‘That’s the appeal of the Scout Bobber as far as I’m concerned,’ Sam continues. ‘Those with a little riding savvy will quickly hear that there’s plenty under the proverbial hood to get excited about, while less seasoned riders just looking to turn a few heads will also find their stride.’ 

Bottom line? The Scout Bobber is a crowd pleaser with its finger held firmly on the heritage pulse. It will tear it up on a country road should occasion call for it, but it’s just as suited to lower-key Sunday scoots through Shoreditch. It’s in large part down to Sam’s desire to prove the former that we find ourselves in the heathlands of New Forest, putting pedal to metal and pen to paper. ‘The Scout Bobber is the Swiss Army knife of motorbikes, when you think about it,’ jokes Sam over the roar of the Indian’s engine. ‘Where better to demonstrate that than New Forest? Nothing says versatility quite like a ride through the British countryside in an all-American Bobber. It’s a beautiful juxtaposition, really.’

To Sam’s credit, the brawn of the bike and the beauty of the British countryside make for a pretty spectacular pairing, and provide a compelling argument, as if further argument were needed, for the Bobber’s classic looks and contemporary versatility. ‘There’s a balance here: it’s beautifully authentic but it’s welcoming to less hardcore riders, too. That goes for the bike’s looks as much as it does for its performance.’

With a knack for tapping into that indelible link between speed, freedom, and the open road, however,  the Indian Scout Bobber boasts more than just good looks and breakneck speeds, it offers a chance for real reflection. ‘Riding gives you a moment of pause to consider how far you’ve come and where you’re going next,’ says Sam. ‘There’s nothing quite like it’. When asked what lies ahead for him, Sam’s answer is surprisingly introspective: ‘I grew up boxing, so I’ve always wanted to open up a gym. Nothing fancy, just a community gym, with all the support and purpose that those sorts of gyms always seem to provide.’ Sam brings the engine from a roar to a purr to a stop. ‘Growing up, the local community gyms were always a place of values, discipline and direction for those who were lost on their own journeys. I’d love to use my platform to provide a little of that direction to people who might need it.’

Like the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah and the rest of history’s myriad proving grounds, moments like these also provide a measure of man’s progress in the grand scheme of things. The journey is a wonderful thing, no doubt. But it pays to remember your roots. Both Sam’s future plans and Indian’s fond callback to the bikes of yesteryear are fine testaments to the importance of the personal journey, and suggest that returning to where you started is hardly the same as never leaving. EJ