STURGIS | A photographer asked Sturgis motorcycle rally Grand Marshal Jessi Combs to pose for a photo standing next to her Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Combs, however, balked when she realized the photo of her and her Harley would be taken in front of a semitrailer that carried the huge image of an Indian Motorcycle — suddenly the biggest competitor for cycle dominance at the Sturgis rally.
“That biker dude’s on an Indian,” Combs protested of the background image.
Combs’ reluctance to be seen in the same frame with a brand of motorcycle other than a Harley-Davidson underscores the renewed rivalry between two iconic American motorcycle brands.
Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle banged handlebars and footpegs for motorcycling supremacy on American roads and racetracks through much of the first half of the 1900s, until a series of business missteps ended with Indian Motorcycle closing its doors in 1953.
Harley reigned supreme for more than 50 years both on the racetrack and the street as other American brands, including Excelsior-Henderson and most recently Victory, have come and gone.
Iowa-based Polaris, a longtime maker of snowmobiles and utility vehicles, helped revive the Indian brand by taking over production of the big V-Twin bikes in 2011.
Bruce Eide of Sioux Falls, owner of Indian Motorcycles of Sturgis, has overseen expansion of the Sturgis location to become the top Indian dealership in the country, just as Black Hills Harley-Davidson in Rapid City is one of the top Harley dealerships worldwide.
The renewed rivalry between the two American brands is good for all of motorcycling, Eide said.
“Polaris took one of the really great brands of American history that had been silent for so long and in a short time — 72 months — turned it into a really big deal again. That’s good for the industry,” he said.