Growing up with an Italian-born stone mason as a father, a strong respect for quality, reliability, and reputation was drilled into my brain. Concepts such as “Mickey Mouse job,” “hack,” and “sellout” were also central themes, and it was generally understood who the real craftsmen were. Whether it be a natural stone fireplace that keeps a family warm for winters throughout the years or a one-of-a-kind motorcycle that performs as well as it looks, integrity is obvious. Regardless of the profession, there are those who cut corners, lie, and cheat in order separate customers from their money. On the flip side, there are customers who devalue quality work and the skills of the crafts-person by patronizing the unskilled who offer substandard products at the cheapest price. In both cases, quality, integrity, and craftsmanship are lost.
Indian Larry Motorcycles builds custom one-off motorcycles that pay homage to the style and aesthetic of the late motorcycle building legend, Indian Larry (born Lawrence DeSmedt; April 28, 1949 – August 30, 2004). As my eyes traveled over hand sewn, meticulously embroidered saddles, sophisticated paint jobs, and the twisted frames comprising the pieces of mechanical art, it was obvious that exploiting the Indian Larry name to make a fortune on a production line of generic reproductions is not their motivation. Time honored craftsmanship is alive and well in this shop. According to Shop Owner, Bobby Seeger Jr., “You’re only as good as your word,” and this was one of the defining characteristics of Larry’s personality and the shop’s current philosophy. Bobby explained that after completing a bike for a customer, they break it in and then punish it for another 1,000 miles or more in an attempt to uncover and fix any flaws. Even after all of that, if something breaks, they will fix it and no cost to the customer. Bobby explained that this attitude, along with common courtesies like holding the door open for the pregnant lady and talking to people face-to-face, are going south fast,
“But that’s the kind of path that we like. That’s the path we stay on, and that’s the path that we hopefully can maintain.”
Bobby motioned to a nearby bike,
“This is something that can run circles around people and also be put up on a table like this and blow people away, just for the sheer beauty of it. This is a machine. This is a machine you can’t fuck with.”
Looking at the bike, I couldn’t agree more. Indian Larry, Bobby Seeger Jr., his crew, and the bikes embody authenticity, integrity, and staying true to what matters. This is also represented in the shop culture. Bobby explains,
“That’s why we have a tight crew. We don’t have a big crazy crew. We don’t want a big crazy crew. This way if there’s a problem, or if somebody needs off, or something’s up,’great. Take off.’
Humanity and dignity come first, which is a stark contrast to the many corporations around the world who outsource jobs in order to exploit the desperation of poor workers in “third-world” countries. As I spoke to the bike builders and other employees at the shop, it was clear that everyone wanted to be there and felt valued and taken care of.
My father taught me the value of honest work. He also taught me that one’s work reflects a person’s character. As I reflected on the interview, I realized how true this is. Artfulness isn’t the most powerful element of a motorcycle. It’s what is behind it: honesty, integrity, and identity. Indian Larry Motorcycles contributes to keeping these virtues alive, and even though Indian Larry is no longer with us, his spirit is alive at the shop and in each of the motorcycles that roll out of it. I want to thank Bobby Seeger Jr., his wife Elisa, Arron Heartless, and Danielle Ives for helping me understand the Legacy of Indian Larry.