Story & Photos by Ed Heffelfinger
Anyone who knows spit about motorcycles knows about the legend of Indian Motorcycles. I started riding almost fifty years ago. I was fifteen years old and bought a new Suzuki 80 dirt bike. My neighbor rode motocross on a Bultaco. He took me out into the desert around our home in Reno and taught me how to ride and how to not kill myself. I'll never forget the incredible stories he told me about his father who raced Indians in the dirt most of his life. He showed me beautiful pictures of his Dad and his Indian machines and I was fascinated. I remember asking him why he didn't ride an Indian and my friend sadly telling me they weren't around anymore. So the legend was born within me long ago on those high desert trails.
Then in 2011, I was living and working in China. I was sitting in a little expat bar in Dali listening to a German guy talking about motorcycles. He started talking about Indians and it caught my ear. I introduced myself and refreshed his beer. He rewarded me with the history of the Indian brand for the next hour. The man was an Economics Professor at Dali University. He was an expert on money and had a wealth of knowledge on all things Indian Motorcycles. When I told him I was from California, he asked me if I knew where Hollister was. When I told him it was a half hour from my home, he excitedly told me I lived right next door to the birthplace of the American biker and the home of the man who was going to resurrect the Indian brand. A guy named Rey Sotelo. We had a couple more beers and talked more about it, then said our goodbyes.
I'd forgotten about all of this until a couple of months ago when I went to Hollister to see an old friend, Branscombe Richmond. Branscombe was in town for the grand opening of Hollister Powersports, the new Indian dealership. We visited awhile and caught up on old times. Then Branscombe says there's someone I have to meet and takes me into the showroom and introduces me to Rey Sotelo. Now, I'm thinking I know that name from somewhere. Then it dawns on me. This is that guy the Professor told me about; the legend who's bringing back the legend. And as I looked around the showroom at all those beautiful, brand new Indian Motorcycles and all the folks who came out to experience the legend that's Indian, I realized that Professor had been one hundred percent correct. Indian Motorcycles was back in a big way and I was meeting the man responsible for the rebirth of that legend.
Rey invited me back to Hollister a couple of weeks later and gave me a guided tour of Hollister Powersports. As well as being the President of Indian Motorcycles, Rey brought Indian back to Hollister as the owner of Hollister Powersports. Like a proud papa, Rey showed me around his beautiful, new facility and we chatted about his passion, grit and determination over the years to get to where we were standing today. It's been a long, bumpy road to Rey realizing his dream, but by the looks of that big, beaming smile on his face, Rey Sotelo has arrived at his destination. He's living the dream.
Rey laughs when I say many call him a living legend, but the more we talk about his life and career, the more I think that label is appropriate. Career is probably the wrong word in Rey's case. Motorcycles have been his way of life since he was fifteen years old and bought his first Harley. He was in the business in his teens and before long, became renowned for his custom bikes. The walls in Rey's hallway and office are full of autographed pictures of movie stars and famous athletes sitting on machines designed by Rey. He designed and built the iconic Captain America and Billy bikes for Peter Fonda. He's elected to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame and Indian comes knocking at his door. What a story! Okay, I'm impressed.
I thoroughly enjoyed sitting down with Rey for this extended conversation. It's an amazing saga as told by the man who lived it.
I hope you enjoy it...
A CONVERSATION WITH REY SOTELO