Indian Bike Week 2020

An event hindered by the pandemic plans for a V-shaped recovery

Words and photos by Kali Kotoski

Minnesota’s Indian Bike Week in Washington County was gearing up to earn a new Guinness World Record by featuring a parade of over 3,500 Indian riders traveling through the green Midwestern countryside. But then came the pandemic, which made such a gathering impossible with state-mandated limitations.     

“This year’s event is a lot smaller,” said promoter Art Welch. “But we wanted to carry on.” 

Not only did Welch have to contend with public health restrictions, which pulled the event’s license at a local fairgrounds, there was also some Facebook trolling that tried to defame Minnesota, claiming it was a state of anarchy and destruction following the uprising in Minneapolis in reaction to the killing of George Floyd. 

“I had to delete so many [inflammatory] posts,” Welch said, adding that he even had to put a commonsense disclaimer on the event page stating that the whole state was not destroyed during the peaceful demonstrations and criminal riots. 

Jonathan Thompson traveled from Cave Creek, Arizona to attend the small Indian gathering with his new Challenger.

But this grass roots event has plenty of loyalists after breaking and creating a Guinness World Record in 2016 with over 266 Indian motorcycles, and again with 273 in 2017.

Welch’s relationship with Indian Motorcycles dates back to when the company was owned by a private equity firm. “I wanted to jump onto the Indian bandwagon as soon as they came on the scene,” he said. “Every event was Harley, Harley, Harley.” With a background in mentoring underserved children, the first iterations of the event put on by Welch raised funds for children’s school supplies. 

While next year’s event is still being planned, Welch is confident after the country eradicates the pandemic there will be a V-shaped recovery. He plans to invite back celebrities like Danny Trejo and Sons of Anarchy actor Emilio Rivera, who have attended numerous Indian Bike Weeks. 

Kelly Smith with her late father’s Indian Motorcycle and sidecar.

One of the riders who attended this year’s rally during the third week of August included Jonathan Thompson, who travelled up from Cave Creek, Arizona to attend after attending the 80th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Thompson had flown to Sturgis to get his hands on the new Indian Challenger and also to get a commemorative insignia showing it was purchased during the 80th anniversary. 

“I am totally a Victory motorcycle guy with three customs,” he said. “Wasn’t into Indians until I found out the new PowerPlus engine was what was supposed to go into Victory’s Cross Country. So, I just had to have it.” 

While Thompson supports products that Polaris creates, his first foray into Indian is what connected him with the event after looking for dedicated Indian events. “It has been wonderful riding here and meeting some great people and I can already tell Indian is in my blood,” Thompson said. 

Kelly Smith rode her late father’s Indian with a sidecar to the event to honor his memory. Her father, David John Lamey, had passed away almost exactly a year ago. 

This Gilroy Indian Chief was customized by Minnesota’s Fury Motorcycles.

“He always had so many Harleys until one day he came home with an Indian and was hooked,” Smith said. “He would be so effing proud of me because he never missed this event.” 

The fanciest bike that showed up to the rally belonged to Ron, first name only given as he described himself as the “Caretaker” of a 2003 Indian Chief manufactured in Gilroy, California. The $70,000 custom build was spearheaded by Fury Motorcycles in St. Paul, Minnesota and featured custom rims and a beautiful paint job celebrating Native American life on the plains and Mount Rushmore. 

“Art Welch has been a friend of mine for years and it is great to still be able to have an event in this area because this is the only one I go to,” Ron said, adding that once things get back to normal, he is certain there will be a higher turnout next year.

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