2006, I’m driving to Belgium in order to a) check out if my Nimbus
bobber works as a touring bike before taking it to Japan
(which it does), and b) to meet Eric Marreel, who apparently is in the
process of building a Nimbus straight six. Is the project for real or not,
that is the question.
Nimbuses and derivatives of them are not what leads me to write here. The straight six project had substance to it, but more real was a one-off straight four, that came about when Eric’s son had a slight mishap on Eric’s stock Nimbus. For one reason or another the Danish four never got fixed again, and instead the undamaged engine and drivetrain ended up in a homemade frame, that looked much like that of an Indian Scout.
Now, the mighty Indian
Fours are few and far between, and pricey too, so many have tried to build
modern versions of them. A precious few have succeeded, and yet another
minority of those managed to build motorcycles that are not an insult to
the eye. Motorcycle stylists were professionals back then too, so no matter
how enthusiastic one is when trying to rival them in this matter, one has
to know what one is doing.
The Nimbian (or Indibus?)
‘Nimbian’, ‘Indibus’ or ‘Baby Four’ is almost there. It’s not as much the
detailing, which is below factory standard, but ok for a home-built example.
He did, after all, use a stock Scout front fork, and shaped everything
else much the way a late 20’s Indian looked. But a Nimbus engine is tall,
due to its ohc design, and thus the gas tank here sits a few inches too
high. The builder of the Alma
Four spent countless hours shaping his two tank halves to conceal that
motorcycle’s overhead cam housing, while Eric must have felt there were
better ways to spend his time.
Still the bike looks fine, and – surprisingly
for yours truly, who had never ridden an Indian or, for that matter, anything
else that old – it handles fine too. Now, keep in mind that it was test
ridden in Belgium, a country whose roads
all too often resemble those of Afghanistan, Manhattan’s Cross Bronx Expressway
or possibly the surface of The Moon. Bumps and potholes notwithstanding,
the Nimbian rode straight as an arrow, was as comfortable as the Nimbus,
and more stable in turns. The leaf spring front fork actually absorbed
bumps a lot better than the 1950’s telescopic fork of the Danish bike.
Thanks to its generous ground clearance, this in part due to the narrow
engine, nothing scraped as I tried not to lose sight of Eric, who was barrelling
along on my bike, way ahead of me.
Eric Marreel on his Nimbian
the first riding impression was very good indeed. Then was this perhaps
the small, 750 cc Four that Indian should have built? Probably not, as
the engine with all its bevel gears was expensive to manufacture, as was
the shaft drive. Even if Indian’s and H-D’s management were up to their
collective armpits in illegal price-fixing, the price difference between
a such a Scout-sized four and the 45” Harley would have been too great.
In spite of its very high selling price (in Denmark only BMWs and the Ariel
Square Four cost more), the Nimbus did well on the domestic market, although
this was helped much by customs barriers and large military orders.
However, seeing that the original Indian Four is out of reach for most average vintage bike enthusiasts, it should not be overly difficult to build a Nimbian instead. Especially not if someone took it upon himself to manufacture a small series of frames. Current price for a rebuilt Nimbus engine and gearbox is about 2,700 Euros (US$ 4,000). To this add another 550 Euro (US$ 900) for a complete rear hub/brake and the driveshaft. Most of the Scout running gear isn’t that expensive either, even if bought new.
Of course it won’t be any faster than a stock Scout, and it can’t really be tuned much either. But then that would not be the reason for this exercise. A Nimbian will just be a small, civilized and reliable straight four, potentially having the same graceful lines of its bigger brother. And at a much lower cost.
Kim's Nimbus bobber in Japan
Read the full story here!