The Alma Four: Custom Indian/Nimbus Hybrid

Part Indian, part Nimbus, part NSU and oddly right.

| January/February 2011

The original Indian Four is a design icon, and in its time it was the largest, most elegant motorcycle to grace the roads. Many attempts have been made to build a modern copy, often using water-cooled car engines, but as far as styling is concerned they all have missed the mark. Except one custom motorcycle, which lives six or seven times zones and an ocean away from where the Indian, ACE and Henderson Four once were brought to life.

Dutchman Mads Bartholin had always wanted an Indian Four, but like most of us, he couldn’t afford one. The ACE and Henderson Fours are just as out of reach, and acquiring something slightly less glamorous, like an Indian Scout, was not an option; Mads was firmly in the “straight four” phase of his life.

Actually, Mads already had a four: a Danish Nimbus. He had rebuilt it with an Indian Four-style exhaust system, a 16-inch rear wheel, a Harley-Davidson solo seat and a wide handlebar. He had even ridden it as far as North Africa a few times. But as much as he liked the Nimbus, he found its 22hp engine too weak. Realizing the futility of tuning the stock 750cc engine he decided to replace it with a 1,000cc straight four from a NSU car. “The NSU engine is air-cooled, inexpensive, looks kind of right and there are loads of them around,” says Mads. This was in 1997.

In the beginning

The first step was to make molds for the Nimbus flywheel/clutch assembly housing that was to be used, and for an engine bottom that would resemble the angular sump of a Nimbus. A local foundry took care of this for a pittance, and after a few tries it looked right. Mads had suspected the car engine would be a bit on the large side for a Nimbus frame, which turned out to be the case. ”It would fit — barely — but there simply wasn’t any room for the gearbox or the gas tank,” he notes, “so it was back to the drawing board.”

As the project progressed, Mads spent many an evening in his basement workshop, beer in hand, carefully studying various 1:1 scale drawings hung up on the wall. Finally, he settled on a version reminiscent of a 1928 Indian. It would lack the comfort of rear suspension and the elegance of the art deco fenders that later Fours came with, and would have the earlier-style frame where the upper backbone ran over the fuel and oil tanks. And it would be a couple of inches longer than its spiritual forefathers, because of a separate, longitudally-mounted gearbox.

Maintaining momentum on this project wasn’t easy, mainly because Mads was studying industrial design at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts and was perennially broke, as students usually are. “Getting married and having two kids took its toll, too,” says Mads, “although thankfully my wife — bless her — had given this project her full support all along the way.” On the other hand, being unemployed part of the time and having an uncanny ability to trade favors with people in the know did help a lot.

gerald estes
3/24/2011 9:59:38 PM

thnx. kim and mads. beautiful is quite an effort - the build AND the article. the pics are great also, thank the shutterbug because i dont remember whose name i read at the end of the reel. more photos! the techincal reporting certainly has some depth and interest. im literally floorboarded and footstomping to express my appreciation. respectfully, gerald.

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