Indian Drifter Project

The Drifter Diary 

When I sold my Harley Davidson Road King in July, 2010, it was a much sadder day than I expected it would be.  I didn't realize how much I had gotten used to having a bike and riding (or just tinkering) whenever I wanted over the last four years.

So only a month later I started looking around for a new ride.  Buying another Road King was out of the question, since I knew what my wife would say ("But you just SOLD one just like it!").  Besides, seems like everyone around here rides a Harley, and I wanted something a little different.  

I really admire Indians, but the originals (which ceased production in 1953) weren't going to be reliable enough for me and the new ones, besides costing $25,000 and up for a new model, had issues as well (at least, the ones made from 1999 to 2003, when the "new" Indians were made in Gilroy by a new company unrelated to the original.  The new company filed for bankruptcy in 2003, then just recently restarted production in 2009).

As I was poking around I stumbled upon a model manufactured by Kawasaki called the "Drifter."  Based on the Vulcan, it was produced from 1999 to 2006 in two engine sizes, a 1500cc and an 805cc (the 1500 was discontinued after the 2005 model year).  With nothing more than removing the tank badges, dash plate and side markers, most people can't tell them from vintage Indians.  About the only only dead giveaway is the vented panel on the front fender.

Best of all, they are 200 pounds lighter, about 2 inches lower, and have a bigger engine than my Road King did. 

So I searched and searched until I found just the right one.  My criteria were that it had to be a 1500 (with a passenger, the 805 just wouldn't do it) and had to be within a days' drive from home.  The latter proved to be the real problem, since you just don't see many up around here.   I finally found one in western Kentucky, near Paducah, so the wife and I made a trip down to see it in August, 2010.   The rest, as they say..... 

 Drifter1 Here's the picture that the prior owner had posted on Craig's list.  It is a 2004 model, and according to the VIN, the 55th one built that year (whether that's the 55th Vulcan or the 55th Drifter is a mystery, though).   Kawasaki won't release production figures for the Drifter, but judging from what's for sale at any given time, 2004 models seem to be about the rarest. 

August 7, 2010: here she is on the trailer in Paducah, Kentucky, ready for the long ride home.

 Drifter3 Before I had even bought the bike, I was shopping for accessories.  I had found these three spoke trim rings for the headlights, and I thought they were so cool I bought them before I had the bike!  It was a real challenge sandwiching them in between the visor and the trim ring, but I wanted both and when it was finally done, it was worth the effort.
 Drifter3  The next job was putting on a backrest, since the wife wouldn't get on her without one.  The rear seat that was on the bike turned out to be aftermarket (actually, a generic pillion mounted on an aftermarket luggage rack!).  This backrest was meant for a Honda 1300VTX, but all I had to do was widen one of the bracket holes to make it fit.
 Drifter4 Ready for her first appearance at my local watering hole's bike night.  Out of more than 1000 bikes, there was only one other Drifter in attendance.
 Driftercleaner I couldn't figure out what that rattling noise was, until I took off the air cleaner cover and discovered it was half full of dog food, courtesy of Kentucky mice, I suppose.  The little tenants also snacked a bit on the air filter, so I installed a fresh K&N filter and found these great decals for both sides. 

I thought the front fender needed something, so I found some PVC trim in chrome finish.  

I washed the bugs off, too... probably should have done that before I snapped this picture!

 Drifter6 The chrome trim and the decal I found also looked great on the back. 
 Drifter7 At least I got a cool picture out of this mistake.  I found a new rear fender stay on ebay, but the only way to get the old one off and replace it was to remove the back fender -- a 2-day ordeal.  After I got everything apart and got the old stay off, I learned that the bolt holes on 800 Drifter stays are in different places than on the 1500 models.  Back together she went, and the search for the right stay continues!
 Drifter8 When I saw an ebay listing for red turn signal lenses with blue dots for a Kawasaki Drifter, I was ecstatic and paid a hefty $40.  I was pretty disappointed when I received them - not only were they a lousy fit, but they only made those huge "ricey" turn signals look even clunkier.  So.........
 Drifter9  I found some great retro bullet turn signals and a tombstone taillight that really cleaned things up.  Nothing's easy, though.. the studs on the turn signals were about an inch too short, so I used a tap to make threads on the insides of ceiling light nipples as an extension.  And the taillight?  Of COURSE the curve of the light wasn't exactly the same as the fender, but I found some great black glossy silicone that filled in the gap nicely.
 Drifter10 And in the front, where the signals were just as big and clunky and used as running lamps?
 Drifter11 I replaced them  with signals that match the back ones (with amber lenses installed).  This required a bit of rewiring, since the front signals were originally  running lights (always on, blinking brighter with a signal) and these were turn signals only.  The project involved figuring out which wire did which thing, taping off the one that wasn't being used anymore and wiring the other in.  I blew 2 fuses in the process crossing wires, but now that she's done, no trouble since!
 Driftermirror Stock mirrors are absolutely huge, so I found some smaller mirrors.  I was going to use plain round ones, but I liked the greater visibility I got from these.

The ugly stock rectangular reflectors mounted on the front fork didn't look right to me.  I was going to just remove them, but the one on the left side includes a bracket to hold the brake line in place -- probably not a good idea to take off. 

I found this pair of reproduction vintage bicycle reflectors on ebay, complete with glass reflectors. 

A few trips proved that they weren't designed to go as fast as my Drifter; the jewels rattled around quite a bit.  But it wasn't anything a dab of silicone on the back side didn't cure.


September 29, 2010:  I took her down for a lazy morning of catching up on paperwork at the office. 

Funny thing, looking back:  I thought I was done.

 drifter 800

October 20, 2010:  this is why I should stay off the computer.  This custom painted Drifter 800 popped up on the Jacksonville, Florida Craig's list, trimmed out with genuine vintage indian badges and taillight.  The 800 is a chain driven, rather than shaft driven bike, and that color was just too irresistable for me.

I put the Miata on ebay and Craig's list that day. 

 Ol yeller

 October 22, 2010:  I left home in Ohio at 3:30 a.m. and arrived in Jacksonville at 5:30 p.m.  Of course, she didn't look as good as I was led to believe, but she sounded great, started and shifted well.  Besides, I didn't drive 14 hours to NOT buy a motorcycle, so here she is, tethered up and ready for the trip home.

When I got her home, I assessed the damage from a couple years out in the elements: dry rotted tires, corroded mirrors, very thirsty leather.  I spent a couple days scrubbing, polishing, and trying to figure out why the headlight wouldn't come on.

 next door

While I was down there in Jacksonville, the seller said he just had to have a Drifter after he saw his next door neighbor's.   Since the neighbor was home, he introduced me so I could see his 1999 1500.  He said he used the paint code from a '53 Studebaker. 

No, I didn't buy it, but I made a valiant effort to talk him out of the seat rail.  Apparently, it's free with the purchase of the bike it's attached to. 


Janet and I had already planned a vacation for the week after I took my trip to Florida, so I decided to leave the bike at a local shop to get the headlight working and fix a couple other things while we were gone.  While we were gone, I was thinking how nice it would be to come back and have her all ready to ride......

Well, here's what she looked like for the next 3 weeks, while the guy tried to figure out why the headlight wouldn't work.  Yeah, he was also putting on new whitewall tires, new brakes pads, new grips, oil, filter, plugs, K&N air filter, but seriously?  A MONTH?  Geez... and why is the tank off????

I think he just liked having her in his front window.

 all done

November 19, 2010:  Things came to a head.  The repair guy tells me my parts still haven't come in, but he had told me where he ordered them from.  So, I drove the 30 miles to Columbus, where the parts were waiting, and picked them up (apparently "not in" meant "I haven't bothered to go get them yet").  I delivered them to his shop and asked him, pretty please with sugar on top, to finish putting my bike back together.  Goddammit.

The next day, all done.  Huh.  Now was that so hard? 


And safely home, although she sputtered the whole way and I had to restart her at every traffic light.  The next time I tried to start her, no luck at all.  Since that guy had plenty of time and was paid too much to get her running well, I wasn't going back there.  A buddy and I tackled the job, and we discovered that all that sitting in Florida with fuel in her for a couple years had gummed up the carburator. 

The answer was a can of "Sea Foam" from the local gas station.  After adding it to 3 or 4 tanks of gas, she's running fine now.


Since there wasn't much riding to do over the winter, what else was I going to do but start taking her apart? 

The front turn signals were older Harley-Davidson, mounted on a clunky bracket bolted to the fork.  Guess he was going for the "Real Hog" look, which doesn't impress me much -- after all, I bought my Drifters partly because they DON'T look like Harleys.

As I said earlier, I'm not a fan of Kawasaki turn signal aesthetics, but I've got to say these were even uglier.  Sooo......


 A few hours of agonizing over several ebay options led me to these halogen spotlights, made by Doss, with LED turn signals built into them.  What I liked best about them is that the brackets bolt directly to the holes on the sides of the fork, so I didn't have to buy a light bar.

Yeah, they are on, but not wired in yet.  You can see the old signals dangling down.  Fingers are crossed hard that the wiring will go smoothly.


That was a chore.  The new LED turnsignals, which were supposed to be both running lights and turn signals, wouldn't flash because the LEDs don't draw enough amperage.  I could put a load resistor in to increase the amperage, but since the spotlights eliminated the need for front running lights, I just wired the running lights to the turn signal power and they blink just fine.

The brackets were designed for Indians, not Kawasakis, so I first bolted them on using only the bottom one of three holes in the bracket.  Threadlock and muscle pretty much kept things where they should be, but during one ride the left one came loose and flopped down, so I decided to figure out a better way to secure them.

I found some universal 59mm "turn signal fork brackets" that barely fit around the top of the upper fork covers, which got me within about 3/4" of the top hole in the bracket.  I scrounged around for about $2 in acorn bolts, screws and -- believe it or not -- a pair of stainless steel brackets for securing sinks to countertops -- and the problem was solved.

For the middle hole in the bracket, I found some LED license plate bolts and wired them in as running lights.


I found some great bullet turn signals for the rear, took off the bulky Harley ones and relocated the signals to a bracket mounted on the licencse plate bracket.  That involved pulling off the rear fender in order to run the wires in through the taillight housing. 

Where the holes were for the old taillights, I bought some finned bullet license plate bolts and attached them with fender washers.


This bike had been lowered, which I really liked with one exception:  nothing was done with the kickstand, so the bike stood nearly level when parked -- perilously close to tipping over.  I had to be really careful where and how I parked her. 

After doing some research, I found that the kickstands for the new Kawasaki Voyagers (part number 34024-0014) are identical, but just a bit shorter.  

I gave up trying to find a used one and spent the hundred bucks for a new one from Kawasaki.  Expensive, but much cheaper than replacing anything that would be damaged in a tip over.  Here's the Drifter kickstand at the top next to the Voyager kickstand.

 The part bolted right on, using the same spring, and she sits much more safely now.

 n It's funny how the little things you don't notice at first really begin to stick out when all the big problems are solved.  One day I was riding around when I looked down and thought to myself, "Huh.  Wonder what happened to those bolt covers?"
 b Fortunately, they aren't very expensive and they are still available.  Unfortunately, there's no substitute here for the OEM part. 

March, 2011:  I've sent the 1500 off to Auto Art Customs for her new paint job.  Here she is, posing naked.

Other than a few nicks, the factory paint was fine, although the war bonnet decal was starting to look a little frayed.  So why repaint? 

I had two issues with the factory paint jobs Kawasaki put on later Drifters.  First, every Drifter built between 2004 and 2006 was painted exactly the same with the same colors... yawn.  Second, the paint just wasn't done as well as it could have been.  The fenders have neat contours that would have been accentuated better if the color break actually followed them, and while the pinstripe decals on the tank were under the clearcoat, on the fenders and side panels they were just cheap stickers. 

I gave my paint guy a picture of a restored 1934 Indian Four as a guide to what I've got in mind. 


Remember that "universal" tombstone taillight?  Well, since I was already voiding out the old license plate bracket mounting, I went ahead and had Brandon built up the fender so that the curve of the fender matched the curve of the light.  

Both of us were amazed how much work that small detail required!

 p Here's the tins with the candy teal applied.
 f After Brandon got the pearl on, things really started to take shape.  Note how the break between the colors follows the curve in the fender now.
 t The tank is also looking terrific.  I was hoping to have the pearl taper to a point at the back, but with the emblems we'll be adding, there wasn't quite enough room to do it that way.  No complaints on how this looks, though!
 n  April 5, 2011:  The 1500 is finished and back together!  I can't say enough good things about Brandon from Auto Art Customs. 

I had found these last October and had them sitting around for six months until I got the bike repainted. 

It was soooo worth the wait.

 b  It sure feels good to have both ponies back in the stable.  When they are posed side by side, it's so much more apparent the different directions these two bikes have taken -- one towards an old-school, bare knuckled road bike, the other a smooth and classy cruiser. 
 i April, 2011:  On a beautiful spring day, I decided to pose the two for a few pictures.
i Those tank emblems really work well on there.
i I've used this picture as my avatar in online forums - not even motorcyle related.
i Viewed from the front, the difference in the spotlights really changes the appearance of the front of the bike.

Memorial Day Weekend, 2011:  Janet and I took the 1500 out for the day.   We had the bike parked along a quaint brick street in Sunbury, Ohio, the kind that have high stone curbs.

As we went to leave, I let out the clutch and the bike drifted back just enough for us to hear it crunch. 

Shit.  Shit shit shit shit.  I was planning to show it in a bike show in just a couple weeks.   In a panic, I called Brandon to see what he could do for me.  Brandon charged me a "dumbass fee" of $200, fixed it in a week and told me not to do it again.


June 19, 2011:  Our local Moose Lodge holds a car and bike show every summer, so I decided to take the pair of them down for the day.   Rather than trailer them (it's only five miles away from where I live), I just rode them down, dodging bugs all the way. 

The yellow bike took second place in the bike division.  And the 1500, with that freshly repaired fender?  Didn't even place.  Go figure...

New saddle

October 7, 2011:  I'd been looking at springer seats for awhile, and a seller named "Classic Leathers" was offering them at a decent price, so I decided to try it out. 

Although the seller's emails repeatedly referred to his "workshop in Las Vegas," when the package finally arrived a couple of weeks later, it was in a box from India that U.S. Customs had torn apart and thrown back in.

New saddle

After a couple frustrated emails, the seller emailed me some pictures (from his Las Vegas workshop, no less) to show me how to take the jumbled mess that was thrown in the box and assemble it into something I could sit on.

It was a pain in the neck, but it does look nice now that it's on.

vet's day

November 11, 2011:  My buddy Jim Morehead (at right) and I make for quite the odd couple when we ride..  Jim's bike is a 2008 Suzuki Hayabusa that he bought new and has put an ungodly number of miles on.

For Veteran's Day, Newark has a parade that many of us participate in.  We froze, but no worries.  As Jug (owner of Jug'z) says, "I know what a lot of those guys went through, so I suppose I can get a little cold and wet."


 March 30, 2012:  I did something I'll probably regret for the rest of my life.  A fellow in Wisconsin sent me an email and asked if I'd consider selling the yellow drifter.  "I wouldn't consider selling it for any less than X," I said.

A couple days later, I received a FedEx envelope with a check for X.

So here she is on a rainly and blustery night, loaded onto the transport company's trailer, bound for Wisconsin.   


It was all for the best, I told myself.  Janet never did quit calling the 800 "that f---ing bike," so there wasn't any love lost there.  Besides, with that solo seat on the 1500, I didn't want to put a passenger seat back on her, so it didn't make sense to have two single-seat bikes. 

I got an email from the buyer in Wisconsin, who was very happy with the bike when he received it.  In a way, I was kind of disappointed.  I emailed him back and told him to keep me in mind if he ever wanted to sell it back to me.


 I had a little bit of time in between when the check arrived and when I had to say goodbye to my 800, so I took a long look at her to see what about her I would miss the most.  One of the things I was most proud of with that bike was the Doss teardrop lights I had installed, so I hopped online and looked up that seller.  Yes, he still had some, but not with the side brackets.

No worries, I thought - I've got a light bar to work with this time, so this will be easy, right?  Normally, those are famous last words, but this time it really was. 

The package came the day after I said goodbye to the old bike, and I couldn't wait to dig in.  The old spotlights came off, the new ones fit in the same holes with no modifications, and the wires hooked up as easy as can be.   Within a couple of hours I had a little something by which to remember ol' yeller.

a April 1, 2011:  I also took the windshield off, to give the bike that long, low profile that I enjoyed about the 800.  Here she is out for a little spring cleaning.
a After the bath, I got to looking at the handlebar fringes and decided that they just needed to go.  It worked well with all black seats and bags, but after I switched over to the white, they just didn't fit in anymore.

However, removing the windshield presented another problem.  Now that the saddlebags and the windshield bag are gone, there's no place to store anything - not even a copy of my registration or so much as a cell phone. 

Finding saddlebag brackets for a Drifter is about as tough a task as you can take on.  They just aren't out there.  After I'd been looking around a bit, I got to thinking - what about that jerryrigged backseat?  I'm never going to use it again, right?

 s  Since they've been hidden by the seat pillion and the bags, I'd never really noticed this before.  Not only are these the correct bag supports, but these are the chrome saddlebag brackets!  Those are raaaare!

It took some doing, but I was able to get the seat apart and the pillion off of the rack.  Here's what they look like installed on the bike. 

Years of being bolted together as a seat were not kind to these parts, but at least the brackets and supports were fine, with the exception of a little surface rust that was easily removed. 

The rack, however, hasn't fared as well.  In addition to rust and a few spots where the plating is flaking off, it's a little crooked these days.  

Never mind the weight limit on racks like these is usually only about 20 pounds - we just don't need to be telling the wife that she was too heavy for it. 

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