The Gambler

Clymer demonstrating one of his Indian badged imports to the press in the late 1960s. He still crackled with energy and knowledge. Clymer’s joy of wheeling and dealing was obvious to the journalists on hand. Who knows, had he lived long enough maybe his final gamble would have paid off.

Clymer demonstrating one of his Indian badged imports to the press in the late 1960s. He still crackled with energy and knowledge. Clymer’s joy of wheeling and dealing was obvious to the journalists on hand. Who knows, had he lived long enough maybe his final gamble would have paid off.

Floyd Clymer was one of the biggest gamblers in all of motorcycling. Like any gambler the colorful Clymer won some and lost some. He won big when he sold Cycle Magazine to Ziff-Davis in 1966 for a walloping profit. But good old Floyd couldn’t settle on the windfall. In his last years he gambled on trying to revive the grand old Indian Motorcycle name only to die trying.

Early in the 20th century it wasn’t all that unusual for children to work from an early age, but Clymer became a novelty nonetheless for becoming one of the nation’s leading Ford salesmen at the age of 13. Selling Model Ts out of a dealership in Greeley, Colorado, Clymer was a regional celebrity. Flush with money Clymer opened a motorcycle dealership by the time he was 19 and began racing about the same time. He became an early Harley-Davidson factory-backed rider.

Clymer managed to find ways to keep his name in front of the press. In business trips across the country Clymer announce to the media that he was going to attempt to set a new city to city record, even though many of the routes (Denver to Chicago for example) were never considered or attempted by others.

Ever the schemer Clymer was a sharp businessman always thinking of new ways to making money. In addition to his dealerships he began publishing a magazine, sold farm implements and countless other business concerns.

One of his side businesses was helping to grant patents for inventors. It turned out that not all was in order with that particular sideline and in the late 1920s Clymer was sent to prison at the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, for mail fraud. He was in jail for over a year, but his fame, and perhaps wealth, brought him certain privilege other prisoners could only dream of. It was reported that Clymer was granted special ‘leave’ from prison to compete in motorcycle races during his sentence.

Clymer showed his resilience after getting out of prison. He moved to Los Angeles and took over the West Coast Indian distributorship from Al Crocker, who was concentrating on manufacturing his short-track (Speedway) racing machines. Ironically, Clymer established a successful mail order motorcycle parts business.

Clymer thrived in Hollywood. He helped promote motorcycling in the 1930s by loaning bikes to the movie studios. He also arranged to have movie stars receive bikes on loan from Indian in exchange for the company using publicity shots of the stars on its bikes for advertising.

Clymer (left) poses with fellow sidecar racers Shrimp Burns (with goggles) John Lovett, John Seymour and Floyd Dreyer (sitting) at a 1920 national championship race in Denver.

Clymer (left) poses with fellow sidecar racers Shrimp Burns (with goggles) John Lovett, John Seymour and Floyd Dreyer (sitting between bike and sidecar) at a 1920 national championship race in Denver.

In 1951, Clymer purchased the fledgling Cycle Magazine from Petersen Publishing for a couple of thousand dollars. Buying the failing book seemed like a waste of money at the time. Clymer’s journalistic style was later summed up by a phrase in a later anniversary issue of Cycle, “Clymer never met a motorcycle he didn’t like.” He always emphasized the positive aspects of motorcycling in his publications and shied away from critical testing reviews of motorcycles, which became the style of writing that the public demanded during the 1960s. Clymer owned Cycle for 15 years. The gamble he took on the magazine turned out to be easily the most profitable venture he was ever involved with.

“Anyone else would have stopped there,” said Cook Neilson, who became editor of Cycle under its new ownership. “After all wasn’t he already a pioneer? Didn’t everybody already know who he was? Hadn’t he already Made It?”

But Clymer, now in his 70s, got right back into the fray. He tried unsuccessfully to launch the aptly named Munch Mammoth. The German-made monstrosity featured a 1300cc engine designed for a car. Massive was an understatement – not only the size of the bike, but the $4000 price tag ($25,000 in today’s money) doomed the bike. Clymer then tried to revive his beloved Indian by importing Velocettes and Royal Enfields and dubbing them Indian Motorcycles.

Clymer died of a heart attack while working in January of 1970. Gone was the Gambler. Seemingly born with a briefcase in his hand Clymer went out the way he came in – trying to make one more big deal.

2 thoughts on “The Gambler

  1. Larry you might already know this but that is Pop Dreyer sitting on the ground with Clymer. I love looking at your site daily, thanks for all the good stories and photographs you dig up. Jeff

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  2. Thanks Jeff. Yep, good old Pop Dreyer. He gave me a ride once in his BMW sidecar rig when I was a teenager. He was pretty old even then and I have to say I was more than a bit nervous when he lofted the rig in the air. But all those years on motorcycles it was second nature to him.

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