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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Royal Enfield in disguise was longtime motocross champ

This veteran Royal Enfield racer was proudly displayed at motorcycle show.
"Royal Enfield in disguise" proclaimed the hand lettered sign on a veteran 1956 Indian Woodsman motorcycle at the Dania Beach Vintage Motorcycle Show Jan. 31.

"Ruled South Florida dirt races (motocross) from 1956 to 1966," the sign claimed.

Hand-lettered sign proclaimed it a "Royal Enfield in disguise."
Could it be that the big 500cc, single-cylinder Woodsman by Royal Enfield dominated local motocross tracks for a decade?

It's hard to believe that a lump that looks quite a bit like my own 1999 Royal Enfield Bullet was ever a race course powerhouse.

For more information I called the motorcycle's owner, Herb Doan, of Miami Shores, Fla.

"I meant that the Indian Woodsman ruled the tracks, not that this bike and I were dominant," he explained.

In a 1995 article in The Sun-Sentinel newspaper, Doan, then 65, called himself a motocross "addict."

"A South Florida rider from way back," is how one motocross rider described Doan recently on the VitalMX forum. "I grew up in Fort Myers and rode in Naples, Miami, West Palm, Okeechobee, Dade City, Croom and anyplace else you can think of and Herb was everywhere."

1956 Indian Woodsman looking as it was raced.
You'll find a reference to Herb Doan and the Hurricane Motocross club he belonged to in the April, 1959 edition of American Motorcycling magazine. He'd won a race in a February 1, 1959 scrambles with 22 entries. Two hundred people attended the event, the item claimed.

The Woodsman was appropriately displayed on dirt.
The July, 1960 edition reported that Doan was the "High Point Winner" in a Fort Pierce, Fla. race.

He was there in the May, 1979 edition as well, winning a race in the senior category.

Doan told me that he started racing in 1953. He would have been 24 at the time and new to the idea of riding off the pavement.

"I had a couple of very heavy motorcycles. I started with a 1948 Harley Davidson 45 and from there I went to BSAs. They were heavy, I thought."

Weight actually helped, in a way.

"It helped handle, the Florida sand," Doan told me. The weight added stability in the sand.

"In 1957 the Indian dealer in Miami, Sherman Polhamus, let me have this Woodsman to race and I rode it for 10 years," Doan said.

"It was 75 pounds lighter than the BSA."

Doan doesn't remember if his Woodsman ever had lights but, if it did, they came off, along with the front fender, for motocross. The rest of the bike remained pretty much the way it came, stock.

Knobby and gnarly looking.
Now 85, Doan still goes to motocross races from time to time on newer bikes he owns. But these days he might just practice instead of racing.

He likes to say he's known for racing with all his wheels on the ground. (A photo displayed with the Woodsman, though, shows him with both wheels in the air.)

"I don't reminisce too much unless people ask me," he said. But Doan still talks like a racer.

"It's more important to talk about today; what makes motorcycles faster," he said.

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