Californian Max Bubeck became famous for winning enduros on Indians during a long career that spanned over 40 years from the 1930s to the 1970s. He also built and raced top-speed-record Indians. In June of 1948, he rode an Indian Chief and Scout hybrid (dubbed the “Chout”) to a record speed of 135.58 mph on the Rosamond Dry Lake north of Los Angeles. After retiring from competition in the late-1970s, Bubeck continued to be active in motorcycling, doing everything from restoring classic Indian motorcycles to sponsoring antique motorcycle meetings.
Bubeck was born in Los Angeles on June 28, 1917. The youngest of four children, Bubeck learned to ride from his older brother. He purchased his first motorcycle – an Indian 101 Scout – from his brother when he was 16. Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1930s was a riding paradise for a young man. Bubeck learned his off-road riding skills in the mountains north of growing city. By the middle 1930s, Bubeck had traded in his Indian V-Twin and began riding and racing the company’s four-cylinder model.
In 1937, a friend told Bubeck of an event put on by a local club, called the Greenhorn Enduro. The race was held annually and originated just north of Los Angeles and headed over the cold and rugged mountains down to the searing deserts and back up to the Greenhorn Mountains near Bakersfield. Bubeck finished fourth novice in the ’37 race.
“It turns out that I was lucky to finish fourth that first year,” Bubeck recalls. “The top three had to race expert the next year. So I got one more year in the novice ranks. I learned a lot during that next year, practicing all the time on the mountain fire roads and I came back in ’38 and won the novice division and was second overall. In those days, there were no secret checkpoints or anything like that. You simply had to average 35 miles per hour, but in the mountains there was no way. So whoever was the least late was the winner. ”
The Greenhorn Enduro was temporarily discontinued after the 1939 race. World War II came and Bubeck spent the war years working for airplane manufacturer Lockheed and practicing his riding in the San Gabriel Mountains.
After the War, Bubeck picked up where he left off, racing in various off-road events. In 1947, he amazed the motorcycling world when he won the Greenhorn Enduro on his Indian Four. The 130-pound Bubeck won the grueling event aboard a 530-pound motorcycle!
“I didn’t know it couldn’t be done, so I did it,” Bubeck explains on racing the big Indian Four on the rugged mountain and desert trails of the Greenhorn.
Bubeck’s riding expertise wasn’t confined to the mountain trail riding. In 1948 he rode an Indian “Chout,” built with partners Frank Chase and Pop Schunk, to a record speed of 135.58 mph on the Rosamond Dry Lake. The speed was the fastest time ever recorded by an unstreamlined Indian.
In the late 1940s, Bubeck again went against popular opinion and began racing Indian’s vertical twins. In racing circles, Indian’s new bike was considered uncompetitive in any type of competition. Bubeck and Ed Kretz teamed up to develop the new bike and figured out many ways to make the machine better. Much of what they learned was passed on to the Indian factory and improvements to the bike led to the introduction of the Indian Warrior in the late 1940s.
One of Bubeck’s most popular wins came in 1950 aboard the new Warrior. That year, he won the Cactus Derby, a long-distance desert race and mountain race originated in Riverside, California. The race was unique in that it started at midnight. That year, Bubeck’s bike lost its lighting barely an hour into the race. He managed to continue by riding with other riders and using their lights. A few times he lost touch with the other riders and rode in complete darkness. In that same event, a long, slow-moving freight train was blocking a crossing. Bubeck sped ahead of the train and crossed the tracks so as to not lose too much time. Despite the darkness, the trains and riding a supposedly uncompetitive bike, Bubeck still managed to win the event. It went down as one of the most memorable victories in his career.
Bubeck’s last major win came in 1962. That year, the 44-year-old racer again won the Greenhorn Enduro (on a 1949 Indian Warrior), a full 15 years after he’d last won the race.
In all, Bubeck competed in 32 Greenhorn Enduros (from 1937 to 1979) and finished the rugged race 24 times.
Bubeck rarely ventured outside his home territory of Southern California to race.
“I tried racing up in Northern California a few times and experienced snow, mud and creek crossings,” Bubeck said. “I didn’t really like it that much. I guess riding in the dry desert mountains was the kind of riding I always like best.”
For years, Bubeck hopped up Indians and during the 1970s became a distributor for Hodaka motorcycles. After retiring in the early 1980s, Bubeck continued his love affair with Indians, restoring old bikes and making cross-country trips on the classic American machines. In one cross-country ride, Bubeck commemorated the feats of the great “Cannonball” Baker by re-enacting one of his record-setting coast-to-coast runs.
When inducted in 1999, Bubeck still rode every week with a local group and continues to put on an annual antique motorcycle ride through Death Valley.
Inducted in 1999