The Excelsior-Henderson name is something of an enigma. Virtually none of today’s motorcyclists have ever seen, let alone ridden, an Excelsior, a Henderson or an Excelsior-Henderson and yet the name has somehow gained an enduring cachet. Now it appears to be on the road to a comeback.
Indian firm Bajaj – the firm that has a deal to manufacture an upcoming range of small Triumph models and also builds KTMs in India – appears to have struck a deal to revive Excelsior-Henderson.
In the early 20th century the Excelsior and Henderson brands came together under the ownership of bicycle maker Schwinn. Excelsior, famous for its V-twins, had started life in 1907 and been bought by Schwinn in 1912, while Henderson built its reputation on inline four-cylinders, launching in 1911 and taken over by Schwinn in 1917.
Having established themselves as strong players in the early motorcycle market, with Excelsior hot on the heels of Harley-Davidson and Indian as America’s third-biggest bike maker and Henderson forging a reputation as maker of some of the world’s biggest and fastest bikes, both brands were unceremoniously axed in 1931 when Schwinn decided to retreat into its core bicycle business during the Great Depression.
That might have been the end of the story for Excelsior and Henderson but for the intervention of entrepreneur Dan Hanlon, who bought the names in the 1993 and – in one of the most ambitious new motorcycle brand launches in modern memory – created Excelsior-Henderson.
The firm’s bike, the Super X, appeared in 1998, bearing a 1386cc, DOHC V-twin derived from a design by British firm Weslake and distinctive leading-link front suspension with massive, exposed springs. Built in a bespoke manufacturing plant in Minnesota, the Super X was the result of a $100 million investment and around 1900 were built before the firm filed for bankruptcy just on the turn of the millennium.
For the last 20 years we’ve heard little more of Excelsior-Henderson, other than an attempted sale of the brand at auction in January 2018. Now Bajaj has filed several trademark applications around the name in Europe and India, covering the manufacturer of motorcycles, parts, accessories and clothing. It appears the firm may have struck a deal to take on the rights to the Excelsior-Henderson name as part of an escalating war among Indian motorcycle makers to snap up historic brands.
We’ve seen Bajaj’s rivals TVS take on the Norton brand, while Mahindra owns the BSA and Jawa names. Royal Enfield, owned by the Indian Eicher group, is going from strength to strength and just recently Hero has signed a deal to manufacture and sell bikes under the Harley-Davidson name in India.
What will Bajaj do with Excelsior-Henderson? We’ll have to wait for official confirmation of the deal to find out more about the plans, but it looks like the chances are rising that you might see, or even ride, an Excelsior-Henderson in the future.