The name Indian Larry is well known to anyone who loves motorbikes or is well acquainted with classic bike-building TV shows. Indian Larry was an inspiration for many motorheads around the world thanks to his fearless, free-spirited attitude, and knack for living every moment as if it was the last.
His stunt acts, bike builds and irreverent style were just a small part of what made Indian Larry so memorable, as his personal story is just as shocking as it is inspiring. His unfortunate death in 2004 wasn’t enough to erase his legacy, and he’s still warmly remembered to this day.
So what is the untold truth about Indian Larry? What are the less-known facts about his life? Stay here to find out more about this unforgettable biker, builder, and TV personality.
His Real Name & The Moniker
Although he was known as Indian Larry, the man behind that famous moniker had a different name. He was born Lawrence DeSmedt on 28 April 1949, in a village in Orange County, New York State, USA.
The short name ‘Larry’ most likely came from his childhood, but the ‘Indian’ part came from the time he roamed the streets on his Indian Motorcycle in the 1980s. Back then, Larry had been living in Brooklyn for a while and was making a name for himself for fixing and wrenching bikes of this style, according to some sources. As Larry recalled during an episode of “Biker Build-Off”, he had other nicknames in motorcycle circles, but Indian Larry was the one that stuck.
In the end, it was the perfect moniker for a man who became unforgettable for many reasons.
A Distraught Childhood
Indian Larry’s childhood was far from ideal, given the physical abuse he often suffered at a Catholic School. It wasn’t rare for the young Larry to be hit on his knuckles until he bled or to be put in isolation rooms for hours, but he hid all of that. As recalled in the 2006 book “Indian Larry: Chopper Shaman”, Larry lied to his parents about having fights at school as the reason for his injuries, without revealing he was the victim of the nuns in charge of the school until much later in life.
Another one of the most upsetting moments in Larry’s childhood was the time he accidentally had one of his fingers maimed. It’s unclear whether the young Larry was playing with fireworks or if he was building a bomb to throw at school, but in the end, he was left without a finger on his left hand. Years later, Indian Larry would get the letter FTW (for the win) on each of his three left-hand fingers, while his right hand sported the letters for LOVE.
Indian Larry’s early life was often filled with upsetting moments which left marks on him, yet it was also the time when he discovered what would become his biggest passion in life. Larry’s earliest contact with motorcycle culture came when he met Gerald ‘Jerry’ Doering, who was his Boy Scouts’ leader and father of his childhood best friend Ted.
As a classic motorcycle enthusiast, Jerry was a proud collector and rider of Indian Motorcycles, becoming an influence on Larry, who from then on felt the call to build and fix motorcycles, first modifying a tricycle which belonged to his sister Trina when he was around 12 years old.
At the start, Larry didn’t know he could attach motors to bicycles, so it took him a while to get there. The first bike Larry ever purchased was a 1939 Harley Knucklehead, which according to the New York Times, took him months to re-assemble when he was a teen,
With that being said, Larry’s biggest motorcycle heroes were automotive builders Ed Roth and Von Dutch. As Larry explained in lost footage from “Biker Build-Off” in 2004, he admired Dutch and Roth for their ‘outside of the box’ way of thinking, as they did what they wanted without following trends. That marked Larry’s endless search for originality in the bike-building industry.
Indian Larry pic.twitter.com/tUxU32iU9V
— bikers of all wheels (@qoudbiker) September 20, 2023
Running Away From Home
Before becoming a legendary bike builder, Indian Larry went through many hardships. Everything goes back to the time he abandoned school just one month before matriculation to follow his dreams in California, to where his younger sister Diane had run away not long before.
California in the 1960s had many things to offer the siblings, who didn’t hesitate to take part in counter-culture movements, then on the rise. According to the book “Indian Larry: Chopper Shaman”, Diane and Larry shared similar ideas about their ‘outsiders’ place in society, and free-spirited attitude. However, the magic ended in 1971, when Diane was murdered at 21 years old.
Following his sister’s death, Larry’s drug addiction went downhill, leading him to rob banks and stores for drug money. He was caught and sentenced to three years in prison, though he used his time behind bars to further his mechanical knowledge and take courses, on top of obtaining his General Education Development certificate.
After his release and the complexion of his parole, Larry went to New York City to build bikes, cars, and hot rods, finding along the way that he wanted to keep building only bikes, which were featured in several specialized magazines.
The next two decades saw Larry making a name for himself with his unmistakable bike-building style, for his love for riding and performing stunts, but also saw him struggling with his drug addiction until the late 1990s.
Larry’s Last Ride
Indian Larry wasn’t afraid of being different. His ‘No Club Lone Wolf’ speaks volumes about his determination not to join biker gangs, yet his solitude didn’t stop his talent from getting the attention it deserved, especially between the late 1990s and early 2000s.
In 2003 Indian Lary took one big step forward in his career when he debuted on TV through “Bike Build-Off”, a documentary-style reality series which saw various builders compete against each other through their creations.
In the summer of 2004, Larry had just finished filming a segment for the show in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was in a parking lot performing some stunts for a mass of fans until he suddenly fell and hit his head on the concrete, according to the New York Times. Sadly, Indian Larry died at 55 years old on 30 August of that year, two days after his fateful accident.
These days, Indian Larry is remembered for being the man who first described bike building as an art, expanding his vision not only through his appearances on TV, but also through the bikes he built throughout his life. He’s also a constant reminder of how far people can go when they follow their passions, and endlessly pursue what makes them happy.