Native Californian motorcycle racer Tyler O’Hara has been racing everything on two wheels since he was five years old. He’s got victories in flat track, dirt, supermoto, superbike road racing, and Pikes Peak. But none of that could possibly have prepared him for this next challenge. Racing an Indian Challenger bagger at Laguna Seca against 13 other baggers (one other Indian from Roland Sands’ shop, and 12 Harleys). He’ll be scraping knee pucks—and possibly hard bags—during the inaugural MotoAmerica Superbike Speedfest King of Baggers race at Laguna Seca next month.
This motorcycle is “about 80 percent done” as it’s still lacking its full rear bodywork, but it’s easy to tell that a lot of things here have been changed. This is a serious effort with 17" road racing wheels and tires, upgraded Brembo brakes, tons of carbon fiber and lightweighting principles. The team won’t let slip how much horsepower they’re pumping out just yet, as they want to keep the competition on their collective toes.
One of my favorite aspects of this motorcycle is the raised up two-into-one S&S custom built exhaust that is tucked in closer to the motorcycle. This little tweak allows the Challenger to cut a bit tighter lean angle to the ground than the stock bike. With the sticky Dunlop race rubber, the bike is really going to need that extra clearance in order to get Tyler’s knee down on the track.
While on track over the weekend at Blackhawk Farms Raceway in northern Illinois, Tyler and the team were able to get some kinks worked out. Unfortunately for them, the track saw a good misting of rain for most of the test day, but any day the race bike is running and on track is a good opportunity to learn something, even small things about how to make it faster. And a big beastly brute like this 1.8-liter V-twin needs a training montage the likes of which haven’t been seen since 1998's Mulan (the fun one). S&S are known for building big power, and Tyler told me that the team has actually built too much power and they’re trying to soften the curve a little bit with tuning to make the bike a little more ridable around Laguna Seca.
The visual differences between a standard road-going Indian Challenger and this racer are instantly obvious. While it maintains its stock shaped fairing and fender, the materials have been swapped out for lightweight carbon fiber. Again, S&S wouldn’t say how much the race-ready Challenger will weigh, but I’m sure it’s a far sight lower than the 840 pounds wet of the road bike.
Speaking of the stock road bike, Tyler recently got an opportunity to take a stock Indian Challenger out for a track day at Laguna Seca, and said he was far from the slowest rider out there.
Out at the back of the bike S&S have managed to find a more road-race appropriate rider position. The standard forward controls have been pushed into a sport-bike-like mid-control, giving Tyler a more hunched over angle, and providing more bike stability through corners with knee control. The rear swingarm has also been re-jigged to raise the bike up off the ground a little so it has a little less trail.
I, for one, cannot wait to see these big beasts hucking around Laguna Seca. Tyler suspects he’ll be able to it around 130 to 135 miles per hour on the track’s main straight (which isn’t really straight). I commented that it might be a bit weird to be going that fast without all of the wind in your face because of the fairing, and he described it as “comfortable” which is a fun word for a 135 mph bagger road racer.
This MotoAmerica event is just so weird and sketchy that I cannot help but fall in love with it, and I hope it continues on for years and years. In the same way that I can’t get enough of the FIA European Truck Racing Championship, I think this incredible event will become something of a cult phenomenon in the world of motorcycle racing in the near future. It’s just going to be so weird to see these big bikes piling down the hill into Andretti Hairpin at Laguna next month. My brain is alight with serotonin at the mere thought of it.
Let the thunder roll, baby.