Cruisers aren’t usually the kinds of motorcycles associated with racing. And when they do hit the track, it’s typically for drag racing in a straight line. But this year’s inaugural King of the Baggers race held at Laguna Seca sought to change that. And we recently sat down with the race’s winner, Tyler O’Hara, over the phone to discuss how it felt to hit triple-digit speeds on a race-prepped Indian Challenger.
Tyler O’Hara is a veteran racer, but relatively new to cruisers
Tyler O’Hara knows how to race a motorcycle. He started riding at age 5, Floyd’s of Leadville reports, and began racing professionally in 2005.
Since then, he’s raced in motocross, supermoto, and flat track, American Flat Track reports. Tyler O’Hara’s also competed in the Daytona 200 and Pikes Peak Hill Climb, PitPassMoto reports. And while he raced an S&S-prepped Indian Challenger at the King of the Baggers, he’s also ridden Harley-Davidson XR1200 race bikes, too. Plus, he’s a motorcycle racing coach.
However, in his phone conversation with me, Tyler O’Hara said that he “didn’t really know what to expect” when it came to the race. Before Indian sent him a stock Challenger so he could familiarize himself, he had little to no bagger riding experience. And going into testing with the racer, he was a bit nervous.
The Indian Challenger’s weight means that riding well requires more strength-training, as well as further-back braking points. It’s also wider than a sportbike. And thanks to the suspension needed for extra ground clearance, the race bike is even taller than the stock one. But after refining the ergonomics, his confidence grew.
It helps that the riding skills learned on sportbikes translate fairly well to cruisers. Don’t over-ride the bike, don’t rush the corner; be smooth, and find a rhythm. Plus, Tyler O’Hara reports that the stock Challenger is “a breath of fresh air” compared to some of its cross-town rival. He uses words like, “easy,” “smooth,” and “balanced.” And its chassis is stable enough that he could slide it around corners during the King of the Baggers race. “The bike is its own animal,” he says, but it’s clearly one he enjoyed working with.
Tyler O’Hara’s win at the 2020 King of the Baggers didn’t come easy
The King of the Baggers race took place on October 24th, 2020, with 14 bikes on the starting line. Only 2 of those were Indian Challengers: Tyler O’Hara on the #29 S&S bike, and Frankie Garcia on the #14 Roland Sands Design bike. The other racers rode on various Harley-Davidsons. And at the end of the 8-lap race, hitting speeds up to 127 mph on the main straight, O’Hara finished in 1st place.
However, although he finished 1.9 seconds ahead of 2nd place, the King of the Baggers race wasn’t a cake-walk. That’s not because of the location. O’Hara grew up in northern California, and for him, Laguna Seca is a familiar track. That’s why he was able to go through the infamous Corkscrew so well.
What’s truly impressive, though, is that he did that without any rear brakes. During the warm-up lap, Gracia let him know that his bike was smoking. At first, Tyler thought Frankie was trying to psych him out. But “sure enough…I must’ve kicked the rear brake master cylinder and it was leaking brake fluid on the pipe on the right side.” The tech official cleared the Challenger, but after Turn 5 on the first lap, O’Hara lost rear braking capability.
Regardless, he managed to build up a good-sized gap over the next 2 laps. But then, on Turn 2 on Lap 3, he “picked up my pace just a 1/16th too much.” As a result, he spun the tire on the rim, and almost high-sided the bike. But he kept the bike on two wheels, came back on-track in 3rd, took a deep breath, and went back at it. It helps that he’s done a lot of front-brake-only drills, and the Challenger has good engine braking.
What did he think of the bike and the race’s future?
Overall, Tyler O’Hara calls the 2020 King of the Baggers race “the highlight of my year.” And he has nothing but praise for the 2020 Indian Challenger and S&S Cycle’s tuning efforts. “It was the bike to be on,” he says. And his stock bike is more than capable of doing donuts.
As of this writing, MotoAmerica hasn’t officially confirmed if the King of the Baggers would be a regular event. But if it returns, O’Hara really wants to see the fans return, too, if the pandemic situation allows for it. Though he’s confident the race itself will be run again.
The event itself looks and sounds like nothing else on the racing circuit. It’s different—in a good way. “The amount of attention it’s getting is just incredible,” O’Hara said, “and I definitely think there’s gonna [sic] be a lot more big names and guys that wanna [sic] come in and be a part of the show.” And the bikes themselves are “unique,” bringing “a different demographic” of “misfits…athletes…and racers,” all of them “having a good time.”
Let’s hope, then, that Tyler O’Hara is the first in a long line of King of the Baggers winners.
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