Look out Harley-Davidson, there’s a new champion on the track. Late last month, at the inaugural King of the Baggers race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, the motorcycle manufacturer defied the odds to take home two podium spots while being crowned the best V-twin bagger.
Showcasing 13 hopped-up 600-pound V-twin baggers – a cruiser-style motorcycle outfitted with compartments for storing accessories – from Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle going head-to-head, only two were Indian motorcycles, making the eight-lap race more of a David versus Goliath type of bout – but that didn’t stop Tyler O’Hara in his S&S Indian Challenger from winning it all. O’Hara, 33, has won in different disciplines throughout his career, from motocross to supermoto, but there was definitely an adjustment in preparing to race King of the Baggers on a heavier bike than he’s used to.
“My training was a little bit more strength conditioning,” O’Hara said. “There’s a lot more braking force and just transitioning the bike from left to right – it takes a lot more energy. My deltoids and my shoulders, even after the tests and after the race, you know, were exhausted just from throwing that big old motorcycle around all weekend and I just felt like I left it all on the track.”
Winning the first-ever race certainly wasn’t easy for O’Hara. Although he jumped out to a great start, the California native lost control on turn two, running his Challenger off of the track and into the dirt, pushing him into third place. Some riders might’ve thought it was over but O’Hara knew he needed to stay calm – and be patient.
“I got back on the track and I just had to calm down and start the race,” O’Hara added. “It was just so in the moment and just out there doing my thing, hanging it out and just having a ball. You just never give up. You can’t ever give up. You know, you race from the green flag to the checkered [flag]. I knew I could do it, before the race even started.”
At a point in his career where he feels little pressure to perform well and win, O’Hara kept his composure and just didn’t give up. The end result was a narrow victory, adding another win over Harley-Davidson to Indian’s résumé – which has been piling up for the last four years. Since the motorcycle manufacturer made its return to flat track and rekindled its rivalry with Harley-Davidson, it’s dominated, capturing four consecutive Grand National Championships and four consecutive Manufacturer’s Championships. And while the Indian FTR750 flat tracker has become the undisputed King of the Oval, the Indian Challenger is now the undisputed V-twin king.
While some purists weren’t keen on the idea of racing these larger motorcycles, King of the Baggers captivated the attention of millions of casual riders. But, much like car manufacturers, brand loyalty is strong in the riding community as you’re either riding this motorcycle or that motorcycle. Perhaps Indian’s dominance, not just at Laguna Seca but at the various races over the last four years, could potentially sway some riders.
“Maybe the rider does have a little something to do with it but the Indian Challenger was just the best bike,” O’Hara admitted. “It’s just a heck of an opportunity for me to come out and live my dream and represent an American manufacturer and get the job done and win the race.”
Could we see more bagger racing in 2021 and redemption for Harley-Davidson? Three races have been rumored by MotoAmerica but we’ll have to wait and see.