Indian Motorcycle Teams With S&S For King Of The Baggers
Tyler O’Hara to race S&S-built Indian Challenger at Laguna Seca.
By Morgan Gales
The stock 2020 Indian Challenger at S&S headquarters. Courtesy of S&S Performance
This October, for the first time in MotoAmerica history, baggers will line up to race at California’s WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. An all-new class, King of the Baggers invites 14 teams to race American V-twin touring bikes, and up until now, it looked as though they were all going to be modified Harley-Davidsons. But behind closed doors, S&S Cycle has been working with Indian Motorcycle, stripping weight and building power on a 2020 Challenger.
The obvious question is: How do you modify an American touring motorcycle for the racetrack? These bikes, meant to cover long miles with comfort and ease, are great for that purpose but, as stock machines, have no business on a racetrack. So how do you make a bike that weighs more than 800 pounds go, stop, and turn like a racebike? We talked to S&S’s lead project engineer Jeff Bailey to find out.
The torn-down Challenger with 17-inch wheels, taller suspension, and a custom fabricated gas tank.
Courtesy of S&S Performance
“Our bike weighed about 805 pounds on our scales and I’m hoping we can take at least 200 pounds out of that,” Bailey says. “Instead of the engine, we’re focused on adjustability—so we’re doing adjustable triple clamps. Looking at the rear suspension. Ride height and ergonomics are really where we’re focusing most of our energy.” Which isn’t to say the engine won’t be modified. This is S&S, after all.
Looking to get about 150 p to the rear wheel (a test unit produced 103hp on Cycle World’s dyno), S&S will be swapping out the cams, porting the heads, and building a custom lightweight exhaust system; but as Bailey explains, “Not getting very deep. With just a little bit of tweaks I think we’re going to be very competitive if not at the top of the hill. We’ve got a ton of experience with air-cooled, pushrod V-twins. It’s where our history is, which also leads us to knowing what their disadvantages are.”
But of course, the bike is only half of the equation. Piloting the Challenger will be Tyler O’Hara, who holds titles in motocross, flat track, and supermoto racing. “Racing the XR1200 twins for five to six years, I think is going to transition over as far as racing a two-cylinder and a heavier bike. I think it’s going to be unique, but when it comes to racing, the same techniques and fundamentals apply to whatever you’re riding. So taking it session by session, getting comfortable on the bike and figuring out what the limits are will be key,” O’Hara says. “I feel like I’ve got the team, the bike, the technology. It’s a game changer what Indian Motorcycle is producing, and it’s just up to me to take care of the job and show what the bike is capable of.”
Billet machined cases are just one of the ways the team at S&S is saving weight on their Challenger racebike.
Courtesy of S&S Performance
Having tested Indian’s Challenger against a Harley-Davidson Road Glide this year, we are clear on the Challenger’s performance advantages. Add in the unique knowledge of the competition’s equipment that S&S brings as well as O’Hara’s racing expertise, and we’re expecting to see highly competitive and unique racing.
Editor’s Note: We are looking forward to being at Laguna Seca this year and seeing this one-of-a-kind Challenger up close.