Drag Specialties and MotoAmerica have opened the door for a freakshow, and builders intend to make it live up to the hype
Words by Kali Kotoski
Photos courtesy of race teams
“In the very beginning we had the cynical guys saying this is only a game, or a gimmick,” said MotoAmerica’s Lance Bryson. “Buddy, strap your effing bootstraps on because this shit is coming to town! Builders are not spending $60,000 to $80,000 on bikes for them to be a joke.”
If you haven’t heard, the premise is simple – if outlandish: Fourteen teams modifying heavyweight freeway fighters into (semi) race-worthy bikes to twist the throttle and barrel down Laguna Seca’s legendary corkscrew in a race that gives the V-Twin zeitgeist a shot of steroids. With real road racers piloting the bikes, MotoAmerica hopes to open up a new class of racing that draws wonder and amazement with jaw-dropping thrills. Or at least raise curiosity for something that’s so counter-intuitive, yet also perfect at the same time.
While the premise is simple, the technical challenges are real, as we will explain with a small snapshot of some of the teams and where they are at in the build and design process.
Of course, one challenge is unsurmountable; the Covid-19 pandemic has postponed the race from July to October 23-25 and delayed teams’ abilities to get out on the track to make potentially major refinements while dialing the bikes in.
The genesis for the Drag Specialties King of the Baggers comes from motocross announcer Rob Buydos pitching the idea to MotoAmerica a few years ago, explained Bryson.
“That is really where it came from,” said Bryson. “Drag Specialties loves it and it just fits for what is going on in the V-Twin world. Performance baggers are what is really driving the industry at the moment.”
And the race also aims to satiate the growing attendance of bagger riders at MotoAmerica events.
“It is all about the larger motorcycle community,” Bryson adds, “not just the sport bike crowd or the V-Twin crowd. It is about racing, and at the end of the day we are going to have performance baggers coming down the corkscrew and racing hard. That is no joke.”
It is certainly no joke, and the event has opened the floodgates for OEMs and aftermarket manufacturers to innovate and showcase bikes and parts that meet the challenge of serious speeds and durability—beveled pegs (or floorboards!) be damned.
Here are a handful of the players, and where they are at this point in the process…
Motorcycle seat and luggage manufacturer Saddlemen has enlisted retired racer and bike builder Michael Woolaway to pilot its build. Woolaway is renowned for his decade of racing and for catering to high-profile clients as Deus Ex Machina’s U.S. Motorcycle Design Director.
“He builds really artistic and fast bikes, and he races to win,” said Saddlemen’s David Echert. “He was our choice from the very beginning.”
Using a Harley-Davidson Road Glide frame, the team at Saddlemen is employing a swingarm from Alloy Art and mid-controls from Speed Merchants. It will have Öhlins suspension products and a Kraus triple-tree setup.
Of course, low-hanging components of the bike will be stripped away and the bike will be raised to allow for better cornering clearance, explained Echert. Saddlemen is also developing a concept racing saddle for the bike that will be brought to market.
“Off the showroom floor, these bikes are heavy at like 850 pounds, so getting the weight down is certainly important,” said Echert, adding that they are looking to trim approximately 150 to 200 pounds of fat.
“Bagger riders know how heavy and clunky they can be, and getting them out on the track will be exciting for our fans and for our industry, especially when consumers are building their own performance baggers,” he said.
Saddlemen will be running 17-inch wheels front and back, which gives the company a better selection of tire choices to handle the strenuous track conditions.
As for the race, Echert believes it will be highly competitive…but in a gentlemanly way.
“It is a type of competitiveness where I am going to race my buddy, not ‘I hate the guy and am going to throw a wrench at him,’” he said.
Echert believes that this race is pioneering in scope and, by that virtue, also perplexing.
“When people are coming up with new stuff, it always perplexes people. But those are the days when you are blazing new trails. And I think this one will certainly do that,” he said.
While Echert declined to divulge all the secrets and tricks going into the build, he did say that once all the bolt-on parts are on, engine modification will come last after they see how it works on the track.
“We will find out if we made the right decisions. But we are putting together what we think is a pretty solid package,” he said.