Photographs by: Garth Milan
Video by: Indian, Edited by Ray Gauger
The Harley-Davidson vs. Indian rivalry is a superb American traditional on par with the likes of Military vs. Navy, Lakers vs. Celtics, Ford vs. Chevy, Pepsi vs. Coke, and even…Google vs. Bing? Okay, perhaps not that final one, however you get the purpose. Harley and Indian have been at one another’s throats going again over a century, save for a 50-odd-year pause within the center when Indian initially closed its doorways. However when Polaris purchased the keys to the palace and opened the doorways once more, the struggle resumed as intense as ever when the FTR750 flat tracker began beating Harley’s legendary XR750. Repeatedly.
In the event you put your thoughts (and cash) to it, this 2022 Indian Challenger bagger is proof you’ll be able to flip something right into a race bike for those who actually need to.
Naturally, the rivalry continued over to the asphalt because the King of the Baggers class – initially slated to be a one-off race at Laguna Seca – grew to become such successful that MotoAmerica tapped it to develop into a part of choose rounds on the calendar. With that, the sport was on. Harley struck first, profitable the 2021 championship with Kyle Wyman aboard the Screaming Eagle Manufacturing facility Street Glide. Then, in 2022, Indian struck again, taking the title with Tyler O’Hara aboard the Challenger Bagger.
Spectacular, sure, but it surely’s onerous to fully perceive what goes into these baggers to make them do what they do – therefore why Indian invited Yours Really to come back see the 2022 championship-winning Challenger baggers, and even take one for a spin.
A True American Scorching Rod
Remodeling an Indian Challenger into not solely a race bike, however a championship-winning race bike in a position to struggle – and win – towards the may of Harley-Davidson isn’t any simple job. Indian teamed up with S&S Cycles to construct these bikes, with S&S Head Honcho Jeff Bailey additionally the Chief Engineer of the challenge. By way of the modifications and engineering, these are full-on superbikes. Simply in numerous garments.
King Of The Baggers: Using The Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle Manufacturing facility Street Glide Race Bike
Per the principles, the principle body continues to be inventory. The form of the frame-mounted fairing can also be the identical however is constituted of lighter supplies. The headlights themselves are gone and a vinyl sticker software provides it the looks of getting the inventory lights. And that’s simply the beginning of the place the road will get blurred between inventory and modified.
Race groups are all the time coy when speaking about what’s beneath the hood, and Indian’s intelligent wordplay states that the “core engine” continues to be retained from inventory, however everyone knows there’s nothing inventory about it. For starters, the crankcase essential bearings are locked into place to assist with reliability. There are customized camshafts, 110mm large bore pistons and cylinders, CNC ported heads, and billet handbook lash adjuster rocker arms – and that’s simply what the workforce have been keen to inform us. Aside from the principle bearings being fastened, there’s no phrase on whether or not the crankshaft is inventory, modified, or totally different altogether.
Technically, the swingarm is the inventory piece, but it surely’s been closely braced and strengthened to deal with the added energy and cornering forces being despatched by way of it. In contrast to Harley-Davidson, who CNC machined an all-new swingarm out of billet, you’ll be able to clearly see remnants of the Indian Challenger swingarm nonetheless there, beneath all of the bracing.
Using a intelligent little bit of racecraft, the gasoline tank can also be the inventory piece – technically. But it surely’s been sliced in half down the center, with a bit taken out, and the 2 sides squished again collectively. The gasoline sender has additionally been moved from the appropriate facet of the tank to the left in an effort to make area for the air cleaner, the higher tip of which tucks beneath the tank, and massive 70mm throttle physique protruding the appropriate facet of the engine. For 2023, the air cleaner juts out and ahead from the throttle physique, relieving the area beneath the tank.
In keeping with Indian, the radiator and transmission are additionally leftovers from the inventory Challenger, although there’s no phrase as as to if extra rows have been added to the previous to assist with cooling. There’s additionally a quickshifter on the transmission – one thing conspicuously lacking from the Harley.
S&S stepped in and, with the assistance of chassis tech Kyle Ohnsorg, an achieved racer whose day job is working at Indian, made the bike deal with higher than something this large has the appropriate to. Large adjustable billet machined triple clamps get the entrance wheel positioned prefer it ought to, and swingarm angle is adjusted, too. There’s Öhlins suspension entrance and rear, which additionally serve to boost the bike for extra cornering clearance. Nonetheless, Indian needed to request particular dispensation from MotoAmerica to switch the underside of the body, beneath the radiator, for extra clearance since its riders have been scraping it on the bottom throughout testing.
Different goodies embody a billet entrance axle, modified air induction system (talked about earlier), a 2-into-1 chrome steel exhaust, a billet clutch cowl with the cable pull mechanism relocated from the underside to the highest of the case for extra floor clearance, trick billet rearset foot controls (mounted basically the place the passenger pegs can be on the usual Challenger), the customized handlebar meeting to go well with manufacturing facility riders Jeremy McWilliams and Tyler O’Hara, customized bellypan, a sequence conversion (for extra gearing choices relying on the monitor) and subsequent chain tensioner, rear brake caliper hanger, rear axle meeting, and the adjustable fairing mount.
The race workforce experimented with a number of totally different brake choices from virtually each producer beneath the solar. The 2022 bike we rode wore Brembo Stylema calipers on twin Brembo T-Slot rotors, Spiegler brake strains, and a Galespeed 19×19 grasp cylinder. A Hayes caliper is used within the rear. A collection of wheel producers have been used, too, however the bikes we rode have been sitting on Dymag UP7X cast aluminum wheels measuring 17” x 3.5” in entrance and 17” x 6” within the rear. For this explicit check, which was performed in chilly and windy situations, the wheels wore Dunlop This fall trackday tires. Usually they put on Dunlop slicks. Rounding out the trick bits are a customized seat by Saddlemen, carbon fiber saddlebags, a fiberglass rear fender, and an AIM DL2 sprint show/datalogger.
Using The Beast
There’s nothing that may actually put together you for the expertise of using a bagger that’s been closely modified to not solely race – however to win. It is a world the place 520-something kilos is taken into account mild, the place the sensation of piloting a faculty bus is taken into account regular, and the overwhelming sensation that none of that is proper… is totally good. I used to be assigned the quantity 99 bike, piloted by Jeremy McWilliams – certainly one of my childhood heroes. Having raced every little thing beneath the solar, together with two- and four-stroke MotoGP bikes, McWilliams is almost 60 years previous and nonetheless tearing it up on no matter he’s in a position to get his fingers on, together with manufacturing facility baggers. It was an honor to get a style of his workplace.
Using a motorcycle this large and this uncommon on a racetrack is horrifying and intimidating sufficient as it’s. The chilly and windy situations zapped my confidence much more. With solely quarter-hour with the bike at my disposal, there can be quite a bit to perform in a brief period of time.
The largest adjustment was merely accounting for the way massive the Challenger actually is. In a world the place sportbikes try to be as small and slim as attainable, sitting on the Indian and searching on the tank, bars, and large entrance fairing in entrance of me introduced me again to grade college, the place I’d sit at enormous desks massive sufficient to suit all my third grade arts and crafts proper on high. It made no sense, and but it made good sense. The attain to the bars is farther away than I bear in mind on the Harley bagger I rode a yr prior, exacerbating that feeling of largeness.
Concurrently, whereas adjusting to the dimensions of the bike is acclimating to the facility. Or, extra particularly, the torque. Certain these bikes are making energy (I wasn’t advised straight, however the estimation is round 150 hp), however large V-Twins are all about torque. The Challenger Bagger scoots together with an urgency you don’t count on from one thing this large, however years of sportbike using engrained the behavior of revving an engine as excessive because it’ll go earlier than altering gears. To Indian’s credit score, the slick-shifting transmission is blissful to do it as its quickshifter makes rowing up by way of the gears very easy – regardless of me taking a full lap to regulate to the tiny shifter McWilliams prefers on his bike (downshifts are nonetheless completed with the clutch).
However using it this fashion has two downsides. First, this engine is pressured sufficient as it’s. When these two enormous jugs get spinning near redline, the vibrations arising by way of the bars is one thing fierce. Sufficient to make my imaginative and prescient blurry. Second, revving that top doesn’t allow you to reap the benefits of all of the torque at your disposal. As I let the bike keep a gear excessive, I rapidly realized I wasn’t within the mistaken gear in spite of everything. There’s loads of torque to tug me alongside, even when the auditory cues of a motorcycle loping alongside aren’t what I’m used to on a racetrack.
After two laps to wrap my head across the dimension and energy, and to offer the tires time to heat up, I began to really feel extra snug pushing just a little extra. That is when one other shock hit me: the bike was extremely simple to show. In actual fact, it initiates a flip and modifications course faster than something this large has a proper to. Moving into I anticipated a giant, burly motorbike. The Indian’s nimbleness is spectacular – and never only for one thing so large. It’s merely spectacular.
If there’s a chink within the armor, it’s the bolted body development between the principle body and the subframe. None of that is allowed to be modified, and in contrast to the strong one-piece body development of the Harley, with the Indian, you’ll be able to really feel the chassis twisting when you get transferring at a critical tempo and mix lateral cornering forces with big V-Twin torque. It’s an eye-opening expertise the primary time you encounter it since you suppose one thing is mistaken, like a tire that’s nonetheless chilly. I might have fallen for that entice if chassis tech and racer Kyle Ohnsorg hadn’t warned me about it earlier within the day.
As soon as I used to be pretty assured the tires had some temperature in them, I might anticipate the flexing within the body, and although I used to be by no means absolutely snug with it, I might alter my using to mitigate its results. In fact, that is simple to say for somebody with no intentions of racing certainly one of these items. It actually highlights how heroic (or silly) McWilliams, O’Hara, and actually anybody who races a bagger is, that they’ll push these items to some mightily lap instances.
Brakes can get missed as a pivotal piece to the racebike puzzle – till you really want them. Clearly, with this a lot mass to gradual, solely the very best brakes will do, and lap after lap I might get the Indian slowed with no reservations or worries. The braking really feel was agency, suggestions was crisp, and there wasn’t a touch of fade to be discovered. As soon as once more, spectacular is the very best phrase that involves thoughts.
Kudos to the Champ
As my transient time with the Indian Challenger bagger got here to an finish, I laughed at myself for being so intimidated by it. Sure it’s large and burly, but it surely rides like an absolute sweetheart. The V-Twin thrust is ridiculous, and the nimble dealing with simply shouldn’t be attainable. In fact, this comes after using the bike at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, which doesn’t have a lot when it comes to lengthy straights. Substitute Chuckwalla with Daytona and my thoughts is as soon as once more boggled at what these bikes – and their pilots! – are in a position to do.
As one of many few very fortunate individuals who have had the privilege of having the ability to journey each the Harley and Indian baggers, drawing comparisons is just pure. With solely a short while on every (though each in chilly situations, paradoxically sufficient), it’s onerous to drill down micro variations. On a macro degree, nevertheless, it felt to me just like the Harley had the extra steady chassis due to its strong development, and fired out of corners higher. To the Indian’s credit score, it wins on preliminary turn-in, top-end velocity, and has a greater transmission. Contemplating each O’Hara and McWilliams have had the very best seats in the home in the case of analyzing their competitors, they each echoed the identical sentiments when evaluating their bike towards their rival’s.
When the bagger collection was first introduced, critics have been all over the place. Hell, I used to be certainly one of them. A couple of years in and a number of other races later, I can say I’m a convert. The equipment is tremendous trick, the riders are tremendous human, and better of all, the racing is definitely actually good. It simply goes to indicate that for those who attempt onerous sufficient, you’ll be able to race just about something.
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