A Bagger is a slice of pure American folklore; a giant, heavy motorbike designed to lazily gorge on the Big Country’s interstates or cruise alongside its scenic highways.
Comfy seats, cossetting fairings, rumbling V-twin engines and, crucially, baggage strapped to the sides; when you’ve ever dreamed of gliding alongside Route 66, it was doubtless both in an open topped Mustang or in the saddle of a Bagger.
The King of the Baggers takes these cruisers, strips them again and soups them up just a little. Then it locations them collectively on some of America’s most well-known tracks as half of the MotoAmerica skilled race circuit. The result’s a sequence that’s garnering loads of consideration.
Tattoos and cheeseburgers
Frankie Garcia embodies the King of the Baggers spirit. Emerging from a golf cart in the paddock at MotoAmerica’s Road Atlanta assembly, the 29-year-old Californian cuts an unbelievable determine for a aggressive racer.
“When you think of a person that would ride a Bagger, you’re thinking of some guy who’s got a beer belly and tattoos and, like, drinks beer and eats cheeseburgers, and I like that!” he tells CNN from inside his crew’s trailer.
“You know, I’m not entirely an athlete by any means,” he continues, tapping a not insubstantial waist and gesturing out in direction of the paddock, “and you know, some of these guys I race with are.”
One of these athletes is fellow Californian Tyler O’Hara, whose crew is camped reverse Garcia’s. Both males trip equally modified Indian Challengers — 800lb cruisers intently associated to their showroom cousins; however the lean, toned O’Hara has a 16-year skilled profession that features wins in some of America’s most prestigious home race sequence.
O’Hara piloted his Indian to victory in the inaugural King of the Baggers race at the Laguna Seca raceway in October 2020. The racer’s face lights up when requested why he has joined the sequence.
“This is special, I mean there’s nothing quite like it,” he explains. “It’s unique and it’s fun, we’re riding bikes that people can go to a showroom and go buy, and go to S&S [an American motorcycle engine and parts engineer and manufacturer] and buy the race kit, and come out and race the same things that we’re racing.”
Garcia had a budding observe profession of his personal however discovered it laborious to make ends meet on the circuit.
“I just decided to get a regular job and rode and raced in between as much as I could,” explains Garcia, who works as a upkeep technician at an influence plant.
“Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., I’m slaving away,” he tells CNN. “I’ve got a toolbox and we’re putting stuff together and working on turbine engines and generators and pumps and you name it […] I try to ride motorcycles as much as possible on my free time off.”
Bagger racing can, Garcia admits, be daunting. “It’s intimidating. It really is. I mean sport bikes are light, nimble machines.” he explains.
“With these baggers […] if you get into a situation, especially around someone else, or you know, someone crashes in front of you, or someone makes a mistake in front of you, things could go wrong just because you can’t […] these things aren’t nimble, they’re big heavy motorcycles.”
Garcia has nicknamed his Indian, “The Carbon Clydesdale.”
“She’s a big, big, machine, wrapped in carbon bodywork and lightened up a little bit, but she’s still a big girl!” he provides.
A 37-hour drive
Between O’Hara and Garcia’s groups, a gaggle of flannel-clad mechanics circle one other bike, tinkering with its engine and fortunately chatting to curious spectators. Among them is rider Eric Stahl, one other Californian part-time racer.
“So, we’re very fortunate to be out here,” mentioned Stahl, beaming as he describes his crew’s set-up.
“We did a 37-hour trip straight through and got to race Road Atlanta. We’ve never been here before, and we’re just looking forward to having a good time and trying to go up against these factory teams.”
Stahl’s bike is a Harley Davidson Electra Glide, a basic old-school Bagger, stripped again to its bones. It even has a seat clad in duct tape.
“Most of us work in the Harley Davidson industry full-time, so six days a week we build motors and build Harley Davidsons,” he explains.
“90% of the products on this machine you can actually go to the sponsors that I have, on their websites, and purchase them and put them on your motorcycle at home, so there’s nothing here that special that we’re racing, they’re just highly modified.”
A little additional alongside the paddock, nonetheless, is a really totally different operation, the Screamin’ Eagle Performance Harley Davidson manufacturing unit crew.
Word in the paddock is that the venerable producer was sad at its second place in the inaugural race, and this outfit is the outcome: a full manufacturing unit supported crew, with the race-proven expertise of former MotoAmerica superbike racer Kyle Wyman in the saddle.
Harley versus Indian is one of America’s oldest rivalries. Indian was based in 1901 and Harley adopted in 1903, however the older model struggled after World War II and shut down in 1953. Revived in 2011, the smaller upstart has taken nice enjoyment of thumbing its nostril at its larger rival at the King of the Baggers.
Harley, for its half, takes equal pleasure in reminding folks that it has been round for 120 consecutive years.
Harley Davidson’s Chairman and CEO, Jochen Zeitz, was in the paddock at Road Atlanta, underlining how significantly the Milwaukee large is now taking the King of the Baggers.
The firm is even providing a money contingency program, in the area of $30,000, for certified Harley racers competing in the sequence.
“Harley Davidson supports motorcycling, whenever and wherever, any type of person that wants to be involved in motorcycling,” Screamin’ Eagle crew supervisor Jason Kehl tells CNN.
“We can’t have a Bagger race without Screamin’ Eagle Performance from Harley Davidson here out fighting as well.”
Zeitz declined to talk to CNN at the observe.
Definitely not ‘the norm’
King of the Baggers is now half of MotoAmerica, the extremely aggressive sequence that feeds into MotoGP.
Its president, legendary three-time world champion Wayne Rainey, admits he was not sure about letting the Baggers be part of the fray. “Obviously, I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to motorcycle racing and this was definitely not the norm,” he tells CNN.
“But it really turned out to be one of those ‘you can’t tell a book by its cover’ deals. Part of me was concerned that the Baggers would be slow and wouldn’t look right, but that turned out to not be true and that was evident after just a few laps of practice.”
Rainey is hopeful the Baggers could possibly be a gateway to the wider MotoAmerica sequence.
“I think the amount of interest in the King of the Baggers has and will continue to bring more people to the racetrack. For some it’s the oddity of the class and for others it’s a case of them owning a Bagger and wanting to see them go around a racetrack really fast with talented riders on them,” he continues.
‘It simply blew up’
Across Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, the inaugural King of the Baggers occasion garnered 9.6 million video views.
“We know that our first race drew a lot of interest to our series,” Rainey says. “Even though fans weren’t permitted at the debut due to the pandemic. Our TV numbers, social media, highlight videos […] anything we did with the Baggers class just blew up for us. We had huge numbers and it really got the ball rolling.”
When the Baggers lastly took to the observe in Atlanta, the race didn’t disappoint. After a disastrous begin from pole, O’Hara managed to go teammate Garcia and catch Wyman, whose Harley had taken an early lead.
The two gigantic bikes duel for eight laps, with O’Hara lastly edging his Indian forward of Wyman, and Garcia holding on to 3rd. At the podium ceremony there have been beaming smiles throughout.
Kehl is philosophical, saying: “We didn’t get Harley-Davidson on the top step of the podium, but as a fan and as someone who just loves motorcycling, there’s nothing better than to have a race out here today and two top competitors, Tyler O’Hara and Kyle Wyman, out there battling out on two awesome motorcycles.”
Back to the day job
Perhaps the happiest man at Road Atlanta was Garcia.
“I knew it was going to be hard coming to a brand new track, somewhere I’ve never been, riding with a bunch of guys that have been here a ton of times, and you know to be able to put it on the podium is just awesome,” he tells CNN.
There could be no time for the Californian to rejoice, nonetheless.
“I gotta go pack my bag and head out to the airport,” he says. “I gotta go to work tomorrow, so I gotta get home. I land at midnight, I gotta be at work at seven and, you know, we’ll keep on trucking till the next one!”