The Next Big Thing – Bagger Road Racing!
Did you see the bagger motorcycle road race held at Laguna Seca a while ago? What a hoot!
This was for sure a “gimmick race” dreamed up by a bunch of aftermarket product mavens, and featured a field of lightly modified Harley and Indian “bagger” motorcycles with front fairings and hard saddlebags, and a lot of weight compared to motorcycles ordinarily used for road racing. I think alcohol consumption may have been involved in the planning stages.
I thought it was fabulous, especially because I proposed the idea in an article I wrote that was published (somewhere) about 15 years ago.
Professionals riding 700-pound bikes on a road course – brilliant!
Not everyone agreed. I saw comments ranging from “gimmick” to complaints that such a race takes time away from “real” races. Fair comments, but then…
What is a “real” road race? NASCAR “stock car” racing where all of the cars are custom built and do not resemble anything you will ever buy? Sport car racing where “BOP” (balance of performance) rules allow Mustangs to go head to head with Lamborghinis? World superbikes and Moto GP bikes have very little in common with the sport bike you might own, advertising hype aside.
The best racing I’ve ever witnessed was Trans Am car racing from 1967 to 1972 and Superbike racing in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In both cases the vehicles were at least close to what you could drive or ride, at least in technology. More importantly to me, you could see the drivers/riders at work, and get a very clear idea of the differences between pros and the common folk.
Superbike racers back then had far more power than the technology available in chassis and brake designs. They twisted, they shook, they slid the rear tires and sometimes the front tires, and it was an amazing spectacle – one I gladly spent time and money to see in person, or glued my eyeballs to TV presentations.
What does it take to put on a successful racing series? Money. Great steaming piles of money. Where does the money come from? Sponsors and TV revenue, especially the latter.
Moto GP and Superbike races and Trans Am races (what is left of them) do not get much TV time because the ratings are too low. Why is that? Because the cars and motorcycles are so advanced that on TV it is hard to see how very difficult it is to go fast. Very few humans can operate a Moto GP bike or Superbike to its full capacity, and yet in person it is hard to see the complexity. They look more like the “light cycles” (do I have that right?) in the movie Tron. Trans Am racers the same.
But – with a bagger road racing series you could clearly see the effort required, on TV or (even better) in person.
The one at Laguna Seca had a small field and they were all Harleys and Indians. Good start, but Honda and BMW also sell “baggers.” My Triumph Rocket 3 can be made into a bagger with a fairing and hard bags from Corbin. Yes, you would need some sort of Balance of Performance intrusion here and there. A Harley makes 92 horsepower or so, and the Indian 102, if memory serves – probably more for each with open exhausts, etc. But the Honda and BMW both make appreciably more than that, and the Triumph Rocket 3 has 163 horsepower and 165-foot pounds of torque, with the stock pipes and no tuning, chips, etc.
But imagine seeing a pro “back it in” on a Rocket 3 with a rear tire that looks like it belongs on a paving machine. Would you spend time and money to see that? I would!
Look at sales. Cruisers sell more than sport bikes, by a wide margin, and have for a decade or two. If you were a manufacturer, would it make more sense to sponsor a sport bike race team or a bagger team that is using a bike you sell probably at ten times the rate of your sport bike?
Why do sport bikes sell in such small numbers? I think it is because they are too good. In this era, any sport bike from 600cc up has more performance potential than 95% of the people who buy them. Even if you are one of the golden children who can get all there is out of the machine, there is nowhere on public roads you can let yourself go for it with any degree of safety, not to mention the go to jail now risk. Many large sport bikes can reach 100mph in a few seconds, in second gear – with four more ready to be clicked into place. As a result, many sport bikes are used as track day toys, and they are magnificent for that, but that does severely impact sales.
So, let your mind imagine – a field of 20 to 30 bagger road racers with pro or semi-pro riders, machines from Harley, Indian, Triumph, Honda, BMW, and probably more. No wheelie control (stock bikes do not have that in the bagger class), so the start will be – interesting. Slamming corners will be a challenge with the weight and limited ground clearance, and the width of the bags might make “rubbing is racing” a reality. Riders would probably purposely slide the rear end into corners to facilitate the turn, and they would be crawling all over the machine to place their weight where it would do the most good. The racing would be spectacular, which would make it a good fit for both manufacturers and sponsors, and as it gained in popularity, the “trickle down” effect would allow more races and more entrants for “pure” racers in various classes.
Look at college sport. If you like women’s basketball or fastpitch softball, or wrestling, or soccer, or track, or any one of a number of other sports, the money to operate their programs usually comes from football, which you may or may not care about. I see bagger racing as the possible tide to raise all ships, which is apt as the motorcycles do resemble boats compared to others.
Let’s go further. Add a “doubles” class, with a rider and passenger, and a minimum weight for the two of them in full gear.
There are so many possibilities!
Oddly enough, I got a sneak peek at what this might be like just the other day. Coming back from a ride with six friends, I went to turn on a favorite local twisty road that leads almost to my home. I could see something definitely exotic ahead, and sped up so I could see what it was. As I closed in, I could see the Lamborghini Script on the rear and spotted the air intakes jutting up on the sides. Murcielago. Cool! When the driver noticed my bulk in his rear-view mirror he came out of a corner and nailed it, treating me to the scream of a V-12. I accelerated harder than I normally do, which was thrilling, but not as rapidly he did. Inexplicably, he slowed down very early for the next corner, and not all that hard on the brakes. I don’t know if he was just cautious, or not that good, or wanted to allow me to catch up. A Rocket 3 is very good on the brakes, and I made up all the space and a bit more. We did this dance for several corners, and it was exhilarating. Racing? No, but it was such fun. A pro racer would be much faster than me, of course, and a pro’s cornering speeds would make me look like a turtle, but it would be a show to enjoy for sure.
Here’s the deal. If I want to attend a race in person, I have to drive 80, 110, or 220 miles each way to attend the closest road race tracks to me. I will need a motel room for one or two nights, plus fuel and food, plus the cost of the tickets. Attending a race in person is going to shrivel my wallet and time budget. But for baggers road races, and others on the schedule, I would be there. You?
Copyright 2020 David Preston
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