S&S Cycle has a knack for making motorcycles go fast. Its been their mantra since 1958 when the company was founded.

So when Drag Specialties Rob Buydos hit S&S up with the crazy idea to “take the performance bagger concept to the next level and put them on a road race course,” S&S Cycle was unflinchingly all-in. The R&D team in Viola, Wisconsin, is always up for a challenge and setting up a bagger to race around fabled Laguna Seca Raceway is indeed a challenge. From stunt riding to turbo boosting, pushing the bagger performance envelope has been gaining momentum the last few years so maybe something as audacious as road racing is the platform’s next evolution.

“With no time (the race was originally scheduled for July) and no budget we started looking around at bikes we had in the shop. Most of our fleet were allocated to R&D projects or shows and buying a freshie was just not in the cards for this one. That's about the time our Indian Challenger demo arrived, the clouds parted and angels sang,” stated David Zemla, S&S Cycle’s VP of Marketing.

Indian’s new bagger with the frame-mounted fairing has been receiving rave reviews since it’s introduction last year, in particular its new PowerPlus engine, handling, and brakes. In his Indian Challenger review, our own Patrick Garvin was impressed how quickly the engine revs and how linear the power is distributed throughout the rev range. In regards to its chassis, Pat wrote “Some of the corner entry speed I carried was the same type of speeds I would carry on my Dyna.” If you’ve ever seen Pat charge a corner on his FXDX, that’s saying something.

Anybody who’s familiar with Laguna Seca knows it’s a technical track with plenty of tight turns, including the blind uphill corner leading to the world-famous Corkscrew. And while the Indian Challenger has the DNA of a solid street bagger, in order to make it competitive on the track, S&S tore the bike down to a naked engine and began dabbling in its performance magic.

“We anticipate braking and cornering as deciding factors in this race,” said Zemla.

For the front S&S swapped out the Challenger’s fork for an Indian FTR1200 front end and re-valved the already capable stock Fox shock anchoring the rear. A set of billet race wheels and up-spec Brembo binders further addressed the braking and cornering equation.

“If you've looked closely at the Challenger, you may have noticed the non-traditional (for a touring bike) chassis. Cast aluminum front and rear segments that utilize the engine as a stressed member, a clever design that provides a solid foundation for a racing machine,” added Zemla.

Given its reputation, you just knew S&S had a few tricks up its sleeve for the powertrain.

“The motor dyno’d well, but we’re S&S, so it got a set of cams and some super-secret port work to put the power in the rpm range we need the bike to live at.”

The King of the Baggers experiment has given S&S an opportunity to advance R&D on parts for the Indian Challenger. This clutch cover was machined from a solid chunk of aluminum. 

S&S Cycle made a full stainless stepped exhaust for its race bagger and converted the stock belt final drive to chain. You’re won't get very far on Laguna Seca scraping floorboards so the forward foot controls got replaced by a set of custom rearsets. S&S also fabbed up a sweet one-off aluminum fuel cell and machined a clutch cover out of a solid block of aluminum. Toss in a hand-formed seat and the project is really taking shape. By the time race day rolls around in October, S&S Cycle is hoping to achieve its goal of shaving about 200 pounds off its Indian Challenger and to have it in fighting shape. And it’s going to need to be in tip-top fighting shape because S&S’s Challenger will be duking it out with 13 Harley-Davidsons as the only Indian motorcycle on the King of the Baggers grid!

Knowing competition levels are high in a field stacked against them, having a skilled rider will be paramount when the green flag drops at Laguna. Piloting the S&S Cycle Indian Challenger will be industry veteran Tyler O’Hara who brings titles in motocross, supermoto, and flat track to the table. Probably the most poignant bullet point on his extensive resume in terms of racing baggers is his tenure in the XR1200 series because the Harley XR1200 is a V-Twin that’s heavier than a standard race bike, much like what he'll be encountering at Laguna.

“Just like the rest of the racing community and motorcycle industry, we cannot wait to see 14 baggers ripping around Laguna Seca,” said Gary Gray, Vice President – Racing, Technology and Service for Indian Motorcycle, in company PR. “That said, we’re extremely proud to be the lone Indian Motorcycle in the field, partnering with our friends, the elite innovators at S&S.”

The S&S Cycle R&D team isn’t done yet. They’ve also whipped up rapid prototype triple trees and are pushing hard to have the bike ready to test in August.

“Stay tuned for the next episode of Challenger Challenges the Chicanes,” Zemla concluded.

Bagger racing, it's the next big thing! 

Originally scheduled for July, Drag Specialties King of the Bagger invitational at Laguna Seca Raceway is now set for October 23-25, as part of Geico MotoAmerica’s Superbike Speedfest at Monterey.