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Baggers Are Becoming Better Racebikes

Troy Herfoss took the Race 1 win at COTA. King of the Baggers thrilled the MotoGP crowd—not an easy task with the machinery on hand. (Indian Motorcycle/)

The Baggers are steadily becoming better racebikes. Lap times continue to fall. And therein lies a possible contradiction. Fans love the wild incongruity of the class: “touring” at 170 mph and lapping at truly impressive speeds. They love the rawness of the bikes—no electronics, weaving and wiggling as the men riding them visibly work very hard to keep them gathered up, despite big slides and slip-wiggles.

The contradiction is that the teams are here to prove who is best, and which brand is tops. To achieve that, engineers and crew chiefs must stop bad bike manners from distracting their riders from the task of winning. This offers the possibility that the better these bikes become, and the smoother and faster they are, the less gut-level interest they may generate.

Never mind; that’s not a problem yet. We can see that Indian has a new swingarm, and has narrowed the forward engine hangers to prevent crashes caused by digging their previously wider edges into the pavement. That means the ability to corner at higher lean angles without either: a) disaster, or b) having to jack the bike up so high to reach those angles that the riders need 4-inch lifts in their boots to keep from falling over on the start grid.

CW Editor-in-Chief Mark Hoyer and I recently had a Zoom meeting with Dunlop engineer John Robinson, who revealed that the tires being used in the Baggers class are normal Superbike slicks—not something unique to the application.

There is some cost in making such tires carry bikes whose minimum weight is 620 pounds: Even though the Baggers races are very short (as early AMA Superbike races were) you can see riders tending to run wide in the second halves of these races.

That made it fascinating to watch Troy Herfoss in Race 1 at COTA, getting away from the start in lowly sixth, then moving up as the leaders’ tires began to look weak on their edges, leading to running wide. When Herfoss won, I thought of the tire strategy of Marco Lucchinelli in winning the 500 championship in 1981. He rode moderately, well behind the action at the front. When the leaders’ tires looked nicely toasted, he eased past them all, having conserved his own rubber.

But then in Race 2 Herfoss’s combination just wasn’t fast enough. Kyle Wyman led him at the finish by 0.6 second on Harley-Davidson, laying down a 2:14.890 lap in the process.

Kyle Wyman took the second race at COTA, finishing 0.6 second ahead of the field.

Kyle Wyman took the second race at COTA, finishing 0.6 second ahead of the field. (Harley-Davidson/)

This is exciting; not only is the old Indian-versus-Harley rivalry come alive again, but these two domestic makers are the only factory teams in the series. Makes me remember that in 1978, one of the early AMA Superbike teams was so unhappy with its handling that it tried to blame it on Goodyear. Following its motto “Protect Our Good Name,” Goodyear instrumented a showroom example of the complainant’s chassis with multiple strain gauges, and then, using an on-board data system, was able to make a movie of just how much that chassis was flexing—and exactly where (“We have no further questions, your honor”).

We can date the beginning of generation 2 AMA Superbikes to that revelation, just as we can trace back the now-industry-wide use of mass properties rigs (Erik Buell had two of them) to Honda’s 1984 NSR500 experiment with putting the fuel under the engine. Once someone shows the way forward, everyone can benefit.

But these bikes, in their intended role as tourers, are satisfactory, as their sales indicate. Why add changes based on racing experience, as these companies are doing?

Put a production-based bike into racing and you get a deluge of fresh information. The manufacturers learn lots of new stuff very quickly, things they could learn in no other way. Bravo.

Another point: Baggers at COTA last weekend, during the US MotoGP, jazzed the GP paddock just as seeing AMA dirt-track on the Indianapolis Mile did back in 2009.

#Baggers #Racebikes

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