Roland Sands Talks Road Atlanta Baggers

Frankie Garcia rode the Roland Sands Design Indian Challenger to third place in the opening round of the 2021 Mission King Of The Baggers Series at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

The following is from Roland Sands Design…

There’s something special about Atlanta that’s not so easy to put into words. Perhaps it’s the laid-back atmosphere of the south, smashed together with the hype and energy of a city like Atlanta, which beats like a pumping heart in the middle of the state. One thing we know for sure is that one hour north of the bustling city lies one hell of a road race track, Road Atlanta, the site of the first round of the 2021 MotoAmerica season and the kick off of the first baggers road racing championship, the Mission King Of The Baggers.

For machines that normally travel cross country, packed with all that’s needed for a few days on the road with your significant other, the transformation of these machines is nothing short of a motorcycle miracle. If you’re getting your first look at Mission King Of The Baggers, your initial response might be, why? And that is a correct response. Why? And the correct answer for those that race them… because we can.

It’s a scenario where something is so wrong it becomes right just by way of doing it as well as you possibly can. Professional level riders on 600 plus pound cruisers jacked up to the moon, 17” wheels with sticky Dunlop Q4 tires front and back, massive road racing brakes and upside-down forks with tweaked geometry, rear sets or mid controls, carbon bodywork and bags and for most, the lack of a stereo. With a current weight limit of 635 lbs. dry, the bikes are a challenge to keep from dragging on the ground even with massive modifications. The frames are stock and the motors retain the stock cases and the majority of stock internals.

This makes for a wide bike in the case of both the Indian Challenger and the Big CC Harley Baggers which both have massive primaries and frames more suited to going straight than banging off the rev limiter at 100mph at 50 degrees of lean angle. But the secret is in the little things and with Bagger racing, every little change gets the machine closer to road race-ready and there are a thousand little changes.

The RSD team had some challenges leading up to the race and track time before Atlanta was extremely limited. That coupled with rider Frankie Garcia’s unfamiliarity with the race track made for a frantic beginning to the weekend. Friday was off to a quick start with Frankie up into the top three contenders in timed practice.

With only one session Friday it was a matter of getting done what we could do. After last year’s race at Laguna Seca the rules for the class were modified with a minimum 635 lb weight limit. Our bike was 580 at Laguna, so with 50lbs bolted onto the bike, we began the chase of trying to figure out how to keep the exhaust and belly pan off the asphalt. For Saturday morning and qualifying, we raised the bike significantly and increased stiffness in the chassis.

As Frankie’s pace increased, the bike drug more, we raised the bike, he got comfortable, and then the bike drug more. It went on like this through the day with Frankie ending qualifying 4th behind three pro racers, Tyler O’Hara who was also racing American Flat Track later in the evening, young super bike rider Kyle Wyman and the vet Michael Barnes. Noticeably absent was the Vance and Hines Machine of Hayden Gillim who would have to start on the last spot on the grid.

With a few modifications and a tweaked belly pan, we managed to squeeze a bit more lean angle out of the bike for the race and breezed through morning practice Sunday. With live TV starting at 12:30pm ET on Fox Sports the race happened in a flash. As the riders queued up and left for their warm-up lap Michael Barns who’d been on pace to hang with the leaders had a heart-breaking moment blowing the chain off during his practice start. With the increased ride height and radical swing arm angles, with swingarm pivots that are not designed for the duress of a road course, the bike chains endure significant stress, as Barney learned the hard way. He would watch the race from the pit lane.

Both Frankie on the Indian Challenger and Kyle Wyman got great starts with Kyle leading into the first corner on his Harley Road Glide, Tyler’s start was jumpy and he trailed Frankie on the second Indian Challenger into one passing him mid-corner. Hayden Gillim, on the Harley Street Glide, made his way from the back of the grid into fourth behind Frankie on the Indian Challenger. With a total of eight laps, there wasn’t much conservation happening and the duo in front stretched out a lead with Tyler chasing but never more than a second behind. The dice at the front was breathtaking as Tyler on the Indian Challenger utilized the draft down Road Atlanta’s massive back straight to keep 131 inches of snarling Harley in his sights.

After 5 or so laps Tyler would take advantage of the Indians superior handling to make his move into the last corner on the brakes in an exhilarating pass, bag to bag with Kyle. Kyle would regain the lead stretching the rods on the Harley as the duo crossed the start-finish in extra wide fashion as only two fully-faired, road-going cruisers at 120mph can do. Tyler would answer back on the back straight with one lap to go, 147 mph of Indian and Harley fury splitting the wind and creating a sucking air pocket that changed the weather pattern across the lower southern hemisphere and pulled Tyler into the lead as he again utilized his braking skills and the cornering ability of the Indian Challenger to slot into the lead. The final lap would have Tyler maintaining his short lead across the line with the CEO of Harley watching on the podium big screen and shedding a tear into a warm mug of Leinenkugel.

Frankie had his own battle with the hungry and ultra-talented Hayden Gillim in the chase for the entire race. Another epic Indian vs. Harley battle, Frankie found his way to a sizeable gap between himself holding onto 3rd place for the majority of the race. But Gillim wasn’t giving up that easy. On the last lap, Frankie stumbled going into Atlanta’s famous S turns and Gillim found his way by taking advantage of the mistake. Fortunately for Frankie, his drive leading out of turn 7 onto the long back straight, set him up perfectly for a massive sucking draft as the Indian blew by the HD of Hayden on the brakes in the chicane before the Fox bridge. Frankie would hold off Gillim to flag taking third by only tenths of a second.

Eric Stahl of Jiffy Tune racing finished in 5th on his Harley Road Glide and John Seuberling of Mad Monkey Motorsports on his HD street glide would round out the top 6 riders.   A big shout out to Eric who made his way out from California in his dually on a bike he bought recently and converted himself to a road racer with the Help of Kevin Alsop of Big Bear Choppers. John was on the most stock bike of the bunch and may have had the biggest smile outside of Tyler O’Hara after the race. All in all, lots of stoke from everyone involved. Baggers are a hell of a lot of work to keep going for a weekend of racing, but they sure make the beer taste good after the day’s over! Congrats to all the riders who participated and we’ll see everyone at Road America.

A very special thank you to the whole S&S crew of Jeff Bailey, Dallas Seevers, Nevin Hillegass, Dean Young, John Fox and Jonathan Sutton. They were there primarily for Tyler O’hara but helped us with anything we needed all weekend like we under the same tent. Wouldn’t have had the results we did without their unwavering support and knowledge, especially in regards to electronics and data. True professionals with so much knowledge. We borrowed quite a few parts off their truck too. Rad having these guys in our corner. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if that changes at all when Frankie is out front. Haha!

Huge props to Mike Jaynes from AIM for getting us a MxM datalogger (AiM MXm (aim-sportline.com))dash and wiring support. Sent everything straight to hotel and got it mounted with help from Nevin at S&S. Along with seeing RPM, shift light and GPS speed, the lap time overlay function really helped Frankie see where he was making and loosing time on the track so he could improve. Road racing is so precise and data is so important to know what is going on with bike and rider. This dash gave us everything we needed to round out our electronics package, which is all new to use by the way. Roland and I talked while I was driving through Texas and came up with a dash mount idea. He had Aaron Boss back at the shop fabricate it then Roland brought it with him on the plane. Everything came together on Friday before we hit the track for the first time. Teamwork makes the dream work!

Big cheers also to MotoAmerica’s new Technical Director Tige Daane for taking it easy on all of us squirrely Baggers teams. We have all had our hands full just trying to get these big rigs ready for round one. We all worked out a lot of critical safety things in Atlanta pre-race and he was pure class being reasonable and helping us get the bike passed thru tech. Honestly most teams had no time to read thru the whole rule book with a magnifying glass so, Tige was instrumental in pointing out the most important safety and potential DQ items addressed so we could all get on track. We had to add a windscreen (pulled a stock one off Frankie’s daily rider Challenger and used plenty of zip ties to secure it), mounted a “rain light” (tail light in case of rain) to the tail section, off of one of our Super 73 electric bicycle pit bikes. And about half a mile of safety wire.

Fuzzy and Corey from GP Suspension (Motorcycle Suspension | GP Suspension USA) for help with the tuning our front forks and their chassis handling and racecraft knowledge they were able to pass on to crew chief and rider alike. These guys have been around it all for a long time and are always on board with the weird stuff we decide to do. Appreciate their opinions and more than anything, there support of the whole bagger racing movement. Means a lot to have legit, core roadrace guys involved with top Superbike teams, supporting this rowdy class.

Mike Buckley from Dunlop tires for always keeping us hooked up on the best rubber.

It’s so refreshing to see and hear all of the excitement and positive energy from other teams, competitors, mechanics, riders and fans alike was so supportive of this whole thing.

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