King Of The Baggers Laguna Seca
MotoAmerica’s King Of The Baggers series keeps the Harley vs. Indian battle alive. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

History doesn’t reside only in the past. It also plays out in modern times. Don’t believe me? I’d bet you have Harley‑­Davidson or Indian apparel in your closet, and you probably didn’t buy it solely because of the competency of the latest bikes from those American brands. 

Devotion to a particular brand typically requires years of exposure to that company’s products. If said company has been around for decades and retains a strong reputation, it’s a shorter step to brand loyalty.

There’s probably no better example of long‑­term brand cultivation than Harley‑­Davidson, which celebrated its 120‑­year legacy of continuous production in Milwaukee in July. The MoCo’s logo is proudly worn around the world on clothes and even inked in skin.  

Related: Pennsylvania Senate Honors Harley-Davidson and Willie G. Davidson

Polaris has been building motorcycles in America for 25 years, first with Victory Motorcycles and since 2015, with Indian Motorcycle. (To put things in perspective, imagine being around in 1928 and thinking the MoCo was too much of an upstart to be considered legitimate.) 

Rubber-Side Down September 2023 History Lives On Laguna Seca
History and the present day intersected at the MotoAmerica paddock at Laguna Seca.

Victory designed and manufactured good motorcycles, but the brand could never compete on an emotional level the way Harley does. The adoption of Indian into the Polaris fold instantly changed the perceptions of motorcycles produced at the same factory in Spirit Lake, Iowa. 

Demand for new Indians – well‑­engineered ones – was immediate, and it didn’t take long for Polaris to realize that its future in motorcycles belonged to the historic marque rather than the brand without a deep history. In 2017, Victory ceased to be.

So now we have Indian back on the scene, leaning on a history that stretches back even further than Harley’s. (Indian might prefer if you forget the 50 or so years that followed the original company’s demise in 1953.)

Although Indian is a pipsqueak compared to the mighty MoCo, it offers a lineup of motorcycles that nearly equals Harley’s. Going toe‑­to‑­toe with an 800‑­lb American gorilla might seem foolhardy, but it figuratively puts the smaller company on equal footing. 

Which brings me to the MotoAmerica King Of The Baggers series and what it means for American motorcycling. Harley and Indian are going at it hammer and tongs in national roadracing competition. They’re fielding outrageously quick and powerful racebikes based on the most popular streetbikes in America, and it’s proving to be more popular than traditional classes of sportbikes. 

Related: King Of The Baggers Championship Finale: Gillim Claims No. 1 Plate, H-D Gets 1-2-3

I’ve been to countless roadraces, and the addition of the King Of The Baggers class has dramatically altered the demographic of spectators. Each attendee at the races surely favors one brand over the other, even if the preference is only slight. Rooting for a team inspires passion. Passion breeds excitement. Excitement inspires sales. 

These are new glory days in spirited competition between American motorcycle companies.

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