Originally published in American Rider‘s May 2022 issue.
Mind blown. After spinning a few laps aboard Kyle Wyman’s Screamin’ Eagle Road Glide, I had difficulty processing what I had just experienced. Hustling this bagger around a racetrack was difficult to put into context. A machine this big shouldn’t perform this competently.
“It’s like having sex with a BBW porn star,” I stammered when I pulled into pitlane, a comment that made H-D reps blush uncomfortably.
To be clear, I was floored by the competence of the big girl I had just danced with. The championship-winning Road Glide had moves and capabilities that shocked and delighted me.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised. After all, this is the Road Glide that was ridden to the 2021 King Of The Baggers championship by racer Kyle Wyman, and its top speed is north of 160 mph. My laps aboard it at Arizona’s Inde Motorsports Ranch were the last time it had its throttle twisted in anger before being shipped off to the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee.
What started out as a lark with a one-off race at Laguna Seca in 2020, the King Of The Baggers has turned into the hottest roadracing series in America. The audacity and unpredictability of racing American V-Twin baggers around a Grand Prix-level racetrack garnered massive online traffic.
MotoAmerica, the series promoter, added a three-race KOTB series to its 2021 schedule of Superbike racing. Indian’s liquid-cooled Challenger looked to be the bike to beat – racer Tyler O’Hara surged to victory at Laguna ahead of Harley-mounted Hayden Gillim and the Challenger of Frankie Garcia.
Finishing in second place didn’t sit well with the MoCo, so in January 2021 it assembled an in-house program to develop a bagger racebike. When the chance to work for the race team was offered to key personnel, “Everyone raised their hands,” recalled Jason Kehl, currently Engineering Manager for H-D and formerly manager of the Screamin’ Eagle division.
Kehl added race team manager to his work portfolio, while Bjorn Christensen took on the role of crew chief, adding to his main job as Engineering Systems Manager for the MoCo. It was a passion project for all the H-D crew, who worked extra hours and weekends to support the racing program. Superbike racer Kyle Wyman was hired to pilot the factory-prepped Road Glide.
Wyman’s Road Glide
The key element of any motorcycle is its chassis, and the KOTB rules require stock frames without extra bracing. Most everything else isn’t limited, so to beef up the chassis, H-D created a strong and gorgeous swingarm from a 400-lb brick of aluminum. After meticulous CNC machining, the finished product weighs just 18 lbs. H-D says Wyman’s bike has rake, trail, and wheelbase numbers that are similar to the stock specs.
Kehl didn’t need to look far to find a powerful and reliable engine. He simply plucked a 131 Milwaukee-Eight (2,146cc) crate engine from the Screamin’ Eagle catalog, a $6,500 item that cranks out 131 lb-ft of torque and 122 hp at the rear wheel.
Aftermarket pistons, cams, and injectors combine with ported heads to produce “more than 150 rear-wheel horsepower,” Harley coyly states, along with 150 lb-ft of torque. The 131’s rev limit of 6,000 rpm has been stretched on the racebike to as much as 6,800 rpm.
The dominating characteristic of Harley’s factory racebike is its immense height, a configuration necessary to increase lean angle from the stock 32 degrees all the way up to the acute 55 degrees that Wyman is able to lean the bike over. A seat at least a foot tall elevates the rider and allows the foot controls to be raised to increase cornering clearance and mimic a sportbike’s ergonomic triangle.
Öhlins supplies top-shelf suspension: a 52mm FGR 250 Superbike fork up front and fully adjustable shocks based on the Öhlins dampers in the Screamin’ Eagle catalog. Lightweight Coremoto forged wheels enhance steering and handling, while a triple-disc Brembo setup supplies stout braking.
In the season-opening race at Road Atlanta, Wyman grabbed the holeshot and led the early laps, but O’Hara battled hard and took the win by less than a second.
Meanwhile, H-D hired Kyle’s brother, Travis, as a teammate. The Wyman family has a rich history with the MoCo, as Harv’s Harley-Davidson was founded by their grandparents in 1962, and both brothers worked at the upstate New York dealership now owned by their mom, Kim.
The Wymans threw down the gauntlet in June during the next race at Road America, where the brothers scored an impressive 1-2 finish. Unfortunately, Kyle suffered a badly broken arm in his Superbike race, putting his championship aspirations in doubt. But Kyle quickly rehabbed and led every lap in July’s KOTB season finale at Laguna Seca, finishing more than 4 seconds ahead of O’Hara’s Indian Challenger and earning the championship title.
The KOTB series generated more than 19 million impressions on social media, according to MotoAmerica, attracting more than 1.1 million views and 43,000 total hours of viewing time on YouTube.
“KOTB almost doubled our attendance at the races,” commented Paul Carruthers, MotoAmerica’s Communications Manager. “It really enhanced our series.”
Wyman’s Road Glide is an imposing beast. Scaling in near the class’ 635-lb minimum weight limit, it’s a heavy machine for a roadracer but more than 200 lbs lighter than a stock RG. Even more intimidating is its lofty seat height (nearly 37 inches!) that made it impossible to for me to touch the ground without sitting off the side of the ridiculously thick saddle. Rather than risk toppling over this irreplaceable piece of H-D history, I swallowed my pride and let the pit crew hold me upright before engaging 1st gear and pulling onto the track.
A twist of the throttle elicited an immediate grin inside my helmet as the hopped-up 131R yanked my arms even from low revs. Harley engineers say there is more than 120 lb-ft of twist available at any point on the tachometer, so it has a bottomless well of power with strong grunt stretching throughout its powerband. Throttle response was very predictable, as the team uses the same electronic throttle as the streetbike.
The Inde racetrack is a technically challenging layout, with a variety of corners and entertaining elevation changes. Only 2nd gear is needed from Turn 4 all the way around to the longest straight following Turn 2, where the RG romped to about 130 mph in 4th gear while pounding out a tremendous cacophony of V-Twin thunder.
The Brembos ably scrubbed off speed with excellent modulation and feel. Kyle leans heavily on the bike’s rear brake, much more so than with his superbike, as the long wheelbase mitigates chassis pitching and makes the rear binder more effective.
Compared to a sportbike, Wyman’s Road Glide is a beast, but it was astonishing how well it performed. Steering effort was deliberate but lighter than expected, and the chassis felt composed despite the limitations of the stock frame and its rubber-mounted engine.
The tall riding position places the rider far from the ground, and it was odd to be scything at racetrack speeds and not touching down a knee in the corners. Wyman uses extra-thick knee pucks to reach the ground, and he says one set lasts an entire season!
Perhaps the factory RG’s most obvious deficiency for consistent racetrack performance is its gearbox. There is no quickshifter, so it’s up to the rider to purposefully toggle through the gears at a measured pace. I wasn’t the only test rider at the track who botched a shift or two.
As I pulled into the pits after my two brief sessions, I felt amazed, thrilled, and exhausted. No surprise, then, that the BBW comment slipped out of my mouth. I was knackered but desperately wanted another session with the big girl.
The season-opening race at Daytona was disappointing for Harley, as Indian came away with wins in both races of the double-header round. Stay tuned to find out what will happen during the next five races of the KOTB season.
I’m crossing my fingers we’ll get another chance to ride the factory Road Glide after one of the Wymans earns a second consecutive KOTB title in 2022.