“I like the idea of racing things that were never meant to be raced.” – Roland Sands
The brainchild of one Mr. Sands, the Super Hooligan National Championship is all about taking bikes that were never meant to be raced, but may have sporty inclinations, and sticking them on a racetrack – highly modified, of course. Ostensibly, this is why the series exists. When you get on the ground level though, it’s a darn good excuse for Roland, Indian, and partner S&S to come up with one hell of an FTR1200 and find an excuse to race it on asphalt. Of course, with this premise in mind, you could also say this was the start of the bagger craze taking over the American road racing scene, too (and it kinda was).
Uncorked and ready for shenanigans, this championship-winning RSD FTR1200 Hooligan bike is one wild ride.
In 2022, Indian not only competed in both the King of the Baggers and Super Hooligans series – it won them both, too. This after facing stiff competition from the likes of Harley-Davidson and KTM in each of the respective series. So, what better way to cap off a great 2022 season than by having some other people try the winning bikes, too? Fresh off the heels of riding the 2022 championship-winning Challenger bagger race bike, Indian also extended the offer to have me throw a leg over the FTR1200 Hooligan bike Tyler O’Hara won the championship with, too. Who was I to say no?
Riding Indian’s 2022 Championship-Winning Challenger Bagger Race Bike
If the thought of Hooligan racing, and especially racing an FTR1200, all sound a little sudden, you might be looking in the wrong place. The beginnings can trace its way back to the dirt. After Polaris brought Indian back from the dead, they quickly went racing, starting with the FTR750 flat tracker Indian and its factory race team, aka “The Wrecking Crew” used to end the legendary domination of Harley’s XR750. In so doing, the FTR750 flat tracker earned its own legendary status that Indian’s riding the wave of to this day.
Enter Roland Sands. The famous builder, and championship-winning racer back in the day, had the idea to take the FTR1200 street bike and essentially turn it into a flat tracker with slick tires and race it on pavement. The result was exactly that. “These first [FTR1200] Hooligan bikes really are just [FTR750] flat trackers with different tires,” said Sands.
As it is in racing, there’s never enough time. Bike prep always takes longer than you think it will, and when you’re converting a bike that was never meant for the track into a bike solely meant for it, the learning curve is steep. Add in the fact that there were only a handful of races on the calendar anyway, and in the name of making it to the first race of the season, for a class he created, Sands and his crew chose the most efficient path possible – copy the flat tracker.
Starting with a standard FTR1200, the main frame and main frame swingarm plates are stock and/or lightly modified. Also remaining are the fuel tank sides, front fender, side shrouds, forks, radiator, swingarm pivots, bearings, and front axle. The swingarm itself is directly lifted from the flat tracker. As for the engine, except for the camshafts, Sands says the internals are all stock.
When it comes to trick bits, it’s easy to see the custom SC Project muffler capping off the custom exhaust, the Pro Taper handlebars, and the IRC autoblipper. You can also spot the Öhlins FTR fork and shock, the latter of which is directly mounted to the swingarm without a linkage. What’s a little harder to spot is the custom RSD aluminum fuel cell that extends under the seat.
Dymag provides the forged wheels, with custom Spiegler brake lines, full floating rotors, Stylema calipers, and Corsa Corta master cylinders all provided by Brembo. Saddlemen has worked closely with the Indian team to provide proper seats for the riders, and the Hooligan bikes are capped off with the class’ signature RSD number plate kit and brackets.
Unlike the Indian bagger race bike, several team members admitted the Hooligan program is still in its infancy. Kyle Ohnsorg, Indian chassis tech by day and 2023 Super Hooligans racer by night (and weekends), confessed that he’s been busy testing different triple trees and other geometry bits, to get the FTR to handle properly. Without much time to process what Kyle had just told me, it was my turn to throw a leg over this Hooligan.
Having spent a session in the morning warming up on a standard FTR1200 Sport, I thought I had an idea of what I was in for with the race bike. In fact, the bagger I’d be riding first put more fear into me than this thing did. Those baggers are huge, heavy beasts that can intimidate anybody. But after a few laps, the Challenger bagger turned out to be a gentle giant. The FTR, as it turns out, proved to be the one I should have been wary of all along.
As I hopped aboard, two things stood out straight away: first, the bike was incredibly narrow. Seeing as how I just rode the bagger, I thought maybe my feeling was distorted. Second, and this definitely wasn’t a distorted view, was that the bars were basically straight and also narrow, with no curve in them whatsoever. It made for an awkward riding position. But if it was good enough for O’Hara…
Thumb the starter and the ferocious V-Twin roared to life with an evil growl. The PowerPlus engine spins faster than the air-cooled Thunderstroke does, which amplifies the angry feeling of the FTR. Click it up into first gear (reverse shift here, folks), and out on track things get… weird.
First the good: the FTR lives up to the Hooligan name in every sense of the word. The engine’s bite matches its bark – it’s raucous and loud, but better still, it downright moves. It’s not mind-bending; more like enthusiastically motivated, which equates to enough power to have a ton of fun without scaring yourself silly. Power is metered to match the amount of twist your wrist is giving it, and the power climbs nicely the more you twist your wrist. Oddly, the way this particular bike was set up, it runs awfully rich on decel.
There’s still fuel being dumped into the chamber when I stop twisting the wrist, which results in not only the crackle and pop of unburnt fuel igniting but also the feeling that the bike has very little engine braking. This could be the result of the throttle butterflies not completely closing on decel or a very liberal slipper clutch (or both). This keeps the bike moving when I expected it to be slowing more. I’m guessing this is just the way O’Hara likes his bike setup. Fortunately, the FTR Hooligan stops as well as it goes thanks to the Brembo braking package. Strong and communicative, the reputation given to Brembo stompers is again on display here. But that’s no surprise, right?
This is where things take a turn, no pun intended. For as much fun as it was to twist the throttle and hear the roar and feel the power, the flat seat made it so I was involuntarily scooting backward. Combine that with the narrow tank and there was nothing for me to latch my lower body onto. I had to carefully manage holding on to the bars without twisting the throttle unintentionally.
To make matters worse, the fuel tank is featureless in terms of finding something – anything – to latch the outside leg or arm onto when turning. Riding the bike through Chuckwalla Valley Raceway’s long, flowing turns meant, again, mostly hanging onto the bars to stay on the bike. Remember the bit about the bars being narrow? This just made it extra challenging to hold on!
Believe it or not, this wasn’t the scariest bit. That honor was reserved for the lack of trail in the front end. Just looking at the bike stationary in the pits it looked like it had little trail, but I chalked that up to being an optical illusion. It turns out my eyes weren’t playing tricks with me after all. A lack of trail makes for a nervous front end, and as the fork is compressed when braking for a corner, the front end’s rake, and subsequently trail, gets even shorter, exacerbating the nervousness. The result was feeling as though the front tire was going to slide out from under me at any minute. As if the front axle was somehow behind the steering stem, trying to kiss the engine. Talk about scary. The cure? Getting on the gas early and spinning the back tire to point you where you want to go.
As it turned out, the bike I was riding was set up exactly how Tyler wanted it during the 2022 season finale at Laguna Seca. Laguna is a flowing track without many point-and-shoot type corners, similar to Chuckwalla, actually. Tyler, being the flat-track guy that he is, wanted a bike that could finish a corner and that he could steer with the rear. This was the result. The fact that he could not only ride this bike – but win on this bike – absolutely boggles my mind. I, for one, don’t have flat-track experience and rely heavily on a confident front end. As my brain was racing and my arms were aching trying to hold on, I parked it after five laps due to my preservation instincts taking over – both for myself and for the motorcycle!
Every Sense Of The Word
By the time you read this, the 2023 FTR1200 Hooligans will have just taken to the high banks at Daytona. With it come some much-needed upgrades the team designed after spending a year with what was essentially a flat-tracker with slicks. Now the factory riders Tyler O’Hara and Jeremy McWilliams have bars with a bend in them, the seat now has a lip in the back to help catch them, and the swingarm is an all-new design to allow the rear axle to move forward or back more, depending on track (the 2022 bike had the axle as far rearward as possible, and that’s where it stayed). You’ll find new triples, too, for more front-end stability. Thank goodness. There’s more hardware hiding underneath, I’m sure, but racers being racers, nobody told me what else was new for the year. They’ll need it, too, as the class has now allowed the Harley-Davidson Pan-America to compete, but with restrictions on power.
Remember Animal from the Muppet Show? I’d never had this thought until getting off the FTR1200 Hooligan racer, but the guttural noise coming from the FTR reminded me of him. After riding the bike, I imagined this is what Animal would be if he were reincarnated into a motorcycle. Everyone’s favorite wild and crazy puppet drummer as kids, every attribute I can give to Animal, I can give to this FTR. It’s rambunctious, it’s small, and boy is it incredibly loud. And for some reason, you can’t help but love it.
Picture of Animal
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