What It’s Like To Ride Kyle Wyman’s Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle Road Glide Special
Until now, there was a context for every motorcycle I’ve ever ridden or reviewed. Whether it be a from-the-ground-up redesign or an all-new platform, there is a comfortable category where any given bike calls home. Kyle Wyman’s 2021 MotoAmerica King Of The Baggers championship-winning Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle Road Glide Special is not so easily defined. Part bagger, part superbike, and all business, these full-factory race steeds are helping write a whole new chapter in roadracing history books. And I was part of the select group that had a chance to spin a few laps on the reigning King’s machine.
The King Of The Baggers series is the latest venue for American V-twin stalwarts Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle to continue their century-old grudge match, which dates back to the board track and still rages on flat track circuits today. KOTB presents an audacious twist—it’ll be done on highly-modified performance baggers on road racing circuits.In just a couple of years, MotoAmerica’s King Of The Baggers series went from a one-off invitational in 2020, won by Tyler O’Hara aboard an Indian Challenger, to a three-round championship in 2021. The series expands to seven races for the 2022 season. If growth is a measure of success, things are pointed in the right direction.As impressive as superbikes are, building and racing one follows convention, with an ecosystem of suppliers and specialists to whip any race replica into its purest form. Racing baggers at this level is a whole new frontier and making the wrong tool right for the job is something that can’t be ignored.Of course, things happen fast in racing. In January 2021, four short months before the KOTB opening round, The Motor Company gave its blessing to form the Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle Factory Team. There was one condition—eager engineers and mechanics joining the effort would be doing so in addition to their day jobs. The prospect of sleepless nights and untold person-hours didn’t temper enthusiasm as volunteers rushed forward. By March, the team had a machine ready to test. H-D was going roadracing again.The All-American fairytale hit a fever pitch when H-D tapped longtime MotoAmerica Superbike veteran Kyle Wyman to pilot the RGS race bagger. The Wyman clan practically bleeds Harley orange. Kyle spent his formative years racing an XR750 flat tracker, doing time in the AMA Pro Vance & Hines XR1200 series, and his grandfather founded a Harley-Davidson dealership that’s still in the family—Harv’s in Macedon, NY. After the first round, H-D expanded the program with a second bagger piloted by Kyle’s brother Travis.Building anything for competition does follow a proven school of thought. “We found limits in virtually every area,” Kyle says, laughing. “We found limits in braking, lean angle, acceleration, chain-drive conversion management, the transmission—everything you don’t push to its limit on the street. You take what’s most important first, which are things tied to safety, and then start chipping away at it.”By the time I descended upon the 21 ridiculously-technical turns of the Inde Motorsports Ranch 2.75-mile course, those limits were sussed out—the development of a race bike never truly stops Kyle’s battle-hardened prototype bagger has the scrapes and gaffer tape to prove it. At the championship-deciding round at Laguna Seca, Kyle put down a 1:31.983 lap. For reference, the fastest Twins Cup time was 1:31.162, accomplished on proper sportbikes 260 pounds lighter than the baggers ridden by the Wyman brothers.What we were saddling up to ride was seven months of rapid refinement in the flesh. It was also one of the Road Glide Special’s final outings before retiring to the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Nervous laughter ensued on both sides of the table.Dropping weight is the first order of business for any racing machine and particularly important when a street-legal Road Glide Special begins life at a portly 853 pounds. Whatever won’t improve lap times is left on the shop floor, starting with the obvious; lights, horns, ABS, fork covers, infotainment systems, speakers, emissions equipment, and stock exhausts are all parts-bin additions.Now for trick stuff—swapping out bulky steel bodywork for a lightweight carbon-fiber kit, 17-inch forged aluminum Core Moto wheels, and a billet aluminum swingarm that tips the scale at a tidy 18 pounds are just the major highlights.In fact, that swingarm is handling a few different duties, and engineers were quick to point out that it isn’t much stiffer than the tubular-steel unit it replaces. The main objectives were to save weight and clear the engine cases due to the steeper swingarm angle in play. Idler gears guide the chain final-drive along a path that doesn’t result in sawing through hard parts.All told, the team managed to strip and clip these bikes to a wet weight in the mid-640s—a jaw-dropping 200+ pound savings.That’s still quite a bit of heft to push around. Luckily, the air/oil-cooled Screamin’ Eagle Milwaukee-Eight 131ci crate engine is up to the task. We’re told that the internals are mostly stock, save for pistons to accommodate higher compression and an updated fuel injection system. Other bits are evident to any observer, including an unimaginably loud Howitzer-sized exhaust and a slick carbon-fiber intake. According to the team, all that tinkering netted over 150 horsepower and 150 ft-lbs of torque at the rear wheel—120 ft-lbs of which is available a stone’s throw away from idle. Did we mention there isn’t any traction control?As eye-opening as those numbers are, the 131R leans into the renowned tractability of The MoCo’s pushrod engines as you hustle the Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle RGS down the back straight. A slow-revving and tractable 45-degree V-twin nature go a long way in calming nerves, considering it doesn’t spool up with the violence of four-cylinder counterparts. The difference here is that each 1073cc piston throws haymakers as they cycle. However, because they take time to wind up between blows, breaking traction over tricky asphalt sealant or feeling the rear Dunlop slick begin to squirm seems controllable. Refinement hits its peak when you toss in absolutely perfect fueling, and you’ve got a winner.There are no fancy slipper clutches, quickshifters, or auto-blippers here—just a chunky American V-twin gearbox that you cannot be too aggressive with, according to Travis Wyman. Hit the shifter with absolute conviction on the way up and rev-match perfectly on the way down due to massive engine braking; otherwise, things can get exciting quickly. Luckily, the tight circuit layout and long gearing required four shifts total, with most of the track completed in 2nd gear.With the Wyman brothers twisting the grip, the 131R engines spin at an average 6000 rpm—the redline of a standard Screamin’ Eagle 131 Performance Crate Engine. The 131R takes the rev limit near the 7000 mark. All that translates to generating heat, and engineers flexed their creativity once again.A secondary oil cooler is stuffed inside the shark-nose fairing, conveniently leaving the front cylinder exposed to fresh air. The cylinders needed some TLC and boast extended cooling fins on the left side. Now, remember the horn in the parts-bin? Well, as it turns out, the horn directs airflow towards the rear cylinder, and a large scoop, dubbed the Horn Fang, was added to amplify that effect.In a rare case of pictures doing justice, yes, this thing is comically large. The tubular frame is one of the few remaining OEM bits, and despite plenty of fiddling, the Wyman brothers settled on basic geometry similar to a standard Road Glide, with a lengthy 64-inch wheelbase.Climbing aboard the race bagger is a wholly surreal experience—taller than a Pan Am and as wide as a Road Glide, the only solution moving the rider over the handlebar and achieving more front-end feel was to go up. Way up.A saddle the size of a living-room ottoman kicks you over a low handlebar into a sporty position, while that hunk of 3D-printed plastic affixed to the tank is used as a brace when cranked over or braking. Traditional rearsets don’t apply here, so, naturally, the footpegs are mounted directly to the engine case, letting you feel the V-twin rowdiness directly through your boots.Moving hard parts, bags, and the rider out of the way is only one component of the lean-angle conundrum on a bagger. What helps achieve the impressive 55 degrees of cornering clearance are the superbike-level stilts that hoist this pony skyward. An Öhlins FGR 250 fork is slapped on, featuring all the real-deal race stuff like variable fork length, full-adjustability, and beefy dimensions designed to stand up to the rigors of racing.To cope with the sheer mass being shoved around the racetrack, the race bagger uses a range of spring rates that would make a production superbike feel like it has all the suspension of a skateboard. Custom triple trees also use various bushings to adjust fork offset—all part and parcel for thoroughbred race machinery.Öhlins tweaked the Screamin’ Eagle/Öhlins remote reservoir shocks for their purposes, modifying the shim stack and extending their length, aiding in the search for the proper ride height. Oddly enough, suspension travel is only 3.2 inches, only 0.2 inches more than the Road and Street Glide STs.Rolling out of pit lane and into the labyrinthian curves of Inde Motorsports Ranch revealed a machine that was eager to use those sticky Dunlop superbike slicks. Perhaps it was its size downplaying its abilities, but it’s taut, solid, and built for purpose. Still, the RGS Race Bagger tips into curves with enthusiasm and, thanks to its lengthy proportions, stayed composed when the 131R fulfilled its patriotic duty with heaping amounts of power put through the chassis. The only thing that seemed to upset the big beasty was the high center-of-gravity, coupled with a wriggling motojourno rolling around at a snail’s pace. Feedback from each end was as loud and clear as the exhaust itself.Sat atop the lofty perch and with my mitts gripping the wide handlebar, I had all the leverage I needed to tic-tac through tight chicanes and quick transitions. Certainly, lightweight 17-inch forged wheels laced up with aggressively-profiled Dunlop slicks play a crucial role, but to describe this machine’s handling as anything other than impressive is an understatement. The oddest sensation is how far away you are from the pavement, which explains why Kyle and Travis use extra-tall rain knee pucks that have remained fresh throughout the season.Stopping a beast of this size requires serious firepower. For that, Kyle relied on the combined efforts of a Brembo RCS19 master cylinder and four-piston Accossato calipers with 310mm rotors all around. Thanks to the weight bias of a motorcycle this size, the rotors and calipers are the same size all-around. The Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle Road Glide Special doesn’t transfer weight and unload the rear like a traditional sportbike, Kyle explained while outlining the efficacy of the rear brake.We used four-piston Brembo calipers during our shakedown, but it’s a minor difference. Next year, the team will be bumping rotor sizes up to 330mm and using Brembo kit. What matters is how solid the braking is, hauling this raging bull to a halt as you see fit.Lap after lap, things would come into focus incrementally. The 131R’s grunt was beginning to make sense, the chassis wanted more input, the brakes begged to be piled on, the track was becoming clear—and then it was done. Unless you’re gridding up at the next KOTB race, nothing will compare to bending a motorcycle of this size into the corner or relishing in the torque on tap.By now, you may be wondering if this is simply an exercise unobtanium that only a chosen few will experience personally. In the case of the 2021 race bikes, that is a resounding yes. After all, these are prototype machines, so calculating exact costs is a mercurial exercise, at best. Getting bikes on the grid and winning were the lofty goals of the first season. The benefit of their labor is that H-D will be offering all these race-only components on a built-to-order basis through its dealer network, aiding anyone looking to throw a hat in the KOTB ring.The Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle Road Glide Special has unmistakable purity, and, frankly, the same can be said of the greater King Of The Baggers series. The size, the noise, the presence can only be summed up as the rawest and most intense experience I’ve had yet. And that’s where we left it, with Kyle Wyman’s championship-winning bagger set to live out its days on display in Milwaukee.Photography by Brian J. Nelson and Kevin Wing
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This week, in the first segment Editor Don Williams talks to us about the new Kawasaki Versys 650 LT. It’s the middleweight ADV style machine that uses the same 650 parallel twin motor as the Ninja 650, so it’s an excellent performer in a user-friendly, good looking package.
In the second segment, I chat with one of my dearest industry friends—now retired Honda PR executive, Jon Seidel. Jon’s fascinating career spans some 30 years with Big Red, and gave him some great experiences with some incredible machines. I was fortunate enough to be invited on many of the press launches that he organized. His new project is documenting and saving many of the old archives from years gone by—and incidentally, if you have anything that may be of value to the project, please contact us by email at email@example.com and we’ll pass it all on to Jon.
So on that note, from all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!