How RSD Built an Indian Chief Road Racer

Discussion in 'Indian Chief' started by Baldhead_J, Jul 24, 2021.

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    Baldhead_J Gold Member
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    How RSD Built an Indian Chief Road Racer
    The cruiser turned high performance racebike that’s already secured a win.

    By Andrew Cherney
    July 23, 2021
    Roland Sands Design takes another checkered flag with the RSD x Indian Chief Road Racer build. It won the Big Twin GP race at last month’s BRL.Justin George/Indian Motorcycle
    By now we’re all familiar with the kind of magical creations Roland Sands can conjure up for the custom bike world. To say the man and his team are prolific is an understatement; their builds number well over a dozen just in the last two years alone, and count everything from ebikes to baggers to adventure machines. It seems like there’s no style the design savant hasn’t taken on, cranking up both ground-up originals as well as creations based on existing platforms that honor the original while taking them in a whole new (and usually wildly unexpected) direction.

    Two of the most emphatic cases in point are last year’s Roland Sands Design(RSD) x BMW R 18 Dragster and the RSD Indian Challenger racebike, the latter built for the King of the Baggers race series. And recently RSD has taken another crack at transforming a motorcycle not exactly thought of as track-worthy into a true-blue roadracer; cue the 2022 Indian Chief, now reimagined as the Chief Road Racer.

    The racebike uses an Indian Chief Dark Horse as the foundation, but strips it down big-time.Joe Hitzelberger/RSD
    You may not have thought, “Hey, the Indian Chief, what a great platform for a roadracer”—but then, you’re not Roland Sands. In case you also didn’t know, Sands’ bikes aren’t just show queens either, and the Chief Road Racer was a winner right out of the gate at the Bagger Racing League’s inaugural V-twin only event last month in Utah. RSD entered the Chief in the hotly contested Big Twin class, a group of mostly Dynas and Softails (the class allows any large-displacement V-twin) that also happened to sport the largest grid of the weekend. To strafe the apexes, they recruited fast guy and moto scribe Rennie Scaysbrook who handily took the win in the Big Twin GP aboard that Chief, saying, “The bike is such a weapon. It was a great thing to ride at Utah.”

    Related: The Birth of Bagger Racing League


    Thunderstroke 116 engine gets Stage 1 and Stage 2 mods, with Lloyd’z Garage ECU tuning to make it all work harmoniously.Joe Hitzelberger/RSD
    But how’d they turn a sleepy cruiser into a legitimate rocket ship at the track? As with the previous projects, like the BMW R 18 Dragster, crazy levels of re-engineering and bags of creativity were needed to transform the track-averse production big twin into a racer.

    First up was getting the foundation right. RSD started with the Dark Horse version of the Chief, which uses an all-steel chassis and the 116ci air-cooled motor with a claimed 120 pound-feet of torque. So the power’s there and it rocks off the bottom, but what about the weight penalty? As you’d guess, it’s a hefty 672 pounds (ready to ride, as measured on the Motorcycle Cruiser scale), which is definitely not a promising spec for a racing machine.

    S&S Challenger rearsets and Healtech quickshifter were added, and a custom stainless exhaust helped cut weight further. Carbon fiber bellypan is from Saddlemen.Joe Hitzelberger/RSD
    So the crew at RSD dove deeply into time-honored methods of cutting weight at all cost. Even though there’s not much bodywork on the bike in stock form, most of the Chief’s street parts were stripped off anyway, with bulky items like the saddle and clunky exhaust system heading straight for the recycling bin. The first additions were a longer FTR1200 fork and some spare S&S triple clamps with a standard forward offset, which also happened to align nicely with an FTR-spec front wheel.

    Out back, 15-inch-long Fox Racing RAD (Racing Application Development) shocks gave the bike that extra ground clearance and helped sharpen up the chassis for better handling at the track. RSD risers and a gauge mount with RSD custom chromoly bars helped get the cockpit ergonomics dialed, while S&S rearsets from the King of the Baggers Challenger bike were mocked up to figure out foot control locations. A mocked-up Saddlemen tailsection helped the crew also position the custom adjustable subframe and tailsection mounting, while also allowing them to calculate lean angle. In turn, all those steps made room for a full RSD custom stainless steel 2-into-1 exhaust with SC-Project muffler for better breathing while also removing a bunch more weight.

    Custom seat and tailsection from Saddlemen strip weight and ensure the pilot’s ergonomics are spot-on.Indian Motorcycle
    Next the team fitted lighter 17-inch RSD wheels with big Brembo radial calipers and Z04 brake pads, and T-slot Superbike rotors with racing master cylinders. And of course there was the necessary massaging of the Thunderstroke 116 engine, with Indian production Stage 1 intake and Stage 2 engine kits (these include oversized throttle body, injectors, and new cams) swapped in. Where the stock Thunderstroke mill pumps out a claimed 79 hp and 120 pound-feet of torque, the Stage 2 kit and mapping ups the power to a more commanding 90 hp and 130 pound-feet. Additional Lloyd’z Garage ECU tuning would optimize the power gains while also maintaining reliability with the new add-ons from Sands and company.

    Rennie Scaysbrook showing Chief Racer’s impressive lean angle.Indian Motorcycle
    Sands also swapped in a chain drive conversion with an S&S Challenger countershaft sprocket and a 530 rear sprocket from Superlite. With the change from belt to chain drive however, Sands said gearing choice would prove to be a tough calculation, and further complicated by the new Dunlop race slicks’ diameters and the added variable of the engine upgrades. Clearly they figured it out though.

    RSD chalked up a first place finish for its freshly built racebike on its first outing.Indian Motorcycle
    With the whole process now in the rear view, did Sands have any words of big twin racebike design advice for aspiring builders? In the end, he says, it comes down to the rider. “Number one is always to make your rider comfortable. [Give them] ground clearance so they have the confidence to ‘chuck it in’ to a corner….Ergonomics need to be on-point so body position and controls are right…is key.”

    The takeaway, it seems, is that forward controls are definitely not the way to go.

    For more information on the upcoming bagger racing events, visit and

    As an aside, this is not the only Indian Chief RSD has built for the track—or at least in tribute to the track. Check out the versions of this RSD Indian Track Chief from 2014. (Technically, the donor bike was an Indian Chieftain.)
    4thunder, muz and Bobby Jesus like this.

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