Racing baggers was laughed off as a one-time thing by many motorcycle folks, racers and street riders alike, but it has come a long way in just a few months. What was once a single-race invitational during the MotoAmerica weekend at Laguna Seca last year has evolved into two major national series in 2021. And for good reason, it whips all kinds of arse. Major factory efforts and seriously qualified riders have joined the bagger revolution, including the one and only Patricia Fernandez.
While she got her start riding sport bikes and has never sat in the saddle of a street bagger, she was afforded the opportunity to race a factory-supported Indian Challenger for the Saddlemen team. Saddlemen is an interesting case, because they straddle the brand divide, running a Harley-Davidson for her partner Cory West. Both bikes require different parts and expertise, and everything about racing baggers is still a learning experience.
I got an opportunity to sit down with Patricia over a Zoom call, me in my boring office, her chatting in from her built-out camper van/bike hauler with the gorgeous Bonneville Salt Flats as a backdrop. Everything about this interview was totally rad. She had just come from her inaugural event with the Bagger Racing League, and was on her way to the California Coast to race her Challenger in the third round of MotoAmerica’s King of the Baggers. She’s still new to the baggers, but has tons of talent on more traditional two wheelers. Will it translate?
Bradley Brownell: So first of all, let’s get some background. Who are you, what are you racing, and how did you get into this wild vocation?
Patricia Fernandez: I haven’t been racing quite as long as other pro racers. I didn’t grow up in a racing family or anything. I love motorcycles and my parents told me when I moved out of the house and bought my own was when I could ride a motorcycle. They weren’t super enthusiastic about it. I did that exact thing. April 10, 2010 was my first track day, then I started club racing. The end of 2012 I qualified for the last three pro rounds, and since 2013 I’ve been running in the pro classes. I’ve done all of the AMA/MotoAmerica here, and I’ve raced overseas, too. And now I’m racing a bagger! I’ve been pro for about 9 years. It’s tough because I’m competing against guys like Michael Barnes or Cory West who have been pro for like 21 years.
BB: What is it like to race a bagger bike?
PF: I’ve never ridden a bike that big, I can tell you that much. I’m only 5’3″, I’m not super tall. I’ve never been able to flat-foot anything I’ve raced, aside from a mini dirtbike or something. I’m usually used to being able to get one foot down to balance on the superbikes and stuff. Even the start of the race, these baggers are so tall, I was leaned all the way over, I kinda had to go left to go straight. I was a little scared I wasn’t going to be able to sit on it. The seat height, because the baggers are so wide, we keep having to lift them up to get them to turn. The seat literally came up higher than my belly button.
My bike was the heaviest bike on the grid, six-hundred and thirty-five pounds. They’re like 408 kg stock. There is no way I would ever want to do this on the street! I got invited to go to Sturgis and I think I just want to ride on the back of someone else’s bike, don’t give me one of those on the street! Maybe I’m being a little judgy because I’ve never sat on a stock-height one, but I feel like I need those training wheels that drop down at 8 km per hour or whatever.
[For context, in the MotoAmerica Superbike class, minimum weight is 168 kg. That means Patricia’s freshly-built Indian is 70 per cent heavier than what she is used to riding.]
BB: What is it like to make the transition between Superbikes and Baggers?
PF: “It’s different because the Superbikes weight less, but you go a lot faster. The momentum of trying to switch over one of those bikes in a fast turn can be difficult. Whereas these bikes [the baggers] we’re not going as fast, but they’re much wider and heavier. I’m really sore. I can tell you every single racer that was out there in the Bagger GP, every single one of us was sore and stretching. I was going around asking, thinking maybe it was just me, but we were all like that. It’s kinda hard to train to race a bagger, it’s a little different.”
BB: Clearly the power delivery is pretty different between what you’re racing now and what you’re used to racing. How are you liking the big torque of the American twin?
PF: It’s definitely lots of torque. The nice thing about it is that the wheelbase is really long, and they’re really heavy, so even though it is a lot of low-end torque, it’s actually a little bit harder to high-side them, knock on wood. The bike does wiggle on the throttle, it’s so long and heavy it can stay settled. I don’t want to say a lot harder, because it’ll probably happen, but it’s harder to break it and high side it.
It was definitely a bit of a learning curve because you have to shift really quick. I’m used to the powerband on a superbike revving all the way to seventeen. The first time I rode the Indian the team was like ‘don’t blow it up’ and the first time I got to like 5,000 RPM it was pop popping, I had to shift really quick, and that’s a little different. I do like the low-end torque for getting off turns. Even if you miss-shift and you end up in a higher gear, there’s so much torque it can still help you.
BB: All of this bagger stuff is still in its infancy, so what is it like to be with a brand new team, a brand new bike, developing brand new parts for a brand new series?
PF: I’m running for the Saddlemen team, and this is the first time they’ve ever gone racing. They did the first race at Laguna last year, and their bike didn’t even finish the race, so this is all new. It’s a lot different from going to a sportbike team. If you want to race a sportbike, there are parts out there for everything already, you can kind of just order what you need to build it, there’s data, there’s notes, there’s everything.
What we’re doing right now is prototype and development of everything. The bikes that we’re on are literally prototypes. My bike was built by Michael Woolaway of Woolie’s Workshop, and it’s crazy to me looking at the parts. They’re literally one-off fabricated metal parts, because nobody has ever had anything like this. We don’t have spares, we can’t just order extra sprockets and things. Every time we go out we’re learning and improving.
We don’t have any specs or data. You know, even if I wanted to ask one of the Harley riders for help or shift points, he’s on a different bike with a different transmission, and we’ve never been to this track before on these bikes. We’re learning the bikes, we’re learning the circuit, we’re learning what to do. It’s really cool to be part of something, say in two or three years, the parts we have on our bike now, you can buy. I helped develop that, that’s pretty cool.
It’s honestly a combination of really awesome and really frustrating. I’m the first female to race a bagger, and there were over 50 competitors in the weekend last weekend. It didn’t really matter what happened on track, everyone was just excited to see a girl out there. All the little girls or female riders, even some of the guys, they just thought it was the raddest thing, because it’s so much bike to see me out there riding. That part of being part of something new, and giving people someone to cheer for.
The frustrating part is that I’m a racer. I’m there to win. You want to do the best you can. It’s really hard because I come in from a session and I’m like ‘I want to change gearing or I want to change this’ and it’s so difficult because we don’t have any data or notes to go off of. So every time we go out we’re kind of gambling on changes to setup.
I had to learn that changing tires or chains on these bikes takes a long time. If I was on a sport bike and I had a one-hour qualifying session, I could go out and to 15 minutes, come back in, swap on a new rear tire and be back out in two minutes. You can’t do that on these bikes. It’s quite a process to get the bags off, to get the fairing off. There are certain parts of it that are frustrating, but it’s great that we’re a whole team and we’re all learning together.
BB: Well, the Indian team won at Laguna Seca last year, so perhaps Patricia is looking forward to racing there with previous year data and the like. Yeah, you could say that.
PF: I like Laguna. I like the faster tracks, they fit me better. The slower tracks I struggle a little more, because I’m a smaller person and it’s a lot harder to muscle these big bikes flip-flopping on the turns. If you go to the bigger tracks with the longer straights it’s more about who has the guts to hold the throttle open longer. That fits me! There are still some tight turns at Laguna, but it’s faster than the tight track we were just at in Utah. I’m looking forward to it.
BB: What is it like to be a part of something so new?
PF: It’s really cool and exciting, because everyone in the bagger industry is so excited and enthusiastic. Nobody has ever done it before. You know, they can relate to these bikes. You can watch sportbike racing, and it’s cool, but they can be like ‘oh, I have an Indian Challenger’ or ‘oh, I ride that same twin that they’re racing’. Granted, they aren’t stock, they’re race bikes, but they’re really relatable. I knew about the Harley/Indian feud, but I’ve never really been attached to it. I have so many people coming up to me and they’re like ‘Kick the Harley’s butt, Indian wins!’ and all that. Everyone was excited and it was fun.
BB: You’re the only pro woman on the grid. Is there a difference between racing as a woman in Superbikes and racing as a woman in Baggers?
PF: Definitely in the sportbike community the sexism is worse. I have not experienced any negative feedback so far in this side of the industry. I do experience it in the other side, though. Everyone here, on the bagger side, just thinks it’s the coolest thing ever that I’m out there on this big bike throwing it around. I’ve never had so much positivity and encouragement. The fans and the teams don’t even care about pressure, everyone’s just having fun and saying ‘this is so cool’. When you don’t have as much pressure on you and you get to have a little fun, it makes your job easier.
Motorcycle racing is one of the only sports left in the world that isn’t sex divided. There’s not a woman’s class. I love that, because I’m equally qualified and skilled to be on that grid as anyone else. All of the racers out there, once our helmets come on, we’re all the same. We all respect each other, it’s nothing different, and I love that. So far on the bagger, everyone just thinks its so cool that I’m out there, there hasn’t been anything dirty or shady or negative.
From what I heard from the fanbase, there was just tons of screaming and cheering every time I came by. All the little girls and young ladies came up to me, saying that I had inspired them. They said they really wanted to ride, but they’d never seen a female do it. That’s an amazing experience. I had a few ladies hit me up that were interested in running the smaller classes, like the twins class. There are other talented ladies out there, and I would love to see some more girls out there on the bikes kicking some butt.
It’s crazy, there are so many ladies that I met. Once we committed to doing this, Bagger Racing League was sharing that I was there, promoting it. I got a lot of TV time, which was cool. I had some ladies come up to me saying they found me on Instagram and they wanted to meet me so bad. I was like ‘come on in!’ They were so excited to be there. I will always take the time to talk to people. I had a lot of women asking about me, which was fun. It’s a big part of why you want to do it, that awesome feeling.
BB: How did you get plugged in to this opportunity? Did you see bagger racing and immediately know you wanted to be on the grid?
PF: I honestly didn’t think I would ever race a bagger. My boyfriend is Cory West, and he raced at Laguna last year. So when more teams were looking for riders this year, my name came up. I guess they were talking about it before they brought it to me, and I wasn’t sure I could even race a bagger because I’m small. I see the guys that are 5’10” or 1.83 m, and they can’t even touch the floor. Cory said I could race anything and that I should try it. My personality is that I’ll give anything a shot. I don’t know if I’ll be good at it, but let me try it. So we went out to Chuckwalla for a trackday and they had four guys that had to help me up and catch me when I came in. I anticipated the worst, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. Every single lap I was dropping time and getting faster and the team told me I needed to race it. Alright, let’s go with it, let’s do it!
BB: Any advice for aspiring women riders out there?
PF: If you want to ride, take your class, get your licence, buy a bike. I wish more people would really do it. I think they don’t see a lot of women doing it, so they don’t think it can happen, and I think the more women they see out there, the more it’s going to grow. There are more women than men anyway! I’d love to see motorcycle rallies and grids packed with all women. That would be great.
Look, if I can do it, you can do it. I literally went to one of those Motorcycle Safety Foundation classes on the weekend. We did the work in the classroom and went out on those little Rebels in the parking lot and got my licence. All I could afford was a little bike, and I thought I was as cool as Steve McQueen, but I definitely wasn’t. I learned to ride, and at 5’3″ throwing around this six-hundred pound bagger. If I can do it, you can do it.
BB: What else do you want the readers of Jalopnik to know?
PF: We’re going to keep going, we’re going to get faster, and we’re going to kick some butt.
A massive thank you to Patricia for taking the time to talk. I genuinely look forward to seeing her race the Saddlemen Indian Challenger this weekend at Laguna Seca. I’ll be going straight from Radwood to the race track, so I’ll only be there on Sunday, but it’s going to be an amazing time. I can’t wait!