Over the years, Öhlins has worked with many legendary motorcycle craftsmen and women from across the globe; from short-circuit stars of WSB, BSB, MotoGP and AMA to the off-road thrill seekers of desert racing and motocross. The Swedish firm has also partnered some of the world’s top custom builders too, creating both high-spec race replicas for track and one-off customs for road use...
At the top of the extreme customs list sits Roland Sands. A former AMA 250GP Champion, Roland retired from racing in 2002 and switched the race garage for a custom workshop. Roland and his team have built an enormous series of incredible machines over the past 14 years, including designing one of BMW’s most evocative motorcycles (the Concept 90 - which went on to become the R Nine T) and a tricked out Yamaha MT-09 which gave birth to the all-new XSR900.
His latest project however, the 'Super Hooligan' race series, is something completely different and aims to recreate some of the earliest racing in the United States... flat tracking using modified street bikes!
The idea comes from the 'Hooligan' scene. Dating back to the 1930s, this scene saw riders compete on lightly-modified road machines, in an almost 'run-what-ya-brung' demolition-derby. In more recent years, places like Ventura Raceway have been rocked by the sounds of every imaginable bike; from small dirtbikes right through to full-dress Harley-Davidson touring machines!
The Super Hooligan series aims to capture that elementary nature and take it to another level. It was first launched last November in Las Vegas, during the end-of-season 'Superprestigio of the Americas' flat-track race meet (the exclusive event which sees the likes of Marc Marquez going shoulder-to-shoulder with the best dirt track racers from the US!).
The AMAPro Flat Track organisers gave the Hooligans a slot on the bill, and the scene was set for an all-new type of racing - run as a partnership project with Indian Motorcycles and Roland Sands Design.
Roland Sand Design's Cameron Brewer, Project Manager for the build, outlines the rules… "Rules for Hooligan class bikes are definitely loose! It must be a stock-framed OEM street bike, 750cc and larger twins, triple’s, fours, etc. No “Framers” allowed. Dirt track tires or rain tires are preferred. No knobby tires. No front brakes. No sharp edges on footpegs, grips, levers. Just about everything else is allowed.
Engine and suspension mods are open as long as frame isn’t modified. All of the bikes currently racing are all a bit different which keeps it interesting, everybody is always trying different things between races to try and make their bikes work better tuned for themselves."
The Las Vegas event was an unqualified success. RSD built five Indian Scout Sixty Super Hooligan machines and Roland Sands himself finished the race in third, behind Thor Drake and Chris Wiggins on Harley-Davidson machines. Each of the five Indian Scouts were built to subtly different specs but a few of the machines, including Roland's own number 10 bike, were fitted with Öhlins twin shocks.
"We only had a few weeks to build these bikes for the Scout Sixty press launch” explains Cameron, “so we used off-the-shelf Öhlins 13” piggyback V-Rod shocks. The Scout shock angle and lower shock mount location (in relationship to the rear axle) is similar to a V-Rod and with the built-in adjustability, we figured we could get them to work pretty well. We went testing before Superprestigio of the Americas and were surprised at how good they worked. Spring preload changes and some clicker adjustments got them dialed in and ripping!
The biggest advantage of Öhlins parts to me is that they work amazing, right out of the box. It’s almost hard to tell what you can do to make them work even better. The closest you can be to your end goal, right from the beginning, the better. Öhlins support is also great if you’re trying to build something unconventional (like we seem to do quite a bit!).”
The Super Hooligan races were so popular, that the organisers announced a whole series for February, March and April 2016. Dates were announced for races at Portland Oregon, Milwaukee Wisconsin, Daytona Florida during Bike Week, Del Mar California and Austin Texas.
WHO THE HELL IS ROLAND SANDS?
A former AMA 250GP (1998) champion, Sands was brought up deep within the heart of the Californian custom scene. Roland started out building custom bikes based around the traditional American V-twin heritage. But his race background, and extreme creative drive meant he moved onto Japanese cruisers, then sportsbikes.
But perhaps the first sign that here was a design mind well outside the normal envelope came in 2007, when he built a flat-tracker from a Kenny Roberts V5 MotoGP bike. Putting a 990cc, 220bhp V5 racebike engine into a hardtail board track racer with no front brakes was so outlandish, it gave Sands international recognition...
From then on, there were seemingly no rules for Sands, and his design house, RSD. The bikes he built were breathtakingly in style and inspiration: from a Ducati Desmosedici GP dirt racer to Turbocharged Harley V-Rods, land-speed-record styled Suzuki Hayabusas, titanium-stealth finish Ducati Panigales – all was grist to his creative mill, and you could never predict what would come next.
Then in 2013, BMW signed up Sands in secret, to work on a retro-styled concept machine, that would celebrate BMW Motorrad's 90th anniversary. The resulting Concept 90 was a beautiful machine – equipped with Öhlins suspension all round of course. The machine was then launched in a slightly toned-down form, as the RNineT.
Not content with that, Sands moved on, this time to Yamaha with the firm's MT-09 roadster. He added his usual mix of heritage, race spirit and sheer beautiful design in Kenny Roberts' race colours, and of course, Öhlins suspension front and rear. And, like the BMW Concept 90, the Faster Wasp spawned a toned-down road bike, the XSR900.
So – one of the most incredible motorcycle design minds we've ever seen. But the one theme that runs throughout Roland Sands' bikes is that they are all built with performance in mind. And that means chassis performance as well as pure bhp. Which perhaps explains the preponderance of Öhlins suspension components throughout his work…
What was your first 'non-US V-twin' custom? My CR125 dirt bike when I was 14. It had a rad sticker kit and Acerbis bodywork with gold rims. I loved that bike. First frame-up Jap bike was a Yamaha Star with Öhlins fork and Shocks.
What's your favourite custom, the one you think is your best work?I like different bikes for different things, different uses. Purely aesthetic, I really like the Geico Chief Flat Track Bike we just did. It’s very classic but really has the high performance detailing we like. I’m very excited about the Scout Racer we’re building. It does the same thing…but I think our best work is yet to come!
What was the most challenging build ever?Bikes are difficult for different reasons. The original Discovery bike, Glory Stomper, was tough. We literally built the bike in 3 weeks from a crashed bike - Frame and everything. That sucked, I passed a kidney stone the week after we finished the bike and was in the hospital. But every build is difficult.
What do you like about Öhlins parts? What type of build do they work best in? I raced and won a championship on Öhlins forks and shocks on my TZ 250 so I really trust the brand. I like using Öhlins when the budget fits, I can depend on the performance and I really like the look and attention to detail in the parts. No matter what, you add Öhlins to a bike and it speaks performance and that’s a key part of the RSD style.
Which do you enjoy more: working on a one-off, totally unique, insane project, like the KRV5 Tracker – or working to develop a concept-to-production bike, like the RNineT or XSR900? I get the most enjoyment from taking a bike that looks like awful and tweaking the right things to make it really nice and aesthetically correct. Fixing the factory’s ugly step child if you want...
What's your favourite standard bike to ride on the street? Depends on where I’m going. Taking a quick spin with the wife I’ll jump on my 9T, or my custom Dyna Glide. If I’m hitting the road you can’t beat the BMW 1600 if you just want to roll and don’t care what you look like. S1000RR is a great canyon bike, but so is an SV650. I ride a lot of different bikes when I get the chance.
What would you say is your favourite production bike in terms of design (apart from your own!)? From a pure performance aesthetic I love the Panigale right now... or at least that was the first bike I thought of anyway.