Wow factor squared
G.T.X. and Paradox offer X-Wedge option
Big Bear City, Calif., July 14—Timing may or may not be everything but Big Bear Choppers couldn’t have picked a better American motorcycle moment than now to pull the wraps off its mind-bending new G.T.X. bagger. The exact occasion was this Southern California builder/manufacturer’s first-ever model rollout where, for good measure, the BBC crew also unveiled the Paradox, another stylish addition to its growing stable of distinctive bikes.
Both new Big Bear offerings share a number of features, including extra-strong tubular frames, exclusive swingarm designs, S&S power plant options, Baker six-speed trannys, four-pot brakes, digital dash, polished wheels, paint options, and enough chrome and styling nuances to make anybody happy. But with the bagger—a generic and previously pejorative term for largish (and often clumsy looking) motorcycles made to ride two-up and be packed for a road trip—being the current hot bike du jour, there was little doubt among the 100 or so gathered dealer and moto-scribe types that the graceful Big Bear G.T.X. bad-ass bagger had center stage all to itself this particular Saturday.
And for good reason too: When it came to the long and low G.T.X. with its fiberglass body accents, big engine, and narrow but deep bags, the BBC engineers and stylists apparently not only decided to scribble outside the conventional bagger lines, they took the whole coloring book and tossed it out the window. Evidence of that is the fact that the rider and passenger are both seated in front of the 300mm rear tire.
The end result is that the bagger, if not reinvented, has been at least radically redefined. So the assembled rollout throng, some of whom reputedly make a living thinking up superlatives to describe motorcycles, could be forgiven if the best they could muster as the cover came off the G.T.X. was a collective, slack-jawed “Wow.”
Appearance on the national motorcycle scene of a bike like the G.T.X. is all the more remarkable for its humble origins. When Kevin and Mona Alsop, the owners and driving forces behind Big Bear Choppers, arrived here in the late 1990s at this mostly winter and summer resort area at the 7,000-foot level in the San Bernardino Mountains above L.A., they were, in Mona’s words, “looking for something better.” In fact, Mona recalls, the BBC start-up capital included “five hundred dollars, two broken-down cars, a bike lift, and a milk crate to hold files.”
By 2001 Big Bear Choppers had a 1,500-square-foot shop that both repaired bikes and built some custom jobs. The following year, BBC took a custom build or two to the Laughlin River Run and got noticed. After that, things really got rolling. BBC purchased more equipment, designed additional bikes, got into the kit bike business in a big way, became an OEM, and eventually moved into its present 20,000-square-foot showroom and manufacturing facility (some bike build-off television appearances by Kevin didn’t hurt any either). Kevin, an Australian émigré, recently received his U.S. citizenship and today Big Bear Choppers has 107 full-time employees and, to date, has shipped 3,000 kit bikes, built some 900 new bikes, and has a national and international network of some 50 dealers.
The BBC journey thus far, Alsop relates, “has been very exciting, but with great moments of disappointment, and great moments of being overly ecstatic.” He says it has been very gratifying, but it is the challenge of the future that really interests him (a future that includes working with S&S on a wholly proprietary engine for Big Bear bikes).
“Design or die”
So, however impressive BBC’s track record to this point, no one here, Kevin assures all who care to listen, intends to rest on those company laurels. Conversely, there is no talk either about Alsop getting a posse and going all “rock star.” There are no plans, for example, to buy a company plane (although the local airport is open year-round) or a plush motor home with a built-in hot tub. Instead, Big Bear company chat focuses on more down-to-earth topics like high-quality tooling and machining, improving product availability, and better warranty procedures.
Today’s motorcycle makers must, Kevin told Thunder Press, literally “design or die” if they are to survive and prosper in the current market. Bike makers, he asserts, must “very aggressively design vehicles that look fantastic and perform fantastically” all the while focusing on product reliability and lean manufacturing procedures that make profits possible.
If that doesn’t fit the stereotype of the hopelessly hip world of celebrity-infused custom bike building, that doesn’t seem to bother Alsop a bit. In fact, he points to the makers of Japanese automobiles as embodying many of these virtues (Japanese bike makers, he laments, just don’t have the design and styling chops). The payoff, Alsop opines, is that bike manufactures that employ such practices “will kick major butt,” particularly as the motorcycle market continues to change.
About the future, Alsop says, “I’m excited but anxious at the same time because I know how much hard work I have ahead of me.” He has no intention, he maintains, of giving up the fight. “I will produce the vehicle that the consumer is demanding. Period.” With a chuckle, he says, that’s a promise he intends to keep, whether it kills him or not.
Meanwhile, back at the cruise
Those arriving Friday evening for the Big Bear Choppers 2008 model rollout had a few choices about how to pass the time until the official program kicked in Saturday morning. Some elected to ramble around the resort community, others caught a few z’s, and many boarded a paddlewheeler for a BBC-arranged dinner cruise around the region’s seven-mile Alpine lake.
But the smart—or just plain lucky—hung out at BBC’s shop on Fox Farm Road. Those who did got an early look at the new G.T.X. Maybe “glimpse” is a better word. That’s because Kevin Alsop, in a hurry to give the new bike a final shakedown before turning it over the next day to the media and dealer reps for test rides, was busy zooming up and down on the road in front of the shop (by “zoom” we mean making 80 mph passes). And anyone there who had previously admired the unconventional two-seater as an illustration or when parked quickly concluded that where the G.T.X. looks really good is when it is cruising down the road, fast—real fast.
And why shouldn’t the G.T.X. go fast? After all, the bike’s formal name—Grand Touring X-Wedge—is the tipoff that this new-wave bagger is designed to showcase the 114″ S&S X-Wedge EFI power plant (which is listed as an option for $35,900, with the “stock” bike boasting the BBC/S&S 100 SMOOTH engine with EFI costing $1,000 less). To feed all that horsepower, the G.T.X. has an auxiliary gas tank under the seat that brings the bike’s total fuel capacity to five gallons. Other features include the polished six-speed tranny and Brembo four-piston brakes on the 21″ front wheel (a BBC four-pot BrakeDrive system does the slowing down out back).
Sitting still, the G.T.X. styling is nothing if not arresting. A dropped neck gives it a stance that looks more pro street than bagger. Swept back handlebars and fiberglass bodywork accents, including the flip-top bags, give the production bike an integrated, slightly futuristic, and wholly custom look. Plans too are on the drawing board to add G.T.X. bodywork, likely available as an option, that will include a front cowl and low windscreen for a more protected ride on longer jaunts.
Attendees at the BBC rollout took the company’s bikes out for a series of short test rides on the winding two-lane roads around Big Bear Lake. Under throttle, the low stance of the G.T.X. and its overall good balance made it easy and even fun to ride. The true test would come, of course, on much longer rides and with the bike loaded, well, for bear.
Unfortunately, the prototype available did not have passenger footrests (these will be on the production models) so testers could not do any two-up riding to experience the effect of placing the passenger seat ahead of the rear tire. Nevertheless, Kevin maintained that when handling a two-up G.T.X., the rider “would never even know the passenger was there.”
Overshadowed more than a little by the glitz factor of the G.T.X., Big Bear’s other new offering, the Paradox, has its own unique features. Most obviously are the Paradox’s tires, a 20″ 300mm out back with a 120mm 23-incher up front. While some bikes are low, others are slammed. The Paradox is mega-slammed. Or at least that’s the way it both looks and feels.
The bike’s low neck and dropped seat gives the rider the feeling of being in rather than on the Paradox (a bit like being in the cockpit of a small plane). BBC’s signature fiberglass styling flourishes add to the bike’s unique and unconventional look. But form is supposed to follow function and BBC clearly intends that its new offerings have a high rideability quotient as well, hence the name Paradox. The bike comes with a number of engine options, including the X-Wedge, with a price range of $31,900 to $33,900.
The G.T.X. and the Paradox join a growing stable of Big Bear bikes that range from rigid bobbers to radical chopper and pro street models, some with rakish names like the Reaper, Venom, Screamin Demon, and Miss Behavin. Both of the new bikes are scheduled to hit dealership floors around December of this year. (www.big bearchoppers.com)