Expanding the kennel
New Wolf wows; Coyote supercedes Mutt
Costa Mesa, Calif., October 21–23—2009 marks the 15th anniversary of Big Dog Motorcycles and they celebrated in high style by announcing the production of their 25,000th motorcycle earlier this year. This undisputed reigning manufacturer of high-end custom bikes has certainly come a long way from when that first bike rolled out of company founder Sheldon Coleman’s home garage in Wichita, Kansas, in 1994. (And yes, that Coleman name is synonymous with the one attached to the camping gear manufacturer.) But how do you observe such a highly anticipated birthday when the world’s economies are teetering on the brink of collapse and previous disposable income is being redirected from recreational pursuits to being allocated for stockpiles of ammo, franks ’n’ beans and toilet paper? According to Paul Hansen, head of marketing, the Big Dog 2009 strategy is to offer an even broader spectrum of bikes with a wide mix of styles and price points. To that end, for the 2009 model year lineup, Big Dog is introducing two new bikes, with a third one being renamed and upgraded along with a reduction in price, increasing the kennel to seven individual breeds.
Last year Big Dog initiated a complete overhaul of their product line. Designed to be completed this year, that revamping has deviated and bears little resemblance to the original plans. While the Mastiff, K-9, Pitbull and Ridgeback are still offered and remain virtually unchanged from the previous year, the predicted reintroduction of the Chopper (dropped in 2008) didn’t occur. The price-conscious Mutt, which was introduced last year, has been relabeled the Coyote and not only received some nice bling but also comes in with a lower price tag. And while the Bulldog (also absent from last year’s lineup) failed to re-emerge with an S&S X-Wedge power plant as anticipated, Big Dog kept the excitement level high with the rollout of the stunning Wolf, the company’s new flagship model.
Leading the Big Dog pack, the pro-street Wolf is the most refreshing design to hit the industry in years. Motored by a 121-inch X-Wedge engine with closed loop EFI, it carries an impressive 130 hp rating with a power band that is one of the smoothest available. This three-cam, 56-degree motor is reported to produce 21 percent less vibration while utilizing 30 percent fewer parts. Apparently all that works together pretty damn well, with it delivering a smooth ride no matter how hard it’s hammered. The bike is long, coming in at over nine feet, with a 45-degree rake and seven inches of backbone stretch. In a detour from previous company trends, the rear tire is a 20″ skinny 220mm that lends the bike a long and lanky appearance (have you ever seen a “fat” wolf?). The tire is an Avon product and available exclusively through Big Dog. When coupled with the 23″ front wheel and the Perse 3″ over, 41mm fork assembly, this big bad Wolf is a freeway predator on the prowl with adeptness uncommon on a bike this long. Since the use of the X-Wedge motor necessitates the elimination of the center seat post to allow for rear cylinder clearance and a single downtube was incorporated to complement the bike’s slim profile, additional frame stiffening was needed to eliminate twisting. This was achieved by integrating an overbuilt superstructure under the Wolf’s cowling and the use of heavier wall tubing. With perfectly placed handlebars and controls, footpegs and seating, the handling is superior, with no hint of deflection in the frame. The ride is enhanced by a Baker 6-speed coupled to the BDM Balanced Drive System promoting improved cornering and greater lean angles. New for 2009, a primary compensator sprocket assists in delivering a smoother and quieter ride as more power is applied (the Balanced Drive and primary compensator come standard on all Big Dog models as well as the reduced-pull clutch introduced in 2008). But let’s not forget the cosmetics. The Wolf’s swooping bodywork is almost seamless, flawlessly executed and provides a killer canvas for paint and graphics. The end result is a howling, full-moon experience of power and beauty united with rock-solid handling. Ripping up the Pacific Coast Highway never felt so good. The “ouch” factor: The MSRP is $35,900. But hey, it’s a flagship, dammit.
A change of pedigree
The Mutt was introduced last year. It was an economically priced canine for those wanting to run with the Big Dogs but not having the bucks for a large vet bill. It sold poorly mainly due to its name—apparently no one was interested in a Heinz-57—along with the discovery that wire wheels went the way of the kickstart and neither were a desired commodity on a Big Dog. So it was a great bike with a poorly chosen moniker and the wrong wheels. What to do? Easy enough—change the name to Coyote, toss in some billet circular means of conveyance and… while we’re at it… reduce the price by a grand. And this bike lives up to its bloodline: Far from the runt of the litter, it features an attractive price without compromising the style and performance associated with the company’s name. The bike sits in the same frame as last year (a pre-2007 Mastiff chassis) and uses an S&S 117-inch carbureted motor (while the 117 inches is standard on all models except the Wolf, the Coyote is the only model that does not offer EFI). Polishing has been kept to a minimum to stay within cost parameters (the engine is wrinkle-black) and the bike is supplied with a Supertrapp 2-into-1 exhaust instead of Big Dog’s proprietary setup. Although in the wild most coyotes are a scrawny version of a wolf, the Coyote sports a 250mm rear tire. It sports Big Dog billet wheels along with the company’s signature controls, instrumentation and covers. A modest 39-degree rake united with a wheelbase of only 77.5″ makes this a fun and agile mount. And with a price tag of only $23,900, it’s a great introductory way to catch a piece of the Big Dog dream.
As mentioned earlier, the Mastiff and Pitbull have not changed much for 2009. Why screw with what works? With a 300/35R18 rear tire, the Mastiff reigns supreme as the widest cruiser in Big Dog’s pro-street lineup. Sitting in an A-frame swingarm configuration, the hidden shocks provide excellent suspension and comfort, shaking off even the worst road conditions without the need for a chiropractic appointment come Monday morning. The superior frame geometry makes for responsive control whether cruising the avenue or challenging the twisties. The Mastiff continues to deliver on all points in styling and rideability, making this one of the company’s most popular models.
Reintroduced last year in a dramatically different format, the Pitbull pulled out all the stops, discarding conventional frame configurations and blending elements of board-track racer design with modern technology. With a rakish stance, this latest reincarnation of the Pitbull lived up to its name, ready to pounce on the competition, and was eventually crowned Bike of the Year during the 2008 V-Twin Expo. A low bike with tall wheels, this distinctive rigid remains pretty much unrevised from last year, cradling a 20″ x 280 in the back and 23″ x 130 up front. A traditional stretch of six inches in the backbone is combined with a one-inch stretch in the downtubes and a 33-degree rake to produce the shortest Big Dog, with a wheelbase of only 73″. The large sculpted gas tank carries a whopping 4.7 gallons and is terminated by a unique sprung solo seat that incorporates twin adjustable shocks to smooth out the jolts from that rigid rear end and low-profile 280mm tire.
The Mastiff carries a sticker price of $27,900 while the Pitbull comes in at $26,900. Either bike can be fitted with electronic fuel injection for an additional $2,000.
In the Afghan division, Big Dog retains two choppers for 2009, the K-9 and the Ridgeback. While the K-9 continues to dominate its position as America’s number one chopper and retains its status as Big Dog’s bestseller, the Ridgeback continues to nip at its heels with a loyal although completely different following. With both bikes sharing almost identical frame dimensions (39 degrees of rake, 8″ of stretch in the backbone and 4″ in the downtubes, a wheelbase of 82″ for the K-9 and 82½″ for the Ridgeback), the “modest” 300mm rear tire and hidden shock suspension on the K-9 appeals to a buyer looking for the smoothest high performance chopper available. The Ridgeback doesn’t pretend to be anything other than exactly what it is—a 330mm rigid monster with an aggressive attitude geared for the hard-core crowd. Both offer a 12″ over stock front fork that is joined with a 21″ diameter x 2.15″ wide wheel that work amazingly well together and provide a stable ride at slow speeds while tracking well when challenging the posted speed limits. The K-9 retails for $28,900 while the Ridgeback will cost you $27,500. Various paint, chrome and fuel injection options are available to help in reducing your children’s inheritance taxes.
Apparently Big Dog doesn’t believe in the saying, “Bad publicity is better than no publicity.” They proved that point when they announced that the redesigned 2009 Bulldog would not be available for our media launch, because development was simply not far enough along for a proper demonstration (especially to a bunch of jaded, nit-picky journalists). To offset our disappointment, they did offer some details and artist renderings of the company’s first-ever bagger. The Bulldog bagger will use a rubber-mounted, S&S 117-inch fuel-injected motor (the company’s last rubber-mount bike was the 2004 Boxer). Instead of the hidden suspension found standard on other Big Dogs, the Bulldog swingarm will be a conventional design and use nitrogen gas shocks that will be covered from view by the saddlebags. A batwing fairing comes as standard equipment. Both the saddlebags and fairing are comprised of multilayered fiberglass. The bike will come with a 250mm tire in back, a 21″ x 120mm up front and plenty of options. They hope to unveil this latest pup by the end of 2008 with an estimated price of $37,900.
Big Dog Motorcycles refuses to embrace the doom and gloom of a sluggish motorcycle market and instead has a cheery outlook. Despite the fact that production figures are down and that the company has endured four layoffs, they are pushing for an international market with eight new dealerships slated to open in Canada by the beginning of 2009. Expressing enthusiasm, Coleman stated there is recognition for the Big Dog name overseas, and he hopes to expand into untested areas around the world. Germany, Australia, Japan, Russia and China have all expressed interest. Sounds like a Big Dog Dingo or Wolfhound may be right around the corner.