Twenty years ago The Motor Company experienced a huge upsurge in sales resulting in a shortage of new Harleys, creating long waits for delivery and an impatient and frustrated consumer base. This shortage resulted in a number of entrepreneurs establishing their own motorcycle companies and producing their own line of V-twins. And Desperado Motorcycles was there at the beginning, slugging it out with the big dogs—literally. The company was founded one year after Big Dog Motorcycles (in June 1995) and two weeks before American Ironhorse. And although those two producers went on to become the big-name players in the custom bike world, Desperado was content to produce a mere 300 units per year. And while the Horse and the Dog have both succumbed to the ravages of a sour economy and poor business practices, after 18 years Desperado is still active, maintaining a respectable five models in the company lineup with the Gun Runner being the company’s premier offering.
A former F-4 fighter pilot in Vietnam, Jeff Nicklus is the founder of Desperado. After completing his time in the service, he went on to obtain a degree in aeronautical engineering. That acquired dedication to extreme detail is apparent in everything he puts his hand to, especially his passion for motorcycles. Being on the company roster for more than 16 years, this is the third generation of the Gun Runner. Referred to as the Mercedes edition, the bike is available with a plethora of options at no additional cost. The model I picked up for a test review was equipped with a fully polished 120″, 130 hp Ultima, the smallest motor option available for the Gun Runner (yep, a 120 is the baby and is as “small” as you can go). Upgrades include a 121″ Total Performance engine and 127″ Ultima, each at no additional cost. Two billet motors are also available, a 133″ and 152″, but due to their increased deck height (stroke), a completely different frame must be brought into use, which negates the Mercedes, no-additional-charge clause (call for current pricing). After being individually balanced and blueprinted, all engines are assembled in-house using a high-performance camshaft, ported and polished heads, stainless valves, a Crane HI-4 ignition system and an Ultima R1 special-designed carburetor. All that punch is delivered to the back tire via a six-speed Baker or Ultima right-side-drive transmission (your choice), and either a Desperado chromed primary with enclosed belt drive or 530 chain or even a 2″ open belt drive, once again, your Mercedes decision. An easy-pull hydraulic clutch, with a hidden cable neatly routed inside the handlebars, completes this horsepower connection. And take my word, this lanky sumbitch will freakin’ fly. (Jeff made me sign a contract attesting that for the week I was the test pilot of this beauty, I would not actually become airborne. In the end, adhering to that little stipulation proved quite difficult.)
Vibration? It’s a 120″ solid-mount engine; what do you think? Ever saddle a dragster that didn’t shake? Part of the excitement, the thrill, is the raw, brazen power; that over-the-top exhilaration that comes when you grab a handful of audacious throttle that can easily supply flagrant neck-snapping response by the buttload. And, to be fair and honest, I’ve ridden out-of-balance Road Kings that were more annoying when it comes to vibration. And they offered a hell of a lot less in the performance arena.
All that massiveness is stuffed into a Desperado proprietary single downtube frame that features twin shocks hidden under the tranny. The 1″ under front end assembly is a Desperado product with billet triple clamps and lower legs. The rake is 47 degrees with 6 of that engineered into the trees. And while the front 110/90-21″ Avon might be considered substantial, not so much when it’s mated to an 18″ 300mm rear (Nicklus has always been a strong supporter of big rubber). The wheels come in either an 80-spoke version or one of Desperado’s chrome billet wheel designs. And while it would be a stretch to label the Gun Runner as nimble, it is the best handling “300” this rider has ever straddled—and I’ve ridden them all. This relative agility is attributed to a very low center of gravity (23″ seat height) that is achieved by the bike’s unique chassis configuration, one of the most striking and distinctive currently on the market. That handling allows the bike to corner exceptionally well despite the normal gyroscopic tendencies of such a massive rear tire. But a limited turning radius, due in part to the 47-degree rake and secondly to the restrictive, internal fork stops that keep the tubes from bashing that graceful tank, will have a rider taking several stabs at making a 180 on a narrow two-lane country road. So while this beast will simply gobble up miles of straightaways and long sweepers, don’t get caught in a dead end alley and be in a hurry.
Forward controls are a Supreme Legends product while the ample braking system is comprised of Desperado 11.5″ diameter polished stainless rotors squeezed by the company’s four-piston calipers front and rear. One-piece front and rear fenders are also Desperado production items with the rear component wrapping around all that English Avon while being suspended by integral fender braces that capture and accent the flowing contours of the bike’s design. Which brings us to the crowning aspect of this entire machine: the fuel cell. This 4.8-gallon tank arches with a supple curve, almost mimicking some weird creature from the movie Alien, and uses a pop-up flush cap and an internal venting system. The bike I had the pleasure of testing featured as its tank mural a World War II cargo plane unloading a supply of weapons into some jungle locale and completed the entire Gun Runner theme. Staying within his tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, the figure seen hanging out of the pilot’s window bears a striking resemblance to Jeff Nicklus. But as Nicklus states concerning colors and paint design, “Whatever you can imagine. There should be no limits on a bike of this caliber.”
But like most top-shelf luxury items, a piece of this merit, with almost unlimited options, comes at a price—that cost being $49,950. But that figure does include free delivery anywhere in the continental U.S.A. and a 12-month, 12,000-mile warranty. And believe it or not, even during this period of economic sluggishness, the Gun Runner remains one of Desperado’s most popular models. Seems lavish extravagance coupled with high performance never goes out of style.