rode the wave of custom chopper popularity early on, getting on board almost 15 years ago in 1994. Jumping into the game early helped Big Dog establish itself as the self-proclaimed world’s largest manufacturer of custom bikes. The wave crested in 2005 as BDM pumped out a peak number of 4900 motorcycles.
Big Dog Motorcycles
But the ocean isn’t the only entity in a perpetual state of change. The custom motorcycle market is also subject to the ebb and flow of a fickle consumer base. Fat-backed choppers with sick rake angles no longer will suffice. Baggers and board-track inspired designs have become the rage. Competition is fiercer than ever. Builders like Big Bear Choppers and OCC, traditionally one-off custom builders, have joined the fray with production custom-styled bikes. Big Dog has felt the riptide effect pulling sales out of its coffers, and has reduced projected production numbers to 3500 bikes for 2008. BDM has had to rearrange its strategies in order to stay competitive. These stratagems include increasing the reliability and rideability of its bikes. It also has been looking for ways to broaden its customer base.
To increase reliability, Big Dog has started tracking and analyzing warranty claims in order to help pinpoint technological weak spots, such as the voltage regulators that were recalled in’05 and the tachometer boards on its ’07 Bulldog. But pinpointing problems is only the first step. Big Dog also intends to ensure that its techs are better trained. The Wichita, Kansas-based motorcycle company has plans on setting up a Technician Education Program that will train mechanics in the intricacies of its proprietary systems throughout the year, instead of on an annual basis. The program is multi-faceted, including small classroom courses, new on-line training, hands-on repair and maintenance in addition to six separate intense training modules that target specific components of its motorcycles. With 100 dealers spread across the states and sales figures approaching 25,000 motorcycles, the demand for competent servicing has increased exponentially.
Big Dog Motorcycles has made a name for itself by making stretched out choppers with serious rakes. The Ridgeback is the epitome of BDM styling cues.
Since custom sales have been on the decline since 2006, motorcycle companies have had to look for new ways to increase their consumer base. Big Dog’s answer is to produce more bikes oriented towards the entry-level rider and to produce a bike more people can afford. The average working Joe doesn’t have an extra 30 large to drop on a dream bike without sharing floor space with the family pooch. BDM’s newest bike for 2008, the Mutt, has a ticket price of $24,900. The lowest price you could buy a Big Dog last year was $26,800 for the Pitbull. The Mutt is touted as the first novice-level bike in Big Dog’s repertoire, and it has plans on introducing more entry-level motorcycles in the coming years.
Besides adding the Mutt to its Pro Street line, BDM is shaking up its 2008 lineup with the reemergence of the Ridgeback after a year’s absence to head up its Chopper Line. The Ridgeback will be joined by the perennial best-seller, the nine-foot-long K-9. To make room for its two new ’08 additions, the Chopper and Bulldog have gone the way of the Titanic.
Big Dog’s ’08 roster includes two other carryovers from last year, the Mastiff and the Pitbull. While the Mastiff resembles ’07’s model, the Pitbull has received a retro makeover from last year’s version. Together with the Mutt, the three models belong to the Pro Street family but are siblings by blood only because, like fraternal twins, no two are exactly alike.
All 2008 Big Dogs are powered by a 1916cc S&S V-Twin with a healthy 4.125-inch bore and 4.475-inch stroke matched up to a Baker six-speed tranny. The Mastiff and K-9 are available with EFI while the other three models run a Super G Carb.
The one area where the Pro Street and Chopper lines do intersect is the use of a 1916cc S&S powerplant. The 45-degree OHV V-Twin continues to be the lump of choice for Big Dog. And why not? With a healthy 4.125-inch bore and a 4.475-inch stroke providing ample horsepower and torque, there’s no need to mess with a package that has already proven reliable in the past. Any changes to the engine are merely superficial, like the Mutts’s powder coated wrinkle-black engine. Internally, it’s purely S&S.
Though Big Dog didn’t mess with the mill, it continues last year’s experiment with fuel delivery. The ’07 Bulldog was BDM’s first attempt at fuel injection. It must have been a hit, because EFI is back again in 2008. This time, it’s available as an option on both the Mastiff and the K-9. For tried and true traditionalists, the bikes can be equipped with a Super G Carb, the fuel system that comes standard on the other three bikes.
Another customary BDM component is the Baker Six-speed transmission on the right side drive bikes. The S&S engine and Baker Six combo put the power to the rear for all of Big Dog’s 2007s and continues to be the powertrain of choice for 2008. BDM claims the tranny’s 1st through 3rd gears are straight-cut for power off the line while 4th and 5th are helical to reduce noise. Sixth gear remains direct drive. All this power exits through a straight-shooting chrome 2-into-1 exhaust. Fire the bikes up, twist the throttle and get ready to hear the throbbing exhaust note of an American big twin.
The K-9’s front wheel is custom-designed out of machined aluminum and has PM 4-piston billet calipers that pinch down on 2-piece rotors.
And before you bemoan the performance of a stretched-out, fat-backed bike, consider that all Big Dog bikes utilize its Balance Drive System. The final drive has been placed on the right side to distribute the weight more evenly and is claimed to make the bike more manageable at low-speeds. The entire system has been refined for 2008 with the addition of a redesigned clutch. Working in conjunction with the Baker drivetrain, it is said to ease the task of shifting and has a whopping 50 percent reduction in pull effort. Overall, the Balance Drive System has been created “to promote better handling, balance, cornering, and lean angles.” And until we get our hands on a press fleet bike to charge full-steam ahead on, we’ll have to take their word for it.
The other notable thread common to all five Big Dog bikes for 2008 is Performance Machine brakes. Braided steel brake lines will activate the 4-piston billet calipers up front that clamp down on 2-piece rotors and allow for confidence when bringing the nine-foot beasts to a halt. The rear pinchers get the same treatment, except for the Mutt that has a PM 2-piston set up out back.
Now that we’ve taken a look at the similarities between Big Dog’s 2008 lineup, it’s time to take a peek and see what sets these bikes apart from one another.
BDM hopes its newest bike, the 2008 Mutt, will expand its target audience with more emphasis on handling and agility to go along with a price tag under $25K.
It’s called the Mutt because the motorcycle appears to be a little bit of this and that from prior Big Dog bikes. The slender 3.8 gallon gas tank looks like a carryover from the Chopper, and the frame is similar to one BDM put out a couple of years ago. But like mutts, the 2008 motorcycle has a personality all its own. Its has the smallest rear tire of the lot at 250mm. Team the rear with a skinny 90mm front on tall 21-inch tires and you have the narrowest motorcycle in Big Dog’s ’08 contingency. Trick 80 spoke tires add a touch of old-school styling and have a slimmer appearance than the custom aluminum wheels on its other bikes. Add on a slightly tighter 37-degree rake angle on a 2-inch over-standard 41mm telescopic chrome front fork and you have the dimensions of what Big Dog claims is the most agile of its bikes. A low 24.25-inch seat height and 4.5 inches of ground clearance should contribute to giving rider’s confidence and control in the saddle.
This will come in handy as Big Dog generously claims that the Mutt is a novice-level motorcycle. And though buying a Pro Street bike with a burly 117 cubic-inch engine and 250 rear is a stretch for the inexperienced rider, the Mutt has been toned down a bit from its customary offerings in order to attract a larger segment of the consumer base. The attraction could be facilitated by the Mutt’s MSRP under $25K, the first bike the company has offered recently within that price range.
“It’s closely aligned with every Big Dog motorcycle in terms of style and performance, yet it stands on its own as being able to fit many rider’s needs and riding demands,” said Nick Messer, Executive Vice-President of Sales and New Product Development.
The 2008 Pitbull looks entirely different than last year’s model, thanks in part to its one-piece steel 4.6 gallon tank that’s been squared off with distinct lines.
Besides the all-new Mutt, the Pitbull takes top honors for most drastically retooled Big Dog Motorcycle for 2008. The Pitbull has a ten-year history of pushing the envelope for the Wichita-based company. In 1998, it was BDM’s first rigid frame motorcycle. In 2002, it was the first bike for BDM to roll out of the factory with a wide, 250mm tire. This year, the Pitbull has a retro-look with styling cues reminiscent of customs I’ve seen competing for Best of Show.
The Pitbull’s redesign begins with its steel, stretched one-piece fuel tank. The contoured fuel cell has clean, distinct lines, unlike the rounded tanks on other Big Dog models. The 4.6 gallon cell sits tight on the bike’s six-inch oversized backbone and eliminates the openness between the engine and the frame. The new rigid frame has been redesigned to accommodate a 20mm slimmer rear tire and to support a wheelbase that is 4.5 inches shorter than last year’s. The front end has been totally revamped as well. The rake angle has been reduced by 8 degrees, down from in ’07’s 39 degrees to 31 degrees in ’08. Big Dog has put more emphasis on handling and low-speed maneuverability by bringing in the fork and reducing the tire size. The wheel combo is taller than last year’s package. The 130/60R23 dimensions gain two inches in height over 2007’s MH120/70×21 front while the rear went from 300mm on an 18-inch tire to 280mm on a 20-inch tire. The changes to the frame also include a 1.25-inch higher seat than last year, but Big Dog had to make room for the stylish new spring seat used on the ’08 Pitbull. The one item that would have been the piece de résistance for the Pitbull is a Springer front end, but that’s simply one motojournalist’s subjective opinion.
The 2008 Big Dog’s turned more than a few heads as they cruised the California coastline.
While the Mutt and Pitbull represent new blood in Big Dog’s Pro Street line, the Mastiff retains the bread-and-butter styling cues that got BDM where they are today. The 8.5-foot long cruiser has a six-inch oversized backbone stretch with stock downtubes, the same frame geometry as last year. The A-Frame swingarm has been redesigned with the intentions of smoothing out the ride and still supports a 300mm meaty rear, the healthiest backside amongst the Pro Streeters. An adjustable hidden shock suspension should assist the swingarm in making the Mastiff rider-friendly. Rider comfort will also benefit from the under-molded rubber grips and pegs that BDM claims to reduce vibration felt in the hands and feet. Sweet-looking rubber-mounted low-rise chrome handlebars sweep back for an arms-forward, upright riding position, assisted by a low 24.25-inch seat height. The 41 mm telescopic fork is set at a 39 degree rake angle with an extra 3 degrees provided by the tree rake, time-tested dimensions for a Big Dog bike. The motorcycle has color matching fenders, gas and oil tanks that are complemented by plenty of requisite custom chrome. One of the best moves BDM has made for ’08 is allowing riders to choose the fuel system for the Mastiff, EFI or a Super G Carb. Buyers always like to feel empowered by having a say in their build.
And though the body of the Mastiff doesn’t differ much from last year’s model, customers can always individualize their bikes by choosing one of seven base colors and topping it off with one of the 70 graphic packages Big Dog offers. And you don’t have to stop there. Big Radius or Mean Mother exhausts are other customization options that can help set your bike apart. Custom seats, sissy bars, touring bags and more are also on the list of BDM aftermarket accessories readily available to help you pimp your ride.
For 2008, Big Dog returned the Ridgeback to star alongside the K-9 in its Chopper line. The motorcycle has an extreme 39 degrees of rake, a 12-inch oversized fork and sports a fatty 330mm rear tire.
The Ridgeback has returned to Big Dog’s Chopper line with a vengeance after not making the cut last year. Who says the fat tire revolution is dead? Not Big Dog. In fact, it’s going wider than ever before on the Ridgeback, a whopping 330mm low-profile rear tire. For the rigid frame to accommodate the foot wide rear, BDM had to do a little redesigning. The 8-inch oversized down tubes are an inch bigger in comparison to last year’s Chopper and the 4-inch oversized backbone measures an inch bigger as well. At the opposite end to the 330mm rear up the 82.5-inch wheelbase is a 21-inch custom-designed front wheel sitting way out on a 12-inch oversized fork. The classic chopper-style rake, a healthy 39 degrees, is up two degrees from BDM’s ’07 Chopper. Overall, the belt-driven 680 lb bike is an inch short of nine feet.
“The Ridgeback buyer is someone looking for the most rebellious design and hardcore looks in a rigid custom cruiser and the fattest tire on the market combined with tremendous excitement, performance, and handling,” said Messer.
By offering a more affordable bike that’s a little easier to ride, Big Dog is showing the flexibility needed to stay afloat in an ultra-competitive market.
The K-9 continues to be the flagship of the Big Dog fleet. In its third year in production, the nine-foot-long chopper shares much in common with its sibling the Ridgeback. Its frame has the same stretch, the rake angle has the same ridiculous 39 degree setting, and the forks are a sick 12 inches oversized. The one-piece steel tank design is a constant denominator between the two as is the 24.25-inch seat height. But the K-9 has something the Ridgeback doesn’t. Rear suspension. The hidden shock is adjustable for loads but maintains its custom appeal by not raising the rear fender away from the tire. It’s also pre-wired to accept an aftermarket air ride suspension, a common feature in custom show bikes this year. The chopper’s A-Frame swingarm houses a 300mm rear tire, not quite the girth of the Ridgeback’s but still plenty of rubber to lay down on the road. And while all Ridgebacks run a Super G Carb, K-9 owners have the choice of EFI or carburetion. Overall, you won’t find a more classic-looking chopper than the K-9, though 300mm rears are definitely a touch of the new-school of styling.
Big Dog Motorcycles hasn’t been in the biz for 14 years by not being smart. Making bikes more people can afford and establishing a novice-level ride are moves in the right direction to staying afloat in an industry where more vessels sink than swim. The Wichita company is also in the process of establishing a Dealer Support Center to provide the sellers of its bikes an avenue for hands-on technical and service training. Along with its revised Technician Education Program, these new Big Dog techs and reps are going to be an educated lot that will work to the benefit of consumers. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
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