'08 Big Dog Motorcycles Pit Bull - First Ride

It barks and bites

There's more to cruisers than the usual HonSuzakstarison offerings or stunning-and equally pricey-one-off customs. There's another category called production customs-bikes built on an assembly line to a higher spec than typical production models. Big Dog Motorcycles is a prime example of this breed.

Big Dog has been in business since 1994 and has built 25,000 bikes to date. The Wichita, Kansas-based manufacturer offers motorcycles that are truly made in America. Its new-for-'08 Pitbull is the third generation of that model.

The bike is centered around a giant, 117-cubic-inch (1917cc), S&S;, 45-degree V-twin engine, beautifully chromed and polished, that is bolted into a rigid cradle frame. The forks are conventional, while rear suspension is limited to twin mountain-bike-type shocks supporting the back of the saddle. Fenders are steel and closely contoured to the enormous wheels, with a 23 x 3.75-inch front and a 20 x 10-inch rear holding up the bike. Tires are equally meaty, measuring 130/60 on the front hoop and a ground-skimming 280/40 on the rear.

The bark of the Pitbull is its aesthetics. Each curve of the motorcycle runs gracefully and organically into the next. The slammed rear fender is uncluttered, holding only small bullet lights that are combination turn signals, running lights and brake lights. Nestled between the handlebars is a small Auto Meter gauge with an analog speedometer, selectable digital odometer or tripmeter, and tachometer illuminated by a row of lights on the perimeter of the gauge.

And the bite? Like any good pitbull, when the Big Dog sinks its teeth into the pavement, it doesn't let go-and neither should you. Torque is abundant off idle and tells you immediately that you're in for some G's. Carburetion is smooth, but with so much power on tap the rider's throttle hand should be smooth, too. The Baker six-speed gearbox has a solid, well-machined feel to it, and the gears are closely spaced with fifth and, yes, sixth gear providing for relaxed, low-rpm highway cruising. The Pitbull runs smoothest between 2000 and 2500 rpm, but over 3500 rpm things get buzzy. The only problems I had were with a difficult-to-find neutral (when the engine is fully warmed up) and an overly stiff clutch-lever pull. Also, the custom Big Dog-designed SuperTrapp exhaust makes the bike wide on the right side-so be careful not to burn your leg at stops.

Big Dog Motorcycles goes the extra mile on style. The front-brake reservoir/master cylinder blend into the handlebar, and all of the hoses and cables are steel-braided for a uniform yet custom look. Since the standard plastic buttons and switches would look rather dclass on the Pitbull, there are low-profile pushbuttons doing the job. And if you don't like polished billet aluminum and chrome, the Pitbull isn't the dog for you. The paint quality is just as well done-smooth, seamless and with a deep gloss. Big Dog can paint the bike with a wide variety of paint schemes and colors from mild to wild, as well as customize the seat cover.

On smooth pavement this mutt is a hoot. The forks are firmly sprung and well damped, and the beefy rear tire and seat shocks soak up small pavement irregularities. The saddle is wide and supportive, the footpegs are moderately forward-set, and the handlebars pull back to give a nice, upright seating position, even for my nonlanky 5-foot-4-inch frame. Rake is fairly shallow at 33 degrees, and handling is nice on sweeping turns and at slow speeds, but when things tighten up the 280mm rear tire and 678-pound claimed dry weight put up a fight. When it comes time to stop, the Performance Machine front brake provides good power and is easy to modulate, but a second front disc would be welcome. The rear brake pedal has excessive travel before the "Whoa!" starts. Also, the air cleaner pushes my right leg wide, making it hard to get my boot sole solidly on the pedal.

And when things get bumpy? Let's just say the Pitbull drags its rear end.Speaking of rear ends, the solo-seat Pitbull only accommodates one.

Except for hard-core fans, a hardtail simply is not a do-everything bike. The Pitbull is best at chewing up the boulevard and perhaps on very modest day rides. It is best compared-in both design and price-with bikes from other production custom manufacturers such as American Performance Cycles, Big Bear Choppers and perhaps Harley-Davidson's Custom Vehicle Operations. But unlike many of those bikes, the Pitbull offers rational frame geometry and ergonomics as well as a monster motor. There's no arguing with excess cubes, and there's no arguing with the Pitbull.

'08 Big Dog Motorcycles Pitbull
Base Price/Msrp: $27,500; As Tested: $32,000
Warranty: 2 Years

Engine And Drivetrain
Engine Type: 117ci (1917cc), Air-Cooled, 45-Degree V-Twin, OHV
Bore And Stroke: 104.8 X 111.1mm
Compression Ratio: 9.6:1
Horsepower (Claimed): 90 @ 5400 Rpm
Torque (Claimed): 95 Lb-Ft @ 3300 Rpm
Fuel Capacity: 4.6 Gal.
Fuel System: Efi, 54mm Throttle Bodies
Transmission/Final Drive: 6-Speed, Belt Final Drive

Rake/Trail: 33 Deg./4.5 In.
Front Tire: 130/60-23
Rear Tire: 280/40-20
Front Brake: 320mm Disc, 4-Piston Caliper
Rear Brake: 292mm Disc, 4-Piston Caliper
Front Suspension: 41mm Telescopic Fork, 4.5 In. Travel
Rear Suspension: Rigid Frame With Spring Seat, 1.5 In. Travel
Wheelbase: 73 In.
Seat Height: 25.5 In.
Weight: 678 Lb. (Dry, Claimed)