2009 Big Bear Choppers GTX - Big Bear Tourer - First Ride!

The Bike Real Men Build When the Fat Lady Sings

You may not have heard 'round these parts, but choppers are dead. Not dead dead. The cool kids are riding home-built rat choppers, and there are always the Texans and Swedes with their ridiculous tall and long (respectively) styles, but for all intents and purposes, the era of OCC and WCC being practically Fortune 500 material is over. More importantly, for now, the era of $50,000 production choppers is deader than denim skirts, leopard print, and leg warmers. Someone forgot to tell Kevin Alsop.

Chances are, actually, someone did. And he doesn't give a s#!t. These are the bikes he builds and loves and it's what he does. His company, Big Bear Choppers (BBC), came a little late to the party, gearing up for full-on production in only 2002, but is primed for the return of the good times. The company first came to our attention with a huge demo fleet at Daytona Bike Week in 2006. Back then the company was producing 100ish bikes a month with the capacity to expand to as much as 2-300 if needed. Needless to say, that's not the sort of numbers BBC churns out now, with both complete machines and kits bikes going out to its dealer network (67 USA, 21 international) at a monthly rate somewhere in the 30s as of this writing.

Last year, with the writing on the wall and the current bagger craze really starting to boogie, Kevin (CEO and Lead Designer at BBC) turned his mind to the sort of bike he'd like to kill a few mile markers with. The result is the GTX. The name actually means Grand Touring X-Wedge, but the one we tested sports the more conventional S&S; 100 Smooth Evo-style engine.

At first glance, "bagger" is not what you're thinking. Sure, it's got bags, pretty good-sized bags at that, but it looks way more like a one-off custom piece than a bike designed to be flogged mercilessly on endless miles of backroads or interstate. The long, low machine strikes an aggressive profile, slathered in chrome, and instead of wraparound fairings it simply wraps the frame in composite panels to complete the smooth lines of the bike.

Overall, Kevin and his crew tried to rethink the whole concept of a touring motorcycle, based on their experience with custom choppers. All of the riders switching from bar-hoppers to road-burners didn't suddenly take a liking to tall, fat and short bikes, they simply had no choice if they wanted a touring bike. Taking the basic lines of a "pro-street" custom, and giving it a massive 12-inch stretch through the middle created a bike upon which both the passenger and rider sit in front of the rear wheel. BBC thought that such a good idea that they patented it. Dropping the humans down between the wheels not only puts payload weight in a central location, it also shows off the massive 300mm rear tire beneath its radiused steel fender. Even the saddlebags only do a minimal amount of shrouding as they too are positioned forward relative to the rest of the machine.

The motor is an S&S; Super Sidewinder (based on Harley's Evolution engine), built out to BBC's specs as the 100 Smooth. The Smooth's secret is it's lower compression ratio, which makes for less violent combustion cycle, which in turn make for very linear, predicatble power. As a rigid-mounted 45-degree twin without any sort of counterbalancing it's still a bit of a paint-shaker at high rpm, but for those familiar with engines of this sort it's definitely an improvement. The transmission is a Baker 6-Speed with Right Side Drive which allows the use of the ridiculously fat 300mm rear tire without having to offset the engine and transmission to one side. The long, sculpted bags are very narrow, but hold a decent amount of stuff as long as it's compressable to the long skinniness of the bags. The fiberglass bags are extremely solidly built, which is a good thing, as they like a nice slam to shut (like my old Caprice). That said, the seal around them looks extremely hearty, though we didn't have a chance to test the waterproofing of the units.

Controls and instrumentation is very minimalist, with a few notable exceptions. The single analog gauge looks to be a mere speedometer, but actually also contains a low fuel light, trip meter, turn signal, high beam, oil pressure, and neutral indicators. The hand controls should look and feel familiar to Harley riders as they're the aftermarket equivalent, only dipped in thick chrome. The foot controls feature a pair of multi-adjustable mini-floorboards that can slide forward and back as well as tilt fore and aft. Our smaller tester thought they were the nicest pair he'd ever set foot on. The rear boards are of the same design and are similarly adjustable.

Sitting on the GTX for the first time, we were surprised as the controls fell readily to hand. For such an extreme-looking machine, you'd expect a bit of Maquis de Sade in the riding position. Thankfully suffering for style was not part of the design parameters for this Big Bear Chopper. The seat needs higher-density foam to really rack up the miles, as our 190-lb tester sank right through it to the hard parts underneath. But the upright stance, with feet forward is very conducive to putting down the miles, so we did. Our ride was out of Big Bear Lake, down the mountain to the deserts north of the San Bernardino Mountains.

As expected, a bike this long and low just can't handle exactly like your average cruiser. I've rarely ridden a 21+-inch front wheel, 250mm+ rear wheel bike that didn't have at least a little handling funk (the exception being BBC's Paradox, see sidebar), and this one's no exception. The fat tires and long wheelbase conspire to make a bike on which turning gets progressively harder the farther you lean over. If you like a bike to set into a line and stay there, this is not your bike. On very twisty roads (like the one out of the mountains from Big Bear) the bike is a lot of work to ride. That said it's got some upside as well. Stability was the idea when designing this bike, and running into the triple digits down a piece of flowing highway, its designed to never get wiggly like some other touring bikes will do. In mellow turns the handling is very light and it effortlessly changes direction for minor course corrections.

While we were cranking the GTX over to hustle it through the mountain roads' turns, it does take a surprisingly long time to touch anything down, and that point you're pushing so hard it doesn't really matter. It was only when hitting a midcorner bump at speed that it ever got out of shape (turning or going straight) and even then, it came right back after the jolt. Suspension action is mighty fine for a long low machine (especially one swinging that kind of meat in the rear end), the Progressive Suspension shocks and BBC front end combine for a pretty plush ride.

The 100 Smooth engine lives up to its name to some extent: for a rigidly-mounted engine it definitely is nothing like my old Sportster from college. At low rpm and idle the motor is pretty silky, transmitting only enough a nice rumble, as the revs increase so does the buzz, making it completely unnecessary to mount a tachometer on this machine. Start-up and warming are seamless with the S&S; EFI setup, which thankfully takes care of all that choke-pulling and such right out of the equation. However, power (as measured by the ever-accurate Butt Dynomometer) is not all that impressive for a 100-inch (1675cc) mill. It pulls with authority, and while its design causes it to not hit hard, it also didn't pull more than an indicated 95mph in the top (overdrive) gear. Downshifting will get it into the triples, but then the buzz comes back.

The brakes seem effective, but in need of better bleeding from the factory. The front brake control comes to the bar and has a spongy response but brings the rig to a halt quickly. The rear pedal, simply goes to the stop with not a lot of whoa.

Once down the mountain and setting out across the Lucerne Valley, the GTX comes into its own. Cruisin' down a long straight road, the engine finds its rhythm, you can click up into the tall 6th gear overdrive and just haul with the plush suspension keeping the ground at bay. There's another version of the GTX with a largish fairing to keep the wind off, but that's not our ride today, and that's okay.

So, is the new "alternative" bagger worth the ride and the $35k pricetag? If you want all the refinement of a large OEM, the power of some of the new large-displacement cruisers, and a pricetag under $20k, you're looking in the wrong place. But if you yen for the extraordinary, or might have liked a custom or production chopper, but couldn't stand the thought of giving up the long weekend slog, it will make far more sense. It's a bike that redefines what is a utilitarian niche in a very non-utilitarian light, with billet, chrome and lines reminiscent of your dad's hot rod.

2009 Big Bear Choppers GTX
MSRP: $34,900 (as tested with 100 Smooth EFI engine)

Type: air-cooled 45 degree V-twin Valvetrain; OHV, 2 valves per cylinderDisplacement, bore x stroke: 100ci, 4 in.x4 in.
Compression Ratio : 8.5:1
Fuel Delivery: Fuel injection
Transmission: Baker 6-speed w/overdrive and right side drive; multiplate wet clutch
Final Drive : Belt

Front Suspension:Telescopic fork, 6-in.travel
Rear Suspension: Dual damper, 6-in travel, preload adjustable
Front brakes: 11.5" discs, Dual 4 piston calipers
Rear Brakes: 11.5" disc, 4 piston caliper
Front Tire: 120/70-21
Rear Tire: 300/40-18
Wheels: machined billet aluminum

Overall length: 111 in
Seat Height: 25.5 in
Wheelbase: 85 in
Rake/trail: 42.0° (36° neck, 6° trees)/3.75"
Fuel Capacity: 5.1 gal
Wet Weight: 850 lb (claimed)

The Paradox is the GTX's cool cousin, bred from essentially the same design, with a covered frame, and flowing lines. The Paradox has a different mission from the GTX, instead of touring in custom style, it's challenge was to take the biggest rubber on the planet (130/60x23" up front and 280/40x20" in the rear) and make it actually ride like a real motorcycle. One nice thing about the guys at BBC is that they are surrounded by some of the nicest twisties on the planet, so the chances of them producing a bike without adequate ground clearance and good handling are just about zero. While we didn't get to put any real miles on the Paradox, like we did with the GTX, we were able to take a quick "demo ride" around their neighborhood to check it out.

We quickly fell in love with what might be our favorite production chopper (apologies to the Honda Rage that we won't ride for a couple issues). For something that looks so extreme, it actually handles like a much smaller bike. Both tall and short riders found the riding position to be acceptable, and between the growl of its S&S; X-Wedge, and laid-back stance, you just couldn't help but feel like the coolest cat on the block. Unlike the GTX, it falls into corners and carves around them. Naturally it's not going to have the same highway manners but around town or for even a moderate ride, it would be a joy.

There were a few little grumbles like the soft brakes that seem to be a BBC trademark, and body panels which didn't quite match up, but otherwise this is a chopper we could get behind.

Helmet: HJC AC-10
Jacket: Vanson B
Gloves: Vanson Saturn
Boots: Sidi Slash
Jeans: Shift Torque