Most people don't know what to make of a Boss Hoss motorcycle, and if they do, they're probably wrong. Unwieldy. Intimidating. Homebuilt. Bizarre. Absurd. Those are the adjectives that seem to come to mind when you see one of these V-8 powered behemoths thunder down the street.
We would have been counted among those with such sentiments. And at least one of our staffers, Friedman, had the experience to back up his opinions. In 1992, he rode one of the first bikes put together by the then-new Boss Hoss Cycles, Inc. It was crude, even more cumbersome than it looked and plagued by functional and finish flaws.
He was impressed by the bike, but not entirely favorably. That 355-cubic-inch engine got your attention, but the clutch arrangement was awkward, making just getting underway an exercise in adrenaline production. High, wide, bars of near-apehanger proportions further complicated control. Construction was definitely cobby, marred by compromises like the distributor located immediately in front of your crotch. Many of the components came from the Harley aftermarket and were overwhelmed by the size, weight and power of the Hoss.
However, when you got it pointed down a straight road and cranked on the throttle, all those flaws suddenly seemed tolerable. Even with the linkage to the secondary throats of the carburetors disconnected, the motorcycle flew. You did kind of wonder what would happen if you had to stop or turn suddenly, though.
"It was an interesting novelty," Friedman recalls, "but nothing I felt any need to repeat. It's the sort of bike you'd buy if you already had a couple of bikes you could ride every day, something you'd ride once a month or less when you wanted to make a splash."
Second Time's the Charm
But that was another time and another magazine. It was also a different bike. That's what drew us into this deal in the first place. Tony Montenegro, the boss at Boss Hoss (and Confederate and Victory) dealer Phantom Motorcycles (now East Coast Choppers) in Fort Lauderdale asked if we'd ever ridden the new automatic version of the Boss Hoss. We answered negatively in a manner that we hoped would indicate lack of interest, but Montenegro persisted, and since we had a free day in Florida just before Daytona Speed Week, we were soon agreeing to drop by and have a quick spin on it. As it transpired, that turned into a bit more than a quick spin, which is why you're reading this.
Our first glimpse of the bike revealed that more had changed in six years than the addition of an automatic transmission. It was still a leviathan among motorcycles, stretching 78 inches between the axles, and the lines still seem awkward, with the huge tank bulging up and out above that monster engine. But the difference in quality throughout was immediately apparent. There is no longer any sense that this is a garage-built bike, at least not on any of the bikes we saw at Phantom, where, from what we saw, every bike that comes in is stripped down and given a complete check-out before being customized to the buyer's requirements.
The components would put some big manufacturers to shame. Everywhere you look you see neat pieces: billet components are plentiful; the 4130 chrome-moly frame is powder coated; brake hoses are braided stainless steel; the tank-top gauges (water temp, oil pressure, voltmeter and either a tach or clock clustered around a big speedometer) are made by Autometer with Boss Hoss logos; the two-inch-square box-section swingarm is chromed; handlebar and other wiring gets routed out of sight; adjustable Aldana shocks suspend the rear back and a beefy 50mm fork takes care of business in front. The only items recognizable as standard motorcycle parts are the chromed Harley-pattern handlebar switches, and at least the left one has been modified for this application. Many pieces have Boss Hoss logos, eliminating any idea that the motorcycle is built from off-the-shelf components.
There is also an extensive list of options. You can choose from two wheel styles, two fender styles, and a variety of saddles (we saw four) and mufflers. Luggage, chrome and billet trim, a windshield and other accessories are readily available. Not bad for a company that sells just 300 machines a year.
You Mean Your Bike Doesn't Have 355 Horsepower?
Of course, the engine is an over-the-counter item. You can get the 350-cubic-inch Chevy small block in either standard trim or, for an additional $2500, the 355-horsepower ZZ4 version. There is also a V-6 available, though as one Phantom employee commented, "That defeats the whole idea."
Horsepower starts at about 200. Features of the ZZ4 engine we sampled include forged crank, forged high-compression pistons, roller cam, alloy heads and manifold, Edelbrock four-barrel carb, ceramic-coated headers and electronic ignition. Boss Hoss dresses up the engine bay with an alloy radiator, chromed starter, chromed 100-amp alternator, billet engine mounts and optional alloy valve covers with BH logos.
An electrically controlled automatic transmission directs power through a 44mm Dayco Panther toothed belt to the spool rear hub and a 15 x 8.00 rear wheel. You can choose from a 3.5:1 or 3.7:1 final ratio. One of the points that worried us about the bike was the automotive rear tire. We saw two different tires on the rear of bikes in Phantom's showroom, and Montenegro confirmed that the more rounded profile works better.
With all that hardware wrapped around that enormous engine, you might expect the Boss Hoss to be heavy. It is. Although we didn't weigh it, Montenegro told us that a V-8 weighs about 1000 pounds. Boss Hoss lists dry weight at 1100 pounds. That's before you add 11 gallons of fuel (9 gallons in the in the main tank plus 2 in separate reserve tank under the seat), 3 gallons of lubricants and 2.5 gallons of coolant. All that probably adds more than 100 pounds to the bike.
But we didn't feel overwhelmed in the least when we sat on it. We have ridden plenty of fully loaded touring bikes that felt heftier at a stop. The 28-inch seat height probably contributes to the standstill manageability as does the leverage of the wide handlebar.
Twist and Shout
To start it, turn on the ignition switch, confirm that the transmission is in neutral (the only light on the instrument panel will tell you), and thumb the starter button. The bike comes to life tilting to the right and exploding with an exhaust note that sounds very un-motorcycle like. Make sure your feet are firmly planted before you blip the throttle; the torque reaction of the V-8 makes a BMW's or Moto Guzzi's feel insignificant. If you blip the throttle hard with you right foot on the peg, it might just fall over. And keep the left foot down too, because when you shut the throttle, the counter-reaction is almost as strong.
Such a powerful reaction from just revving the engine in neutral may intimidate you. What will happen when you direct that power to the rear wheel? You've come too far to hair out now, so after reaching for the clutch lever that isn't there, you remember that this thing shifts with a switch and thumb the switch forward with your left thumb. The bike wants to creep forward then, but you can hold it back with just your feet, though the front brake requires less effort. Take a breath and roll the throttle on.
The automatic engages very smoothly and gradually, and your trepidation about managing such a powerful, mammoth machine begins to disappear. It pulls away very smoothly. At the next light you are a little more aggressive with the throttle. It still doesn't bite you. Your boldness increases with each start until you are blasting away at full throttle. It leaves a stop with surprisingly little violence. In fact, a Yamaha V-Max or one of the big sportbikes (which weigh less than half what this does), get away harder. That fat rear tire prevents wheelspin if traction is good, and the bike is too long and heavy to wheelie.
Once moving though, that big engine asserts itself as it picks up revs. If we grabbed a handful at 40 mph, we were going 70 mph as soon as we'd finished twisting the throttle. The one-speed transmission means there are no lurches as it shifts gears. Monty Warne of Boss Hoss tells us that quarter-mile times are only about 10.4 seconds. (The Kawasaki ZX-9R, the quickest sportbike tested by our sister magazine, Sport Rider, ran 9.99.) But the Hoss is going 140 mph and still in full song at the end of that sprint.
However, our pre-ride concerns focused more on handling than power control. The bike requires a large circle to turn around, and the wide, tall tank blocks your view of the front wheel, which also has a bit less lock than we'd wish for. But the Boss Hoss was quite steady dawdling along at a crawl. Low-speed turns were also steady, provided you didn't run out of room, and when we had to stop abruptly in the middle of a tight walking-speed turn, the bike's weight wasn't overwhelming. (It did get our attention, though, when we did this and put our foot down in an oily spot.)
With 130/90-16 Continental motorcycle tire on the front wheel and that big, square-profile Firestone P225/70R15 radial car tire on the back, we anticipated all sorts of adventures in corners. We were therefore extremely and pleasantly surprised to discover that the Boss Hoss actually tracked pretty precisely and smoothly around as many corners as we could find in south Florida. It steered with no more force than needed for other "big" bikes. We suspect that the makers of the tires shudder to think of their products being used in that context and combination, but at least on dry pavement, we couldn't find much to quibble about. You could tell that the rear tire's profile wasn't rounded like a motorcycle tire's, but you can confidently lean it over far enough to drag things, which requires more lean angle than many cruisers.
The considerable contact patch of the tires also helps the big bike get stopped in a reasonable distance. Although you need to apply relatively strong pressures, the bike will stop pretty hard. The dual-disc front brake requires strong pressure, and you also need to use the rear brake, which sports a very large disc, more than on most other bikes because of the long wheelbase and considerable traction available at the rear.
We were also pleased by the suspension, which offered a compliant ride through large and small bumps, helped no doubt by the long wheelbase, and which also provided good control while cornering. The Boss Hoss has better suspension than most more conventional cruisers.
This bike had a wide, low-rise handlebar, which offered good control and comfort. You sit with your feet forward and your legs spread wide around the tank, which spans more than two feet at its widest point. Assuming the position suits you (though some riders find wide tanks very uncomfortable), the only comfort complaint is likely to the substantial heat coming from the engine. The tank acts as a significant breeze breaker, so you don't fight wind pressure constantly at higher speeds. With a V-8 supplying the motivation, vibration was virtually non-existent, of course. Our machine's saddle was surprisingly comfortable, and would probably permit you to make it between fill-ups in comfort. When you consider that the Hoss gets a bit over 20 mpg on the highway for something over 200 miles between fuel stops, that tells you that the saddle is pretty substantial. As you might expect, there is plenty of room for taller riders or king-size couples.
Though we didn't take the Boss Hoss seriously before we rode this latest rendition, we do now. The build quality is comparable to some other major manufacturers' products, and the bike functions far better than we ever expected, and reasonably well by any criteria. Before we rode it, Tony Montenegro told us that the automatic transmission model is "a big scooter." That's a pretty accurate summary of this unique motorcycle. (Though it is becoming less unique. Success has bred competition; we noticed a new V-8-powered motorcycle brand being sold at Daytona.) The motorcycle is not only fun to ride, it's easy to ride. The automatic transmission may actually make it easier to ride for some people than other big bikes. The old one-speed, manual-clutch transmission is also available.
You can get a Boss Hoss in a variety of configurations. You can choose from three different engines in either the two-wheeler or a trike. You can buy it as a complete rolling chassis kit less engine for as little as $17,725 or buy a completed bike for prices ranging from a suggested $25,200 for the V-6 to $30,000 for the ZZ4 V-8. A dealer like Phantom, which sold about 30 of the bikes last year, can add custom paint and set a Boss Hoss up with a variety of options which may increase the price -- and the value -- a bit. The bike carries a one-year warranty on parts, and Phantom also provides warranty labor for the same period.
We arrived in Florida expecting to ride a bike that was memorable primarily for its novelty but not one that we'd really like riding. We enjoyed being proven wrong and discovering that wrapped around that big, bad V-8 is a viable motorcycle, one that you can ride every day. Even if you tire of its ability to give pedestrians whiplash, the Boss Hoss is a kick-in the-butt cruiser that's fun to ride, and not simply because of that huge engine.
RIDING THE TRIKE: Three for the Road
By Art Friedman
I freely admit to being a single-track chauvinist. Everyone knows that cars lean the wrong way in turns, and that tendency just gets uglier when you hang an extra wheel on a motorcycle. Sidecars can be downright scary, and I have always shied away from trikes for similar reasons.
Maybe it was the madness of Daytona Speed Week, where the normally unthinkable seems to become commonplace. In any event, when Boss Hoss offered, I took a ride on the V-8-powered trike.
The Chevy motif started by the engine is carried over to the styling on the trike we rode, where big tailfins reminiscent of a '57 run down either side of the trunk. The trunk not only provides storage but a substantial backrest for the passenger.
Unlike the two-wheeler, the trike uses a real three-speed automatic transmission with reverse (something you use on a three-wheeler) and park. The shifter is down on the left side of the bike. With two big tires on the back, concerns about wheelspin become remote. The trike seems to accelerate a bit harder off the line than the automatic motorcycle, and there was a slight tendency to pull under hard power, but this is nothing like the antics of a sidecar, which pulls one way under power and the other on the brakes.
Since I was concerned about handling, I took it to an empty parking lot and tried pitching it around a bit. I was pleased to learn that it didn't want to lift a wheel (like a sidecar turning into the sidecar) or push the front tire while cornering relatively hard, though my antics were somewhat curtailed by the fact that Jamie Elvidge came along as a passenger. I thought it would be bad form to pitch her off, especially since I'd told her she could ride it back, and payback can be exciting.
Completed Boss Hoss Trikes start at $29,000 for the V-6 or $32,500 for the V-8. Add-on kits for existing Boss Hoss owners start at $6500. If you are going to buy a trike, it might as well be a V-8, and the Boss Hoss seems to have much to recommend it.
My reservations about trikes remain. They seem to have most of the drawbacks of both a car (too wide to split lanes, lean the wrong way) and a motorcycle (exposed in a crash, no weather protection, limited passenger capability), though you do get a trunk and reverse. With all the power of the Boss Hoss, you also get to laugh out loud frequently and arrive with a big silly grin.
**Elvidge: **Wow. I'm still stunned. I'd seen mega-V's around and never given them a chance. It seemed like an absurd mix of metaphos, mating two of my very favorite things. Successfully putting a musclecar motor in a motorcycle was like saying Mother Teresa's spirit could be installed in Pamela Anderson's body.
When I first took a close look at the the Boss Hoss bikes in Daytona, I couldn't deny that the job had been done well. It's enormous, sure, but the overall package is tidy. I just couldn't wait to get on the thing.
Once you're moving, all matters of mass melt away. You can't help but cackle as your hurl down the street lookuing for a place that sells brake pads in bulk. The power is obscene.
What really amazed me though is how manageable this monster turned out to be. It handles like a well-hung touring bike might.
There are velocity factors, of course, and a side-to-side torque reaction that'll slap ypu to the street if you don't have both feet planted.
There's also the concern about whiplash...and wondering how to laugh without getting spit in your ears.
Lastly, and just this once, I'd like to bring up the completely irrelevant factior that I'm of the female persuasion. And not some muscle-packing mama either. So, if you find the sheer size of the beast a threat, just remember if a girly-girl can do it... Really, the only intimidating thing about this machine is the price. But, then again, who couldn't justifying a motorcycle that also doubles as a picnic table.
Call her "boss," Hoss, and email her at _Jamie.Elvidge@primedia.com.
**Friedman: **They have been busy in Dyersburg. When I rode one of the first Boss Hoss machines six years ago, I wanted nothing more to do with it. It was crudely constructed and clumsy to ride. Sure, it was fast in a straight line, but who wanted to put up with such an awful machine to get arrested for felony speeding? Maybe, I concluded, it would be just the thing for a rider who already had several bikes and needed something truly weird.
After riding this latest model, I find myself wanting to buy one. It's still fast, but most of the warts are gone. The automatic transmission does indeed make it as docile as a scooter until you bend your wrist hard, and it's more manageable in traffic than a 1500 Intruder. It's even comfortable.
I only agreed to ride the damn thing because I had a day to kill, and I thought I could have some fun describing how awful it was. Now it looks like that decision could cost me 25 grand.
**Brasfield: **OK, I admit it. My thoughts, when I saw the Boss Hoss in the flesh for the first time, were less than flattering. In fact, they went something like: "Give that thing two more wheels. It's a car." I had no desire to ride it and even passed on the opportunity to ride the trike. I guess the fins and the trunk convinced me that I was right.
However, I was wrong. When I had the time to look at a Boss Hoss at Phantom Cycles, a quieter more thoughtful environment than the mayhem of the South Daytona Beach display, I noticed that the bike was put together with a surprising attention to detail. While the bike was still clearly rooted in the penile enhancement segment of motorcycling (You know, bigger is always better), I began to feel that maybe the bike wasn't the lummox I initially thought it was. Now I wanted to ride it.
Riding the Boss Hoss was a gas. The funky-cool-o-meter went off the scale! Crank on the throttle at a stop, and the Hoss leans abruptly right. Cut the throttle, and the Hoss straightens just as abruptly. The Hoss is well balanced at all speeds but surprisingly so at low speeds. U-turns were a breeze. Acceleration was quick but not as violent as the engine's size would imply. Despite the automotive rear tire, the Hoss doesn't mind leaning way over. Oh, and people looked at me wherever I went on the Hoss. Some flat-out stared.
Hey, I guess I liked being enhanced.
Brasfield decided to be his own boss, Hoss, and now may be contacted via _ his website.
1998 Boss Hoss V-8
Suggested base price: $27,500, $17,725 kit (less engine)
Extra cost options: ZZ4 engine, add $2500
Standard warranty: 12 mos., parts only
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type: liquid-cooled V-8
Valve arrangement: two valves, operated by pushrods, hydraulic lifters
Lubrication: wet sump, 5.0 qt.
Transmission: 1-speed automatic
Final drive: belt, 3.5:1
Seat height: 28 in.
Wheelbase: 78 in.
Approximate wet weight: 1200 lbs.
GVWR: 1749 lbs.
Rake: 32 degrees
Wheels: 16x3.00 front, 15x8.00 rear
Front tire: 130/90-16 Continental
Rear tire: P225/70R15 Firestone
Front suspension: 50mm stanchions
Rear suspension: 2 dampers, adjustable for damping
Fuel capacity: 11.0 gal., (2.0 gal. reserve)
Instruments: speedometer, odometer, tripmeter, oil pressure gauge, water temperature gauge, voltmeter, tachometer or clock; indicator light for neutral
Boss Hoss Cycles
790 South Main St.
Dyersburg, TN 38024
Boss Hoss Cycles, Inc.
Boss Hoss Riders Association
PO Box 16076
Chattanooga, TN 37416-0076
East Coast Choppers (formerly Phantom Motorcycles)
1100 W. Oakland Park Blvd.
Fort lauderdale, FL 33311