2005 Big Dog Ridgeback Road Test
Aggressive, intense, and uncompromising, wherever this bike goes it is the center of attention. As I soon discovered, if you’re not in the mood to talk about it, you’d better hop off running. I found, though, that you meet the nicest people on a chopper.
“Whoa! Nice bike, mister! Is that an Orange County Chopper?” The stylish rear-mounted kickstand hadn’t even touched asphalt as a trio of pre-adolescent boys hailed my arrival at Johnny Rocket’s hamburger joint.
“Nah, lil’ dudes, actually it’s a Big Dog Ridgeback. They call it a Ridgeback because of the rigid frame design. No rear suspension, see?”
“Why do they do that?”
“Mostly to keep icky girls off the back, but it also allows the fender to fit super snug to the massive R250/40 x18 back tire which dwarfs the MH90 x 21 front tread and gives it a really, umm, rad look. It’s still cool to say ‘rad,’ isn’t it?
“Anyway, despite a dry weight of 631 lbs. the engine is so well-balanced by the frame geometry that there isn’t a drop of flop at slow speeds. The 1.5-inch diameter tubing forms a four-inch backbone, eight-inch downtube, and two-inch rear axle that have been expertly configured to combine some modicum of handling with an extreme chopper look. Heck, Pugsley, with a 24.5-inch seat height, even you could probably ride it.”
I offered to trade the kid the chopper for his BMX, but he and his gang just laughed, smiled, and rode away. Guess he hadn’t checked the blue-book value of a slightly used Ridgeback lately.
Unlike most things, the beauty of the bike was not wasted on the young. “Hello, sonny, that looks like one of Arlen Ness’ bikes,” offered a grandfatherly gent with his hand on my elbow.
“Actually, sir, it’s a Big Dog Ridgeback.”
“I always used to wonder how fellas could ride such crazy-looking contraptions. It must be hard to do, right?”
“Well, sir, riding a rigid chopper is sort of like dating a supermodel. They both can be a pain, but if you learn how to handle ‘em right, they have their ways of making it up to you.”
I explained that the steering locks out to prevent the bike from flopping, so turns need to be planned somewhat to accommodate the decreased lean angle and four-inch ground clearance. Fast sweepers require a bit of hip buck to get the jumbo rear meat on edge, but it’s a badass Born to Be Wild feeling once you’re slotted in.
Since the Ridgeback is stretched up more than out, the 37 degrees of frame rake and three-degree triple-tree rake looks extreme but handles better than you’d expect. You’re still talking about wrangling a nine-foot-long bike, but it doesn’t take long to master and once you do, you’re lovin’ life. At this point a Jetta full of young hotties cruised past and spontaneously squealed in unison, “We like your bike!” I interrupted my explanation to shout back, “It likes you, too!”
My senior friend grinned widely as I shrugged and continued on: “Considering the fact that a rigid chopper is typically a chiropractic nightmare, I’d give Big Dog extremely high marks for their attention to ergonomics.”
The seat is surprisingly cushy and supportive while maintaining a low profile. To my surprise, at 5’9″ I’m completely comfortable with the stretch, and they even offer a two-inch push seat, which has a thicker backrest that moves the rider two inches closer to the handlebar. A one-inch retracted forward control relocation kit is also available. The bike is “cruisable” for hours on smooth roads, even up to 70 mph, but the 41mm telescopic, 12-inch-over front suspension provides no refuge once the rear tire meets a seam, pucker or pothole.
If you can see a bump coming and create some clearance between the bike’s seat and yours, you’ll save yourself a thumping. Low-visibility situations such as freeway riding at night will definitely add a few gray hairs to your head, though, and possibly subtract a few teeth.
At this point, one of the Johnny Rocket waiters strolls over. “Sweet bike! Hey, is that one of those Jesse James choppers? How big is the engine?”
“Glad you asked. It’s a 107-cubic-inch, air-cooled, 45-degree V-Twin with four-inch bore and 4.25-inch stroke running a compression ratio of 9:6:1. The fuel is mixed by an S&S Super G carburetor. Torque is delivered through a chain primary and belt final drive.”
“Uh, cool, I guess. Is it fast?”
“Hell yeah, as long as you’ve got a smooth runway ahead of you, you’ll be flyin’ like Jefferson Airplane!” The falling-rate clutch mechanism delivers predictable power application and the extra gear of the Baker six-speed transmission helps smooth things out at maximum velocity. A falling-rate clutch varies the affect of torque on the gearbox, depending on the rpm. This helps minimize jerking or stalling when using a powerful engine.
The transmission has a light, almost digital feel. You don’t get an audible clunk to tell you that you’ve driven ‘er home, but she hasn’t missed a gear on me yet-except for neutral, that is. Finding neutral can take a bit of toe coaxing. It’s easier to shift into neutral just before you come to a stop than attempting it while standing still.
Deployed simultaneously, the front and rear PM four-piston calipers do an admirable job of bringing you back down to still earth in normal conditions and situations. But if you hit some unanticipated ripples in the road while locking up the brakes for an emergency stop, you might find your rear tire bunny-hopping off the ground, the forks and frame shimmying, and your butt in the sky as you try to Superman your way to a halt.
“Wow, it must be loud, huh?”
“Sounds like thunder, only better,” I said as I turned it over and gave it a good rev. I’m sort of an aficionado of motorcycle sounds and I’ve gotta say, this bike has an amazing range of growls, grunts, purrs and roars. It kind of makes you feel like you’re riding a lion, and people look at you as if you are.
“Hey, dawg, is that the new Big Dog Ridgeback?”
“No, it’s a‚Ä¶why, yes. Yes it is!” A group of five urban looking gents had poured out of a late-model SUV still vibrating from the bass of its 10-billion-watt stereo system.
“How’d you know it was a Big Dog?”
“Awww, man, I ride a Pitbull. I heard they was comin’ out with this. They didn’t cheat you on the chrome, homey!”
“Word. It’s still cool to say ‘word,’ isn’t it?”
“Anyway, I have to agree, the fit and finish is really impressive. Hey, check this out.”
I demonstrated the way the digital, multi-colored LED tach wraps around the upper lip of the speedo and flashes dramatically after the engine has been idling for 30 seconds. Although it is not tied to a heat sensor, this is, ostensibly, to let you know that the motor may be getting hot, but methinks it’s more of a peacock display, really.
Big Dog did a great job of keeping the look clean by hiding the oil tank, and using flush-mounted hand controls with integrated master cylinders. Despite its old-school heritage, the rigid features modern conveniences like electronic ignition, self-canceling turn signals and extra-yard touches like rubber grips injection-molded into the billet pegs and hand controls for durability.
I would have appreciated a fuel gauge, though. The 4.25-gallon gas tank has a tiny reserve, so you’d better watch the odometer and know when to say when. I got 28 mpg, which means about a 100-mile cruising range. Despite rolling off an assembly line, Big Dog provides plenty of customization options, including four wheel styles, 19 frame colors, and nearly 70 graphics to choose from, as if the bike itself isn’t custom enough.
Their Web site, www.bigdogmotorcycles.com, has them all on display, as well as a dealer locator so you can go lust after one in person. Speaking of which, unlike a one-off custom, the bike comes with a two-year warranty included in the $25,000 MSRP. Some of their factory options, such as a pillion, a sissy bar, T-bags and a windscreen struck me as downright nonsensical for a rigid chopper, but then again, I’ve seen stranger things. As I rambled on about elegant touches like the LED brake lights and turn signals, and split handlebars, I was finally interrupted.
“You know what’s dope about this ride? That chopper look’s been around for 40 years, and it ain’t never goin’ out of style, man.”
“Yeah, it’s a total blast cruising on this bike. They call customs ‘rolling sculptures’ but I feel more like I’m riding a parade float. Everyone waves and smiles and comes over to shake your hand and talk to you. It’s like being the mayor of every town you stop at.”
“Right on, Mayor Bass, I gotta’ roll, but here’s my card. Let’s go ridin’ some time.” As the posse turned to leave, I quickly grabbed a table before another onlooker could bend my ear. It had been an hour since I pulled over-and it was finally time for lunch. CR