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Big Dog Motorcycles unveils the new Bulldog

By Terry Roorda

Shapeshifter

The top Dog resurfaces—with baggage

Cincinnati, Feb. 7—The waiting game for the re-emergence of the Big Dog Motorcycles elusive premiere mount, the Bulldog, ended at last with the bike making its debut on the show floor of the V-Twin Expo. The development curve of this model has been a long and twisty one since its last reappearance in 2007, after having taken off all of 2006 before that. Explanations for the Bulldog’s absence over that protracted period changed repeatedly, beginning with the company’s assertion that the S&S 121-inch X-Wedge motor that was slated to appear on the model for 2008 was undergoing additional testing and not ready for prime time. When that motor found its way onto the impressive new Wolf unveiled in Cincinnati a year ago, the story changed, and we were told that the Bulldog was now set to undergo a thorough restyling along the lines of the boardtrack-inspired and critically-acclaimed Pitbull. At that point in time, it was still envisioned as the tricked-out Pro Street machine it had been since its inception. We were also informed at that time that Big Dog was fixing to wade into the suddenly-hot custom bagger market, and that the new Wolf would be adapted for that purpose. That assignment was cited as one of the principal reasons that the Wolf was riding on a relatively svelte 220mm rear tire—all the better to facilitate the fitment of hard bags of practical size and capacity, my dear.

All of that changed once more when the company launched their 2009 line-up last October. The Bulldog was still playing coy, and the Wolf showed up without bagger clothing. Instead, the company informed the quizzical press that the Bulldog would be coming along in short order, but rather than an X-Wedge-powered Pro Street, it would be a rubber-mounted bagger built on a conventional swingarm chassis. A late 2008 arrival was predicted. The model missed that due date as further development and refinement dragged on.

And on. In fact, the paint was still pretty much fresh when the bike was loaded onto the transporter in Wichita bound for Cincinnati, and a few minor details—the hardware and interior finishes on the fairing and saddlebags—remained to be finalized. Nevertheless, the bike displayed here is an impressive and eye-popping piece of work. It is, indeed, a rubber-mount machine with a conventional swingarm chassis; a configuration that was once a signature Big Dog setup, but one that they abandoned completely after the 2004 model year as contemporary tastes ran to the ever-more radical.

The Bulldog’s frame is sourced from Daytec and the shocks are Works Performance units. The front tire is a sleek 21-inch, 120mm skin on an inverted Mean Streets front fork raked to a roadworthy 37 degrees. The bike rides on 250mm rubber in the rear, but despite that wide footprint, the saddlebags don’t protrude awkwardly, and offer a practical amount of storage capacity. Each will stow a half-shell helmet and then some. The exhaust system used on the Bulldog bends the front header back around the timing cover, permitting a natural foot reach to the operator floorboard.

Of special note on this model is the powerplant. In their efforts to emphasize distance-friendly performance attributes, the Big Dog engineers eschewed both the 121-inch X-Wedge and their workhorse S&S 117-inch motor, opting instead for an S&S 111-incher. That’s a first for Big Dog, but one that makes perfect sense. That motor’s chief virtue is a low vibration level for such a big mill, which in combination with rubber-mount isolation promises—in the abstract, at least—to make the bike a smooth operator on the highway.

That attention to operational calm and comfort extends to the Bulldog’s fairing as well. A goodly portion of the bike’s late development period was spent in the wind tunnel, an exercise that resulted in the addition of a pair of lower fairing wings mounted on the forks to neutralize errant wind effects and improve the protective properties of the whole setup. That should help with cockpit acoustics as well, which are a consideration here since the fairing houses an Alpine sound system. The system forgoes a CD player in favor of an MP3 interface, and also features a radio and Blue Tooth capability.

Current plans for the $39,900 Bulldog call for limited availability commencing on April 15. The initial 2009 model run will produce 15 units, all finished in Big Dog Motorcycles 15th anniversary paint and graphic treatment. Production will begin in earnest on 2010 models, we’re told, in late May or early June.

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