“I want one of these in my garage,” said CB art director John Skipp during our road test of the Big Dog K-9 and Wolf—two offerings from Wichita-based Big Dog Motorcycles, now available in Canada.
The pro-street Big Dog K-9 is the company’s best seller while the Wolf is new to the market this year rounding out the company’s seven bike lineup. A flashy custom would be an asset to most garages. There is something about rolling down the freeway on an extreme chopper with a great paint scheme that is not replicated on other types of motorcycles. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment when you are rolling on a 23-inch polished wheel encased by 12-inch rubber. Sure, there are faster bikes. More comfortable bikes. Bikes that handle better. But the production customs John and I sampled are all about the bling—everywhere you take them, people stop to stare. The first comment came after only one minute into our ride, and they kept on coming at every stop along the way. One guy said, “Those bikes look like someone waved a magic wand over something on paper.”
“That’s what it feels like to ride them too,” replied Skipp.
It seems that most people are aware of choppers after much exposure on television and movies. Yet seeing one out and about in the real world is still a thrill for the gentry.
Most people have never ridden a seriously raked-out chopper and John—though he’s an ardent cruiser rider with a Road King he purchased earlier this year parked in his garage—falls into this category. As I was years ago on my first foray into the field, it was “Holy $3@!, how am I going to ride that thing?” I anticipated his learning curve had better be fast as it was only about 400 metres from the dealership to the freeway on-ramp. For others in the same boat, rest assured. If you can ride your own motorcycle and reach the controls you can ride a chopper or stretched pro-street. The basics are the same and the low centre of gravity is beneficial. The crucial point is to adjust your riding style to meet the needs of the bike. They may be big and long but they still turn and they still stop.
How long are they exactly? The Big Dog K-9 is nine feet long and the Wolf a whopping nine feet, four inches. To put this into perspective a Road King is a touch over eight feet long while a Kawasaki ZX-10 is just over seven feet in overall length.
Nine feet makes for a large rolling canvas, so great visuals are key. The paint is excellent, almost all the pieces are chromed and the covers etched with the Big Dog logo. The fit and finish of the bikes are impressive and there’s attention to details like braided brake lines and chrome grips, items such as the blue backlit speedometer which in the Big Dog K-9 had an electronic tach built into the bevel around the outside and was actually easy to read. The Wolf speedometer features an inset digital screen with multifunctions and Big Dog graphics. To me, the best illustration of the thought that went into the design of the bike are the buttons for the hand controls. They are logical, subtle and would look good on any motorcycle be it cruiser, sportbike or dualsport. Often these buttons seem an after thought and I have seen some fitted by major manufacturers that didn’t match these. While sitting on the side of the road getting ready to shoot the bikes for the first time I looked at a motorcycle and it occurred to me that some bikes just look better with a rider aboard—the Wolf is one of those motorcycles. It needs a rider in that deep sculpted area to make the proportions and lines all make sense. On the other hand, the K-9’s design is iconic.
Powering the Dogs are the Wolf’s 121 cu. in. fuel-injected S&S X-Wedge motor, and the K-9 ‘s 117-cubic incher which also comes fuel injected but with a carb option. Both motors are mated to six-speed transmissions. For exhaust systems, there’s a set of slash cut pipes on the Wolf and a pair of Vance & Hines shotguns on the K-9 which provided a bit more bark though not obtrusively so.
Finally, laying the Wolf’s power on the pavement is a 220-series rear tire, the skinniest in the lineup, while the K-9 prowls along on 300-section rubber. Power wise the two engines seem to be about equal but the X-Wedge was chosen for the Wolf because it produces less vibration and is, in some respects, a simpler engine while producing a claimed 90 hp and 110 ft/lbs. torque.
MR. SKIPP AND I WHEELED INTO Washington state’s Cascade mountains on one of the most famous motorcycle roads in the country. It is technical and requires judicious use of the throttle and brakes. On the way up I was on the Wolf and felt quite comfortable through tight corners although I was waiting for something to grind—nothing did. The 220 tire showed its advantages.
The ride back down on the K-9 required more work as the big 300 rear tire wanted to stand up through the corners. As mentioned earlier, the key to success is modifying your riding style to match the bikes. Through the corners you need to be on the brakes early, but the bikes pull strongly out of those corners.
At the end of the day John and I were split as to which bike we preferred to ride. He enjoyed the Wolf while I went with the K-9. Skipp liked the handling of the Wolf more and I’ll admit that it was better through the tight bits. But it was only in the extreme winding sections that this became apparent. The K-9 on the other hand was a more comfortable ride as the ergonomics are more casual even though the bike looks more extreme. Also the Big Dog K-9 is 60 pounds lighter than the Wolf’s 770 lbs, which did enhance its handling in comparison.
After almost eight hours on the road with a couple of wild rides, we both felt pretty good. The compromises for riding these bikes where styling is everything were minimal. There was the expected vibration from those big motors and clutch and the throttles require a strong hand—but the suspensions are relatively plush. So much so that we never felt bone jarred by the ride. The K-9 was more comfortable than the Wolf because of its riding position.
It should be pointed out here that for test purposes we rode the bikes further and faster than they are ideally intended to go—putting on long hard miles is not their primary mission. But could we have ridden across the pass to the far side of the Cascades and still been comfortable? There is, in fact, a list of touring accessories for the Wolf and the K-9 should you decide to bolt on some saddlebags and a windscreen to travel the country in unique style. The tanks are both four-plus gallons and Big Dog says the bikes will get 42 mpg. Oddly I saw more police on this trip than I had seen combined in the last six months. It added to the aura that we were rolling on a couple of bad boys. Riding into a small backwoods town the sheriff’s SUV turned in behind us. I half expected a warning not to come into town looking for trouble while all we were really looking for was a good hamburger. Mostly these Big Dogs are going to be ridden in and around town where they will invariably have the effect for which they are intended. A word of caution though, if you don’t like talking to people, these aren’t the bikes for you.
There are now more and more custom manufacturers entering the Canadian market and far more in the US market. It is a dog eat dog market and you have to bring your best game to the showroom floor. And in this market you also have to bring your best price to the showroom floor. The Big Dog K-9 has a base price of $33,675, while the Wolf carries a base price of $39,125. What you are getting for your money is a bike, particularly with the K-9 chopper, that will still look good and draw attention 10 years from now because the style is timeless and proven to be enduringly charismatic. John Skipp looked at the prices and calculated they are about what he just paid for his own bike. However, John’s Road King is still going to need a few more dollars thrown at it to separate it from the crowd, while the Big Dogs are already lone wolves—so to speak.
This is definitely one of the only cases where going to the dogs is absolutely a good thing.
John Molony, Canadian Biker #255