Sunday, May 8, 2011

2008 Big Dog Pitbull Bike Test

The 2008 Big Dog Pitbull stands out in the crowd with its innovative design and monster wheel combo.
The 2008 Big Dog Pitbull stands out in the crowd with its innovative design and monster wheel combo.
Maybe you're not supposed to catapult a 724-lb factory custom at triple digit speeds down the freeway with the black patch of your 280mm Avon rear tire kicking up rocks at cars like a schoolyard bully. And maybe we shouldn't have flogged a so-called 'trailer queen' over 140 miles of washed-out, pothole-laden roads of I-40 and old Route 66 in the Mojave Desert, but we did. We didn't have to attack curve-riddled Oregon mountain backroads to test the handling of an eight-and-a-half foot long rigid chopper with a mondo front wheel either, but if we didn't, who would?

Big Dog Motorcycles' 2008 Pitbull definitely isn't all show and no go. If it was, it would never have endured the 1000+miles of asphalt-grinding we've put it through in the last month. On the contrary, the Pitbull has dealt with all of the punishment we could dole out with amazing alacrity for a pro-street power cruiser with best-of-show good looks.

The Pitbull has been Big Dog's flagship of design innovations for the last ten years. In 1998, it was introduced as the company's first rigid frame motorcycle. In 2002, at the cusp of the fat-back revolution, the Pitbull was the first Big Dog to roll off the line with a 250mm rear tire. Now in its tenth year of production, the Pitbull continues to be the showcase for Big Dog ingenuity, as this year's Pitbull is like no other Dog in the kennel.

Changes to the new breed of Pitbull include reducing the insane 39-degree rake angle from last year's Pitbull to a more rider-friendly 31 degrees for 2008. They also shortened up the wheelbase from 77.5 inches to 73, raised the seat height by 1.25 inches and threw on a pair of adjustable Works Performance shock absorbers underneath the seat pan. The tire dimensions are all new, running taller and wider than before up front. Out back, Big Dog shaved 20mm off the rear tire's width but went taller by a couple of inches. The motorcycle also put on 25 lbs from last year's model, tipping the scales tank-empty at a claimed 678 lbs.

With the chassis totally reconfigured, Big Dog also revamped the styling. With boardtracker-inspired designs winning top honors at the 2007 AMD World Championships and Roland Sands finding inspiration in the old-school racers for his KRV5 Tracker, Big Dog recognized this trend and followed suit with the 2008 Pitbull. It fobbed up a one piece steel tank and put a six-inch stretch on the backbone to prominently display it on. Instead of the soft, rounded tanks of yore, the Pitbull's new 4.6 gallon tank is a cut above. Wide up front and narrow in back, the new design is angled and elongated with distinguishable contours. Two-tone paint enhances the tank's shape while pinstripe tribal graphics bring it all together. The new design sets the motorcycle apart from previous models and is the first thing that garners attention. Luckily, Big Dog's smooth-flowing script decorates both sides of the tank so that when you're asked for the umpteenth time who the motorcycle is made by, all you need to do is point.

 We started with a clean sheet of paper with no carry-overs in the major areas of chassis  frame geometry  and other primary components   said Executive VP Nick Messer.
Though it boasts a 73-inch wheelbase and is 8.5-feet long, the bike's stretch and low-profile mask its size.
"We started with a clean sheet of paper with no carry-overs in the major areas of chassis, frame geometry, and other primary components. The end result is a fresh, new motorcycle with its own distinctive look and a very dynamic silhouette," said Big Dog's Executive VP, Nick Messer.

Dynamic is right. This dynamism is carried over to the 2008 Pitbull's selection of monster wheels. You won't see a much bigger wheel than the 23-inch tall, 130mm wide front on the Pitbull. The front end's immensity was put in perspective when I loaded the 2008 Pitbull in our Sprinter van next to a 2008 Ducati 848 and the Big Dog's tire sat midway up the 848's tank. With a front wheel that mammoth, Big Dog had to go big out back to maintain the bike's flow. The rear wheel is no slouch in its own right, standing 20-inches tall by 280mm wide. It is connected directly to the 1.75-inch tubular rigid frame, and the absence of a swingarm means that more of the wheel's chrome is on display. The 6-spoke polished billet front/back combo puts off more shine than Flavor Flav's grillz and can provide riders more game than the "Flavor of Love" star.

Despite its gaudy dimensions, the 2008 Pitbull is an 8.5-foot long optical illusion. Big Dog engineers did an excellent job of keeping the design balanced. It was smart for Big Dog to counter the 23-inch tall front tire with an equally imposing 280mm rear. The tank integrates into the design by stretching down the six-inch over standard backbone and matching the smooth arc of the tubular steel frame. The distinct lines formed by the fuel cell are carried over to the low-rise chrome handlebars that swoop over and run parallel to the tank. A low stance, big engine and big dual pipes make the motorcycle appear more compact than its purported 73-inch wheelbase. The rider's triangle, comprised of a 25.5-inch seat height, forward-mounted foot controls and 1.25-inch rubber-mounted handlebars set at slightly more than shoulder width leaves riders down and back on the bike, sitting upright with a slight forward body lean, arms aggressively out and up. My wife kiddingly said that I finally find a bike that I don't look big on.

But it is a big bike. Big enough to utilize the almost 2000cc of displacement churned out by its 117 c.i. S&S engine. You can't skimp on power when you're pushing tires the size of the Pitbull's. The torque-filled, long-stroke powerplant doesn't disappoint and is one of the motorcycle's strongest features.

The first indicator that I was in for a fun ride came when I heard the bass-filled exhaust note. It is the type of bellowing note capable of setting off overly-sensitive car alarms. But sounds can be deceiving, so I gave the firm clutch a squeeze, notched it down into first gear, and twisted the light-action throttle's rubber grip. Engagement into first gear is solid and precise, the exhaust's growl grows in the belly of the big-bored bike and then explodes out the back as the overhead valves feed the 4.125-inch pistons. Throttle response isn't instantaneous, but get the bike up to approximately 2300 rpm and you'd better be holding on tight.

Ride it like a rock star. The  08 Pitbull  has star-studded styling.
Riding the 2008 Big Dog Pitbull can be habit forming. When you're not riding it, you're wishing you were.
The motorcycle pulls like a mule throughout the powerband until a little past the 5K range and registered 93.75-lbs of max torque at 3300 rpm on our Dynojet 200i. And while the torque peaked in the middle of the rpm range, max horsepower doesn't arrive until much later. Which means that at 75 mph, you've got to hold on to the pullback handlebars with an iron grip because the motorcycle has plenty more juice waiting to be tapped into. Rolling down I-5 in fifth gear doing 75 at 2500rpm is like Ken Griffey Jr. finding the sweet spot on his bat when he hits a 450-foot homer, the moment when everything comes together just right.

But 1916cc of power would be wasted if you didn't have a top-notch tranny getting the big wheel rolling. The Baker 6-speed transmission is impressive. Every shift I experienced with the Pitbull's Baker 6 was solid, it clicks firmly into gear, and I never missed a shift. First through third gears are straight cut and give the Pitbull good pop off the line for a 700 lb cruiser, while fourth and fifth gears are helical to keep noise and vibrations to a minimal. Actuating the Baker's 6-speed internals is a redesigned clutch that still requires a firm squeeze but fortunately requires a short pull.

The 2008 Pitbull uses a Super G Carb as the fuel delivery system of choice, but Big Dog introduced electronic fuel injection in last year's Bulldog and offers it as an option for California residents who want a Pitbull parked in their garage but have stringent state-mandated emission standards to deal with.

"The EFI model incorporates a closed-loop EFI system that constantly checks engine temperature and speed, manifold vacuum, and uses an additional sensor to compare the amount of oxygen in the exhaust with the amount of outside air. It instantly responds and delivers the precise fuel mixture to the engine under all riding and weather conditions," said Big Dog's Marketing Director, Paul Hansen.

Big Dog must be doing something right in its quest for the perfect fuel/air mixture. Despite riding the bike harder than most buyers, including lots of hard stop and gos and overrevs, the motorcycle got an impressive 41.23 mpg. Not only will the mill try and tug your shoulders out of their sockets, but it does so with calculated efficiency. Using the bike for my daily 60-mile round-trip commute meant that I could comfortably log about 150 miles before I needed to start thinking about finding a gas station. Though the price of gas might not be a primary concern for someone who just plopped down $28K on a motorcycle, it demonstrates that efficiency and power can go hand in hand.

The moments spent ripping up and down the I-5 corridor is where the Pitbull's handling is the most comfortable. Leaning into big sweepers, the low profile Avon Venom-R grips well and the bike has plenty of clearance before you scrape a peg. Bringing in the rake eight degrees makes turn-in better than other chopped-out factory customs I have ridden. But make no mistake. Being a rigid, the dual Works Performance gas shocks under the seat and the large diameter tires absorb some of the bumps in the road, but you're going to ride acutely in tune with imperfect road surfaces. With a suspension-less 280mm rear tire and a super tall 23-inch wheel up front on a light front end, steering can be a labor of love. While testing out the twisties of some of our favorite Oregon back roads, the dimensions add up to a heavy turner that prefers standing straight up instead of transitioning. But this motorcycle isn't built for riders looking to drag a knee. It's made for getting to your destination in style, at your own pace, and looking good while you're doing it.

The numbers from our Dynojet 200i show that at 2300rpm  you d better be holding on because that s where the big S S unleashes most of its power.
Horsepower and torque numbers off our Dynojet 200i confirm that at about 2300rpm you'd better be holding on tight because that's where the brunt of the S&S mill unleashes its power.
Tightening the leash on the Pitbull isn't a problem. The front brakes bite thanks to Performance Machine four-piston calipers clamping down on two-piece stainless steel racing-style brake rotors. A differential-bore caliper mounted to the front increases stopping power. Braided steel brake lines look great and respond fast. The rotor's carriers have been machined to match the design of the wheels, which is a good thing since they are one of the most highly-touted features of the bike.

Fair warning. Don't buy this bike if you're antisocial. Be prepared to answer questions from the inquisitive at gas stations, to acknowledge thumbs ups from farmers in Ford trucks at stop lights, and to stop if the occasional law enforcement officer wants you to pull over so that they can check out your ride. Even grizzled Harley riders gave me their nod of approval when cruising down Casino Drive at the recent Laughlin River Run.

So why was the 2008 Big Dog Pitbull chosen over a host of others for the 2008 V-Twin of the Year at the Cincinnati V-Twin Expo? I would wager its innovative boardtracker-inspired design, its smooth lines and overall balance played a major role. Throw in a monster wheel combo, a snortin' S&S engine and the way Big Dog has kept the design clean without being overdone and you've got a winner. It's also a bargain for its $27,500 MSRP considering a comparable motorcycle from Big Bear Choppers, its Athena ProStreet Model, goes for $33,400, and OCC's lowest-priced factory custom chopper, the T-Rex Softail tags for $38,900. We can't vouch for the other two factory custom's durability, but we'll go to bat for the Pitbull. Best-of-show with plenty of go. Hard to beat that combo.

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