In this week’s Church feature, we look at the Yamaha BT1100 Bulldog. Not familiar to some of our American readers? That’s because it never came to this side of the Atlantic, possibly a contestant for a future list about bikes we never got in this country. Sharing the same V-Twin engine from the Virago (aka V-Star 1100) we did get here, this naked standard has hints of Buell Lightning and Ducati Monster written all over it. Let’s travel back to 2002 and get Yossef Schvetz’s take on this Euro-only category buster.
First Ride: Yamaha BT1100 Bulldog
Naked urban retro standard cruiser all-purpose love scooter…
Mechanically speaking, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. If that motor looks familiar, that’s because it’s been around for 20 years now, having powered the first ever Japanese V-twins, the Viragos 750 & 920 (and later the 1100 Drag-Star). The air-cooled, two-valve-per-cylinder unit has never won any horsepower contests, so any expectations you should have for easy burnouts on the twist of the throttle would better be shelved. The frame, on the other hand, is one bold and massive piece and holds much promise for rigidity and sporting prowess while enhancing the bike’s looks with its daring mid-tank plunge. Further strengthening that sporty image are those R1 brakes, beefy right-way-up forks and a 170-section rear tire. And then you notice it’s got a nerdy shaft drive and handlebar risers. Confused? So was I.
With a fully upright riding position and a tiny bikini fairing for wind protection, cruising speed depends mainly on your will to fight the air pressure. The engine is capable of propelling the Bulldog to some 110 mph, but eventually 90 is a far more reasonable proposition. The limited amount of horses in the stable means that quick overtaking requires a downshift or two, but as long as you’re not trying to compete with any squids out there, the BT gets the job done without any perceivable vibration.
On long freeway stints, the all-too-accommodating saddle becomes more of a pain in the rear. As it often happens these days, it’s another case of a too-sculpted seat that keeps you pinned to just one position. Borrowing a term used by a MO reader, if your “lard factor” is above average, there’s a good chance that things are going to be a bit cramped in the gender-defining zone.
Cramped or not, the Bulldog comes into its own again when the going gets twisty. There, the mixture of great stability and high grip provided by those huge tires, the stiff frame and the ample leverage of the wide bars works really nice, enabling a good rider to maintain an entertaining pace. Just like a good adventure tourer, the Bulldog supplies clean fun in the twisties, but it’s no supermoto.
The 506 pounds Yamaha cites as the bike’s dry weight, and the slightly underdamped fork eventually start to be felt when the pace picks up. Just as well, ground clearance is not one of the BT’s main virtues, although by now it starts to be clear that on the BT1100, if you’re pushing that hard, you are certainly calling the wrong number. In the braking department, the BT1100 doesn’t need any excuses. It’s R1 derived brakes need no introduction and supply ample power and feel in any situation. The rear brake, though, is almost too potent and locks too easily, not the best thing if you are a beginner.
Beginner? Who said beginner? Here at MO we are all a bunch of hairy- arsed bikers, aren’t we? Must have been my unconscious playing games. After a few days of riding, the fact that the BT is one docile ride that could be a stepping stone for anybody climbing up the capacity ladder cannot be denied, and that in itself is quite refreshing. Save for Suzuki’s SV650, there hasn’t been a new, true beginner’s mount in quite a long time, certainly not an 1100cc model.
Then we have that design issue. Just like in a cruiser, where performance is secondary to looks (or at least it used to be…), the BT1100 provides a hot conversation topic whenever it is parked in a bike-choked lot. Yamaha is the only Japanese company using the services of an external design office (GK Design) and that reflects on many of its models. The daring and courageous shapes of the Bulldog might have never been born within the confines of corporate design.
Above all, the Bulldog is one hell of an urban tool. I had a hard time trying to recall a bike that was so much fun to just hop on and go for those little errands–to my lover’s or to get (cigarette!) rolling papers from the corner shop. Weigh in other factors like the low maintenance drive shaft and engine and the BT1100 starts making sense as groovy everyday transportation, beginner rider or not. Last but not least is the price issue. In Europe, the BT is sold in the same price bracket as the H-D Sportster, Triumph Bonneville and Ducati Monster 750. Against that sort of character-laden opposition, the BT1100 is on level battling ground. Will its quirky character appeal to the American riding public? That’s the big question. At the moment Yamaha thinks not.
BT1100 Tech Spec Engine Type: air-cooled 4-stroke V-twin, SOHC Displacement: 1,063 mm Bore x Stroke: 95 x 75 mm Compression ratio: 8.3:1 Maximum power: 65 hp @ 5,500 rpm Maximum torque: 64 ft-lb @ 4,500 rpm Seat height: 812 mm Wheelbase: 1,530 mm Dry weight, claimed: 506 lb Fuel capacity: 5.3 U.S. gallon Chassis Front tire: 120/70 ZR17 Front brakes: Dual 298mm discs, four-piston calipers Front suspension: Telescopic fork Front travel: 130 mm Rear Tire: 170/60 ZR17 Rear suspension: single coil-over shock absorber, link type Rear travel: 113 mm Rear brakes: Single 282 mm disc, two-piston caliper