The theme of ridiculous cruisers continues for this week’s Church feature. Last week we brought you the mildly outlandish, but wonderfully brutish Kawasaki Vulcan 2000. Its ridiculousness lie in its monstrous V-Twin engine. This time, we bring you the 2004 Big Dog Ridgeback, which is a reminder to the crazy (and concurrent with the big-engine fad at the time) trend of utterly impractical, yet wildly designed choppers of a decade ago. What did the 2004 MO crew think about it? Considering Sean thinks you’re an idiot if you fell for the chopper fad, that should set the tone for this story.
2004 Big Dog Ridgeback
Fonzie says: I found the Ridgeback to be exciting, roaring and spine tingling – then again, that might just be my spinal discs smashing together (in a good way) – Rigid choppers aren’t meant to be comfortable and the hard-assed biker types like to show their pain tolerance in a raucous and heavily chromed kinda way. Yes, I know that Motorcycle.Com isn’t really the place where bikers come to read about the latest iron horses, but they will if I can help it. Motorcycles are motorcycles and if you can love the Concours, while ridiculing it at the same time, you probably understand where those of us in the chopper world are coming from. So again, yes, this is a motorcycle and it is a beast!
Dig out those padded spandex riding shorts and protective cups boys & girls, this motorcycle will try to break you. If you survive with all your bits intact, you’ll probably come home with a few more phone numbers than you left with and you’ll surely have a great tale to tell to the kids… Ok, maybe not the kids, but your buddies will love to hear ’em. Except for that one about the time when you were stranded on the boulevard thanks to the Ridgeback’s tiny reserve tank and the only number you got was to some dude’s house from the Brothers club; then no one wants to hear your stories. Sorry, think about it.
Rolling-in with a wheelbase of nearly 9 feet and a displacement of 1750cc, the Big Dog Ridgeback is a head turner to say the least. Roaring out a claimed 100+ horsepower (We say “claimed” because the thing is way too long for our Dynojet), the 250mm wide meat on the back chops up the road with a fearful growl. Averaging nearly 40 mpg from a 4.25-gallon tank, the Ridgeback can cruise all day long if you can! That’s 160 miles to a tank on the highway, which will make that day seem more like five on this hardtail.
Meant for boulevard cruising for sure, Sunset Blvd is a popular choice here in Sunset Blvd is a popular choice here in sunny SoCal. However, Sunset is chopped to sh*t and I would avoid it at all costs on a Chopper. Highways and long straights are the terrain this bad-boy was made for. With an open road and a smooth cruising speed of around 65mph, a dreamer can smile, growl, bite, snarl and scare the children all in one pass through town. Snap the Baker 6-speed in gear, whack the throttle and hang on, perhaps even close your eyes… but pray you miss the potholes! With a set of Kerker pipes to deafen the neighborhood, throw in the stunning Big Dog billet wheels and a personal disregard for the health of your spinal column and hind teeth, and you’re a real lady-killer. Grrr…
Riding all day at freeways speeds is not only possible but can even be enjoyable. However, when you come to the off ramp, you better chomp on the full set of 4-piston PM’s and bring the ‘ol girl down to first gear and be happy they moved the kickstand rearward this year, because the ground clearance is pretty much what you’d expect, non-existent! Lean angle, what’s a lean angle? Don’t even bother hitting the twisties on a bike like this. Most guys stick to wide sweepers and freeways when enjoying the ‘Ol Dog, instead of fighting their way through a couple hundred turns at 15mph.
As the only rigid framed chopper in the Big Dog lineup [The Pitbull model doesn’t have the 8″ stretch to its downtube like the Ridgeback and is 12″ shorter in the forks.], most of the time the Ridgeback left me wishing it was the softtail version. The Big Dog “Chopper” has pretty much the same look and features as the Ridgeback, but includes a soft-tail type frame and rear suspension. If you want the comfort to ride from SoCal to Sturgis, the “Chopper” is your best bet and I’m anxiously waiting for a chance to prove it! The “Chopper” and “Ridgeback’s” low-slung saddles put the rider “behind” the gas tank, sparing you from much of the windblast, kinda like a dual-purpose fairing. This helps to ease the usual strain that an ass-low, hands-high, feet-forward riding position causes at sustained freeway speeds. Another “comfy” feature I found during my stint riding this beast, is the saddle length and foot-pegs. Although there is no pillion seat to speak of, the stock passenger pegs come in handy for lifting your butt off the saddle in a jockey type riding position, saving your spine on choppy roads. Slide back a few inches and settle on the high-point of the saddle for the thickest cush. When you do find a comfortable long distance riding position, you still need to be mindful of your fuel mileage.
The petcock’s reserve position leaves about as much gas as you’ll find in a Bic lighter. When you switch to reserve, hit the turn signal and find gas ASAP. One block of stop and go cruising on the Sunset strip cruising will deplete the reserve and leave you parked, if you’re not watching for filling stations, I speak from experience.
Riding a rigid anywhere is a skill – if you can call it that – and an art. Nothing more. No one claims performance, if they do, it’s relative to the market (I hope). Flexi-frames, old school drum brakes and sky-high ape-hangers are simply part of the chopper mystique. Not everyone is willing, able or even wants to ride one these chrome menageries, but many gladly fork-over large wads of cash for the opportunity. New bike sales prove it. Functional or not, choppers are a growing segment of American motorcycle sales and Big Dog Motorcycles has grown to meet the demand. Selling over 10,000 bikes in the past ten years isn’t too shabby for a third party American cycle manufacturer. To each their own, I say. Remember, it isn’t what you ride, it’s THAT you ride. Of course, if you are just a poseur, you can always use the Ridgeback as a handy addition to your home modeling studio, cause no girl wants to pose in the buff on your Concours!
Dirty’s Second Opinion: Now that your 86 Testarossa & Miami Vice suit have gone out of style, you’ve latched onto the leather boy look of the HD crowd. However, your matching chaps and tassles actually seem to make you feel like just another midlife-crisis non-conformist strictly conforming to the pseudo-trendy fashions of the herd. Panic, horror, despair! What will you do? The folks at Big Dog Motorcycles think they’ve got an answer for you.
Personally, I think you’re an idiot, if you actually go out and buy one of these pigs, but I’ll be the first to admit that I simply “don’t get it”. On the other hand, EBass, our resident self-proclaimed “poseur”, seems to think that Choppers (and probably disco, tattoos, cigars, piercings and Howdy Doody) are the cutting edge of “cool” and just the ticket to elevate him to moto-god status. Didn’t somebody once say: “A sucker is born every minute”? Anyway, EBass decided it would be a good idea to use the MO name to wrangle one of these $27,000 rolling codpieces from a chopper manufacturer. Unfortunately, EBass decided to sell the story to another rag, so even though MO was legally responsible for the bike, we didn’t really get anything out of it, aside from Fonzie using it as a prop to shoot nudie pics of a lady friend (see below for the rated-PG versions). Anyway, I digress… I must admit I was more than a little curious what a modern “state of the art” chopper would ride like and I did get a chance to spend some time on the Ridgeback, before it went back to its kennel.
My first trip on the Ridgeback was a roundabout 30-minute trip to lunch. I pulled out of MO and tried to lay a patch of rubber down the driveway, but all I got was a cough, followed by some off-balance acceleration and a noticeable twisting of the frame.
First riding impression = Bad. As I roared up to the first stoplight, the S&S burbled authoritatively and heads swiveled in my general direction. That’s when it happened! Suddenly, I felt like a clown on top of the biggest float in the parade! Wheeee! So, this is what choppers are all about. If you want people to look at you like they did back when your Testarossa was state of the art, the Ridgeback just might be the bike for you.
Second riding impression = Mixed depending on how strong your desire to be a clown is. Once that light turned green, I gave the throttle cables another firm tug and the bike made some impressive noises, coupled with average acceleration and a noticeable pull to the right as the frame wound-up. As I rolled back out of the throttle….BAM! Holy ! What was that? Indeed, just as I rolled out of the throttle, the bike’s frame returned to straight and true and the bike steered back to the center of the lane, just in time to bounce over a manhole cover. I’ve probably crossed that same cover 300 times on a motorcycle, but this time was different. The cover bounced my ass out of the seat and my spine groaned in protest.
Third riding impression = Bad & Worse. As I rolled down the boulevard straight and true (between the bumps) the Ridgeback felt fairly normal and the general public regarded me with glee, apprehension, envy, contempt and curiosity, depending on who was doing the looking.
Mindful of the scarce ground clearance, flexi-flyer frame and ultra-long wheelbase, I reminded myself to take it easy when I arrived at the 270° circular on-ramp for the 405 freeway. As I curved up the ramp, I noticed a sudden increase in ride quality. As it turns out, when you lean a rigid chopper through a turn, the frame flex acts something like a rear suspension (imagine that, MotoGP technology at MotoGP prices). Unfortunately, as that fake suspension compresses, it changes the bike’s geometry and effective steering inputs (so much for that Moto GP analogy). This makes negotiating a turn at anything approaching “normal” speeds an exciting proposition to say the least. It is the same type of excitement that you used to get as a kid, when you’d sit in your Radio Flyer and use the tow handle as a steering tiller, while bombing down the sidewalk in and out of circular driveways, making Ferrari 312 T4 noises and pretending to be Gilles Villeneuve. (You did make flat-12 Ferrari noises and pretend to be Gilles Villeneuve when you were a kid, didn’t you?)
Fourth riding impression = Excellent, as long as you want to re-live your Formula One wagon racing childhood.
Once at Sister Mary Kim’s favorite restaurant, we sat back and watched as numerous people walked up to the bike and spent five minutes staring at it from every angle. I’m not just talking about motorcyclists either, I’m talking about old ladies, computer nerds, Buddhist monks, moms with strollers, everybody thought they were looking at the latest creation from “those guys” they saw on the Discovery Channel. It was both scary and humorous at the same time. After some tasty Mexican food and more than a few questions, we headed back to MO. The ride back was uneventful and once I was past the novelty of riding a parade float, it was just as enjoyable as post meal rides tend to be.
I guess if you want a motorcycle that you can use to get noticed, while distracting people’s attention away from that nasty zit you found in the mirror this morning, a flamed-out, billet wheel chopper is as good a way as any. Of course, if you aren’t afraid of smearing your clown makeup, you could always ride something functional and just wear a full faced helmet. -Sean.
|WARRANTY||2-YEAR Factory Warranty|
|Engine||OHV 45 degree V-Twin|
|Displacement||107 cu. in. (1,750 cc)|
|Bore & Stroke||4″ X 4.25″|
|Fuel System||S&S Super G Carburetor|
|Fuel Capacity||4.25 gallons|
|Oil Capacity||2.75 quarts|
|Frame Stretch||8″ downtube, 4″ backbone, 2″rear axle|
|Frame Tubing||1.5″ diameter|
|Frame Rake||37 degrees|
|Rear Suspension||None – Rigid frame|
|Front Suspension||41mm Telescopic, 12″ over|
|Front Brake||PM 4-Piston Caliper|
|Rear Brake||PM 4-Piston Caliper|
|Front Tire||MH90 X 21|
|Rear Tire||R250/40 X 21|
|Tire Pressure||Front: 40 psi/Rear: 42 psi|