Your everyday Dog

All of the flavor, none of the fat

When Big Dog introduced a new model for 2008 dubbed the Mutt, we all naturally assumed that the cheeky name referred to the decidedly crossbred pedigree of the machine. As it turns out we were mistaken, and the real backstory on the bike is even more literal. Mutt is, in fact, an acronym for “motorcycle under twenty-five thousand” and was the design directive guiding the development of the model. It seems that as Big Dog progressively added features and refinements to their bikes, and undertook ever more adventurous styling exercises, the list prices crept up into the upper $20K and low $30K range, leaving the company without an offering in the sub-$25K slot just as credit was tightening in the economy and buyers of production-custom motorcycles were obliged to be more cost-conscious than previously.

What Big Dog needed was what we’ll call, for lack of a better term, an “entry level” big-inch, big-rubber custom; one that de-emphasized the lavish cosmetic elements and graphic treatments for which Big Dog is renowned, while highlighting the essential mechanical beast within, and bringing the whole package home under the $25K price barrier. Thus was born a project with the working title of MUTT—and the name stuck.

It was inevitable that such a project would require some of the aforementioned crossbreeding, since a clean-sheet approach with the concomitant alpha and beta testing would be a budget buster, and Big Dog dug into their own inventory of tried and true chassis and bodywork, resurrecting the principal components of a pair of models that had been discontinued in 2007, but had proven among their most enduring and popular breeds up to that point: the pro-street Mastiff and the Chopper. (While the Mastiff name remains in the current 2008 lineup, it’s a dramatically different Dog than the ’06 version.)

From the Mastiff came the stretched softail-style frame and two-inch-over front forks, while the Mutt’s tank, fenders and fender struts came from the Chopper. Also from the Chopper came the skinny MH90-21 front tire which blurs the lines between the pro-street and chopper styling themes melded here, and, in fact, the resulting bike has an appearance and personality distinct from either. The Mutt further asserts its individuality with striking 80-spoke chrome laced wheels and a SuperTrapp 2-into-1 exhaust. Both of those details are unique to the Mutt among Big Dog models, and happily serve two purposes effectively: that of distinguishing the model from its donor stock, and that of shaving dollars off the bottom line. Further savings are realized with the use of color-matched powder coating on the gauge housing, fender struts and license plate frame, and the finishing of the motor in wrinkle black powder coat rather than the hand-polishing treatment given the mills of the pricier Dogs.

Those are the sum of concessions to sticker price made on the Mutt. You still get all of the premium powertrain components and peripherals that set Big Dog apart from their competitors; you get the massive S&S 117-inch motor, modified and massaged by the Big Dog engineers to tone down its innate high-strung street-rod excesses and make it practical for daily riding duty; you get the splendid Big Dog Balanced Drive primary setup and Baker Drivetrain direct-drive six-speed RSD transmission; and you get the Performance Machine brake calipers and floating rotors—a four-piston unit up front, and a two- piston job on the rear. The Mutt also comes with all of the distinctive proprietary Big Dog bling, including controls, instrumentation, grips, footpegs, and the flashy air cleaner and coil covers.

As my main mount for Bike Week in Daytona this year, the Mutt’s proven to be pretty much exactly what it was intended to be: a capable, versatile and extremely operator-friendly bike, and one that possesses just enough flash value and custom elan to separate me from the herd. The Super G carbureted 117-incher is a ready and reliable starter both cold and hot, with electronic compression releases taking the strain off the starter motor and letting the motor turn over and catch fast. A lift of the enrichener lever on the carb assures immediate firing in the morning, and the motor quickly finds its pulse and power. Retracting the rear-mounted kickstand with a quick sweep of the boot has become second nature to me on Big Dogs, but it took awhile. Since it’s behind your foot and field of vision, it’s an easy thing to overlook when getting under way if you’re new to it. It’s also a difficult thing to deploy with your boot when you stop, so do what I do, and put it down by hand. It’s within easy reach of the 24″ seating position. That low seat height also works with the narrow profile of the BDMBD primary to allow effortless, unobstructed foot-down idling in traffic and at intersections.

On the 2008 Big Dog models, a redesigned clutch has been employed—the result of yet another collaboration with Baker Drivetrain—and it uses a combination of a revised ball-and-ramp assembly and a reconfigured clutch pack to reduce clutch lever pull by a whopping 50 percent over the previous setup. In Daytona’s stop-and-go traffic it’s a real blessing. The Baker transmission is marvelously smooth and positive in both upshifts and downshifts, and neutral is a cinch to notch at a full stop.

The ergonomics of the Mutt can best be described as natural, placing the operator in a comfortable posture with handlebars and foot controls requiring just enough of a stretch to position you for the wind blast of highway speeds. A total rake of 39 degrees with 2 degrees accounted for by the triple trees gives the bike confident control and handling up front. And oddly enough, the 250mm rear tire feels downright agile in most circumstances, and I never thought I’d say a thing like that. I can only attribute that assessment to the fact that I’ve spent a good deal of time on 300 and 330 tires of late—and that’s sort of like swinging two bats—so scooting around the Beach on that 250 feels like scooting around on a 130.

What that all adds up to is a custom motorcycle as well-suited to everyday riding as to boulevard profiling, and if the Mutt hasn’t garnered the kind of slack-jaw gawks of admiration from spectators I’ve become accustomed to when tooling around on the more extreme, cosmetically tricked-out Dogs, it has garnered frequent nods of approval from knowing bikers who appreciate the Mutt’s balance of mechanical virtues and traditional custom good-looks, and that brings its own brand of satisfaction. The price of the Mutt is $24,900. Mission accomplished.


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