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ITALIAN TERRIER

A musclebike without the muscle? Unlikely as it may seem Yamaha may well have just struck gold...

STORY ALAN CATHCART
PHOTOS KEL EDGE
From Australian Motorcycle News, August 3, 2001

Enlarge No contest. Only the most dogmatic proponent of any of the other Big Four J-marques would argue with the statement that Yamaha is by some way the most innovative and daring Japanese motorcycle manufacturer, in terms of product design. From models that became legends in their own lifetime like the XTZ600 Tenere and RD350LC, to the avant garde Vmax, groundbreaking Tmax scooter or technologically advanced R1/R6 sportsbikes and WR/YZ dirt weapons, Yamaha he a proven track record of innovative response to market trends with cleverly targeted products.

Of course, sometimes Yamaha's wilder R&D tots don't pay off as the unloved V-four Royal Star cruiser and centrehub-steered GTS1000 proved only too well.

But after riding the latest model in the company's product portfolio, I'm prepared to wager Yamaha has backed a winner with its new Italian-built BT1100 Bulldog Euro-bike, developed and built by its Monza-based Belgarda subsidiary

TAKING THE PISS?
Still, a muscular-looking V-twin naked roadster is one thing, but surely one weighing a claimed 229.5kg dry and propelled by a relatively basic 65ps, two valves per cylinder, air-cooled engine, is taking the piss?

It's no match for serious sport-rods like the Cagiva Raptor or Ducati S4 - at least not until you look at the sticker price.

Because at around the same price as the Tmax scooter ($12,500), including a three-year warranty, the Bulldog undercuts all Ducati's similarly low-tech, air-cooled desmodue M900 Monsters in its 'home' market of Italy.

And let's not forget, as the average age of motorcyclists around the world continues its inexorable rise, there's a significant number of older riders looking for a bike that's simple but stylish, practical but fun is easy to ride rather than a test of two-wheeled skill levels and above all is priced to go.

But before the term 'Old Man's Bike' is slapped on he Bulldog with a derogatory sneer, let's not forget 'mature' fortysomething riders outnumber those in their twenties in many bike markets, and the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the Western world has made a brilliant success of tailoring its low-tech pushrod V-twins to specific market niches.

Specs

GOING THE WHOLE EUROHOG
Indeed, there's a case for saying that the Bulldog is a kind of EuroHog, in the sense that it provides the enhanced level of performance and improved dynamics required by European road conditions, while offering an entry ticket to the same non-threatening kind of easy-riding bikerdom that a Harley does - but with added convenience.

That's an impression that was confirmed when 1 fired up the Bulldog, and it settled into an idle with an offbeat lilt to the twin exhausts. The pipes look like they've come from Yamaha's TRX parts bin, but the well-muffled close-coupled crack actually says 'Harley'.

Same thing when I notched bottom gear on the fivespeed gearbox and accelerated away from rest, for in addition to the locomotive-like takeoff which so resembles a Harley, the chain lash from the drive to the sohc heads does a pretty good job of replicating a Hog's pushrod clatter. And the unmistakable vibrations lend it yet another parallel with Milwaukee Iron.

Call it character - and remember that many potential Bulldog owners have either spent a lifetime on two wheels, during which they've come to expect a little shake, rattle and go, or else came to bikes via the driver's seat of their Volvo or Nissan, in which case the last thing they're looking for is a two-wheeled version of their everyday transportation. Which is not to say the Bulldog is a boneshaker - but nor is it boring.

PROVEN HERITAGE
To concoct it, the Bulldog's design team started with the well-proven 75-degree V-twin engine last featured in the XVS1100 DragStar, but whose heritage goes all the way back in various guises to 1981.

This means the XVS engine comes very cheap, having already had its R&D costs written off at least three times over - a key factor in the Bulldog's low price. As plucked from the DragStar, the 95mm x 75mm, dry-sump, sohc engine now has forged pistons and carburised conrods, together delivering improved throttle response.

Revised cam profiles boost low to midrange pickup even more, with the Bulldog delivering a meaty maximum torque of 9kg-m at 4500rpm.

That 65ps power peak is actually 3ps up on the engine's DragStar guise, but performance is nevertheless more cruiseresque than sportsbike even if the hefty torque means that the Bulldog practically pulls off idle, and can be gunned wide open from 2000rpm upwards, all the way to its 7000rpm revlimiter.

Ride it like that, though, and you've missed the point This is a bike where it pays to cruise the torque curve and change up at around five grand, letting yourself take advantage of that smooth, friendly power delivery which gives you more than enough ponies to grab your interest, without feeling that you're struggling to control a stampede in doing so.

NICE'N COMFY
Yes, it is indeed a sort of easy-rider Raptor, with the ergonomics to match. The quite upright riding position is relaxed and comfortable, with that low 812mm-high seat relatively plush by streetrod standards, with very good passenger accommodation.

The fuel tank is shaped to allow your knees to tuck tight in and make you feel at one with the bike, sitting in it rather than on it and without any excessive heat from the air-cooled engine.

The footrests are low enough to be comfortable, also giving adequate (but not overwhelming) ground clearance.

The one-piece 'bars are pulled well back, and the resultant stance allows 150kmh autostrada cruising without having to hold on too tight. It's a different story though at its top speed of around 195kmh (managed in the interests of research, although this is unlikely to be seen by many customers), where the good flyscreen helps.

My only criticism of the otherwise comprehensive array of instruments comes in the context of the customer this bike is aimed at - there's no fuel gauge, and people who come to the Bulldog after driving cars aren't likely to be comfortable with only a warning light.
Enlarge

The XVS engine has been adapted to the Bulldog in DragStar guise, and that means a feature not usually found on any remotely sporting motorcycles other than those made in Berlin: shaft final drive.

WELL-MANNERED MUSCLE<
The Bulldog's gearchange is a little clunky, especially in the bottom three gears, tough the spread of power and torque is so wide you don't have to change gear that often - just go with the flow and enjoy the ride.

The Bulldog's chassis sees the engine underslung from a Belgarda-clesigned tubular-steel spaceframe, acting as a fully-stressed component and pushed as far forward as practicable in the wheelbase, in order to load up the front wheel for extra grip.

Living with the Bulldog tucked up
in its kennel beside your house
should he an undemanding yet
enjoyable experience...

The thinking behind the R1 stoppers was probably along 'better safe than sorry' lines, given the bike's high weight combined with the extra poundage of the average 'mature' rider.

These nevertheless have lots of feel, so even if they are used hard they shouldn't lock up - and make the front end dip as they do so.

But with a long 1530mm wheelbase, the Bulldog needs all the help it can get from some tighter steering geometry dynamics, so trail-braking into a corner hard on the stoppers actually helps it turn more easily, thanks to the nosedive.

You wouldn't exactly call this a nimble-steering bike, and it does call for a firm hand and good leverage from the wide 'bars to make it change direction. On the other hand, that rangy stride coupled with the hefty weight and 25-degree head angle all combine to make the Bulldog super-stable over bumps.

In fact, ride quality is very good, in spite of the limited 113mm travel from the single-shock rear end - it feels more supple than the book says, and gives a pretty comfortable ride over most kinds of surface.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED
Living with the Bulldog tucked up in its kennel beside your house should be an undemanding yet enjoyable experience, for this is a user-friendly product that probably benefits in equal measure from Italian form, incorporating style and allure, and Japanese function, meaning attention to detail.

So there's an excellent turning circle on the Bulldog, making this an easy bike to ride in town, and the steering feels planted and solid at all times.

The mirrors are ideally placed so you can actually see something besides your shoulders; the plethora of aluminium rather than plastic parts all give a sense of substance to the bike; the turn signals are neatly tucked away at either end; and the adjustable brake lever is a welcome touch on what is after all a budget-conscious bike.

And in fact, the Bulldog name is a good one - not only because of the meaty-looking arched styling with the engine packing a visual punch, but because beneath all the bluster this is just a big ol' softy of a bike.

Maybe it can't run as fast as it looks as if it could or should, but it delivers good honest performance within the context of its target market, at the right price.

Mission accomplished? Well, that's for the marketplace to decide - but, just possibly, you have to say Belgarda got it right.


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