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California’s Big Bear Lake was under several feet of snow as Aussie Kevin Alsop drove me up there from the LA airport and more snow was forecast. The weather gods had definitely determined that I wasn’t going to ride the GTX X-Wedge back down the twisty and treacherous mountain road the next day so we resorted to Plan B. After a tour of the busy factory and a look over a swag of BBC bikes ready for export – some to Australia and others to the Far East and Europe – we settled down with a pizza and a few beers to discuss the world economic outlook and its effect on the motorcycle world.
The beauty of being a niche manufacturer with a relatively small volume compared with the majors is that you can be quick on your feet in what you offer the riding public, making changes on the fly and innovating at a very fast pace indeed. Evidence of this was the fact that at the V-Twin Expo in Cincinnati this year, the BBC Paradox (BBC’s latest chopper model) had taken out the top award for ‘Custom Production Bike of the Year’.
Now the BBC GTX is a very innovative bike which sure ain’t your grandpa’s bagger. And believe me, heads spin around wherever you ride it. With the baby boomer generation aging and many of them wanting to get off their choppers but not yet ready for the tall, fat and comparatively short bikes typical of the bagger scene, the GTX offers a mega cool option.
Taking its styling cues from the long low lines of a pro-street custom style bike and with a 12 inch stretch in mid-frame, the GTX completely redefines cruising style.
Now, I’d ridden the un-faired BBC GTX Standard powered by the BBC SS built proprietary ‘100 Smooth’ engine back a few months ago and it was an impressive bike in many ways. However, the GTX on which I was going to spend a few days cruising around Southern California was the GTX-F, their fairing model, this one powered by the radical SS X-Wedge 114 cubic inch 56 degree v-twin motor. While I had been among the first bike journos in the world ever to ride X-Wedge powered bikes in Daytona in 2007, I had spent too much time on them, so this was an exciting prospect indeed.
The next morning Kevin loaded up the GTX along with his own rat bike hot rod and we drove down the mountain the ‘back’ way toward Redlands, unloaded the bikes and spent a couple of hours burning around the local roads, me getting a feel of the X-Wedge and Kevin having a ball riding the snot out of his personal chopper. I guess when you live in the mountains and it’s winter, you need the occasional outlet like this.
Southern California is well known for its temperate climate and once we were out of the mountains it was relatively warm and sunny and pretty well ideal riding weather, which made my own mood warm and sunny as I parted company from Kevin and headed south toward San Diego and the great riding this area offers.
Swinging south on to 215 I hit the on switch for the combined stereo/GPS and right on cue the Eagles boomed out;
So put me on a highway
And show me a sign
And take it to the limit one more time …
If I’d smiled any wider the top part of my head would have parted company with the rest of me.
Rolling on and off the throttle and changing up and down through the top three gears of the ultra-smooth Baker gearbox demonstrated great torque and impressive smoothness. Not perhaps the smoothness of a Twin Cam B motor, but damn impressive nevertheless, especially when you consider we are talking 114 cubes here and the bigger the bang, the greater the vibrations.
Here’s what Big Bear Choppers have to say about their X-Wedge engines; “While looking like any other SS X-Wedge engine from the outside, the essence of this new proprietary exclusive SMOOTH™ EFI X-Wedge engine is the low vibration, due to it being internally reformed”.
The frame mounted composite fairing offered excellent protection from the wind blast and the sight lines to the speedo and the GPS screen, like the baby bear’s breakfast, are just right. The reach to the handlebars suited my medium height and the switch controls were easy to locate and operate. The seating position is most un-bagger-like as you tend to sit in the bike, not on it, and your feet are up in more of a chopper riding position than the typical bagger, but this is something to which you quickly become accustomed.
The outstanding impression of this bike that I gained at speed was its enormous stability thanks to a combination of contributing factors contribute including the overall length of the machine, its low seat height, a low centre of gravity (which is aided by a five gallon fuel cell mounted beneath the seat) and the extra strong and stiff BBC designed and built frame. Taking both hands off the bars and throwing my upper body around reasonably vigorously had virtually no effect on stability and the bike continued to track arrow straight.
The downside of straight line stability can be often be found in cornering where the combination of the GTX’s length, its 36 degree neck rake – the 2009 Harley-Davidson Tourers have a 26 degree rake – and its massive 300mm rear tyre don’t add up to super swift canyon carving. However, once you become accustomed to the extra body language required to throw this thing around, it is surprisingly nimble, much more so than the specs suggest. And in addition, I found the extra low seat height of 25.5 inches (30.7 unladen on an Ultra), was extremely confidence inspiring when cornering on, or close to, the bike’s limits.
Campo Road leading out of San Diego is a motorcyclists’ favourite, winding as it does through various mountains as it heads east with corners varying from wide sweepers to sections of extremely twisty bends and I had a lot of fun punting the GTX along it on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Yes, I was certainly getting passed by various sport bikes, but holding my own and often passing a bunch of cruising bikes and tourers. In fact, at a gas stop several riders of both types of bike came over to take a closer look at what I was riding and expressed surprise at how well it seemed to handle and how fast it cornered given its impressive dimensions.
While I was riding solo, one of the proprietary and patented characteristics of this bike is the position of the passenger sitting in front of the rear wheel. This seating position places more weight in the centre of the vehicle in order to produce better handling and comfort for both the operator and passenger.
San Diego is one of my favourite cities and there’s a lot to see and do there and many great roads in the region including the coast road back up to LA which I meandered along in laid back style, now used to the gaping mouths and swivelling heads of adults and kids alike as I rode along. Thanks to the 100 willing ponies and some 112 foot pounds of engine torque changing down wasn’t something that was required very often at all and passing trucks uphill was just a twist of the wrist away. And when it came time to stop the dual discs up front and the twin Performance Machine 4-piston calipers, combined with the rear PM 4-piston unit worked a treat, which was nice to know given the power of that engine and the speeds it can quickly achieve.
I’m a bit of an old school biker and have been a bit slow to completely accept the ever increasing technological advances in motorcycling. Give me a carby, a set of points and a spare condenser and I can fix most roadside breakdowns. But against this, the ultra-reliability of electric ignition systems and in particular EFI units, has transformed performance parameters.
This is especially noticeable with the closed-loop EFI system on the GTX which is continuously monitoring the engine and tuning itself to optimise performance despite major changes in humidity, temperature and elevation, in a way that a carburettor can’t get within cooee of, and despite riding from sea level to some 6000 feet in the mountains the X-Wedge didn’t miss a beat. I admit to a nervous moment when I went to start it after spending a night in the mountains at Pine Valley and I noticed that the motor had iced over during the night, however, one slightly prolonged press of the starter button and it was idling smoothly.
Motorcycle design always involves some compromise, the need to find the middle ground between (say) a slammed look and cornering clearance. Or between cool style and bulky practicality. The GTX is no different in that respect but the end result is a classy, cool-as-a-cucumber styled bagger that has a little less carrying capacity than some tourers – and perhaps a little less plush comfort – but which oozes hip and class from front to rear.
A Commodore will do things that a Ferrari will not; and vice versa. Dare I compare the GTX X-Wedge to a Ferrari? Hell yeah!
Type: BBC/SS 114 SMOOTH™ EFI X-Wedge
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