Have you ever seen those weird American Monster Truck shows, where 4 X 4 vehicles, equipped with outrageous V8 engines and tyres taken from earthmoving rigs, do battle in front of 30,000 beered up rednecks?
Well, one of the stars of that circus is a truck called Big Foot, and this is its baby brother – minus two wheels – called Big Toe.
Bigtoe is as tall as a truck, weighs as much as four Gold Wings and is powered by a 5.3 litre V12 engine that kicks out 300bhp. But despite all that I was looking forward to the ride as I clambered up towards the seat. Then Tom Wiberg, this bike’s owner and builder, mentioned that, actually, the brakes don’t work. But don’t worry, you don’t need them, he said as he jumped down to the ground and stood well back.
Well, if there’s any bike that might not need brakes, it’s one that’s big enough to ride right over any Volvo that pulls into its path. But my heart was pounding as I gently eased open the throttle and the mighty machine set off, its suspension lurching upwards at the rear, and that enormous lump of Jaguar V12 engine slurping through twin banks of carburettor bellmouths between my feet.
No other bike in the world prepares you for a ride aboard Bigtoe. Wiberg, from Ulricehamn in central Sweden, spent £50,000, six years and more than 3000 hours designing and building this crazy machine. Those figures are easy to understand when you set eyes on the giant bike, whose innovative design and quality of construction are as impressive as its size.
It’s the sheer scale of the thing that hits you first, though. Named after Bigfoot, the American monster pick-up truck, Bigtoe is almost five metres long. Its Firestone tyres, which mount on custom-made steel wheels, were intended for a tractor and, at 1.7 metres high, are almost as tall as their owner even when he’s wearing his trademark cowboy hat.
Bigtoe itself is an elephantine 2.3 metres high with its adjustable suspension fully raised. That makes it officially the world’s tallest motorcycle, and it is registered as such by the Guinness records people, though so far it has appeared only in the Swedish edition of the famous book. Not that many people would doubt the credentials of a machine that makes the Boss Hoss V8 look like a step-thru.
Tom, who’s 36, is an industrial inventor who spends his working days designing useful gadgets such as electrically operated trolleys and scooters for use in factories and hospitals. In contrast Bigtoe, which is not street-legal, is spectacularly useless but enormously entertaining. The closest he can get to explaining why he built it is: I like technical things and it seemed like fun. Instead of making many small things, I wanted to build one big bike instead.
There is so much original engineering in Bigtoe that it could probably rate a Guinness Book entry at the world’s most complicated bike too. Drive to both wheels is hydraulic, using a system adapted from a wood-processing machine one of those slow-moving mechanical monsters that turn fir trees into Ikea shelves. The V12 motor drives two pumps which use oil to turn the wheels. A reprogrammed wood-machine computer keeps things under control.
Steering is also hydraulic, as is the system that operates the pair of rear-mounted support wheels, borrowed from a light aircraft, which can be raised and lowered at the press of a button. Almost every component has been specially made or adapted. The arms for the front and rear hydropneumatic (compressed gas) suspension systems were machined from steel billet. The gearbox housing was laboriously formed in similar style from a 70kg chunk of aluminium, and now weighs just 17kg.
Even so, Bigtoe tips the scales at 1645kg, the equivalent of nine sports bikes. A fair bit of that is provided by the frame, which is made from 80mm square, 3mm thick steel sections that would look at home supporting a road bridge. Even its relatively tiny cross-members are roughly the same diameter as a Ducati’s main tubes. Five radiators are suspended from it, three for oil and two for water.
Tom says the most difficult part of the whole project was shaping the fibreglass bodywork, which incorporates fuel tank, sidepanels, mudguards and a seat big enough for several passengers. The bodywork also holds four large speakers, which combine with the bike’s 500W CD system (from Kenwood, one of more than 30 companies to sponsor the bike) to make a suitably deafening sound.
The V12 motor joins in with a wonderfully throaty burble through its pair of custom-made stainless steel silencers. The engine, from a 1975-vintage E-type Jaguar, is one of the few parts of the bike that Tom didn’t make himself. He stripped and rebuilt it but decided against tuning, reckoning that the standard 300bhp output would suffice. But he added the exhaust system plus the banks of twin-choke Webers whose shiny gold-plated intake trumpets come courtesy of another sponsor.
The wide seat unit at least shielded those vertically mounted bellmouths from the lingering Swedish drizzle as Tom fired up the V12, and rode out from the hangar-like factory building on the industrial estate where he works. This bike has never seen rain before and nobody but me has ridden it, he’d said earlier, sounding understandably reluctant to get the big machine wet. But now it was my turn to worry, as I climbed up to join him and peered nervously back down at the far-away ground.
I was slightly reassured to find the futuristic instrument console flanked by a normal-looking pair of handlebars, complete with jet-ski style ignition cut-out lanyard to put round my right wrist. Or was that for the parachute? Turning the bars didn’t make me feel any better, though. Without the engine running to power the bike’s hydraulics, their movement had not the slightest effect on the gigantic front wheel.
Firing up the motor brought the steering to life, but there was another surprise to come. My assumption that the levers alongside the pink grips were for front and rear brakes proved optimistic. There are no brakes just shut the throttle slowly and it will stop, Tom said before leaving me alone at the controls.
Suddenly the hedge at the far end of the industrial estate looked horribly near, but at this stage there was no ducking out. I pushed the indicator switch on the left bar to the Forward position (this bike also has a Reverse), and cautiously wound open the throttle. Bigtoe immediately picked up speed, with a strange feeling as its hydraulic suspension rose up first at the rear and then the front, like some gigantic mechanical creature stretching its limbs.
Moments later I was cruising steadily along, the steering feeling slightly vague but the bike just about going where I was aiming it. With 300bhp under my right wrist I was momentarily tempted to give the throttle a tweak. But the sight of the watching owner and the thought of the lack of stopping ability very quickly put a stop to that.
Instead I headed slowly up the deserted private road, splashed through several puddles and then shut the throttle, glad to discover that Bigtoe did indeed obediently slow to a halt quite abruptly with no need for brakes. After trundling back and forwards a few times I could hardly claim to have put the giant bike through its paces, as I had barely reached Tom’s normal cruising speed of 30mph, let alone its maximum speed of about 60mph. But at least I’d ridden it.
Tom regularly lifted the stabilisers during demonstration runs at shows last year, and had to provide video evidence that the bike could be ridden on two wheels before it could be accepted as a Guinness World Record holder. I’ve ridden for about 400 metres on an airstrip with the support wheels up, and it was exciting but not scary at all, he said. It’s very stable once you get going.
Before seeing Bigtoe and realising quite how huge it was I’d hoped to get the chance to press the button that lifts the stabilisers, even if only for a few moments. But Tom was having none of that and, with a look at the heavy sky and his wristwatch, said it was time to stop. Mindful of Bigtoe’s cost almost as much as its weight, I didn’t try too hard to change his mind.
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Engine Liquid-cooled 60-degree Jaguar V12
Claimed power (bhp) 300
Compression ratio 9:1
Transmission Hydraulic two-wheel drive
3000mm (118in) wheelbase
Front suspension Hydropneumatic
Rear suspension Hydropneumatic
Top speed 60 mph
Fuel capacity 15 litres (4 US gals)
Current price cost £50,000 to build