Ask 100 bikers what they’re after in their machine and the answer for half of them would probably be similar; a bike that offers some fun at the weekends, comfort and looks a bit different.
The Yamaha Bulldog fits the bill and offers an alternative to established favourites like the Suzuki Bandit, Ducati Monster or the Buell V-twins.
But does the Bulldog have the bite to match its bark? Kevin Ash reports from the official launch.
So it is bull or is it dog? Or is the BT1100 a stumpy, muscle-bound but patriotic canine with a Union Jack waistcoat?
Come off it Yamaha, what ARE you doing, lumbering a motorcycle with a name like that? No wonder the first press reports were underwhelmed – the riders expected some growling beast ready to wrench their arms from their sockets at the first sniff of a (Thunder)cat.
That’s not what the BT1100 is about at all though, so criticising it for not meeting the needs of riders who should never be riding it isn’t exactly fair. If it really had to have a dog’s name this bike should have been called the Labrador – big but cuddly and easy to handle. Except the bike won’t piss on your carpet the day you get it.
And as a Labrador it’s a pretty good motorcycle, if you see what I mean.
The engine is the first clue as to the bike’s intended gentle nature – it’s the V-twin single overhead cam unit first used in the XVS1100 Drag Star cruiser, where low revs and plenty of torque are the prime ingredients. The rev ceiling is set at a stooping 7000rpm, but you won’t even want to venture that far as the engine feels strained and breathless after 6000rpm. Instead, relax and listen to the pleasant off-beat warble of the twin exhausts, and ride the torque in the low and mid-range regions where the Bulldog is much more crisp and responsive. It’s not fast by sports bike standards, but it’s still quick enough to breeze past four wheeled traffic effortlessly and keep you cruising across all types of terrain at a steady 90mph. That’s more than enough for plenty of riders, and these are often the sort who’ll really appreciate the motor’s character, too. Some vibration intrudes at around 80mph in top, but only annoyingly so while you’re loading the transmission by accelerating – at steady speeds it’s there but acceptable.
In town the engine trickles down to 1500rpm and lower without the transmission snatching in protest, and there’s torque enough to waft you along convincingly, as long as you don’t expect to smoke your back tyre in the process. But there’s too much backlash, which means the bike lurches annoyingly in off-on throttle situations, such as heavy traffic – irritating for the rider and a real pain in the neck for a pillion. The gearchange occasionally asks for a couple of stabs to shift up a ratio, too, although mostly it works fine.
Against this the transmission holds an ace – the final drive is by shaft, which for a big capacity, softly focussed all-rounder is very rare – the only real alternatives is BMW’s R1150R, yet many riders have been begging for more choice in the shaft driven category for years.
It’s odd that so many manufacturers have ignored the appeal of near-zero maintenance final drive and the cleanliness that comes with it as many riders, especially older ones, rank this very high on their list of priorities.
There is a price to pay for having a stick turn the back wheel, aside from the extra cost over a chain, and that’s the additional unsprung weight. On the softly suspended Bulldog this manifests itself as a jarring over potholes and harshness on rough, washboard-type surfaces, and the back of the bike pitches up and down more than a chain driven one as the power load changes. But neither trait is serious or unacceptable, and in other respects the ride quality is good, offering exceptional comfort in concert with the well-shaped and plush-feeling seat. The small nose screen does a disproportionately good job of taking the sting out of the windblast, so the Bulldog can realistically be held at that 90mph motorway speed without the rider growing bulldog neck muscles to cope. This is despite the upright and roomy riding position which many riders will appreciate for its comfort – most Bulldogs will spend their lives being broken out on sunny weekends for pleasant runs in the countryside, and they’ll be extremely good at that, especially in the hands of less experienced riders or those coming back to bikes after a few years layoff.
But for anyone who gets bolder and decides to take their bike on a serious long distance trip, the Bulldog will cope very well too. That shaft drive suggests good touring ability, and as long as the throttle isn’t abused (it probably won’t be) the 45mpg-plus fuel consumption is enough to squeeze 200 miles out of the 4.4 gallon tank, another crucial trait for the thinking rider.
The handling is biased towards stability over agility, exactly as the real buyer of this bike wants. It’s a machine to sweep through corners rather than point and squirt, but it rewards with excellent manners and little sign of weave or wobble even at three figure speeds with plenty of lean dialled in. Not relevant in itself, but an indication that all is well when you’re not trying quite so hard.
Passengers are well looked after, aside from that low speed shunting, with plenty of room and a comfortable perch, although it is set quite rather higher than the rider’s and the footrests will be too high for taller passengers. The Bulldog has a very natural feel to its handling which at low speeds makes it an easy bike for indulging in feet-up U-turns and other tight manoeuvres, all of which adds to the confidence of riders new to bikes of this size and capacity (or stale from years without them).
But what the bike also offers is very attractive and thoroughly modern styling, without the need for swathes of bodywork which pt off many traditional buyers. It’s not a retro by any means, simply a good looking modern motorcycle with its visual masses hunched up and drawn forward while the rear has a lightweight, almost vestigial look.
Like a bulldog of course, the inspiration for the misguided moniker. The clutch cable looks rather lost and easy to snag floating out on the left of the engine, while the air-cooled motor itself looks a bit dated when you get close, but overall this is a fine looking machine.
So, you have an easy-going, lazy 64bhp V-twin engine matched to shaft drive, a decent fuel range, good looks, exceptional comfort and Japanese reliability and build quality. The appeal is so obvious you have to wonder why the Bulldog should be such a rare breed.
Get Yamaha motorcycle insurance for the yamaha bulldog.
Engine V-twin, air cooled, four stroke.
Claimed power (bhp)
Transmission Five speed
Carbs; X2 37mm
Steel tubular frame
Front suspension; 43mm forks adjustable for pre-load
Rear suspension; Monoshock, adjustable for pre-load
Brakes; Twin 298mm discs, four piston calliper
Rear brake; Single 267mm disc, twin piston calliper
Wheels/Tyres; 120/70 ZR 17 inch front, 170/60 ZR 17 inch rear
Seat height; 812mm
Dry weight; 229kgs
Top speed 110mph
Fuel capacity 20 litres
Buying Info Available in black, blue or silver
Current price RRP; £6500 OTR