By Koz Mraz
With a plethora of motorcycle manufacturers in America, picking the perfect ride has become thought provoking. In the old days it was either imported flavors or a Harley (or perhaps some iteration of Indian). Today dozens of other motorcycle manufacturers have become well known thanks to the Discovery Channel, but in this challenging motorcycle industry environment, not all have hung on. Big Bear Choppers is one who has though, winning the 2006 Biker Build-off with their Athena. And not only have the survived the others, but they’ve thrived.
Kevin and Mona Alsop founded BBC at Big Bear Lake California in1998 with a Do-It-Yourself chopper kit concept. Imagine the neighbor’s curiosity as a refrigerator-sized box is delivered to your garage. The crowd gathers as you casually disclose that it’s a hand made custom chopper that you’re going to build. They can forget about Paul senior’s raving and ranting because it’s your own monster garage show now baby! Selling build-it-yourself motorcycle kits became Big Bear Choppers unique mission. But times are a changing and so is BBC’s mission.
Small Budgets, Big Dreams
Opening with one employee and a few grand of their own cash, they’re currently a 15 million dollar corporation with over 100 employees. This is truly the American dream come true. A vision, hard work and providing a product that ignites people’s passion is the key says Kevin. Over a year ago BBC began opening up dealers nationwide and the first thing they realized was that most customers wanted their bike’s pre-manufactured. The obvious quality of a BBC build created increased customer demand. Sure you can get a kit but of course there’s no warranty (BBC didn’t build it) and there’s no financing. Once customers actually rode a pre-manufactured BBC, the game was on. With dealers in 22 states and 5 countries suddenly demand exploded. Currently the BBC facility turns out around 100 bikes a month and interestingly only about 15 are kits. The BBC reputation for quality and commitment has superseded their original kit concept.
Ride the Mountain
Their annual Ride the Mountain event at Snow Summit Ski Resort gives you a real glimpse of the BBC fraternity. These owners are truly a special breed. Held at Ski Summit Resort they hosted about ten thousand riders to a fantastic day of food, fun and entertainment. The ride to Big Bear Lake offers some of Southern California’s best motorcycling. Spectacular ocean and desert views from peaks of the San Bernardino Mountains abound. I rode the mountain, I rode the ski lift, I rode the paddle boat but this time it was the opportunity to ride any and every model of the Big Bear Chopper lineup that revved my motor.
Ride the Big Bear
Mounting a 9 ½ foot 48 degree raked-out chopper for the first time is intimidating. That’s a lot of real estate in the front yard. Being a stock street rider for 35 years, the handling and maneuverability of these beasts seemed daunting. But within 30 minutes of cruising the mountain twisties I am at home. How is it possible that Mr. Chopper Greenhorn is jockeying a full-on-bad-ass ride with such ease? Admittedly, I worked my way up the line by ridding 5 other BBC’s first. 10 models were poised at the starting gate in two rows ready to be mounted. Riding with the first group out I grabbed closest available steed and we sped away. This wasn’t some lame parking lot filled with cone slaloms – we rode entirely around Big Bear Lake! I made sure I followed the lead rider because he knew these roads and he rode hard. I was astounded at how easily this bike shifted weight and grabbed the road as we leaned into the twisties. Clocking through gears and throttling out of turns was full on fun. This cant be right I thought, my Sporty feels like this. Upon our return I eyed the bike completely befuddled. A BBC staffer walked over and asked what I thought. Reiterating my story he smiled and said she’s the Miss Behavin model and targeted at the female rider market. Well female riders, you can ride this. This was without a doubt the best behaved Big Bear Chopper of the bunch. With an extremely low center of gravity, a 34 degree rake creating a shorter wheelbase I can confidently confirm that anyone could ride this bike out of the gate. My next mount was the Venom Pro Street. With a more forward riding position and a low bomber stance you really push into the wind. The soft tail suspension and 100 Smooth S&S engine really eliminate vibration. Braking and handling all felt very tight and solid. My confidence was building.
The Athena Chopper took the next spin around the lake. With a 40 degree rake and 9 ft 5 inch wheelbase it’s understandable that bikes of this stature sacrifice a measure of handling, that’s to be expected. Still the maneuverability and handling surprised me, I actually scraped pavement in the twisties with Athena. Finally, I rode the Devils Advocate Chopper and it was EXACTLY all BBC claims and became my favorite bike. I liked the high-rise leaned-back kicked-out stance. With the Metzler 280 rear tire, Baker 6 speed tranny and very comfortable saddle I could sit in this position all-day. Visibility was unobstructed and I actually felt that the tank itself served as a wind deflector. The tight width of the Z style handle bars assured complete command pulling me through turns. This is the bike I would add to my stable. Note – the Editor CD still preferred the Athena, though he wants to jack it up an inch. Ya just can’t ever make us bikers truly happy.
By the way, everyone who rode Miss Behavin (the chick bike) male or female had the same reaction as me. I watched them dismount time after time in disbelief. Mona even mentioned that she may ditch the female rider pitch and rename the bike Behavin and target the first time rider market. The over all theme to this story is these are unique, high quality custom bikes that literally provide something for everyone. From Miss Behavin to the Screamin Demon a serious bobber, the Merc hard tail with a bold 48 degree rake to the new visionary GTX Bagger.
The GTX Bagger is receiving an overwhelmingly positive response. It’s a stunning looking custom Bagger that will be available this November. Incorporating radical new designs this is the Big Bear to ride 2 up! The passenger seat on other motorcycle manufacturers is positioned over the rear wheel. This places the rider higher creating a poor center of balance for the driver and putting passengers directly in the wind path. The propriety patented pending GTX design places both riders on the frame keeping the center of gravity equally distributed. There is also a reserve gas tank under the seats bringing the gas capability to over 6 gallons.
The bags have large storage space and both seats will have lumbar support. There will be two versions offered to the public; one will be a street version much like the bike seen here. The second will be a cruiser with a faring that attaches to the frame instead of the forks giving better stability aerodynamics. With GPS and satellite music system the cruiser will provide all the comfort and amenities long distance riders require. The GTX will only be available at BBC dealers as a complete, pre-manufactured motorcycle. BBC is working out a few kinks but that’s why they put riders on a pre-release. This baby will be purrrfect on release day. Price range is estimated in the mid-thirties for the street version.
Even Another Cub in the Den!
I took a short spin on another new Big Bear, the Paradox. Wow, I think BBC is really onto something with this bike. Its sleek styling, X-Wedge engine coupled with all things BBC Cool make this bike truly impressive. BBC knows that Harley Davidson is chasing the custom bike market with their Rocker line but The GTX and the Paradox are bold steps forward. Cool is cool and cool will never die. Anyone remotely interested in the world of custom motorcycles needs to take heed.
Big Bear Choppers: Forward Controls
Riding their bikes, touring their C&C and manufacturing facility it’s apparent that BBC has a vision for the future. Kevin sees a changing consumer trend and is committed to become a serious contender in the future of motorcycle manufacturing. BBC is nimble enough to adapt new ideas relatively quickly and is currently implementing Lean Manufacturing, a concept pioneered by Toyota, and BBC expects to triple its bike output to 300 bikes monthly. Supporting the dealer network is paramount for the future and BBC expects to launch a new motorcycle design every year and a half. This does not mean switching tires and fenders like other manufactures, but a completely new design. With a new aggressive operations staff their complete turnaround time from concept to manufactured bike will be about 10 months. You could fill another 1000 word article with just the technical and design features of these Big Bears. Their 100 Smooth mods to the S&S powerplant, the X Wedge Motor in the GTX and Paradox. Their unique frame design and wall thickness to dampen harmonic vibration, etc. Kevin currently holds 8 designs patents and they manufacture almost everything right here. He’s also designing a completely new engine that BBC will manufacture.
What’s further down the road for BBC? They are currently developing a “street fighter” bike design which may come in at a surprising value. They’re committed to becoming the biggest and best custom chopper manufacturer in the world and it’s fair to say, Big Bear Choppers mean business, Big Business.