Big Dog Motorcycles Attempts Comeback with 2016 K9
Big Dog Motorcycles (BDM) was once a juggernaut when motorcycles with 300mm back tires, monster V-Twins, and showroom-quality paint were the rage. Over the course of 17 years, 30,000 motorcycles came off its production line. But the company got hit hard by the most recent recession, and ultimately Intrust Bank foreclosed on its motorcycle division in 2011.
“We got too big and couldn’t shrink fast enough to keep up with what was going on in the economy at the time. It was a perfect storm of stuff that went down. We had retail financing changing, we had wholesale financing changing, we had legislation change in Washington, poor business decision-making on our end. We were gambling the economy was going to turn around faster than it did and we came out the other end with our market share,” said Big Dog Motorcycles’ current owner, Matt Moore.
But Moore, who was once Big Dog’s Director of Sales, never lost faith in the company. He was the first person former Big Dog owner Sheldon Coleman hired when BDM Performance Parts was formed after the production side shut down. He kept the dream alive when he helped form Kansas Motorcycle Works, a garage that repaired and customized Big Dogs and made a couple of production bikes in the Big Dog vein. Now, Moore and his family own the rights to Big Dog Motorcycles outright and are working hard to resurrect the company with a grass-roots approach, concentrating more on putting out a high-quality product instead of aiming for high-volumes.
“We released the K9, it’s kind of our bread-and-butter, and we’ve got a limited edition run of our Mastiffs we’re going to be building, 10 – 12 of those this year. We’re keeping it small, sized for the economy, and have no intentions of getting as big as Big Dog once was,” said Moore.
For the 2016 Big Dog K9, Moore said his team went to the drawing board “to figure out what’s working and what’s not working.” At the top of their list was Big Dog’s electrical system, something that had been problematic in the past. Moore said they looked for a non-proprietary system from a reputable company with a proven track record of performance standing behind it which led them back to Thunder Heart. They were already selling a retro-fit kit that converted Big Dogs to a Thunder Heart EHC system, and the Thunder Heart harness controller had already proven it worked better, making the decision that much easier. The new BDM also ditched the old proprietary Big Dog drivetrain, too, moving away from the 117 to the 124 SuperSidewinder.
“We went with the best vendors we could find. The 124 motor is the biggest production EVO engine that can be 49-state certified that we know of. We’ve got a long-standing history with S&S, they’re a great company and have really gotten behind the project with us. It’s stronger overall, quieter on the top end, and fully supported by S&S,” said Moore.
BDM also went with a standard Softail-type primary configuration using high performance parts. Initially they reached out to John Andrews at Andrews Gears because of his proven track record of making high-performance NASCAR transmissions and asked if he’d make a gearbox for Big Dog. While Andrews reportedly said he could make a transmission for them, no problem, he suggested they look into going with JIMS Transmissions.
“They’re the only company left that controls their product from foundry to finished product, from metallurgy, heat treating, gear cutting,” Moore said. They opted for a JIMS 6-speed, right-side drive transmission with straight-cut gears that “will hold the power the 124 is putting out.”
The new Big Dog Motorcycle owners have established a small dealer network. The first dealer to sign on was Fury Motors out of south St. Paul, Minnesota. They’ve also signed on Dream Machines with locations in Wichita, Dallas and Austin. They’re also shipping bikes overseas to Lycan Customs in the United Arab Emirates. But Moore says their focus is on the U.S. where the majority of their sales are currently. They’re opting for fewer dealers with increased dealer territories. He said Big Dog’s former advertising policies were very restrictive, only allowing dealers to advertise within their geographic area, and dealer development functioned under strict guidelines, too, from the minimum number of bikes on the floor to parts inventory to fixtures. Moore’s new business model also embraces the evolution of online sales.
“The retail landscape here in the U.S. has changed from what it was five years ago. We never used to be able to consummate a sale and curate an active sale of a motorcycle online. Now people are buying from both sides of the country just looking for the best deal. I would say in our market more items are bought online than are bought in the retail dealerships. Internet-based marketing and sales is a definite staple in our business now as we’ve adapted our programs and policies to allow dealers to capitalize on that,” Moore said.
While Moore stated there’s more dealerships in the pipeline, he wants to focus on meeting the needs of the initial four dealers first before expanding. Big Dog is scheduled to produce 65 motorcycles this model year, which ends in August. BDM also has a new bike in the R&D room right now, something they’ve never done before at Big Dog, Moore stating they’re “taking a gamble on where we think the industry is going and hope to be the first one in the pot with it.”
The company is still selling parts and servicing older Big Dog Motorcycles, the business model divided into two different entities, one focusing on manufacturing, production and new product development and the other product support.
Moore’s aspirations for Big Dog are ambitious without being overly ambitious. This is evident in the fact that he’s moved the company into a smaller facility in Wichita and is trying to keep overhead managed right. He didn’t have to retrain employees because all but one formerly worked for Big Dog. And his initial offering consists primarily of one model, with a very limited edition run of another. The new project they’ve got in the works based on where they think the industry is going shows he knows his company has to adapt to survive. History has proven it’s not easy being the Big Dog on the porch. Hopefully lessons have been learned from mistakes of the past as he attempts to establish relevancy and respectability to Big Dog once more.