Based in Wichita, Kansas, Big Dog Motorcycles began going after Harley-Davidson’s high-end market in 1994, making customized bikes on a production line and developing an admiring fan base with its generally well-made and always handsome bikes. The company brought back its Ridgeback chopper in 2008, when it made a number of changes to the bike, and carried that model over for 2009.
Like all Big Dog machines, it has a 1917cc, air-cooled, V-twin, S&S, four-stroke engine and an OHV fuel control system. A Baker Drivetrain six-speed transmission works with a belt final drive, which is mounted on the right side to distribute the weight more evenly and improve balance. A telescopic fork provides the front suspension; the rear is rigid. Riders found that, despite the rigid suspension, the bike had been engineered to be forgiving and flexible on bumpy roads.
Hydraulic discs, with four-piston Performance Machine calipers in front and back, furnish the chopper’s stopping power, just as they do for other Big Dog models. The standard instrument display has a speedometer, an odometer, and a tachometer. An oil temperature gauge was offered as an option.
Big Dog believed the customer for the Ridgeback wanted the most rebellious look possible. The company gave that customer its widest rear tire—330mm—and oversize down tubes. The 39-degree rake and four-inch stretch to the backbone contribute to the classic chopper style. The well-padded and comfortable seat is a low 23.4 inches off the ground. Weighing in at 680 pounds without fuel or oil, the Ridgeback has a wheelbase of 82.5 inches, and it clears the ground by a generous 4.5 inches. Given its size, you might expect its elongated teardrop-shaped fuel tank to hold more than 4.4 gallons, but you would be disappointed—and while the company claimed that all of its machines averaged 42 miles per gallon, real riders more often averaged 30 to 35 miles per gallon.
Big Dog custom-outfitted each machine according to the customer’s desires, offering a rainbow of color options and graphic packages. Despite the ambitious 2009 lineup, which offered nine models—including three new ones—as the economy slid further into recession, Big Dog’s fortunes slid with it. The company closed its doors early in 2011, just one of many specialty motorcycle builders that could not survive the recession. A successor company sells accessories, clothing, and parts, not just for Big Dog bikes but for other machines as well, so parts remain available.