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Boss Hoss BHC-3 ZZ4
At last year's Yamaha V-Star 1300 intro, I could hardly believe my ears when Yamaha's product planners described a 1300cc bike as a "middleweight". All four Japanese manufacturers have 1800cc -- or larger -- cruisers on the market, and Triumph has no trouble selling their gargantuan 2.3-liter Rocket III. Where will it end?
Two words: Boss Hoss. Founded in 1990 by Monte Warne, this Dyersburg, TN company builds a truly impressive vehicle. It's by far the most humungous two-wheeled production conveyance made, using a Chevy V-8 motor to launch riders into hyperdrive. What's it like to ride? Is it a rolling conversation piece or a practical item of transportation? Boss Hoss parked their 18-wheeler filled with demo bikes in Torrance not too long ago, so we decided to check it out.
Executive Editor Al Palaima and I rolled up to where the Boss Hoss 18-wheeler transporter was parked and were immediately impressed by the size and styling of these audacious machines. Although they are incredibly huge, they still look like motorcycles, with tasteful curves and paint. But they're just so big.
Kevin Butler, Boss Hoss' director of marketing and sales
was on hand to go for a ride with us. We asked him some technical questions;
how big, how fast and how much? And how the hell can you put a motor this
big into a bike? We were intimidated; MO founder Ashley warned us about
riding the Boss Hoss, as the one she rode many years ago had a manual
transmission with a foot clutch. "That thing was insane!"
We like motorcycles because they prominently display their motors. The Small (ha!) Block BHS-ZZ4 and ZZ4 Super Sport that Al and I rode take that display to a whole new level; if a Sportster's V-twin is TV cable soft porn, the `Hoss is a Tijuana donkey show. It's a liquid-cooled Chevrolet 350 cubic-inch (that's 5,735cc) V-8 that once had a home in the Corvette but is now used for hot rods and other applications. It's not exactly high tech, with a cast-iron block and pushrods, but who cares? It makes 355hp at the crank and over 400 ft-lbs of torque. We did not put it on the MO Dynojet Dyno because we are not insane and it won't fit anyway.
The big-block bike boasts 502hp and 567 ft-lbs of torque and weighs in at an extra 200 pounds. They didn't have one for us to ride, although they did have a trike on hand with wild '57 Chevy-style fins and a crazy paint job. We didn't take the plunge, but maybe we should have.
The huge motor inhales fuel, air and whatever else is too close through a Holley carburator (California models use fuel injection and a catalytic converter; outside our lovely state the Hoss is exempt from emissions requirements but the FI and cat are available in case Ed Bagley jr. decides to buy one) and vents through a two-inch exhaust system with dual mufflers. Bolted to the back is a proprietary two-speed automatic transmission with a reverse gear to send power to the rear wheel via a wide Gates belt. Still worried about the belt on your 90hp Buell wearing out? Boss Hoss describes the belt as "bulletproof".
The chassis is just as durable and simple as the motor. It uses 1.5 inch, chrome-molly tubing and an investment-cast alloy steering head to form what is hopefully a strong and rigid chassis. There's a skinny-looking chromed swingarm in the back that uses a pair of nice-looking 11-inch (the standard ZZ4 uses 13-inch) shock absorbers adjustable for preload. A 63mm inverted fork holds a 16-inch wheel with an Avon Venom-X bias-ply tire, a 130/90-16. Front braking is handled by fervent prayer, dual four-piston Brembo calipers and 320mm floating rotors. The rear brake is the same, but half. The rear wheel also gets shod with a Venom-X, except it's a 230/60-15, and no, it's not a car tire. Wheelbase is a parade float-like 77 inches (the non-SS is 80), and the whole shebang weighs in at 1100 pounds, although it's impolite to ask.
The rest of the bike is like the chassis and motor; simple, but effective and nicely-made. The bulbous tank holds 8.5 gallons and sits behind big chrome gauges to tell you speed, RPM, fuel remaining, voltage and oil pressure. There's also a gear indicator, odometer and other assorted dummy lights. The SS gets a lower saddle; 25 inches versus 28, and of course there's a passenger seat. What's another 100 pounds or so? Build quality looks very nice, and this is definitely a low-volume product; paint is deep, flawless and glossy, the chrome and powder-coat are thick and the side panels are made of fiberglass. The only home-built touch is the washers that adjust the motor mounts for a perfect fit, but I imagine the physics of mounting such a massive powerplant require this. It's classy, sassy and will set you back $36,000 before you start adding on for options like the fairing and hard luggage.
I look over at Fonzie to note that his pupils, normally dilated, are sharp and clear and he is practically slathering at a chance to go for a ride. We suit up -- I try not to be judgmental when Kevin slaps on a tiny plastic beanie for his first-ever ride on an 1100-pound beast of a motorcycle in midday 405 freeway traffic -- and climb aboard the three huge machines. I'm the smallest guy, so I pick the SS for my first ride.
It's huge. It splays my legs way out to either side, but my feet can firmly touch the deck. In front of me is the massive bulk of motor and fuel tank, with the bars way up and to the sides. I can reach them, but it's just on the near side of comfort. It's like somebody cut open a motorcycle and put another motorcycle inside that. But after a few minutes sitting on the bike and listening to the Boss Hoss ["Instructions for safe riding"] safety brief the bike started to feel more reasonable and lighter between my legs. After all, a Gold Wing is over 1000 pounds full of gas, luggage and passenger, so what's another 100 pounds?
So, key on, transmission into "N", and hit the starter. This is where the Gold Wing analogy ends. The motor fires up like it's Judgment Day with a maelstrom of noise, vibration and heat. There is a 355hp car engine inches from your tender pink bits, the air is full of noise and dust roils up under the bike where the dual exhausts are pointed straight at the ground. Fonzie now knows that "there is a point where a bike becomes too loud to ride", and the Boss Hoss is it. With the motors running on all three bikes conversation is impossible; it's like being on the deck of an aircraft carrier during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
Lucky for short-armed simians like Gabe, Boss Hoss sells accessory pull-backs to adjust the reach to the bars.
Who wants to talk when you can ride? I push down on the shifter and the bike clunks into drive. I release the brake (it's easy to ride the rear brake on this machine, as the bike is so heavy and torquey you can burn the rear brake up completely without feeling any drag) and the bike starts rolling away. With a bit of throttle, the bike scoots forwards, and at low speeds it's like riding a full-dress touring rig with flat tires until I get used to it and things don't feel so bad. It just has a long wheelbase and impossibly wide bars, so once I've reset my internal gyroscopes the bike starts to feel natural. After a few blocks of city traffic -- and being gawked at by a dozen people in cars and on foot -- I feel ready to attack the 405 on the World's largest production bike.
I take it easy on the ramp and emerge in very heavy traffic that is flowing at about 65 mph. Figuring I can test maneuverability and acceleration at the same time, I twist the chrome and rubber handgip. Three things happen; the bike shudders explosively, like an elephant seeing God, rocks to the side from the manhole cover-sized flywheel's precession effect, and then rockets forwards like a runaway semi. Fortunately, I'm just able to aim for a gap in the traffic, but there isn't enough room for this thing on the 405.
The 110 ramp is approaching faster than I thought for some reason, so I swing the bike over across two lanes and dive into the cloverleaf. Even at a good clip, the bike feels stable, although steering takes a serious effort. I lean it a little more and something underneath starts to grind; there's as much ground clearance as a big floorboard-equipped cruiser, but only just. Trackdays might be off the list of Boss Hoss-approved activities.
The 110 south is a solid mass of trucks heading to the port of Los Angeles, but I find a clear spot and wick the throttle open, kicking it into overdrive when I hit 70 mph. The motor smoothes out, but keeps accelerating, making fabulous V-8 noises: "BWAH-WHAH-WHAH-WHAH-WHAH!" as it fires me down the five-lane interstate. The windblast is ridiculous and the chassis and tires start to feel a little vague as the big speedometer is indicating well over three digits, and I'm still nowhere near the limits of this bike's performance. I don't think I'd ever want to be.
A mass of trucks is looming in front of me, blocking every lane. I give the brakes a four-fingered squeeze and stomp on the pedal. There's good feel and feedback from these binders, but the effect is not as pronounced as what I'm used to from an expensive brake system like this; the bike slows, but not much and not very fast. An exit is coming up quickly -- that seems to happen easily on a `Hoss -- but luckily the wide bars provide enough leverage so lane changes happen in a reasonable amount of time. I take the exit and wait for my companions.
After a long wait and some phone calls (it seems that Kevin isn't quite as comfortable with LA traffic as Al and I) we fill the big fuel tanks -- Boss Hoss claims 20 mpg city and 25 highway, by the way -- and head over to San Pedro for some lunch. At the restaurant we sit on the patio and answer questions about the bikes from other diners; who makes it? Is it a Harley? Is it hard to ride? How much does it cost? This bike makes an impact on whomever sees it, regardless of their interest in motorcycles.
After lunch we ride a little along the Pacific Coast Highway to find a spot for some pictures. On the winding, bumpy, slow pavement the Boss Hoss is not quite in its element; at low speeds the bike feels every bit as ponderous as a 1,100-pound motorcycle should, and suspension travel and lean angle are not in great supply. Heat wafts up from the massive engine, which is welcome in the fall, but won't be nice on a hot summer's day.
...the bike shudders explosively, like an elephant seeing God...
It's only on the trip back to the dealer where the Boss Hoss semi is parked that the bike really starts to make sense, on the gently winding, less-trafficked roads that lead back to Torrance. Here, the heat from the engine stays behind you and the suspension and brakes aren't overburdened. You just roll on and off the throttle and enjoy acceleration that can only be experienced to be fully understood, coupled with handling that at a moderate pace feels as light and easy as more than half a ton of motorcycle possibly can.
Back at the trailer, Al and I get it; the Boss Hoss ZZ4 is fun, easy to ride and works surprisingly well. But who the hell is something like this for? Al assumed that "the car buffs would be buying the Boss Hoss for its motor". But it turns out that the typical Hoss buyer -- a man in his forties with a six-figure income who has owned many motorcycles -- is a cruiser enthusiast who likes the idea of owning the ultimate American bike and falls in love with its surprisingly docile and easy-going character. Kevin told us that "after they buy a Hoss, it's not uncommon for them to say, `well, I've got a Harley but I don't ride it anymore'".
OK, at $36,000 it's not for everybody, and the heavy, slow steering should keep
away the racer-boy crowd. But after more than 15 years and with thousands of these bikes on the roads, the Boss Hoss is more than a crazy science experiment or an exotic, impractical dream. We found it to be a safe and amazingly practical way to have fun and get attention on a motorcycle. Would I buy one? It's not for me. But I would recommend it for the right person. If what you want is to make people think you're more wild and insane than you actually are, and have a love for American muscle car engines, this is your only choice.
Why would you want to ride something so massive?
Because you can.