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Designed and built outside Japan

Published: 01 July 2001

Updated: 19 November 2014

THE Bulldog, or BT1100, claims to address a change in the market. The bike is the first Yamaha to be both designed and built outside of Japan. In true V-twin tradition this is an Italian bike, created by Yamaha’s Italian importer Belgarda. Unlike the UK importer, Belgarda is now a full construction company and key staff have been taken from Japan to oversee quality control in Italy.

The engine of the Bulldog, however, is not new. It has been lifted from the 1100 Dragstar with relatively minor tweaks to alter the characteristics. Peak torque – the figure Yamaha prefers to emphasize for this machine – is up on the Dragstar and chimes in at a car-like 4,500 revs. The key difference is a new and larger airbox, helping the engine breathe more easily. It’s a simple way of boosting power on any engine. Apart from that, there are only minor tweaks inside the motor – changes that the factory back in Japan had to OK. The rumour is the 1063cc motor can easily be tuned for a lot more performance but Japan does not want to see it lose any reliability, hence its insistence that Belgarda could only make minor changes.

Coming from a cruiser, that engine won’t be light, contributing to the machine’s overall mass of 229.5kg, dry. The frame, on the other hand, is all new and the minimalist design should have kept the weight low. It’s been designed to give the handling characteristics and rigidity expected of a modern bike while still allowing a full view of the engine.

The swing-arm is a cast alloy item with the shaft drive running through it – again that’ll be weighty – and front and rear the bike wears five-spoke wheels, giving that extra retro touch. Suspension is also retro with just preload adjustment available at both ends.

For the time being Yamaha’s Bulldog will only be on sale in Europe. By being marketed only in Europe it will be a first for us to get it before the Japanese. That’s not to say it won’t go on sale in Japan of course. In recent years there has been demand in the Land of the Rising Sun for home labels built overseas – Nissan cars built in Sunderland sell for a higher price in Japan than the home built versions. The simple fact of being an Italian Yamaha could create demand in Japan.

For Europe, Yamaha unashamedly says this bike will probably sell best in Germany and France. Both countries have power limits and both have very different bike buying patterns to the UK.

Though Yamaha, like the rest of Japanese, has noted a flattening out of supersports sales, we remain a country addicted to full-on sports bikes. Our continental cousins buy a far wider range of bikes. Monster trail bikes, custom bikes, naked cruisers all sell in far greater numbers in Germany and France than in the UK.

While Yamaha UK doesn’t expect there to be huge demand for the BT1100, as the Bulldog is also known, and will only bring in limited numbers, there is a specific UK model. Yamaha UK actually wanted the UK version to lose the Bulldog name, thinking it would give the bike the wrong image here.

The Bulldog name, along with the looks, place this bike in the performance naked category alongside Ducati’s Monster or anything Buell. But it really doesn’t live there. It’s more likely to compete with a Harley Davison than a Buell. With the increasing growth of interest in bikes as leisure products rather than transport, Yamaha feels there is room now for a new category and the Bulldog is it’s attempt to fill that need. Sales will tell whether they were right – and with the price expected to be around £6,300 - £6,500 it’s pitched lower than its own engine donor, the Dragstar 1100. It’ll be interesting for Yamaha to see whether they end up competing with each other.

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