Development history of the Yamaha BT 1100 Bulldog

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Development history of the Yamaha BT 1100 Bulldog

Development history of the Yamaha BT 1100 Bulldog
A fat dog

Truly exclusive, this pleasure: MOTORRAD was able to observe the development of the new Yamaha BT 1100 Bulldog in secret, discussing the engine, chassis and design with the engineers.

Waldemar Schwarz


In general, the vehicle industry guards its development projects better than the Queen her clunkers and does everything humanly possible to protect future chrome jewels not only from long fingers, but also from prying eyes. Always before those of the journalists. That’s why it hits the editors like a bolt from the blue when Yamaha In autumn 1998, Germany asked whether MOTORRAD would be interested in accompanying the development of a new model.
What a question. Clearly there is interest, as such an opportunity means not only to be present at all development steps, but also to be able to contribute ideas and criticism. And stressful trips to Japan were not to be feared. After all, the Japanese manufacturers are increasingly moving the production of new models to the USA or Europe. The current high yen exchange rate is causing enormous problems when calculating for the important European market. So it makes sense not only to produce in Europe, but also to develop there. So it happens that the Italian importer Belgarda receives the order to look after a mid-range all-rounder from design to production.
But the genesis of the new model goes back much further than in the autumn of 1998. And MOTORRAD is not entirely uninvolved in it: As early as 1996, the editorial team presented the Road Star at the IFMA motorcycle fair in Cologne: an easy-to-use machine with the engine from the XV 535, low-maintenance cardan drive and variable ergonomics. A roadster as a real alternative to a chopper. The trade fair audience liked the idea and was also well received by MOTORRAD readers. Even the European product planners at Yamaha in Amsterdam are examining the design with great interest, as they have already made similar considerations.
However, the market researchers around Sven Ermstrang and Harui Okui are of the opinion that the drive source of the XV 535 is too weak. In the spring of 1998 the various ideas take on concrete form in a small group of product planners. A roadster is to be created that must also offer a lot of torque in the lower speed range for good drivability. Ultimately, the XV 1100 motor with cardan drive emerged as a suitable drive source. A new design, which devours at least 50 percent of the production costs of a motorcycle, is out of the question because of concerns about a competitive price.
Now the designers can get down to work. The final draft will be available in autumn 1998. But we have to wait for approval from the headquarters in far-away Japan. As soon as this hurdle has been jumped, things go fast. The project requires a lot of know-how and represents an enormous challenge for the Italian team around Belgarda manager Claudio Consonni. But this has already been recommended with tasks such as the development and production of the Enduro TT 600 R or an all-wheel-drive competition machine. In addition, the men around project manager Hiromi Yamamoto can take over an already finished engine. However, the peripherals such as the intake tract and exhaust system have to be redesigned and adapted to the changed operating conditions. In addition, the entire chassis, including the tank, seat and other add-on parts, has to be redeveloped, prototypes built, then tested and made ready for series production.
All of this works extremely quickly. In spring 1999, not only a model in the final design, a so-called “mock up”, but also a ready-to-drive prototype was available. The time at which MOTORRAD can take a look at the development for the first time: On February 20, 1999, the entire development team and the product planners from Yamaha Europe meet with MOTORRAD for the first round at Belgarda in Gerno di Lesmo near Milan. Designer Bart Janssen-Groesbeek proudly unveils the new model. The centerpiece, the air-cooled V2, which debuted in 1981 as a 1000 in the Tourer TR 1 and now drives the Cruiser XVS 1100, is dominant. The product planners explain the concept of the prototype running under the development code 09X: Above all, the new roadster should be able to do one thing? it should be easy to drive. That is why the choice fell on the somewhat aged engine. High torque at low speeds is more in demand than high peak power. Then the designers propagate their at least unusual styling. It should be equally appealing and novel. Ultimately, however, the buyer’s favor will decide whether you like it. For the MOTORRAD editor, however, now comes the moment when the high voltage is generated, the first driving contact with the new machine.
The test motorcycle is really a real prototype, just as you know it from the Erlkonig photos. Many parts such as the tank and seat are improvised, the exhaust system is welded from many segments, the fork and cardan come from the XJ 900 S. But constructed in such a way that initial function tests are possible. It is not yet clear which components the new roadster will consist of. When it comes to costs, the merchants always have an important say.
But the test drive in the mountains around Lake Como still gives a first impression. The dry, 230 kilogram Yamaha can be moved relatively easily thanks to the wide handlebars, and you sit relaxed. The chassis set-up requires decisive modifications, the tires do not harmonize with the overall concept. When sloping on bumps, the 1100er reacts wobbly. The load change reactions can also be improved, the transmission shifts extremely bony. After all, the positions of footrests and handlebars do not match the desired, relaxed driving experience.
The group meets again, this time with reversed roles. The Yamaha developers are curiously awaiting praise and criticism from MOTORRAD. They basically implemented the concept of an easy-to-drive motorcycle. There is intensive discussion, every single point of criticism discussed in detail. Both parties split up with a new deadline. The last meeting before the start of series production is to take place in around a year. This is how the first rendezvous with the 09X comes to an end.
On May 9, 2000, MOTORRAD will travel to Belgarda again, but the start of series production is still a long way off. Problems with the suppliers delay the project. The tank made of sheet steel in particular is a constant headache for the Italian supplier. Deep-drawing the complex shape is far more difficult than expected. But the quality of other vendor parts has not yet reached the high level required by the Japanese parent company. But for the test editor, the question of how the 09X has developed further in terms of driving behavior is much more exciting. This time, two motorcycles with different tires and chassis settings that have already taken off the provisional outfit of the prototype are available for the test drive. The two test vehicles already largely correspond to the final motorcycle. Again we go to the mountains around Lake Como. The developers have now resolved many of MOTORRAD’s complaints, and the fine-tuning is due. There are discussions about the choice of tire type and brand, which, depending on the product, can cause slight tilting when tilting on uneven asphalt. Other points of criticism, such as switchability, have been improved in detail, but cannot be further optimized with the given engine. And again the two parties split up with the intention of having one last meeting in a short time.
Again, almost a whole year is going into the country. On April 10, 2001, MOTORRAD travels to Italy again to ride a pre-production motorcycle. It was not the technology but the production of the add-on parts that caused unplanned delays. After all, a name has been found for the new roadster. The B in the type designation BT 1100 indicates that it is a product from the Italian importer Belgarda. The nickname Bulldog has become common among the test drivers because of the beefy pull-through in the lower speed range. After a thorough examination of the international naming rights, this humorous epithet now adorns the side cover.
The test drive confirms that the specific choice of tires has further improved driving behavior. The opinions of the developers and the MOTORRAD editors still differ on some points. But everyone is delighted that series production is finally starting. The first BT 1100s are rolling off the assembly line of the Enduro TT 600 R these days. The secret mission of MOTORRAD comes to an end: Yamaha’s extraordinary all-rounder will be available from dealers from October, and from now on it will be a motorcycle like any other for the editorial team : The first driving report appears in issue 15.

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