In 1999, when I wrote a regular column for the Toronto Star, I thought it would be a good idea to go for a ride on a Big Brute. This was a bike powered by either a V6 or a V8 Chevrolet engine, crammed into a custom-made frame, lashed to a two-speed transmission and custom-built by a guy in Mississauga.
It was similar in principle to the much more refined Boss Hoss that’s made in the U.S. In fact, Big Brute supposedly came about because the guy in Mississauga, who owned a racing transmission shop, was asked to build transmissions for the Boss Hoss. According to him, the deal fell through and he was left with a bunch of purpose-made transmissions, so he decided to build his own all-Canadian version of the Boss Hoss, which he named the Big Brute.
The picture with this story is a lousy thumbnail I found on the web, but I’m pretty sure that’s the actual bike I rode. I can’t find the photos I took at the time. It was a 5.7L V8 that made 375 hp and was apparently good for more than 400 km/h. In theory.
I met the guy at his shop and there was plenty of back-slapping and nudge-nudge wink-wink about the power. I climbed onto the massive bike and rode off to join a charity ride that was headed up to the Forks of the Credit north of Brampton.
The bike handled like a tank, of course. Its rear tire was a square profile car tire that could almost let you park without a sidestand. The curves of the Forks of the Credit were a challenge as the bike tipped onto the edge of the tire and then fell back onto the flat again. The entire experience was a wrestling match.
It became a horror, though, on the ride back south. I rode in the middle of a convoy of five or six bikes in the left lane of Hwy. 410 — a restricted-access highway that leads down to the 401. I think the speed limit was 100 km/h and we were going fairly quickly at 120 km/h. The Big Brute started wavering in the lane and I slowed to let it correct itself, and before I knew it, the handlebars were slapping the tank violently on each side. The bike was tipping hard with each slap and bouncing its floorboards off the asphalt, as if we were riding through cones, except I was at more than 100 km/h.
I’d never had a tank-slapper before, or even seen one. To be honest, I didn’t think they really existed, but this bike was ramming the tank so hard on both sides it was sure to break something. Which didn’t really matter, because we were sure to crash first anyway. It went on for a long time — at least 10 seconds and maybe much longer: time to drift over to the left of the lane, time for me to choose to just jump off before riding into the grassy median with the drainage ditch, and plenty of time for me to regret wearing a half-helmet.
Eventually, when the bike was right on the edge of the median, it had slowed enough to regain its balance and my world smoothed out again. The bars stopped wavering and I pulled over as soon as possible. The two riders behind me had dropped far back when they saw what was happening, but they caught up and pulled over with me. “That was terrifying,” said one. “I thought you were dead, for sure.”
I rode the Big Brute slowly and steadily directly back to the Mississauga shop. The guy was there and I told him what had happened. He never once sympathized. “Well, if you’re going to be speeding, what do you expect?” he said. And, “you’re not going to put this in the paper, are you?”
Damn right I put it in the paper. Big Brutes aren’t made anymore, though I think the transmissions are still around. And if you try to go to the website at V8bikes.com, my Norton antivirus warns that “this site may harm your computer.” Seems fitting really — that behemoth was by far the most harmful two-wheeled machine I’ve ever ridden.