by Norma Nesheim
I am a Sportster rider. I’ve been riding for five years. When Mike and Troy at M.M.M. asked me to help them evaluate the Buells by spending an afternoon atop an S1 Lightning, I was thrilled. We rode about two and a half hours and over 60 miles, but we didn’t ride slow. We stopped for Troy to play photographer.
The weather was fantastic and so was the ride. Buell had an 80 horsepower target for the engine in the Lightning, and they must have hit close to the bullseye. It was like fireworks. This had lots more power than a Sportster. The chassis was so smooth we floated around the corners–no need to push hard or make corrections in the curves. All you had to do was think your way through. On the straightaways, hitting potholes didn’t jar your bones.
My compliments to Erik Buell for his engineering feat…but you can tell he wasn’t my size! Dancing on my tiptoes with this Buell was not Prom Night. I would have felt more confident with a lower seat height. The hand levers were a long reach and a hard effort to pull.
If only my fingers were longer, working the controls would have been a no-brainer–not a major task. I had to cancel the turn signals manually, which was a problem for people whose memories are as short as their fingers.
Seating position was good for the whole 60 miles I was on the bike. On longer trips I would miss my highway pegs. Also, the wind surprised me by occasionally flipping up my face shield. This was a short trip bike.
The sight of the six piston calipers on the
front wheel put certain expectations into my mind, and the front brakes turned out to have a better locking grip than my face shield’s locking mechanism. In other words, the front brake was touchy and responsive and could stop a freight train.
In all, this bike was a rush.
by Michael Kamrad
All of us who ride motorcycles have a “Where It All Began” story. My story began at age three. My father got a kick out of strapping my thirty-five pound form to his back with a bungee cord and zipping around on his motorcycle. From that time on it was in my blood. Sound familiar?
I launched my own collection at age 16 with a 1971 Yamaha DT250. I hit the streets at 19 with an ’81 Honda CM400E, and got the attitude at 23 with an ’82 Suzuki 550 Katana. Not stopping till I met my goal, last year I purchased a ’95 883 Sporty and a ’95 RF900R Suzuki.
Enter the Buell Thunderbolt–the lovechild hybrid of my Harley Sportster and my RF900R. This cross-breed is a species u
nto itself, born to ride hard and fast, but still make you feel like Elvis. Change is in the air, Jane. Listen up and hear my story. This bike has got motion: forward, fast, fantastic…the FUTURE.
When M.M.M. asked me to be their test pilot, I jumped at the opportunity. They said it was my unconditional love for all bikes that made me the logical choice. After all, variety is the spice of life. A Buell Thunderbolt to ride? Sure. The test was on.
Being a lad who lives it up, I challenged the Buell to meet its potential. I pushed it hard, so you will have a clear idea of what you will experience if you are lucky enough to ride this scooter.
Climbing on this beast and kicking in its guts I first noticed its purr/growl. That was a rubber mounted 1203cc under my belly–Harley’s own Sportster engine, with a free-breathing air cleaner and two-into-one exhaust. A three point rubber mount kept vibrations rolling in a lateral motion to the bike. A belt drive delivered power to the rear wheel. Welcome to Torque City, my friend. The V-twin always delivered that feeling of rolling power. And the sound the exhaust made was pure, sweet music. I enjoyed its song all the way up to 6300 RPMs, where a built in Rev-Limiter kept the hungry at bay. But fear not, mi compadre, the Thunderbolt’s response was nothing short of harmony with the bike’s suspension. Now we’re talking full orchestration!
As I am spoiled by my RF900R, I must share my wealth. The Thunderbolt’s ride was fully up to Crotch Rocket Par. With inverted shocks up front, an under-the-gut mono shock, and tube chrome-moly perimeter frame, the bike begged me to ride hard. So go ahead–find a winding road, and you’re set for sport bike mode. Dunlop Sport Max Radials kept me rubber side down. A six-piston, single disk brake up front and a disk brake in the rear kept the stopping power close at hand, though I found the rear brake a little like Jeckel & Hyde. Don’t depend on this gripper to stop you very much or very quickly; on the flip-side, you won’t have any fear of locking up the rear brake. An instructor once told me, “You want to stop, bud–the front brake is your bes
t friend.” You’ll quickly learn this lesson on the Buell. Despite the rear brake shortfall, the harder I rode the bike, the more its handling impressed me. An A-1 rating is in order.
Now you’re thinking, “Am I going to be a pretzel by the time I get to my destination?” The Thunderbolt’s combination of seating position, fairings, and clip-ons will allow all-day riding for all but the most sensitive riders. I found a plush seat to ride on and set the pegs right for meeting the clip-ons. I rode set for action and cruising, the hidden agenda for the Thunderbolt. Rounding the block or rolling on the highway, you’ll be proud to brag about your Buell. Sayanara, Mr. Chiropractor!
Beauty, grace, and aggressive personality protruded from this two wheeled animal; the paint job was flawless and rich. The finish quality was something to write home to Mom about. Tell her that the Buell was put together with TLC. She’ll understand. Well thought out engineering and a high degree of quality control were living at the factory. Harley-Davidson dealers everywhere and a twelve month unlimited mileage warranty ensure your protection. Meanwhile, you can impress the crowd with a work of art that looks as sweet at it runs.
The fun side of owning a Harley is the orgy of aftermarket parts available. No doubt there will soon be a growing market of tricks for Buell buffs. I’ve already seen alternate clip-ons, billet foot controls, and even a seat by Corbin. I can assure you, Gus, buy a Buell and an array of accessories will pop up all around you. Make it your own version of an already good thing, beautiful and fast. Remember, speed is just a question of money. How fast do you want to go? Dream away, Jones.
Do you get the picture now? There is a new breed of cycle out there–hungry, stealthy, an animal at heart. One parent is a scooter that runs like the wind with the dexterity of a gymnast. The other is a machine with the heart of “American made.” Take the new breed and start your own story.