THE BUELL BLAST 500 SINGLE
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If you haven't seen the specs yet, here they are:
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Engine Type: Air-cooled 4-stroke Single
Displacement: 492cc / 30.07 CI
Bore and Stroke: 88.9 X 79.375 / 3.5 X 3.125
Compression Ratio: 9.2:1
Valves: 2 OHV, Hydraulic Self-Adjusting
Carb: 40mm Keihin with auto-enrichener
HP: 34 @ 6500 rpm (at the crank)
Torque: 30 @ 5500 (at the crank)
Fuel mileage: 58 mpg city / 60 mpg highway
Oil Capacity: 2 quarts; dry sump; screw-on disposable filter
Type: Five-speed, constant mesh, five-plate wet clutch
Gearbox Ratios: (1) 2.69 (2) 1.85 (3) 1.43 (4) 1.18 (5) 1.00
Primary Drive: Triplex chain, 1.6:1
Final Drive: Kevlar belt, 2.7:1; non-adjustable; 15,000 mile suggested replacement interval
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Frame: Large cross-section backbone steel frame/oil tank, two rubber engine isolation mounts
Wheelbase: 55.3 inches / 140.5 cm
Rake: 25 degrees; Trail: 3.4 inches / 8.64 cm
Suspension: Front, Showa 37 mm fork, non-adjustable;
Rear: conventional swing-arm with Showa non-adjustable gas-charged mono-shock
Wheel travel: Front and Rear 4 inches / 10.16 cm
Brakes: Front 320 mm stainless, dual piston floating calipers Rear: 220 mm, single piston caliper
Front wheel: 2.50 X 16 cast aluminum
Rear wheel: 2.75 X 16 cast aluminum
Tires: Dunlop K330; Front 100/80-16 50s, Rear 120/80-16 60s
Seat heights: 25.5 and 27.5 inches
Ground clearance: 3.75 inches
Fuel capacity: 2.8 gallons
Dry weight: 360 lbs./ 163 kg
Load capacity: 400 lbs. / 181 kg
GVWR: 780 lbs. / 353 kg
Tank and Bodywork: Surlyn (TM) plastic, color molded in
Colors: Red; or Black
Charging: 297 Watt AC alternator, with solid-state regulator/rectifier
Battery: 12V, 12 AH sealed lead-acid
Starter motor: sure enough
Headlight: Sealed beam, 60/40 Watt
Taillight: 5/21 Watt
Turn signals: Flex mounted, manual operation
It has a horn! A Hella, same model as the new VW Beetle
LED Instrument lights: low oil, high beam, turn signals, neutral
Instruments: electronic speedo with LED odometer and tripmeter
Kickstarter and tachometer
Back in the days of yore, Big Singles had a reputation as unruly beasts, known to backfire on kickstarting, and lo, launching the patient rider over the handlebars. One of the less endearing quirks of those honored ancestors is the engine stall induced by snapping the throttle closed, as in emergency braking. It's caused by a momentary leaning-out of the mixture, and it can be a real hazard during emergency evasive maneuvers.
The cure is to enrich the idle mixture when the engine is sucking hard against a closed throttle. Apparently the Blast's "auto-enrichener" does the job; well enough for the violent shenanigans of a BattleTrax course. They say it also eliminates the need for a choke.
The Fixed Rear Axle
This odd litte detail is at the heart of what the Blast is all about - you don't fiddle with it, you get on it and ride it. This also eliminates the possibility of budding "rider-mechanics" over-tensioning the belt and trashing the counter-shaft bearing.
According to Buell, "...belt stretch is negligible after a brief break-in period, assuming the suspension geometry is optimized to provide consistent belt tension throughout its travel". Are they also assuming the engine hasn't been hot-rodded, or aftermarket suspension added? Slotted swingarms may be an item for people who alter the stock engine or suspension. Which brings us to...
Direct from the PR handout: "The 37 mm front fork and a non-adjustable gas-charged compression rear mono-shock work together to provide a smooth ride over all road surfaces. The progressive rate rear spring is tuned to comfortably carry 110 to 400 pounds of Gross Vehicle Carrying Weight. Buell engineers spent considerable time and effort working with Showa on the design of the custom Blast shock to optimize the dampening so that one setting would provide smooth riding conditions for all riders".
Were it only so, and the perplexing art of suspension tuning just a delusion. If you know a lick about suspension, you know one non-adjustable setting is not "optimized" for all riders at all speeds on all surfaces. An intelligent compromise will serve most riders well enough most of the time, but those who plan to customize their bikes might want to consider their suspension options while the horsepower wizards are getting engine mods sorted out.
Performance and Racing
Some industry insiders laugh at the idea of racing a Blast. "This is a beginner's bike", said one. "Do you want to race with beginners?" Well, that does sound like an incipient Mass Casualty Incident; but I'm not so sure this is a "beginner's bike", so I pestered a couple of well-known racing engine builders for their opinions. Keep in mind they spoke from experience, without being able to inspect the motorcycle, but I think you'll agree their remarks are on the money.
When Elliot Iverson at Ron Woods Racing talks about racing single-cylinder motorcycles, he's talking state of the art - the $30,000 SJ676 - 245 lbs, with a Rotax 676cc engine, and I'm guessing 70+ hp. "If the Buell can't turn a lap at Willow in under 1:30...keep it in the pits. The SJ does 1:27s and holds the Singles track record there...". American Rider magazine (November/December '99, pg 21) ran an item on the Blast and closed it with "...look for a line of Screaming Eagle components designed for the new one-lunger, like a 650cc cylinder with high-compression piston, high-lift cams and other hot-rod components." Even with a 650cc hop-up, I think the idea of a Buell Single outracing the SJ676 is a bit of a stretch, but it seems there are a lot of hard riders out there who would like to prove it one way or the other.
Stan Millard is a racing engine builder in Wisconsin. Thinking about his BSA B50, a high-performance pushrod motor known as the AHRMA's "Fastest 70s Single", I asked his opinion of the Blast engine. "The bore and stroke is fine from a performance standpoint", he said. "Some of the ways modern engines make horsepower is by not losing it internally through friction, crankcase pressure, excessive weight on moving parts, etc. If this is just a Sportster with one cylinder hacked off, I'd say while it could be a fine starter's street bike, racing success in anything but a "spec" class is unlikely. A triplex primary chain is major overkill...."
Indeed it is. I'm told the Blast tranny is the same used on 100+ hp racing Buell Twins; if so, it should last indefinitely. Motorcycle Online raced a claimed 110 hp S1 in Pro Thunder last year and blew the tranny twice. That's what it takes. Bulletproof durability carries a weight handicap for road racers, but it's good news for street riders who want to hot-rod their engines. There's also been some speculation lately about a line of "modular" motorcycles, using parts in common: say a 50 hp 650 Single, a 65 hp 750 Twin...I mentioned the "Buell Bazooka" 650 Single on a bulletin board the other day and I'm already getting demands for more information. We'll see - we live in interesting times.
I've heard from a Southern California rider who's interested in organizing Blast class competition, something along BattleTrax lines. If you want in, e-mail me at gazette9.com and I'll forward it. For now, it seems like the "performance versus reliability" equation is weighted in favor of the roadster. The word on it from Erik Buell: "This motorcycle is not about performance wars. It is about independence, adventure, freedom, control, and excitement". That we can all get into.
Entry Level or Every Level?
H-D/Buell plans a far-reaching marketing campaign aiming to reach people who are not involved in motorcycling. Aside from the usual moto-mag hype, they plan to promote the bike in magazines reaching active, adventurous outdoor people like mountain bikers, snowboarders, and climbers. They will be in Daytona for a week after Bike Week pitching the Blast to the spring break crowd. The inbred industry marketing mentality has left unserved a huge number of people who haven't got the slightest interest in owning 200 mph "sportbikes" or 900 lb "cruisers". The Blast was specifically designed to appeal to these people and turn them on to the joy of riding. The expectation, of course, is that these new riders will become long term customers. The Blast project is an investment in the future of motorcycling. It's a great plan - only one small problem.
They may be lucky if they have any Blasts left to sell by the time Bike Week rolls around. They have only 2,000 Singles planned for the '00 model year - this from a company with expected sales of 168,000 motorcycles in '99. It seems they had no idea what kind of pent-up demand they could tap into inside the motorcycling community, let alone in the general public.
A 30 hp Single is a joy to ride and a snap to maintain. Nobody can appreciate that better than a rider who's been "around the block" on an elephantine tourer or persnickety repli-racer. Aside from being a good "general purpose" motorcycle on its own, a thumping Single makes an ideal second bike.
I wish the snowboarders lots of luck getting their hands on a Blast, and I can't wait to see what the Japanese make of all this.
Taking Care of Business
"There's a great deal of work going on with training the dealerships, so they know how to deal with a new type of customer", Erik Buell said. He said it in an interview dated June '95. Today the '00 Blast PR handout says, "Special training is now being distributed to Buell dealers on who this new type of customer might be, and how his or her desires and needs will differ from the conventional motorcycle enthusiast". No doubt they'll still be at it in 2005 and 2050. Maybe someday they'll find out how to talk lead into gold.
Some of us have learned to take a competent dealership for granted, and never give it a thought. But what do you do if your dealer's inexperienced staff can't order a part without screwing up the system? What do you do if you need warranty service and your dealer gives you a runaround? What if your dealer won't stock parts and makes you wait weeks for a brake lever or an oil filter? You don't want to deal with the factory on your own. So how do you know who's good?
First: Check out the Bad Weather Bikers (Badweb) bulletin board. Click on "General Discussion Board" and scroll down to "Dealers, Service, Maintenance, and Warranty". Click in and search for posts on your prospect. The board isn't perfect; any hothead can post a rocket after embarrassing himself at a reputable dealer's. But a number of complaints can tip you off to trouble.
Next is a fact-finding mission. Do your homework, then walk in to the showroom and ask questions (questions you know the answers to, Slick). One of the longriders on the Badweb recommends asking if they do indeed have brake levers and turn signals in stock. Ask questions about the bikes and see if the salespeople know what they're talking about. Here's an item from the bulletin board: Customer walks in, looks at the bikes, sees a button with a squiggly line on it. He asks the salesman what the button is for. The salesman doesn't know. Nobody knows. Customer walks out. Weeks later, still interested in Buell motorcycles, he logs on to the Badweb with a question: "What's that button for?" The answer: "It's the 'start' button. If the salesman doesn't know what it's for, it means start looking somewhere else".
Get past the hucksters and chiselers and spend your money at a good dealership. They earn it.
What It's All About
Get on and go. The engine warms up and settles down to a steady beat. The bike easily outruns traffic and with a flick and a lean cuts through the crowd like a growling black ghost. Open it up and you're gone, nothing behind but deep booming echoes.Give it some more. Tuck into the tank and feel live steel under you. Lean into the curves. The engine is screaming. How fast can you go, how far can you lean. Roll it from peg to peg through the esses. Straighten up and feel the wind, feel alive. Slow down and thump at ease through the prettiest stretch of road. And do it again and again.
Here's to good riding and plenty of it.
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