The Buell Single

Update 12/9/99

Rumors and "Rumors"


Rumors are flourishing. But when things start to heat up, rumors spoil fast. Here are some "fresh", from the finest organic rumor-mongers in the business.

"What I'm told" is from informed sources. "What I think" is everything else: plausible rumors, logical inferences and deductions, and useful bits of fact. Buell will release the full story on their new motorcycle January 14th.

This update is text only. If you're looking for photographs of the new bike, there are links to the previous updates at the bottom of the page.

The Engine

What I'm told: It's not "half a Sportster", but a Sportster derivative, a tractable engine with a lot of torque from idle to redline. Geared to be quick off the line, with plenty of torque at low revs, and a top speed around 90 mph. Mentioning "30 hp" got no arguments. I'm told the engine is built to handle way more power than stock. Sources plead ignorance under pressure for more details.

What I think: Long stroke, heavy flywheel, gentle cam profile. Remember Karen Johnston reported seeing a beginner at the MSF course in Albuquerque who "was very hesitant and the bike was lugging down but never stalled." Try that with your own bike: you'll hear a loud engine knock right before you fall off. This hunk of Milwaukee Iron is tuned soft as a Teddy Bear. It's designed to have what the Brits call "charm" - a valuable quality in a traveling companion. Challenge is exhilarating when you're in the mood for it - but when you're not it gets old in a hurry.

The long stroke is a guess based on Harley's adherence to tradition, and it fits. The old XLCR1000 "Cafe Racer" had a bore and stroke of 81X96.8, and I think the new Single will run pretty close to that. That's a tall engine, even tilted forward 22.5 degrees, so an overhead cam is out. Pushrods it must be.

It takes a heavy flywheel to mellow the Big Single's thumping power pulses into a smooth rush of motion. I'm just guessin', but flywheel weight and cam profile have a lot to do with engine character, and this one's set up for people who want maximum riding pleasure, with minimum hassle. In stock trim this bike should have the nature of a well-trained saddle horse.

"Cycle" magazine tested the SR500 in their November 1980 issue. A 500 Single, 377 pounds wet, around 30 hp, it's a pretty close match- it went through the quarter mile in 14.8 seconds at 85 mph. I've been riding an XT500 since 1980. Even after all these years, no matter how I may feel when I get on that bike, by the time the engine warms up I'm grinning. You can't beat that. No matter what, you can't beat it.

And for power beyond stock? Cams, compression...The single-cylinder Buell may be built as a well-mannered mount, but it has the pedigree of a hot rod, and blood tells. No doubt some of the engine-tuning wizards already have their orders in, and they're going to have a ball with it. Only blood, sweat, and time can tell how many wild horses their magic will conjure up in a hot-rodded Buell Single.

For an article on the new motorcycle from a sportier point of view, check out

The Running Gear

What I'm told: The stressed-engine frame was designed for the same balance and precise handling Buell Twin riders sing about, and the small fleet of test bikes has logged over 500,000 miles proving out the new motorcycle on the road, from desert heat to the lands of ice and snow.

What I think: Light, compact Singles usually handle very well, and Buell Twins have an excellent reputation for roadholding on the esses and curves. With a rider aboard the new bike looks like it was made purely for the joy of riding. I hear the frame has a large-diameter backbone that doubles as an oil tank.

I've never ridden a Buell motorcycle, but I've spent a lot of time over the past few months reading riders' posts on the Bad Weather Bikers bulletin board. It's like drinking at the House of the Rising Sun - you hear many long tales of woe and an occasional howl of pleasure. Reading the complaints of lousy customer service, Harley's infamous "quality control", and parts that must travel by barefoot runner, you really start to wonder - until somebody puts the crying towel down and starts talking about power and handling. These people have it and they're hooked.

Quality Control and Customer Service

Harley's quality and service issues have been a problem more or less throughout the 30 years I've been interested in motorcycling. Every salty longrider I know looks at a factory Harley as a pile of raw material that has to be chopped down to the crankpin and re-built "correct" - and you might as well make it better looking and more powerful while you're at it. Riders who don't want to be bothered buy foreign.

But now there's something new in the wind. H-D made a major investment developing the Buell Single to appeal to people who don't ride, to turn them on to motorcycling. They know this is a different breed of customer, and if they're not prepared to follow through with a service standard that'll keep the new customers satisfied, the investment is blown. In fact they will have created new customers for their competition.

Harley-Davidson had been in business 95 years when it took over Buell and its customers. For the last two years now H-D has been getting used to dealing with demanding riders and their high-performance motorcycles. You can't turn the Queen Mary on a dime, but the motor company's management is betting they can handle it.

The single-cylinder riders should be well off for several reasons. The Single has had the most thorough testing available anywhere.The design is under-stressed and bone simple. This is where the single-cylinder motorcycle excels: maximum joy with minimum aggravation. For me and many others, that's what it's all about. The key at present seems to be finding a good dealer. There may be more on this here in the future.

Price and Availability

What I'm told: The under-$4,000 price and the buy-back are out the window thanks to the enthusiastic response from dealers and customers. Who started those rumors anyway? They say the price is not yet fixed but is currently around $1,000 less than a Sportster 883 (which currently lists for $5,345).

The Single will go into production in late January, with something less than 2,000 built in Y2K. Dealers can't place orders until after January 14th, but if you gotta have one hot off the line, it can't hurt to start dealing now - unless it drives the price up again!

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