The Buell Single

Update 10/29/99

I've been keeping track of various message boards, and also getting e-mail with some interesting but unverifiable info. People with "inside information" say the engine is "half a Sportster", using an identical cam. I find it hard to believe Buell would design a new pushrod engine, but I guess that's the story and Buell is sticking to it. Many thanks to all who've written.

One e-report, received this morning, carries so much of interest I'm reprinting it here in full, verified or not:

"Buell showed a video of the bike to dealers on Oct 27 and didn't give much more info than you already have.  The motor is a pushrod motor, suspension is Showa, dry weight is 360 pounds, it has an automatic choke (why?) and can carry 400 pounds.  Torque is near 30 ft-lbs.  They gave no audio of the bike in the video and were absolutely, positively not willing to discuss hop-up parts.  Their market segment is first time riders in their late teens and female riders who think a Sportster is too big.  It will be available in two seat heights, 27" or 29".  They would not discuss price and availability.  The official intro will be in January at the dealer show.  The presentation basically gives dealers a little info to offer to their customers who have been reading all the internet rumors.  In my opinion, they are leaving out the people that wanna hop this thing up and take it to the local track (like me!).  I guess if I want to race a single, I'm gonna have to look at an MuZ. Let me know if you see anything more out your way."

I sure will. Thanks for an excellent report.

Interesting, no? I wonder if Harley's insistence that Singles are only fit for timid beginners and the physically infirm will doom a potentially exciting motorcycle to moped status.

The recent blanket recall of nearly all existing Buell Twins has also raised a warning flag for hard riding single-cylinder motorcyclists, and it's worth considering.

You know one of the tough tricks of motorcycle design is the assigned balance of performance and reliablity. Thanks to advances in metallurgy, materials testing, and design engineering, our modern "rocket" scientist has a much tighter grip on the question "Heavier? or Faster?" But he still has to predict the anticipated stresses and strains his design will bear when it's actually in service.

Maybe Buell owners ride harder than expected. Do you?

The flag is out, and it's up to Buell. The "Harley Mystique" won't cut it. People who ride Singles ride 'em for all they're worth.

Buell, Ford, and Reliability Testing

All my e-mail on this subject has been from experienced riders. Many are interested in the "Thor" as a potential single-cylinder mount rather than a tentative stepping stone to a "real" (ugh!) bike. Here's a more detailed report on this summer's road test activity. Remember, all the evidence linking the Buell test crew to Ford is circumstantial. It could all be just an amazing coincidence! Yes!

Inside The Arizona Proving Ground

Ford's APG is a former military air base on six square miles of desert flats near Yucca, off the southeast flank of the River Range. With a summer high of 119 degrees, it's the place for hot-weather testing for engineers from around the world.

Their corrosion chambers can hold a vehicle at 150 degrees and 95% relative humidity, while spraying it with salt water. There's a 5-mile high-speed test track, and 50 miles of test roads, including a fiendish strip of concrete slabs molded to duplicate washboard, whoop-de-doos, New York potholes, and railroad ties. They call it "Silver Creek Road", after a local axle-buster that runs from Oatman to Bullhead City.

On the intellectual side, there's a fuel analysis station, and a performance and dyno lab with a data link direct to Dearborn.

So with all this, why'd they ever leave the reservation? They want those mountain grades, so they head for the hills.

Road Testing In The River Range

EASTBOUND toward Sitgreaves on Old 66

The Range is a fractured, faulted lava flow rising almost 5,000 feet above the Colorado River. State Route 68 climbs 3,000 feet in the eleven miles between Davis Dam and Union Pass. In the eastern Mojave summer, unfit vehicles experience spontaneous combustion.

The grades heading for Sitgreaves Pass follow the contours to head steep side canyons, switchbacking over a course that was once U.S. 66, once an Army wagon road, once an Indian trade route between the Pacific and the Hopi pueblos. They say people fleeing the Dust Bowl paid locals to tow their smoking flivvers up and over the pass. 66 and 68 are the only paved roads across the 80-mile-long range.

Some of us look at a twisty road, twirl our mustaches, and have at it like Errol Flynn versus the Sheriff of Nottingham. Others get lost in the scenery, idling along to the relaxing beat of the engine. So who's testing your ride?

Ford's answer is to hold their test drivers to a strict schedule according to the posted speed limits. Drivers too fast or too slow get canned. You know there's only one way to cook a Big Mac.

On a beautiful twisty road, with a lithe, light, powerful Single, could you do it? Could you putt along like you were driving a 2001 Escort?

The Buell test riders did just that. Old folks on Gold Wings pulling trailers hit the curves with more verve, while the Buells motored along like ducks in a row. Tough, but someboy's gotta do it.

I monitored the road testing for about six weeks. There were sometimes three, usually two, sometimes only one Single out running the course on a given day. If my tracking is accurate, the bikes were covering 180 to 200 miles a day, five days a week, in genuinely tough climate and terrain conditions. After the summer really set in, I never saw more than two at once, but I can't say if the third bike was down, or rotating through another test phase. I didn't hear of any breakdowns on the road.

Harley-Davidson has been posting record profits for quite a while. They certainly have the money to do the job right. The value of Ford's decades of local road testing experience should also be taken into account by anyone who wants to gamble on the value of a new design. I can't think of another instance when a motorcycle manufacturer had the benefit of such a data base or test facilities. This is assuming they are in fact collaborating.

Time'll tell, and if the bike blows, there's always the "full price buy-back". Maybe the big question is, "How hard do you ride?"

PUSHRODS?! Really?!
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