The Buell Single

Update 2

11/10/99

Since the last update October 29th, gazette9 world headquarters here in Oatman has been flooded with tips, reports, and rumors from the field. What's published here is considered genuine information, but there are no guarantees. That's spy biz.

They say three U.S. dealers received "Thors" to use in Motorcycle Safety Foundation training programs. One dealer in the Southwest supposedly got 14, has a "non-disclosure" agreement with Buell, and employees who snuck some photos had them confiscated.

An M2 owner writes to say he got a ride on one of the MSF bikes, and sent us a ride report:

From a distance, the machine has pleasing lines. The tank has the characteristic Buell manta ray shape and looks like a scaled down M2. The handlebars and speedo set-up remind me of an M2, although the speedo is a new design.
The seating position is comfortable and will please younger and women riders. There will be two seats offered.
This is not a modified Sportster engine, it's all new. On the right side of the cylinder is a rectangular plastic composite case which either houses pushrods, or a gear or chain cam drive.
On start-up the engine has the definite thump thump of a four stroke Single. Sounds like a BSA 441.
The clutch pull and release was easy and shifting was crisp. Engine vibration was minimal at the 30 mph top speed I attained. The machine has a very light feel and inspires confidence in leaning turns. The power is adequate and about what you would expect from an EPA-choked near-500cc Single.
Many thanks for the first ride report.

Other reports say the seat heights are 27 and 29 inches, and point out the Single is narrower than a Sportster, allowing the rider's leg to reach straight down to the ground.

The MSF Connection

It seems the union with Buell has brought some bloom of youth to Harley-Davidson. Not only were dealers allowed to offer suggestions after the video intro October 27th, but H-D has finally joined the Motorcycle Safety Foundation as a funding member; a wise move.

A motor company less wise might've spent its entire PR budget on flashy ads, perhaps featuring a muscular rider with a leather jacket and the head of a camel luring impressionable youngsters to the glamor of motorcycling.

In a game where "new blood" can be more than a figure of speech, an influx of riders who don't know how to quickly steer or stop a speeding motorcycle would soon line the whole industry up with "Big Tobacco" and the gunmakers. No doubt there's a warehouse somewhere full of sticky labels: "Motorcycling is known to the State of California to cause abrasions, trauma, and prejudice against visually challenged motorists". You can bet the mercenary witch hunters that pillaged the tobacco industry are keeping a file on us, just waiting for the right media event, the politically decisive moment. Here's a thanks to Harley-Davidson for joining BMW, Ducati, Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Suzuki in supporting rider education. It's money well spent.

So Who's "New"?

Since its beginning September 20th, this website's had over 5,000 hits and a corresponding amount of e-mail. It might surprise the marketing experts that all the mail has been from experienced motorcyclists. Like the single-shot rifle and the longbow, the single-cylinder motorcycle attracts people who've been in long enough to get beyond novelties, to the essence.

Check out these e-mail excerpts from a rider with "10-plus years of motorcycling":

I put a deposit on one of the new Buell Singles about a month ago. My salesman has given me much information on the bike...the oil tank is part of the frame...he said the bike would debut at the dealer's show in New Orleans in January 2000 and the bikes should be available to the public in February...he said horsepower and torque would be very impressive and top speed would be over 100 mph...the engine is not half a Sportster, it is a brand new design by Buell and Harley-Davidson together.
I would never have thought about buying another American-made motorcycle after the old Iron Head Sportster I owned in college but here I go again. I have been riding BMWs, old ones...With the new Buell Single I have the opportunity to pay cash and have a new bike; what a concept...this is my first Single and I am looking forward to it. I hope Buell knows how much of their reputation is riding on this.
We all hope so, too. Good luck with your new Single.

That's news. Is it on the level, or is it a hoax by the Industrial Counter Espionage team?

It sounds genuine for two reasons: First, when asked about the Single's price, the dealer location, engine details, and a test ride, the writer clammed up. Second, he mentioned the new bike has no name.

It appears "Thor" is the project code-name; the model name is yet to be announced. A name did appear on the web last month, but it was quickly and vehemently retracted. It wasn't very striking anyhow. Anyone who can come up with a euphonious appelation for the new Single is invited to send it in for publication in the next update. If there is one.

Enough blather - the photos ought to be downloaded by now.

More on the "Project Thor" Engine

Motorcycle Consumer News ran a silhouette photo glommed off a projector screen on their web site with a caption predicting engine horsepower in the "mid-30s". For a 498cc engine, 35 HP equals 1.15 HP per cubic inch; pretty good for a pushrod Single.

The photo above gives a rare look up the skirts of the new Single, to the carb and exhaust ports. But the top is still hidden. A spin-off oil filter cartridge appears under the rider's foot.

This is the same negative, printed to normal exposure. The oil filter stands out more clearly, as do several other details.

A view of the left side. The primary cover is shaped like a Sportster's, but looks about 20% smaller. The little plastic box above the passenger peg is most likely a container for electronic monitoring equipment. The "-----" looks good from any angle, no?

Since no one who's seen the engine above the ports is talking, it's still not certain if the engine is a pushrod, OHC, or even DOHC design. Despite the best efforts of the Single Cylinder Spy Cooperative, Buell may still have more than a model name up its sleeve at the bike's debut.

We'll just have to keep trying.

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joe@gazette9.com

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