I wrote this back in January, when I was going through a really difficult slump of wanting a motorcycle. My “why a Buell” rationale. In the mean time a few developments have transpired. I had promoted the obscure but cult-status Suzuki V-Strom to the top of my want-list. But then my wife lost her job and with it a company car, and the family is suddenly short on transportation. I had been looking in to a Suzuki SV650 as a budget alternative to the V-strom, with “using my real actual liquid cash money, what-if-today” as an additional list-qualifier. So I now own a SV650. More on that later.
Yesterday Harley Davidson announced that they would be discontinuing the Buell line, effective immediately. So, in memoriam, here is the repost:
This week I decided I want a Buell Lightning XB9SX. I’m not getting one, just doing some “list maintenance”. List category: The Just One Bike bike, comma, New. I’ve always been reluctant to want or even like “American Iron”, on the principle that they are backward-looking nostalgia panderers with regressive non-innovative technology , based on an engine design with all the innovation of a tractor from the prohibition era. (E.g. Their most technologically advanced & innovative “great leap forward” power cruiser, the V-Rod, was even more innovative when the Yamaha V-max created the category 20 years earlier.) At the same time I’ve always had great respect for Buell, for being one of the most outside-the-box innovators in all of motorcycledom. Which says a lot considering that company is the brainchild of one man, up against the best and brightest megacorp braintrusts and factory racing development teams of Europe and Japan. Nobody is producing street bikes with any of the key innovative features that have become trademark Buell. And to think he does it with a HARLEY engine. (Alright, I will admit being drawn to “timeless classics”, on another level…for which a 45 deg. pushrod V-twin certainly qualifies…though I was thinking boxer when I thinked that thought). HD’s acquisition of Buell at least points to a willingness to sub out their innovation and carve out niches in market segments previously left to the Europeans and Japanese. Today Buell provides sport bikes, adventure/sport tourers, and streetfighters, as well as factory race bikes. [Edit: They have even introduced their top sport model with an independently developed modern engine by someone other than HD. ]
Why the “CityX” XB9SX ? I’ve always favored something that falls between street standard (ergonomics), cafe racer / bobber / naked streetfighter / ratbike / hooligan, sport touring or sporty streetified adventure tourer (usefulness as both commuter & escaper). I’d also been partial to shaft driven bikes, for their go-forever no-worries drivetrain nonmaintenance. Thus the tweaked, customized & bagged VX800, my last bike. I had always figured I would have to invest in a slightly out of date BMW or Guzzi, and do stuff to it, to make it a little of all of those things. The Triumph Speed Triple was also always high on the list, but suffered from a chain. (If I allow myself a chain the list of possible starting points becomes too long to vet – everybody’s making a naked urban scrambler these days.) You could say the Buell Lightning lineup gets most of its style ques from the Speed Triple. (Diverging: You could even say the 1st-gen Speed Triple theirs from the VX-800.) The XB9SX has a good helping of all of those things right out of the box. Since it’s closely related to the adventure touring Ulysses, touring accessories (screen, maybe bags…) to fit for a weekend in the mountains or a week on the road shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
The things that Buell has going for it, that nobody else really touches:
- Centralization of mass & low center of gravity as a core design philosophy. To that end:
- Automotive style muffler cartridge underslung below the body, instead of hanging off the back or side.
- The fuel (usually hidden under the seat on most sport bikes) is in the frame. The oil resevoir is in the swingarm.
- The only sport bike on the planet not afraid to call the “tank” what it is – an AIRBOX. They even go so far as to offer translucent body panels to show this fact off. The Giant Airbox used to be a side-mounted pod on earlier Buells.
- Rim mounted brake disk. It reduces the weight of the wheel substantially, which improves front suspension, handling and reduces unsprung weight.
- Belt drive. It’s not a shaft, but in some ways better…lighter, smoother power delivery than a shaft, less maintenance than a chain.
- Invented the chopped solo seat on a factory bike – a look borrowed from the UK streetfighter customs. Triumph beat them to the dual bug-eyes with flyscreen, though.
- Achieves incredible emissions efficiency on par with fuel injection, on a carbureted bike. Thanks, gaint airbox!
- 2009 model has tasty blacked out frame.
- The “urban” XB9 has traffic-friendly wide upright handlebars, and cool knuckle guards & headlight grille borrowed from the adventure touring line.
- Still $1000 less than the lowest priced 1200cc HD, and a good $3,000 less than anything German of equivalent niche and displacement.
…Sure wish you could see the engine, though.
What some of the experts have to say: here