That’s my 60k mile 2001 Buell Cyclone M2L in front of the old HOG(NYSE) test facility in the Everglades. Those 60,000 miles included a failed alternator, oil tank, front engine mount bracket, and a drive belt that broke right in the center lanes of an 8 lane freeway. But for a Buell, that was doing darn well… Most Buells never even made it to 60k miles, suffering a long list of mechanical maladies.
The parallels between Buell and Lotus cars are interesting… Both were started and staffed by engineer/racers whose first priority was winning races and manufacturing vehicles for the unwashed masses was a necessary evil to finance the race cars… At least that was the official explanation! And as Lotus had to cut deals with Ford to get engines, Erik Buell had to cut a deal with HOG(NYSE). No surprise that the standard joke among Lotus owners was that the only completely sorted Lotus were the ones on the race grid, which made it amazing that Buell quality wasn’t worse than it was.
For a start, the design of this Buell “tuber” (tube frame) model was originally conceived by Erik for a Yamaha 750 2 stroke powered race bike in the 1980s. Then they changed the rules and obsoleted Erik’s race bike, so he adapted the design to a Sportster engine and added enough lights and stuff to make it barely street legal. After building a hundred or so HOG(NYSE) took a financial interest in the firm, against the advice of Erik’s lawyer… HOG(NYSE) took such complete control that too this day, three years after HOG(NYSE) killed Buell motorcycles, Erik can’t even put his own name on his new line of bikes, they have to carry his initials- “EBR” for “Erik Buell Racing”. But HOG(NYSE)’s money allowed the Buell design to be productionized, in anticipation of a couple thousand unit’s production. By the late 1990s, they we’re selling over 10,000 a year! That sales increase came partly from HOG(NYSE) compromising the racing design to add “sport touring” and standard” models to the line to boost sales. The result was a raceworthy frame kluged with the antique Sportster engine and passed off to middle aged riders like me as a “standard”… With a frame that challenged mass production welders meager skills and an engine tuned to the edge of reliability and then a bit further. The Sportster engine alone caused much of the bikes problems with it’s vibration that broke engine mounts, exhaust systems, oil tanks, etc.. Then there was the cheesy add on alternator and a lot of Sportster bits that were never designed to last long on what HOG(NYSE) considered to be a quickly traded up “beginner bike”. To add insult to injury, HOG(NYSE) deleted clever features like Buell’s removable rear frame section that made belt replacement an easier than all day job.
Slowly but surely, Buell debugged the design, strengthening failure prone parts and persuading HOG(NYSE) to produce better built engines. In a major redesign in 2003 the XB models fixed a bunch of Buell vices with a new frame design that eliminated the crack prone oil tank, made belt changes a lunch hour job, and substituted a mass producible cast aluminum frame for the “tubers” hard to weld steel one. A couple years later Buell even got a new Rotax built engine that cast the HOG(NYSE) “heritage” aside for good. And just as Buell was debugging that design, three years ago HOG(NYSE) killed Buell.
So I’m gettin’ ready to head for my winter quarters in Florida and debating bringing an airhead down and the Buell back to Minnesota on my return. I don’t like leaving anything of value in hurricane alley, and surely my ’84 R65LS is worth less than my ’01 Buell M2? Not necessarily… turns out the Buell is valued by both NADA and KBB at several hundred dollars less. Fact is, Buell “tubers” can be had for less than the going price for a BMW airhead, and a low mile XB or Rotax engined Buell can be had for less than $5000. Parts are of course of HOG(NYSE) quality, but so are the prices and oil filers can be had at any auto parts store. Heck, this trend keeps up and the poverty riders will be switching to Buells!