I own and have owned a lot of bikes. I ride a Gold Wing, CB200 Honda, and a '72 Norton Commando. In the past I owned a 1967 T120R Triumph, a '74 KZ500 Kawasaki and KZ750 (the three cylinder two stroke rockets of death), etc. I recently bought a tricked out 1999 Buell X1 Lightning with about 20 extra hp and lb/ft, wheels, tires, exhaust, intake, ECU, etc. My first experience was a test ride and I knew it was special as soon as the mechanic started it up. It was an intimidating sound even at idle. It came to life in a low deep growl, lumpy and very serious, it gave me butterflies and I was a little scared and wondered if I had made a mistake. After a minute of earth pounding idle the mechanic decided it needed to be rapidly revved to about 5 grand 3 or 4 times. The Buell engine sounds like something Enzo Ferrari would build if he built motorcycles on steroids.
I climbed aboard this shuddering mass of utterly intimidating technology, metal, rubber and fuel eased off the clutch and rolled on about 1/8 revolution of throttle. My feet found their way to the pegs quite naturally in spite of the fact that I am tall at 6' 3. The riding position was comfortable and more upright than I expected and the saddle fit quite well. I slowly maneuvered around the parking lot getting used to the clutch and controls before my foray into traffic. Within the first 50 feet of very cautious riding I knew the Buell was something quite extraordinary. It was easy to ride and had very responsive brakes, the engine felt lumpy but the throttle felt light and balanced, all in all the bike feels small like a 250. It stumbled a little at low speeds, apparently the lungs desire higher airflow to satisfy the lust for explosion. This turned out to be only one of two bad habits I discovered with the Buell. The engine lunges at very low speeds like a 15 mph school zone. Maneuvering in stop and go traffic requires a lot of finesse on the clutch and throttle and this bike does not like to passively roll forward ten feet.
This bike is a thoroughbred racer and wants to go, it feels anxious and edgy at very low speeds, the clutch is very heavy and made my hand cramp. I found that I needed to keep the motor at about 3000 rpm to get smooth performance riding or cornering, below this, it can shudder and affect speed and turn radius. It's a small quirk and something that can be tolerated and the rider can learn to ride around. It's not a sacrifice to have a bit of engine speed in the turns so the throttle roll-on is smooth and responsive.
I rode it around a local neighborhood, stopping and starting to get the feel of the controls and pegs, kids would stop and look and more than one car seemed to pay attention. I eventually wound my way to a larger road with a higher speed limit to test my skills. The light turned green I rolled on the throttle, slipped the clutch and off I went. Acceleration is brisk to say the least, the 1203cc plant pulls effortlessly and very smooth above 3000 rpm. The first gear comfortably winds out to about 40 mph and slipping into second and a modest rev got me to 60 in a 45 zone in about 6 seconds. If I could I would change the pulley diameters to trade low speed engine revs for ultimate top speed. I found that I rarely needed 5th gear as I'm a wuss rider and only go 75 or 80 mph anyway. Within a few miles I had gained the confidence to roll the throttle to perhaps 1/4 revolution and this is truly where the fun begins.
The acceleration as well as the exhaust note go from effortless and manly to NASCAR and then from NASCAR to Top Fuel somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 throttle. I never revved the engine above 5000 rpm and even so this machine left me grinning from ear to ear and my heart pounding every time I took off from a traffic light. The sound and utter fury are amazing and I found myself respecting this machine the first time I walked it through the gears. This is a bike that can get a careless undisciplined thrill happy rider in trouble very, very fast. It requires discipline, self control and a fondness for life to offset the siren call of the almighty throttle. Beware.
The first time you stop on this little machine you will notice the brakes. They are simply the best brakes I have ever felt on any vehicle. I suspect the 60 mph braking distance is about 60 feet. I found that I had to be careful for a number of reasons, first I was afraid that the front tire would lock up and second the traffic behind you cannot stop anywhere near as fast. As with all new vehicles and with any performance vehicle, you will need caution and diligence to manage the performance on this little bike.
After a few very satisfying high speed 1/4 throttle launches from traffic lights I decided to find some twisty roads to test the handling. I cruised one local road a couple times and after learning all the bumps and verifying that there were no cinders or oil patches I made a pass and practiced push steering the little Buell. It's a very responsive bike and immediately responds to pressure on the handle bars and immediately returns to upright when you let up. It handles like a road racer, a lot like my Norton, light, responsive, tight and rigid like a fighter plane. Balance and counter balance steering character are also very good and natural, my only complaint is that the steering lock is encountered too early, does not allow enough maneuverability in parking. Again, this is a very small quirk and one the rider can learn to manage.
I test rode my Buell for an hour, got off, looked at the bike and all I could do was grin and say Wow! All I wanted was to ride it again. The Buell is a unique one of a kind high performance bike and not for everyone. It's stripped down to the bare essentials necessary for performance, so it vibrates, makes noise, and everything it does is breathtaking. I found it was a good match for me and I enjoy learning to ride it even 1/2 way to its potential. The X1 Buell will always have a place in my stable of motorcycles and close to my heart and it gets the majority of my attention when I go for a ride. I may end up neglecting my Norton and my Gold Wing, and I hope they can forgive me, but I won't have time to feel sorry.