Review Buell Harley S1 Lightning

Review Buell Harley S1 Lightning

Test, Buell S1 Lightning

Buell Harley S1 Lightning

+++ CURRENT OCCASION: a historical Buell article +++ Because it’s a Harley? Because it’s different from other motorcycles? Because it’s actually not a real Harley after all? Anyway, the fact is that the Buell S1 Lightning has recently been sold directly by Harley-Davidson Germany and Harley has owned 49 percent of the shares in the company of the Harley tuner Eric Buell since 1993.

After first attempts in the racing business, Buell has now created a kind of street fighter. Wide handlebars, short stern, small cockpit fairing and large lamp – all the trend of today. Plus lots of technical gimmicks and unconventional detailed solutions. The huge, 340 millimeter brake disc, the monstrous exhaust, the strange shock absorber, the delicate but unfortunately board-hard seat or the idiosyncratic rear wheel cover, nothing about this motorcycle sounds familiar. Even the tubular space frame has its own signature.

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Review Buell Harley S1 Lightning

Buell Harley S1 Lightning

S1 Lightning not only from an engine. The Buell also has a rather idiosyncratic chassis. At the front, a steep upside-down fork signals child’s play of handling, in the middle the tubular space frame promises stability, and at the rear the free-standing rear wheel indicates plenty of comfortable suspension travel. But far from it. Neither handiness nor stability nor comfort are among the strengths of the Buell.

The pseudo-athlete is difficult to inspire for slopes. The Buell literally stiffens at an angle of inclination of 20 degrees. Tight curve radii are only possible with increased effort. And in undulating curves, the power pack reacts with violent rolling movements. Even when driving straight ahead on the freeway, and this Harley easily reaches over 200 km / h, such egg dances are the order of the day.

In addition, the White Power spring elements respond very sensitively when stationary, but do not do their job properly when the vehicle is in motion. Every step, no matter how small, is mercilessly passed on to the rear of the driver. The Buell acts like a stubborn rodeo bull. The reason for these serious chassis weaknesses is not difficult to see. The construction lacks the necessary stability. The rear part of the frame has the shape of a diamond – instead of a more rigid triangle.

The long steel swing arm is butt-welded from square material without a single gusset plate for reinforcement. Leaning the handlebars against the wall, pressing it slightly against the rear wheel, and the rubber-mounted motor moves back and forth a good ten millimeters in the chassis. The gentlemen designers have to go back to the drawing board as quickly as possible. Because only a stable frame can ensure that the fork does not swing unauthorized in the longitudinal direction and its function is severely impaired as a result.

The shock absorber, which is unusually hinged under the engine, could also use design improvements. Despite the hardest efforts at the adjustment wheels for rebound and compression, it was not possible to find out what these two adjustment wheels actually do. Even suspension specialist Benny Wilbers had no words in view of this adventurous construction.

Most of those there are praiseworthy ones to lose, comes the language on the brake system. The 340 disc works with the necessary pressure and can still be dosed very well. The Buell’s 211 kilograms can therefore be safely tamed at any time, even if the rear brake could show a little more bite.

As a small consolation, there is no technically perfect, but at least a unique Harley for around 20,000 marks, which, no matter where it drives up, always causes a stir. Another reason to like the Buell.


The Buell S1 Lightning is a motorcycle with two faces. On the engine side, it’s all sunshine. Economical in consumption, lots of power, plenty of torque and low-vibration operation. No question about it: this Harley engine is the best production 1200 from Milwaukee that has ever existed. On the other hand, thick clouds darken the sky on the landing gear side. The frame and swingarm are too unstable, the suspension elements only work with moderate success, and the seating position is not necessarily ideal for longer tours. In short: great idea with weaknesses in execution, or to put it simply: I like it, I don’t like it, I like it.

Gerhard Lindner

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