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Buell S1 LIGHTNING Naked Motorbike Review

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Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
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MCN overall verdict rating is 3

Quirky doesn't adequately describe the Buell S1 Lightning and this mid-90s take on the Buell dream has its plus points, as well as a few serious flaws in its roadster concept. The engine and gearbox felt outdated even when new, the handling was OK, with the braking perhaps slightly less so.  The 93bhp White Lightning has more oomph and is pick of the bunch, whilst the ill fated S3T tourer was a well deserved flop.

Engine

MCN rating rating is 2
Owners' rating rating is 1.5

The Buell S1 Lightning's 1203cc lump shakes, rattles 'n' rolls, eventually pushing the this motorcycle to a the wrong side of 120mph if you have the sheer courage to hang on, and ignore the godawful clattering from the ancient 1960s designed Sportster pushrod V-twin. On the upside it has so much torque you don't have to use the appalling gearbox. In a word, antiquated. 

Ride and Handling

MCN rating rating is 3
Owners' rating rating is 1.5

The odd thing is that once you get used to the 1950s style engine/gearbox power output, you can hustle the Buell S1 Lightning - and especially the White Lightning - along a twisty road a fair pace. WP suspension offers a classy ride front and rear, but it's a hard set-up overall and on bumpy B roads the Lightning can get a bit lairy. The touring S3T version shares the suspension set-up too, which is slightly baffling.

Equipment

MCN rating rating is 3
Owners' rating rating is 1

There are some nice touches in terms of engineering on the Buell S1 Lightning range; WP USD forks, the three spoke wheels, the cavernous 21-litre gas tank on the S3 Touring model. But the Plumb Centre exhaust pipe, vibe-happy mirrors and not-quite-enough single front disc brake, all conspire to undermine the Buell Lightning. Compare and buy parts for the Buell S1 Lightning in the MCN Shop.

Buell S1 Lightning (1997-1998)

Detail Value
Engine size 1203 cc
Power 86 bhp
Top speed 125 mph
Insurance group 15 of 17
  MCN ratings Owners' ratings
Overall rating is 3 rating is 1.5
Engine rating is 2 rating is 1.5
Ride & Handling rating is 3 rating is 1.5
Equipment rating is 3 rating is 1
Quality & Reliability rating is 3 rating is 1
Value rating is 3 rating is 1.5

Quality and Reliability

MCN rating rating is 3
Owners' rating rating is 1

Like with many Buells, things tend to work loose and drop onto the road with the S1 Lightning. The electrical system will probably play up at some point and the panels on the S3 Touring - especially those awful leg shields - don't exactly look made to measure. The 90s Buells just don't have the same build quality as the post 2003 XB series bikes. 

Value

MCN rating rating is 3
Owners' rating rating is 1.5

Buying a 1990s Buell is a bit of a gamble, but of the range the White Lightning offers the best value with its 93bhp motor, stumpy Streetfighter styling and WP suspension and slightly lower weight. It's possibly more likely to hold its value better in the long term. Find a Buell S1 Lightning for sale.

Insurance

Insurance group: 15 of 17

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Model History

1997: Buell Lightning S1, White Lightning and S3 Touring launched.
1999: Buell X1 Lightning replaces them.

Other Versions

Buell White Lightning: Hopped up version with more power.
Buell S3T Thunderbolt: Touring version with hard luggage, ugly bodywork.  

Specifications

Top speed 125 mph
1/4-mile acceleration 12.5 secs
Max power 86 bhp
Max torque 76 ft-lb
Weight 233 kg
Seat height 749 mm
Fuel capacity 21 litres
Average fuel consumption 40 mpg
Tank range 160 miles
Annual road tax
Insurance group 15 of 17
Engine size 1203 cc
Engine specification V-twin, four stroke, 5 gears
Frame Steel tubular
Front suspension adjustment Preload, rebound, compression
Rear suspension adjustment Preload, rebound, compression
Front brakes Single 340mm disc
Rear brake 230mm disc
Front tyre size 120/70 x 17
Rear tyre size 170/60 x 17

Owners' Overall Rating rating is 1(6 reviews)

  • Noooooooooo

    BuelTom

    Average rating rating is 1

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    By now this must be a pile of rusty gaspipe sh**. And rides the same way!

    31 May 2009

  • Collector Bike

    EHoen

    Average rating rating is 1

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    The old Buell's are collector bikes and can fetch quite a good price. Reason for that is the limited production numbers of those. However they are certainly no bikes to ride everyday as the reliability is zero. These bikes are good to drive to ride-outs, shows etc. as they need a service after every ride to not break down. If you need a day by day bike you need a newer XB model. They are also more fun to ride as they handle a million times better.

    31 May 2009

  • as bad as it can get

    svens

    Average rating rating is 1

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    I always loved Buell's. So a couple of years ago I found a nice S1, it looked the business sharp streetfighter style and I had to have it. Well from there the misery began. I paid 4500 for it mint, all services done by official dealers, 8500 miles all looked good till it started failing. Wheel bearings breaking every 2000 miles, engine cutting out, oil leaks, petrol leak which nearly destroyed it. To be honest sadly it didn't otherwise I would have saved a lot of money. Gears failing and finally the engine died when a piston broke through the cylinder. I am now riding an XB12S and I am happy without problems!

    30 April 2009

  • Don't

    ThomasD

    Average rating rating is 1

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    I am a Buell mechanic. I know these bikes in and out and can only say don't buy one. I know the looks are tempting and the prices are as well. But don't unless you want to build a chop. I seen a lot of them over the years and they are very bad indeed. Exploding engines, fatal gearbox failures, even rusted through frames. A lot of drivers who praise them have them only as show bikes. I know from one guy who comes to Buell meetings with it on a trailer but parks 2 miles away then rides it there. These guys have all 2 or more other bikes and they never would talk the truth about these bikes. They where build in a time when Buell was still independent and there where no such things like guaranty work or recalls after HD got involved with the XB models onwards finally they got reliable and had guaranty and proper garages for them. Also many parts are not in production anymore and other parts ether have to be altered or you have to buy expansive from aftermarket manufacturers. So unless you build a chop or you want to open a museum but not actually ride it, not worth even looking at it

    30 April 2009

  • No way

    TomRider

    Average rating rating is 1

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    I bought mine in 1997 new and hell I loved it, only to realise how bad it was. The ride is worst than on a tractor. The engine is the only good thing on the bike until it blow up after only 4500mls!!!

    28 April 2009

  • Buell S1 Lightning

    Doug45

    Average rating rating is 3

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    I bought my S1 in '98, and it looked the biz in its Molten Orange / Nuclear Blue colours. It was a real bare-bones type of bike, with a small tank and no weather protection, but great fun all the same. In the two years I had it I went everywhere on it, including a few 400 miles in a day journeys. There were problems, including an engine re-build at 6,000 miles (broken oil pump drive), but all in all a good bike. Since the S1 I've had a few more bikes, including an XB 12 Firebolt and my current bike an XB 12X Ulysses, so I guess you could say I liked them!

    11 March 2008

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