BUELL S1 LIGHTNING (1997-1998) Review

Published: 23 November 2006

"Quirky doesn't adequately describe it"

Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Riding

"Quirky doesn't adequately describe it"

  • At a glance
  • 1203cc  -  86 bhp
  • 40 mpg  -  160 miles range
  • Medium seat height (749mm)

Overall Rating 3 out of 5

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 The engine and gearbox felt outdated even when new, the handling was OK, with the braking perhaps slightly less so.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.

Ride Quality & Brakes 3 out of 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.

Engine 2 out of 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. 

Build Quality & Reliability 3 out of 5

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 & Running Costs 3 out of 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 group: 15 of 17 – compare motorcycle insurance quotes now.

Equipment 3 out of 5

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.

Owners' Reviews

6 owners have reviewed their BUELL S1 LIGHTNING (1997-1998) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.

We’re currently improving the way this section works, which means we’ve had to suspend the submission of new owners’ reviews for a short period. Please check back soon.

Summary of Owners' Reviews
Overall Rating 1.5 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 1.5 out of 5
Engine 1.7 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 1.2 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 1.5 out of 5
Equipment 1.2 out of 5
1 out of 5

Noooooooooo

31 May 2009 by BuelTom

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

Overall Rating 1 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 1 out of 5
Engine 1 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 1 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 1 out of 5
Equipment 1 out of 5
1 out of 5

Collector Bike

31 May 2009 by EHoen

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... Read more 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.

Overall Rating 1 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 1 out of 5
Engine 1 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 1 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 1 out of 5
Equipment 1 out of 5
1 out of 5

as bad as it can get

30 April 2009 by svens

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... Read more 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!

Overall Rating 1 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 1 out of 5
Engine 1 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 1 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 1 out of 5
Equipment 1 out of 5
1 out of 5

Don't

30 April 2009 by ThomasD

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... Read more 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

Overall Rating 1 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 1 out of 5
Engine 1 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 1 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 1 out of 5
Equipment 1 out of 5
1 out of 5

No way

28 April 2009 by TomRider

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!!! Read more

Overall Rating 1 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 1 out of 5
Engine 2 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 1 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 1 out of 5
Equipment 1 out of 5
4 out of 5

Buell S1 Lightning

11 March 2008 by Doug45

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... Read more 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!

Overall Rating 4 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 2 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 4 out of 5
Equipment 2 out of 5
Read all 6 owners' reviews in full

Facts & Figures

Model info
Year introduced 1997
Year discontinued 1998
Original price -
Warranty term (when new) Two year unlimited mileage
Running costs
Insurance group 15 of 17
Annual road tax £80
Annual service cost -
Performance
Max power 86 bhp
Max torque 76 ft-lb
Top speed 125 mph
1/4-mile acceleration 12.5 secs
Average fuel consumption 40 mpg
Tank range 160 miles
Specification
Engine size 1203cc
Engine type V-twin, four stroke, 5 gears
Frame type Steel tubular
Fuel capacity 21 litres
Seat height 749mm
Bike weight 233kg
Front suspension Preload, rebound, compression
Rear suspension Preload, rebound, compression
Front brake Single 340mm disc
Rear brake 230mm disc
Front tyre size 120/70 x 17
Rear tyre size 170/60 x 17

History & Versions

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.  

Photo Gallery

  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Engine
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Front view
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Top view
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Engine
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Front view
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Top view
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell S1 Lightning motorcycle review - Riding