BUELL S1 LIGHTNING (1997 - 1998) Review

At a glance

Owners' reliability rating: 2 out of 5 (2/5)
Annual servicing cost: £150
Power: 86 bhp
Seat height: Low (29.5 in / 749 mm)
Weight: High (514 lbs / 233 kg)

Overall rating

Next up: Ride & brakes
3 out of 5 (3/5)

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 The engine and gearbox felt outdated even when new, the handling was OK, with the braking perhaps slightly less so.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

Next up: Engine
3 out of 5 (3/5)

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

Next up: Reliability
2 out of 5 (2/5)

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. 

Reliability & build quality

Next up: Value
3 out of 5 (3/5)

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 vs rivals

Next up: Equipment
3 out of 5 (3/5)

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.

Equipment

3 out of 5 (3/5)

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.

Specs

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

Mpg, costs & insurance

Average fuel consumption 40 mpg
Annual road tax £93
Annual service cost £150
New price -
Used price -
Insurance group 15 of 17
How much to insure?
Warranty term -

Top speed & performance

Max power 86 bhp
Max torque 76 ft-lb
Top speed 125 mph
1/4 mile acceleration 12.5 secs
Tank range 160 miles

Model 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.  

Owners' reviews for the BUELL S1 LIGHTNING (1997 - 1998)

8 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.

Review your BUELL S1 LIGHTNING (1997 - 1998)

Summary of owners' reviews

Overall rating: 2.2 out of 5 (2.2/5)
Ride quality & brakes: 2 out of 5 (2/5)
Engine: 2.5 out of 5 (2.5/5)
Reliability & build quality: 2 out of 5 (2/5)
Value vs rivals: 2.4 out of 5 (2.4/5)
Equipment: 2 out of 5 (2/5)
Annual servicing cost: £150
4 out of 5 Great for twisty roads
20 July 2018 by mongo

Version: whitelightening

Year: 1998

Annual servicing cost: £200

great bike lots of character done lots of miles only broke down when belts snapped on me. Fantastic twisty roader if a little crude. Brakes well, not really, but use the engine torque down and fun . I love it and summer evening use for 10 years. I have retired it now as don't want to ruin a great partnership. Skills the rider up as you have to do better than most on the roads to keep up with the modern flyers!

Ride quality & brakes 3 out of 5

agricultural at worst with questionable braking efficiency.

Engine 5 out of 5

Torque full on V Twin fun.

Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

belts snapped twice on me . Might have been too tight my fault possibly. New chain kit from baker USA and job done granted a bit industrial to feel through the tube frame.

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5

No frills speedo and rev counter ok does the job..battle axe tyres good choice .rear tyre 170 odd size for local small bike shop.

Buying experience: from a dealer for a fair price and still worth the same if not more as collectable s1 W

5 out of 5 One of the best bikes I've owned.
06 November 2017 by Barlucci

Version: S1W

Year: 1998

Annual servicing cost: £100

Great bike, seat is a little tough, but the rest of this bike is amazing. Nothing like raw power and great handling in a beautiful package.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5

Good horsepower, tons of torque, lots of character

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

Zero problems in 50,000 miles.

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

Service myself, can't trust the HD stealerships. Change oil every 3000 miles, and primary oil every 10,000 miles. That's it, I've replaced nothing.

Equipment 5 out of 5

Accessories? Ha! There's nothing but 2 wheels and a motor, it's lucky to have a seat. It's perfect, no accessories needed.

Buying experience: Bought used with12,000 miles on it, and proceeded to put 45,000 miles on it in the next 8 years.

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!

Ride quality & brakes 1 out of 5
Engine 1 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 1 out of 5
Value vs rivals 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 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.

Ride quality & brakes 1 out of 5
Engine 1 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 1 out of 5
Value vs rivals 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 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!

Ride quality & brakes 1 out of 5
Engine 1 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 1 out of 5
Value vs rivals 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 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

Ride quality & brakes 1 out of 5
Engine 1 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 1 out of 5
Value vs rivals 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!!!

Ride quality & brakes 1 out of 5
Engine 2 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 1 out of 5
Value vs rivals 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 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!

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 2 out of 5
Value vs rivals 4 out of 5
Equipment 2 out of 5
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