Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 18th June 2008

As any self respecting Burt Reynolds fan will know, ’White Lightning’ is the Deep South slang for moonshine whiskey – an illegal hooch that packs a punch so powerful, you may well wake up next morning toothless and aimlessly strumming a banjo.

The Buell White Lightning also delivers a visceral kick, being a hopped up variant on the original Harley derived, sports V-twin, concept. If you like your biking retro style, with a big, grunty motor, that’s a little bit rough round the edges, then the Buell White Lightning could be the perfect machine.

Y’ all stay out of trouble now…

When you ride Buells new S1 White Lightning back-to-back with Harley-Davidson’s 1200 Sportster Sport, it seems barely believable that the two bikes are powered by basically the same 1203cc pushrod V-twin engine. Okay, so the White Lightning motor has even more tuning parts inside than the basic Lightning, which itself has heaps more power than the standard Sportster – not to mention its own chassis and off-the-wall styling.

But even so, that doesn’t prepare you for the fact that the black and White bikes are as different as night and day, not least in the performance and feel of their engines. The Lightning motor, rubber-mounted but restrained by Buell’s Uniplanar system, which uses rods to prevent side-to-side movement, vibrates far more at tickover, shaking the whole bike.

Then, as the tacho needle rises, the vibes disappear to leave the White Lightning feeling miraculously smooth. In that respect the White Lightning is just like the standard S1, but this bike has even more of the hot engine and chassis bits that make the original Lightning so quick. The White bike’s new Thunderstorm cylinder heads, with bigger valves, reshaped ports and modified combustion chambers, give an extra 7bhp. Combined with existing Lightning parts including cams, flywheels and ignition, the mods take peak output up to 93bhp at 5800rpm, over half as much again as the Sportster, not to mention far more than Ducati’s M900 Monster.

That’s just how it feels on the road, where the White Lightning streaks smoothly along, its generous midrange grunt giving heaps of roll-on acceleration. The flat bars and tiny flyscreen stick the pilot out in the breeze, but given enough space that ol’ pushrod motor breathes hard and hurls the Lightning to a top speed of about 135mph.

Buell’s trademark black plastic airbox and under-engine silencer still look as gruesome as ever, but they take much of the credit for the White Lightning’s hooligan performance. Those parts apart, the Buell looks pretty striking too, thanks to its brutal, sawn-off shape and new white finish on bodywork, frame and wheels.

The basic styling, along with most of the chassis, is retained from the standard S1 Lightning, although this bike gets the S3 Thunderbolt sports-tourer’s bigger 21 litre fuel tank. The steel frame holds multi-adjustable 40mm upside-down forks and an under-slung shock, both from WP. Steering’s pretty quick, and the lightweight (193kg) Buell’s handling is ace once the suspension has been dialled-in.

Braking is uprated with a new six-pot Nissin caliper biting on the retained 340mm single front disc. For 99.9 per cent of the time the system worked superbly, with heaps of feel and enough power to make the sticky front Dunlop work hard. But during the photo session, repeated hard, slow-speed braking (of the kind you wouldn’t repeat even hacking down an Alpine pass) generated enough heat to boil the fluid, temporarily losing the anchors. Not good.

Other complaints? The White Lightning’s seat is new and slightly lower to the ground, although it doesn’t look any more comfortable than its predecessor. (The launch didn’t allow time to check.) And with a price tag likely to be a few hundred quid above that of the standard S1, which costs £8995 on the road from Buell UK’s ten dealers, the White Lightning won’t be cheap. If you can’t afford one, steer well clear of a demo ride. This compact white package is as mad, bad and addictive as a kilo of finest Colombian.

Get Buell bike insurance for the White Lightning.

Vital Statistics

Engine Air-cooled 45-degree V-twin
cc 1203
Claimed power (bhp) 93bhp @ 5800rpm
Compression ratio 10:1
Transmission 5-speed
Cycle parts

Valve arrangement; pushrod, two valves per cylinder Bore x stroke 88.8 x 96.8mm Carburation 40mm Keihin CV Clutch Wet multiplate Peak torque output 117N.m @ 5400rpm Front suspension 40mm inverted telescopic WP, 119mm travel, adjustments for compression and rebound damping Rear suspension One WP damper, 124mm travel, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping

Front brake Six-piston Nissin caliper, 340mm disc
Rear brake Double-action Nissin caliper, 230mm disc Front wheel 3.50 x 17in; cast aluminium Rear wheel 5.00 x 17in; cast aluminium Front tyre 120/70 x 17in Dunlop Sportmax radial Rear tyre 170/60 x 17in Dunlop Sportmax radial Rake/trail 25 degrees/99mm Instruments Speedometer, tachometer, lights for turn signals, neutral, high beam, low oil pressure light

Top speed 135mph approx
Wheelbase 1397mm
Seat Height 749mm
Dry Weight 193kg
Fuel capacity 21 litres