Buell surprised many people with the XB9R Firebolt a few years back…
Buell surprised many people with the XB9R Firebolt a few years back, and its trick chassis, slick handling and stripped-down, aggressive Streetfighter styling won new fans to the brand.
But taller riders often found they simply didn´t fit the more compact Buell XB9R/S machines, and for this reason, Buell have released the Lightning Long, which has a more comfortable riding position and a longer swingarm.
Insidebikes took a quick spin on a Lightning Long around Daytona Beach.
One thing that strikes you as soon as you touch down in Florida is that Americans are BIG people.
I don´t just mean tall, there are also some huge guys `n´ gals on the other side of the pond and when you consider that it´s possible to eat a pannier load of Krispy Kreme donuts for under $10, you aren´t surprised either.
But living high on the Hog has a downside, apart from having to shop at Lycra-Tents-R-Us for your pants of course. It also means that you´re kinda forced into buying a cruiser, or touring type of bike, as many modern sportbikes seem to be designed for anorexic midget Supermodels, who have double jointed knees and elbows.
But the answer for anyone on the `built-for-comfort-not-for-speed´ side, who still wants to own an American made sporting motorcycle, is to buy a Buell Lightning Long. It has fairly high handlebars, decent room on the saddle and a semi-upright riding position. You can go medium fast in the twisty stuff on this bike, but commute in comfort too.
In a market where more bikers seem to be aged over 45, and obviously suffering various back/knee/wrist joint problems, this type of motorcycle is becoming the norm, and the Lightning Long makes a funky V-Twin alternative to bikes like the CBF1000 Honda, K1200R BMW, as well as facing competition from the Aprilia Tuono, Moto Guzzi Griso, Ducati Monster S4/S2 range and Suzuki SV1000 on the V-Twin front.
It´s a crowded market segment and the Buell suffers a serious handicap in the shape of its antiquated engine. Fact is, that 1203cc H-D Sportster derived motor still has stuff like pushrods and overhead valves inside it, plus a gearbox that still needs booting harshly from first into second, despite some tweaks to the gearbox on the Lightning Long.
But the Buell chassis never ceases to surprise me. It takes engineering skill to make a motorcycle handle well on most road surfaces, as well provide the rider with some degree of comfort, but the Lighting Long has a respectable compromise in the suspension department which puts a grin on your face more often than not.
The handlebars also give you a bit of leverage going into the corners, which is what the Buell needs sometimes. It´s something you notice more on slow turns, rather than faster sweepers, but the Lightning definitely needs a bit more body input than say a Monster S4R, a Firestorm VTR1000, or an SV1000 Suzuki.
In one way, that´s no bad thing, as the Lightning makes you feel more involved with the business of carving through the corners, as fast as you dare. It does need a slightly different cornering technique than most modern motorcycles, but it can work extremely well once the rider builds some confidence.
The front brake is also excellent, but you wonder if that large rim-mounted disc is one of the reasons why the Buells take more input to steer into tight, low speed corners – there must be a certain inertia effect as all that rotating mass keeps trying to go straight ahead, as your body tips the bike in surely?
The Lightning Long also has a slightly longer swingarm, but I can´t say I noticed any difference in the bike´s behaviour at the back end, compared to the XB9R Firebolt, but it undoubtedly does offer more room for the rider, thanks to a plusher saddle area.
Good News, Bad News Routine
For 2006, the Lightning gets a lighter clutch, plus helical cut gears to improve the gear shifting mechanism. To be frank, I can´t say it felt any better than the Buell XB9R transmission I experienced in 2002. It´s still a massive ker-plunk to shift from 1st to 2nd gear.
Also, the Lightning Long shakes the clutch lever at tickover, to an extent where I thought the clutch was going to activate itself at junctions. In short, the whole transmission still feels outdated and the whole Buell project will be forever held back, as well being developed, by its inextricable links to Harley-Davidson.
I´ve said this before, but the sooner Buell switch to a water-cooled, OHC V-twin, which has more modern materials, and fundamental design changes inside its crankcases, to cope with the natural friction of two big pistons shovelling up and down, the sooner they will start selling in thousands, rather than hundreds, across Europe.
There is a benefit in using Harley parts, Harley servicing procedures and the low tech motor has a basic design simplicity which attracts some older bikers. But you can´t live in the past forever, as Harley themselves admitted when the started making the V-Rod series, heritage doesn´t cut it at the dragstrip, or on the banking at Daytona.
The reality is, no matter how well the Lightning Long handles, or stops, it feels underpowered, clunky and overheats all too easily. All Buell bikes need more power, better gearboxes and water-cooling. Soon.
In America, the streets are paved with hot rod soul
Americans love V-Twin motorcycles. Harley, Indian, Victory, Confederate, Viper; there´s a long list of manufacturers in the USA who daren´t use any other engine format.
US riders adore the hot rod culture of the 50s/60s that inspires TV shows today like `Pinks´ where people race for the vehicle title documents. Performance, in a straight line, is everything in a US gas station parking lot. BHP, lots of it, rules baby. The rest is just conversation.
So what do we make of Buell, a motorcycle company making bikes with soft old cruiser motors, which actually corner with the same clinical precision of a Ducati 900SS?
Yes, there´s no doubt that the Lightning Long looks kind of cool, in a futuristic, street rod sort of way. Its huge rim-mounted disc brake looks ultra trick, and actually works damn well. The aggressive curves and odd angles of the frame and bodywork, the tapering edginess of the tail section, all conspire to make the bike look much more modern than it is.
Ridden slowly, it´s also big on lazy fun, with steam engine torque keeping the thing thudding along and agile handling allowing you to dispatch imbeciles in cars with ease. Up to about 80mph the tiny nose fairing works OK and the vibes aren´t that intrusive.
But the root of the problem is simple; this bike lacks a bit of finesse, refinement, engineering fluidity inside its crankcases; the type of evenly spread, beautifully potent lunge from the motor that keeps us all addicted to motorcycles. It´s a modern bike, with a classic engine in the chassis.
I just don´t think it has anything to match the way that a Ducati 749 really sings above 5000rpm for example, or the immediate, gut-wrenching kick that an Aprilia RSV1000 Tuono delivers when you nail the throttle!
In a word, that´s soul and the Lightning Long doesn´t have enough of it to make me want to own one. The bottom line is that there are too many frankly brilliant motorcycles out there for eight grand to make this oddball motorcycle worth the money.
Get Buell bike insurance for the Lightning Long 2006.
|Engine||V-Twin air/oil cooled, OHV|
|Bore and stroke||88.9mm X 96.8mm|
|Carbs||Digital fuel injection, 49mm throttle bodies|
|Peak power||100bhp ( claimed ) at 6600rpm|
|Peak Torque||81 ft/lbs @ 6000rpm|
|Frame||Aluminium twin spar|
|Forks||Showa upside down, multi-adjustable|
|Rake and trail||23.5 degrees, 119mm|
|Rear shock||Showa monoshock, multi-adjustable|
|Front brake||375mm rim mounted disc, 6 piston calliper|
|Rear brake||240mm single disc, single piston calliper|
|Wheels/Tyres||120/70 ZR 17 inch front, 180/55 ZR17 inch rear|
|Fuel capacity||16.7 litres|
|Warranty||2 years, unlimited miles|
|Estimated top speed||130mph|
|Price||£7845 May 2006|