Bike reviews

Buell X1 Lightning

Big V-twin roadsters make lots of bikers very happy – it isn’t hard to see why; meaty power, easygoing handling, reasonable rider comfort and that all important X factor – character.

The noise, the power delivery and the low-end lunge of a big V-twin all combine to make you feel like you are riding a proper motorbike. Something fast, a little bit wild.

These three twins fit the bill perfectly on paper, but which is the best all round weekend fun?

Insidebikes took the Cagiva Raptor 1000, the Ducati Monster S4 and the Buell X1 out and about to find the answer.

Long ago, when David Essex was on his first three comeback tours, there were bikes that were radical, different, challenged people´s ideas of what makes a good all round motorbike. Then the Fireblade came along in the early 1990s and everyone suddenly agreed it was the perfect bike, so therefore everything else was your Dad´s old pants.
Total crap of course, as anyone with points on their licence will now readily admit. Bikes should celebrate the little differences that makes us all unique individuals, even if we kind of want the same things from the two wheeled experience. That´s why it´s great that the Buell X1 exists, even though it isn´t quite finished yet.

As we know now however, there´s a radical brand new Buell in the pipeline, with a frame mounted gas tank, the engine oil in the swingarm and a groovy new 1,000cc V-twin motor. Looks the absolute business too. All of which probably means that the X1 won´t ever get the development work it needs, like the Ducati S4 has had, to make it a true contender for your hard earned cash. A real shame.

Because under the wacky clothes, there‘s actually a very decent bike trying to get out, with bags of character, respectable handling and an adequate amount of power. In a nutshell, the X1 is the nearly bike of this trio.


That´s the question that Americans rhetorically ask when given something they feel is less that the 100% yee-ha experience that the sales brochure promised and with the X1 it´s exactly the same feeling. As soon as you fire up the motor and find an open stretch of road, you nail the throttle and – not much happens.

Buell claim that the fuel injected 1203cc V-twin makes around 95bhp, or about the same as the Italian twins featured in this test. But the Buell feels like its 20bhp down by comparison, albeit still very torquey. It simply runs out of breath after 4,000rpm and never seems to get into its stride at high revs. It also vibrates horribly, which soon wears you down physically and mentally.

The problem is that the 1200cc engine is an old Harley Sportster design, with roots in the late 1960s, although it has obviously been updated many times since then. Although it is renowned as a tough unit, it does feel agricultural, in fact it reminded me of a Vincent 1000 twin; rough, with pleasant kind of power delivery, but a finicky gearbox and clutch.

The X1 got a new gearchange linkage for 2001 but still needs a hefty boot into gear compared to the Ducati Monster. The TL1000 powered Cagiva feels like the gear cogs are wrapped in silk by comparison. The Buell also has a tall first gear ratio which makes the bike a pain to run at low speeds when stuck in traffic – basically it wants to stall with the clutch fully home at anything below 10mph. Not good.

Out on the open road the X1 is a pretty relaxing way to travel, so long as you keep speeds below 70mph. The bike handles pretty well and some riders may well prefer the slower steering characteristics that the Buell has compared to the Cagiva or the Ducati. The brakes are weaker than the Italian Vees, but only slightly – the X1´s single disc and 6 pot caliper do the job well enough 95% of the time.

The X1 feels much bigger than the Italian machines, as it has a really wide gas tank, with that awful airbox set next door. You also sit on top of the Buell, rather than `in´ the Cagiva or Ducati, but the saddle was the best of the three in my weary butt´s opinion. Pushing the Buell around my driveway also suggested that it was the heaviest bike by some margin.

On the upside the Buell coped best of the three with some soft luggage attached to the bike, without high exhaust pipes sizzling your spare socks. Belt drive is obviously more durable and less mess than a drive chain and the wide handlebars give the rider a feeling of control, especially in town. In many ways, it is the best of the three for regular riding – apart from the annoying engine vibration.

Trouble is, now the new Buell Firebolt has broken cover, I really cannot think of a good reason for forking out about seven grand for the X1. It feels slow, outdated and its looks are nothing to write home about, even though this is the best looking Buell currently on sale in your H-D dealerships.

One comment from a lad working in a Shell petrol station sums up the basic problem with the X1 Lightning; looking out of the window at the bike parked next to the pumps, he remarked;

“That bike´s amazing mate – did you make it yourself?”

Get Buell bike insurance for the X1 Lightning.

Vital Statistics
Buell X1
Engine 45 degree V-twin, four stroke, liquid cooled
cc 1203cc
Claimed power (bhp) 95bhp
Compression ratio 10:1
Transmission 6 speed
Cycle parts
Bore and stroke; 88.8mm X 96.8mm
Carbs; None, fuel injection
Frame; Steel trellis tubular type
Front suspension; 41mm upside down, adjustable forks
Rear suspension; Adjustable monoshock
Front; 120/70 ZR17
Rear; 170/60 ZR17
Top speed 135mph
fuel capacity 16 litres
dry weight 200kgs
Buying Info
Current price £7,500 ( OTR )

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