- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

Much like buying a new car, there are a myriad of choices in selecting the motorcycle that's right for you, making it a genuine chore. Your performance requirements, the type of riding that you intend to do and personal styling preferences all play a significant role in making the ideal selection. Ride quality and affordability are other factors to consider, not to mention your physical makeup and age, which are also important issues.

For a little background, Buell is a subsidiary of Harley-Davidson, producing sport motorcycles in addition to motorcycle parts, accessories and apparel, with Harley-Davidson Financial Services Inc. providing both wholesale and retail financing and insurance programs to customers and Harley-Davidson/Buell dealers.

The company was formed 20 years ago in 1983 by Erik Buell, who left his position as an engineer with Harley-Davidson to pursue a lifelong dream of building his own American sport bike. Harley-Davidson acquired 98 percent of the company in 1998. Mr. Buell holds the remaining 2 percent of the subsidiary.

Buell models range from the fun-to-ride, easy-to-own Buell Blast, followed by the Buell Firebolt XB9R, and wrapped up by the new Buell Lightning XB9S, which comes in two versions short and shorter. In essence, there is a regular model and a newer, lower model for vertically challenged riders.

The Lightning XB9S for 2003 comes with a short dirt-track attitude, but with streetable tuning that is fully adjustable. It was designed with the resurrection of the spirit of the ground-breaking Buell Lightning S1, offering large doses of torque, trim styling and premium technological cues.

Power comes from a 984 cc air-cooled four-stroke, 45-degree isolation-mounted V-Twin Cam motor, with the exhaust split through full length duals. The 92-horsepower, electronically fuel-injected motor puts out 68 foot-pounds of torque over a broad, pleasing range, and is mated to a five-speed constant-mesh manual transmission, with a Triplex chain primary drive and Constant path, 11 mm GT profile Kevlar belt final drive.

Up front are Showa inverted forks with adjustable compression damping, rebound damping and spring preload. Aft are Showa shock absorbers, also with adjustable compression damping, rebound damping and spring preload. Wheels are six-spoke cast-alloy,17-inchers finished Stardust Silver, with a Dunlop D207 FY 120/70 ZR17 front tire and a fat D207 U 180/55 ZR17 bringing up the rear.

The rear wheel features solid spokes while the front wheel actually consists of 12 spokes in a double-six configuration. Bringing the Lightning to a halt is a piece of cake with a ZTL type stainless floating rotor and six-piston caliper up front and single disc aft.

The base price was set at $9,995. while California models run $10,099 to cover emission costs.

One would think initially that the Buell Lightning isn't for everyone, particularly not for cruiser types like myself.

Wrong. Though seemingly small at first (my personal ride is a Harley Police Road King), the Lightning is well balanced and responds rapidly and easily to steering input. It's almost as if the bike goes where you think, before you actually initiate a move.

The seating is more upright than most traditional sport bikes and the sculpted seat is really quite comfortable capable of accommodating two-up with the suspension properly set to compensate for the additional weight. The bars are relatively narrow but angle back enough for a secure controlled feeling.

Controls and switches are ideally positioned for user-friendly operation without taking one's eyes off the road. The only negative for me was that the sculpted seat riser prevented me from scooting back far enough to get my knees into the tank indentations, but the riding rush was enough to offset that, and it shouldn't be an issue for riders 6 feet or less.

Gear changes are smooth and seamless, with the shifter within easy reach without leaving the peg the same holds true for the rear brake lever. The fuel tank accommodates 3.7 gallons, with a low fuel warning. There is a dual odometer to assist in calculating range. Fuel economy figures weren't officially available, but the Lightning should have long enough legs to do 100 miles before hitting the reserve supply, even with heavy throttle application.

This newest bike from Erik Buell is a superb example of dirt bike turned street racer (excuse me, "streetfighter") exceptionally suited for great solo riding fun and capable of transporting a passenger in a pinch.

Bottom line, the Buell Lightning XB9S is innovative in terms of both style and functional technology. Ten large may seem lofty to many, but this is a special ride, sure to trigger the wide grin factor.

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