By late 1998, Erik Buell's lively
and distinctive sports bikes had come a long way since the
Wisconsin-based engineer and former racer's first model, more than ten years
earlier. With their distinctive styling, upright riding position, tuned
Harley V-twin motors and agile chassis, Buells had provided plenty of speed
and handling along with more fun than just about anything else on two
But Buells had suffered some
problems, too. Models such as the S1 Lightning had been rather eccentric,
with their big, ugly air filter, truck-like exhaust, uncomfortably tiny
seat, soft Harley footrests and tendency to overheat their rear cylinder.
That was until late 1998, when Buell introduced the X1 Lightning.
The X1 proved that founder Erik
Buell and his colleagues at Harley-Davidson, which by this time owned most
of the company, listened to criticism. It combined typical Buell aggression
with fresh styling, a smaller air filter, a belly pan to cover the silencer,
a larger seat, normal footrests, and better cooling to engine parts
including the rear cylinder. It also had a stiffer steel frame, new
aluminium rear subframe and swingarm, plus uprated Showa suspension at front
Like other Buells the X1 was
powered by an air-cooled, 45-degree pushrod V-twin that was intended for
Harley's 1200 Sportster. Here it was hotted-up with Buell's 'Thunderstorm'
cylinder heads, incorporating bigger valves, reworked ports and reshaped
combustion chambers. A new fuel-injection system helped give a best yet peak
output of 95bhp at 6200rpm. This was a pretty remarkable achievement given
that a standard Sportster produced less than 60bhp.
That meant the XI was good for a
genuine 140mph (225km/h), and the cleverly rubber-mounted motor felt
amazingly smooth, too. There was a generous amount of mid-range torque, and
the bike sat effortlessly at 70mph (113km/h) with instant acceleration on
The chassis was also impressive.
Steering was light enough to allow rapid direction changes, due to the X1's
sharpened geometry. Showa suspension parts worked well at the front and also
at the rear, where the XI retained the traditionally quirky Buell set-up
with its under-slung shock working in tension rather than the normal
The X1's front brake combination
of six-piston caliper and huge single disc gave powerful stopping, though it
was prone to fade when very hot. Detail work was improved from previous
models, with generous steering lock, dashboard-mounted ignition switch,
easily adjustable mirrors, under-seat storage, and other useful details.
Anyone wondering whether these
civilizing touches disguised the fact that the XI lacked Buell's traditional
raw appeal had no need to worry - the X1 still felt suitably crazy. It was a
more sophisticated, up-to-date machine whose old-style Buell fun factor was
very much intact. Equally importantly, the X1 was confirmation that
Harley-Davidson, Buell's new owner, intended to inject the effort and
investment needed for success.