Sunday, January 4, 2009

Blast from the Past!

The Buell Motorcycle Company celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary this summer, and as part of the celebration their house organ, Fuell, printed a special retrospective issue with a silver cover and lots of pictures and such from the company's history. Including, on the third page, this picture from the 1987 motorcycle show in Rosemont, Illinois. Erik Buell, founder, head designer, president, chief cook and bottle-washer, is on the left, in that nifty (but vaguely out-of-place at a motorcycle show) business suit, explaining the virtues of his new RR1000 motorcycle. (For those who don't know, the RR1000 was a serious sporty-bike, propelled by the short-lived but powerful XR1000 Harley engine. It's one of the slipperiest motorcycles ever released to the public, and just a few years ago one of these twenty-year-old machines, with a newer engine, set a Land Speed Record at Bonneville.)

But who's that guy next to him, the furball in the Sturgis shirt, clutching a poster and a four-dollar cup of Budweiser? Yep, it's me. I'd bought my first Harley about four years earlier, and was by now up to four of them (two Sportsters, both of which I still had, and two FXRT Sport Glides, one of which I'd gotten through the peculiar combination of near-terminal poison ivy and Lamaze classes, but that's another story), and what drew me to chat with Erik was more his involvement in the project that first developed the FXRT. We talked a bit about the Sport Glide, particularly the rather lousy saddlebag latches that were on the first couple years of the bike. Erik gamely tried to redirect the conversation to his new bike, and eventually I was willing to listen to that, too.

As much as I liked the bike, I wasn't willing to buy one. It wasn't the $16,000 price tag as much as it was the dead-end motor (the XR1000 engine was a one-shot project at HD; the future was in the new 1100cc all-aluminum Evolution motor) and the fact that the bike lacked a lot of features I'd need to go touring, such as a passenger seat and luggage. Of course it lacked these things; it was, after all, more of a street-legal road racer, a bike optimized for going around corners very fast. Which was true... but when you live outside Chicago, going around corners fast means you either set up your bike for touring or buy a trailer, because the nearest place with roads even remotely worthy of this bike is more than a hundred miles away. And I don't like trailers. So, as I recall, before I finally shook his hand and headed off for another overpriced beer, I told him "give it the new motor, a passenger seat and some luggage, and I'll buy one."

Eight years later, he took me up on that offer by bringing out the S2T Thunderbolt... which I also didn't buy (though I sort of wish I had, preferably in that bright metallic purple they called "Parkway Blue"). Instead, almost exactly nine years after the Rosemont motorcycle show where I first met Erik, I bought a '96 S1 Lightning... a bike which had no passenger seat (heck, even the rider seat was best described as a "one-cheek wonder") and no luggage. And I took it touring. But that's another story, too.

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