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The 5,000-mile test ride

Thunder Press masthead from October 2003 issue. Harley-Davidson and American Motorcycle News.
October 2003 Thunder Press cover page
This article was originally published in Thunder Press in October 2003. See www.thunderpress.net for subscription information.

Buell Blast Ride Review

The 5,000-mile test ride

This bike is a blast!

Thunder Press Northwest section of magazine: Rollin'out the oldies, page 66

Original layout of article on page 114.
by beryl nitrate

     Seattle, WASH.— Last summer, I decided to purchase a second motorcycle. I was tired of having to ride double or shuffle to the car when one of our bikes was in the shop. It seemed that the frequency of breakdowns and the lead time for even minor replacement parts was growing with the miles and years we put on the bikes. Even though I had another project bike in the garage, I longed for a reliable and affordable alternate bike. When the reality of knowing that my 16-year-old son was actually signed up for the MRC Basic Rider Skills class hit, I knew that the time had come. There was no way I would let a novice touch a 96-inch bike with a tricky clutch. It was time to get another bike.

     I was already 95 percent convinced to buy the Buell Blast even before I rode it. I had been looking at dual-sport bikes for a while, but I never found a bike that begged me for a test ride. When I started reading up on the Buell, I knew that this bike met my needs. With a 500cc engine, it was small enough for a novice, yet powerful enough for some fun. The 25.5 inch seat height makes it once of the best choices around for vertically challenged riders. Last AUgust, my son was barely 5-foot-5, and the dual-sport bikes we had looked at in the same engine size were all a bit long in the inseam for him. He has grown at least a couple of inches since then, but he has not outgrown the bike.

     In addition to engine size and seat height, I was interested in quality and longevity. If I was going to drop $4,395 for a bike, I wanted to know that I would not always be dropping it off for repairs (remember excuse number one for getting another bike?). The Buell is basically a Sportster motor in a sportbike body, and the Blast is really only half a Sportster with its one cylinder. It has the backing of Erik Buell's racing expertise, and the long history of the Motor Company and its Sportster development. So far mine has only seen the shop for regular maintenance and one clutch adjustment.

Sean's first ride on the Buell

Test ride begins

     Once I made the decision to buy another bike, I headed to my local dealer to take a test ride. THey only had two Blasts in stock the day I went, and the yellow one appealed to me more than the black one. Maybe it was the optional windscreen, maybe it was the resemblance to a bumblebee, and maybe it reminded me of the Honda Trail 90 I had first ridden when I was 10 years old. For whatever reason, I fell in love with this bike very quickly.

     I admit that I felt a little awkward at first on the bike. I've ridden an FXRS for years, and I had never tried a sportbike before. The body posture on the Buell is not what I am used to. My cruiser-style leathers seemed out of place on this sleek, angled machine, and my steel-toed boots fought flexing at the ankle to shift, but i didn't let style distract me from the ride. After a spin around the parking lot, I headed onto the streets to see what this bike could do. In less than 10 minutes I decided that this bike had to come home with me!

     It is fast, responsive, and nimble.It maneuvers as easily as thinking. The bike is so light (380 pounds wet), that you barely have to move the handlebars to turn it. All you do is think about turning, and give a slight lean, and it responds instantly. Acceleration is almost instantaneous too. A slight, quick roll of the wrist propels the bike forward, and a slight rolloff slows the engine immediately. And when I need a faster stop, the dual disk brakes never let me down. I was already thinking of twisties to try as soon as I could get the paperwork signed. After an ordeal with paperwork, an inexperienced salesman and almost walking out on the deal, I rode the bumblebee home.

     Over the first few weeks, I didn't put a lot of miles on the bike. It was intended primarily as alternative transportation, and my son's MRC class was still six weeks out. Even so, I set aside time to get used to the new riding posture while breaking in the engine. Any short errand became an excuse to take the Buell out for a ride. My boyfriend loved to take it to the post office and the bank, which were only about a mile from home. Why warm up the big Harley for a short trip, when you can take the nimble Blast instead? With its short wheel base, light weight, and tight turning radius, parking was a breeze. At only 78 inches long and less than 24 inches wide, I could park it just about anywhere, including the sidewalk.

     Even with short trips around town and my boyfriend taking it back and forth to work everyday for more than a week, we had only put about 500 miles on it before packing it away for the winter. By the time my son passed his MRC and go this endorsement, we had little time to ride before the weather gave out.

     When spring arrived, I ended up putting more miles on the bike than I had intended. My FXRS developed a leaky carburetor, and I was forced to ride the Buell while we waited for parts. I bought a new pair of boots just for riding the Buell, and I began to look for excuses to take the little bike out, and I began to take longer rides. (Just don't tell my Big Twin, OK?) Then in April I took a tumble with the FXRS, and I was off two wheels for more than six weeks. In the race to recovery, I was ahead of the FXRS. When I was ready to ride again, the Buell was waiting. Instead of being my backup, the Buell became my daily ride.

     Instead of taking quick rides around town, or short training cruises with my son, I was riding the Buell back and forth to work, 20 miles each way. My route includes some of the worst traffic in the Northwest, I-405 along Canyon Park through Totem Lake into Kirkland. The Buell proved to be very adept at heavy traffic. With its fast acceleration, and responsive maneuvering, I was able to quickly switch lanes from the on-ramp to edge over three lanes to the HOV lane, no matter how backed up traffic was. Once in the fast lane, the Buell had no problem maintaining highway speeds as congestion allowed. The dual-disk brakes always brought the speed back down instantly when the road ahead turned to a sea of brake lights.

     After playing prime-time bumper cars for 200 miles each week, I looked forward to taking the Buell on the back roads and heading away from the city. Any minor errand, any social visit, any excuse for a ride on the local twisties was a reason to pull out the Buell and ride. Old Snohomish Monroe Highway has enough hills, curves, and farmland to choose it 9 time out of 10 over Highway 2 for a seven-mile jaunt. The Buell eats up the road like Erik knew about this road.

     Or maybe he knew about Canyon Road, Highway 821, from Ellensburg to Yakima. On Father's Day weekend, I rode the Buell over Snoqualmie Pass (I-90) to Ellensburg and the canyon for the ABATE Spring Opener. Fro four-lane superhighway to two-lane chicanes, the bike handled the trip quite well. From sea-level to over 3,000 feet, moist cool Puget Sound to arid, scorching eastern Washington, the bike dived into the curves, rolled up and down hills, and kept up with my partner on his 96-inch donut-roller. I put 180 miles on the bike in one day, quite a lot for a stock seat and handlebars. The ride was exhilarating, and I can't wait to take the Buell through the canyon again. I've already taken it over Snoqualmie Pass twice since, and I've found a few new canyons to play in. In all, I've put over 4,400 miles on the bike in three months.

Something's wrong

     One day this summer, I was riding through town, heading to a meeting. Some guy in a pickup truck pulled up beside me, on the right side of the bike, while I was waiting for the light to change. "Hey, your belt's broken. Part of it's gone," he yelled at me. Huh? What's wrong now? I thought. I looked down, and didn't see anything. The light changed and I headed on a few blocks. The bike felt OK and sounded fine. When I got out and looked at the bike, I couldn't find anything wrong with it. Except that the belt is only about half the width of the pulley. The morons thought I had lost half my belt. Yep. It's with the other cylinder. Someone stole that too.

High mileage

     One of the best secrets I discovered on the Blast is its excellent gas mileage. I am consistently getting 70 miles to the gallon.My boyfriend was impressed that a week of his commute only used 1.2 gallons for 96 miles. My first gas stop on the way to Spring Opener yeilded 105 miles on 1.5 gallons. As gas prices edge over $2 a gallon this summer, I began teasing my local station owner. I'd pull up every other morning and ask for just "$2." The first time, I got back 24 cents in change from my prepay. After that, it became a joke to see if I could use the entire $2 or not. Most of the time, I was right on, and I was glad to have the Blast to ride instead of having to take the cage.

My gripes

     I've found a few negative points on the bike itself. These are just a few of the things that annoyed me. Your mileage may vary.

     The bike is not ergonomic. This is a sportbike, designed for optimal weight balance, not optimal comfort. I have a bad back, and I'm used to a full-sized cruiser, with custom handlebars, a gel seat, forward controls, and midfoot pegs. This bike has the stock handlebars, the stock seat, one foot position, and a crotch-rocket riding posture. Comfortable is not a word I use to describe the ride. I'm sure that as time passes more accessories will come out for the Buell, and I know a few mechanics who could custom fabricate just about any accessory I can dream up. If you see a Buell with footpegs on the lower front forks, it was my idea first.

     The bike is small and won't carry much cargo. The recommended Buell saddlebags are barely big enough for a pair of gloves. Instead of trying a tank bag, I bought an aftermarket set of saddlebags from my local dealer. The parts guy said the set would work on my bike, but there was a slight problem. The right saddlebag touches the rear fender and belt guard, and the loaded bag damaged the fender guard piece. That's when i found out how cheap Buell parts are. The replacement part was only $30. I just can't pack much when I'm out on the Blast.

     The bike is small, and wind affects the handling.One very windy day near Ellensburg, the wind was gusting up to 45 mph along Highway 97. I felt like I was the sail on a little yellow skiff. The bike is very light, with a low center of gravity. I'm large enough that I'm more than half the weight of the bike when I'm in full leathers. I became very aware of the effects if body posture and wind resistance on the handling of the bike. In spite of my preference for an upright riding position, I found that the wind takes advantage of all that exposed mass. In spite of an elbow recovering from a severe sprain, I learned to tuck in close to the bike to lessen the chances of being blown drastically around in my lane. I was tired and my neck was sore from the force of the wind, but I had reached another level of trust for my ride.

     The bike has very low ground clearance. WIth only five inches between the tailpipe and the pavement, you have to take speed bumps and road conditions seriously. This bike is definitely not for off-road use. The tailpipe is slung under the bike to provide a lower center of gravity and to keep the weight balanced along the length of the bike. Just keep it slow in those lots.

     The bike is too small for a passenger. Although the Blast has standard passenger footpegs, I don't think I'll carry any passengers. The load limit is 400 pounds, including rider and all cargo. The bike is very short, and I just don't think I could carry anything bigger than a 10-year old behind me. A smaller rider might have a different opinion.

     The bike is a hybrid. It uses both English and metric parts. I have to keep two sets of wrenches and spare bolts around. I'm always hearing "What kind of a bike is that?" People on Harleys refuse to wave. People on GOld Wings refuse to wave. People on sportbikes are usually going too fast to wave, but they wave at red lights. The parking ticket I got in Seattle listed the make as "unknown" even with the bright "Buell Blast" logo on the tank and the "Buell: American Motorcycles" logo on the windshield. At least my insurance company knows what kind of a bike it is: one with unduly high sportbike rates.

     This bike sold itself, in spite of the dealership experience. My purchase experience and subsequent maintenance visits have left me with little respect for my local dealers. I've had better shopping experiences with used car dealers than the way I was treated during my purchase. Perhaps its time the large dealerships quit focusing on the numbers and started listening to their customers. Here's a tip for your service managers Don't tell a woman rider she needs shift more aggressively until you have at least cracked open the inspection cover to verify the clutch adjustment. After visits to three dealers, I've found a service department and a mechanic I can trust, but I'm glad the bike is finally out of warranty. I hope others have better experiences.


     My bike is the 2001 Buell Blast P3. Optional dealer installed equipment: Vance and Hines exhaust, Dyno-Jet kit, windscreen, and luggage rack. Aftermarket saddlebags.


     I'd recommend this bike to anyone who is looking for a small, nimble, affordable, reliable ride. It's a great trainer, and it's a great pit bike. It's perfect for the vertically challenged. It's a good commuter bike, and it's easy to park. It's fun to ride, and it looks good.

     My son says simply "It's awesome."

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