Church of MO: 1997 Buell M2 Cyclone First Impression

John Burns
by John Burns

In 1997, Harley-Davidson owned 49% of Buell Motorcycles and a lien on Erik Buell’s house; outwardly, the relationship appeared to be somewhat symbiotic. The M2 Cyclone was almost the last of the tube-framed Buells, while the first turbocharged XB fuel-in-aluminum-frame bike was on the drawing board. It was close, but sadly, none of it quite went according to plan…

Photos by Gord Mounce, Tom Fortune
The Lightning Goes Biposto

Do a lot of riding in traffic? Are twisties your thing? Maybe an occasional long tour or checking out the local nightlife? If you’re like most motorcyclists the answer is a little of each. For some folks, Buell’s sporty S1 Lightning was just too uncompromising to be used as their only motorcycle. For this group who admired the S1 but wrote it off as impractical, Erik Buell designed the more pragmatic dual-seat M2 Cyclone. Last year Buell stunned the world with the S1. Here was a bike that was faster, lighter, better handling, and two grand cheaper than their previous offerings. Buell’s S1 Lightning had it all, except a saddle that was tolerable for more than 150 miles.

“All-around motorcycle — a do-anything sport bike.”

Well, now it’s 1997 and Buell has come out with a bike another $600 cheaper than the S1, and it has a seat! Buell design philosophy behind the M2 Cyclone was for an “all-around motorcycle — a do-anything sport bike.”

Comfy ergonomics contribute to this, as does an ample passenger seat, healthy bottom-end torque, and a $9,395 sticker price. Taller folks who enjoyed the Lightning, but for the airbox-to-knee clearance problem, will appreciate the Cyclone’s new forward-swept unit.

Reflecting the Cyclone’s more utilitarian role is the tuning of its Sportster engine. Power can be found down low, while the Lightning’s mill is less torquey and accelerates harder at higher revs. Dyno testing both machines illustrates just how their horsepower and torque curves differ. The Cyclone feels like a breathed-on Harley engine, while new Lightning owners will be seen peering down to check if their bike really is powered by Milwaukee iron. We spent four months with the first M2 off the line (serial number 000001) in a variety of situations ranging from twisty roads to open highways and heavy traffic.

“It’s in the twisties where the M2 really shines.”

First came the L.A. freeway torture test. With its abundance of torque and light weight, the Cyclone was in its element. Not even the most homicidal or inattentive commuter drone could get in the M2’s way as the power-on-demand engine and light steering allows it to escape through the smallest of traffic openings. Out on the open road the Cyclone’s relaxed ergonomics make cruising at moderate speeds comfortable, but a lack of wind protection from its tiny bikini fairing retards high speeds for extended travel.

Just as well: the Cyclone’s torque-tuned mill doesn’t have the top-end rush of other Buells, capping out at about 110mph. However, that low-end grunt does make for effortless wheelies in lower gears – not that we would attempt such hooliganism on public streets.

Pillion comfort is greatly increased over the Lightning, and rides of several hundred miles passed without complaint from our passenger. Try taking your significant other for a ride on the Lightning’s postage-stamp passenger seat, and you’ll end up single.

“The M2 couples the character of a Harley with Ducati’s sporting prowess, all the while combining utilitarian function into a single (and downright fun-to-ride) package.”

Although Buell’s Cyclone is a capable mount for devouring highway miles, it’s in the twisties where the M2 really shines. Its front end, while not as stout as a Lightning’s WP inverted fork, is still a capable, fully-adjustable Showa unit. Dunlop’s new D205 Sportmax Touring radials offer higher mileage than the D204, but still allow for aggressive riding. Differences between the two compounds aren’t noticeable at even slightly over sane street speeds, so the increased mileage will be appreciated. The redesigned airbox allows a Cyclone pilot to move around a bit more and eases hanging off in right-hand corners. Ground clearance, although less than the Lightning, was never a problem. Wide bars make it especially easy to toss the 435-pound (dry) machine around, turning the M2 into a satisfying motorcycle for romps through the canyons.

Aesthetically the M2, while sharing similarities to an S1 Lightning, possesses a few subtle improvements over its stablemate. It ditches the fender/license-plate-mount combo for a more conventional hanging unit, and a front fork brace does double-duty as a very discreet fender mount. Its mini-fairing is symmetrical as it has only one gauge to cover, and a longer seat continues the bike’s lines further aft, making for a sleeker profile. Also, a rough-cast finish on the triple clamps, foot levers, and side covers add a unique touch. Does the M2 Cyclone succeed? If you’re not looking specifically for a sportbike, tourer, or hot-rod muscle bike, the answer could be yes. While it is a good bit cheaper than other Buells and in the price range of tamer Ducatis, its sticker may still be a bit steep for some. Overall, though, the M2 couples the character of a Harley with Ducati’s sporting prowess, all the while combining utilitarian function into a single (and downright fun-to-ride) package.


Manufacturer: Buell Model: 1997 M2 Cyclone Price: $9,395 Engine: ohv 2-valve, V-twin Bore and Stroke: 3.5 by 3.8 inches Displacement: 1203cc Carburetion: 40 mm Keihin CV Transmission: 5-speed, constant mesh Wheelbase: 55 inches (139.7cm) Seat Height: 29.5 inches (74.93cm) Fuel Capacity: 4 gal – .6 reserve Claimed Dry Weight: 435lbs (197.31kg)

John Burns
John Burns

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3 of 5 comments
  • Alaskan18724 Alaskan18724 on May 08, 2022

    Buell. Motus. Ideas that deserved to continue.

    • Mad4TheCrest Mad4TheCrest on May 17, 2022

      Hmm ... yeah they did, but at least one company is claiming it is continuing - if we count the most recent Buell resurrection as a continuation. Do we? Maybe Liquid Asset Partners ought to buy up old Motus stock and 'resurrect' that too. 😜

  • Mad4TheCrest Mad4TheCrest on May 09, 2022

    There was a guy I knew who rode the Crest on several brands over the years including a fabled Suzuki TL1000S, but whose fav ride was a Buell Cyclone. He sang its praises, and as this guy was one of the official "Fast Old Guys", I was inclined to believe him. Supporting that, I never heard a bad word about the Cyclone from anyone that owned one. And that's unusual I think - I have loved each bike I have owned but I could always tell you at least one bad thing about them. 😉