1997 Open Bikini Shootout

Do You Need A Mistress?


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1998 Buell S1 White Lightning

And so we come to this years' Open Bikini Shootout winner: Buell's new S1 White Lightning. Seemingly just a graphically revised S1, in reality the changes to Erik Buell's latest jail bait are extensive and thorough, addressing every performance concern pundits and buyers alike mentioned last year.

From 12 percent more power to better brakes and improved handling, the new White Lighting is a vastly improved motorcycle compared to last year's machine.

An S3 gas tank and 2.0 inch narrower bars give the White Lightning its distinctive looks.

Note that we didn't include comfort in the list of improvements -- the seat still sucks. Badly. The first time you ride a WL, that's plainly evident, but then again, so is the new engine configuration. In keeping with their natural disaster naming scheme, the new engine's been dubbed the "ThunderStorm," and ours pumped out 88.5 horsepower at the rear wheel and a whopping 76 ft-lbs of torque.

That's roughly 10 more horsepower compared to the last generation Lightning, power that was found in completely redesigned cylinder heads and a new exhaust system.

"Both the intake valve and seat diameter are bigger," says Gary Stippich, Harley's engineer in charge of Buell powertrain development.

"The exhaust valve and seat are bigger as well, and the intake has a new port configuration matched to the valve. The exhaust port is new too, with the main difference being that the outlet to the pipe is smaller than previous years' designs.

New Nissin six-piston front brakes work exceptionally well. Initial bite was a bit much for some riders -- you can't just grab a handful.

"Buell's White Lighting out-accelerates and has a higher top speed than either the Duck or T509"

There's a couple reasons, one is to keep high velocity in the port, but the main reason is because the gasket is the same diameter as the old port, and over time the gasket would crush and stick in the port, robbing power. With the new port closed down a little, the gasket is shielded from hot exhaust temperatures, which helps it hold its shape." Flow was also gained in the cylinder heads by unshrouding the valve seats.

A man's favorite view: Inside the bikini.

This added two or three cubic centimeters to the heads, so Stippich designed a set of domed pistons (S1 pistons, taken directly from 1200cc Sportster motors, are flat-tops) that reclaim about 6.5cc.

Thus the new WL has marginally higher compression than last year's -- 10.2 to one versus 10.0, respectively. (For various reasons, this isn't printed in any of the brochures or specifications put out by Buell.) Add into the equation a race-bred 2.5-inch exhaust system collector and 2.5-inch muffler inlet -- up from 2.0 inches last year -- and there's all of your power gains for this year.

And that translates into the fastest bike in this test: The White Lightning posting an 11.59 second run at 115 mph on a blistering, 100-degree summer day at Los Angeles County Raceway. In any sort of roll-on comparison the Buell squirts away, though it just barely edged Triumph's T509 in top-speed testing. Let's say you twist a big handful of throttle and cook too hot into a turn.

Buell's top-of-line front suspension lets you run it in deep. Perfect for the open California roads in August. Although she looks mean, she's terribly undemanding. Self adjusting valves and heavy-duty clutch see to that. Although less mentally demanding to ride, the T509 ended up chasing the Buell in the twisties. Impressive stuff.

Better be careful! If you're used to Buell's old Performance Machine sponge-o-matic brake caliper with long-lasting but relatively weak Ferodo 901-compound brake pads, you're in for a big surprise: The new Nissin six-piston caliper and sintered metal pads bind with amazing force to a huge stainless steel 340mm brake rotor. Initial bite is the strongest in this test, despite only having a single front rotor -- both the Duc and Triumph have dual 320mm floating rotors.

Buell racers had been calling for more high-speed rebound front and rear for better control over bumps at speed, so Buell's engineers revalved the fully adjustable WP front forks and rear shock. These improvements have paid off: The leather-clad, knee-draggin' enthusiasts amongst our staff adamantly picked the Buell as the best-handling bike. And in this arena its ultra-narrow seat is a benefit, allowing the rider to quickly move side-to-side and back-to-front on the bike, giving an element of control not available on the other machines.

When all was said and done and it came time to pull those bikini strings and vote the Buell's rock-solid reliability -- we didn't have one problem with the White Lightning -- was a big plus. Add in its performance advantage and top-quality suspension, and you've got a clear winner -- the best of Motorcycle Online's 1997 Open Bikini bikes.

 Wheelie time! Well, anytime is wheelie time.
 Tarmac thrashing with Erik Buell's bikini girl.
 Shawn "He's Our Savage" Higbee demonstrating how to turn, wheelie and chew gum all at the same time. Such things are easy with 75-plus ft-lbs of torque on tap.
 Suspension changes are more subtle, and are directly inspired by Buell's racing involvement.


Manufacturer: Buell Model: 1998 S1 White Lightning Price: $10,599.00 Engine: 4 stroke 45 degree V-Twin Bore and Stroke: 3.5 x 3.8 inches Displacement: 1203cc Carburetion: One Keihin 40 mm Transmission: 5 speed Wheelbase: 55.0 in (1397 mm) Seat Height: 29.5 in (749 mm) Fuel Capacity: 5.5 gal with .6 gal reserve Claimed Dry Weight: 425 lbs (184 kg) Measured Wet Weight, Tank Full: 460 lbs (209 kg) Measured Horsepower, At The Rear Wheel: 88.5 @6300 Measured Torque, At The Rear Wheel: 76.0 @5800

Open Bikini Shootout Conclusion to the Catfight

While Buell's S1 White Lightning was the decisive winner of MO's Bikini Bike Shootout, this would've been a very close test if Triumph's T509 had been more reliable. In fact, all three are very good bikes and are comparatively priced, with less than 800 dollars separating the most expensive from the least. As such, personal tastes are bound to factor. If you're looking for comfortable ergonomics, the Triumph is your ride. If you prefer wheelie-popping torquey power, the White Lightning will kick your ass. If you're leaning to an all-around bike, fun to ride in both the city and country, Ducati's Monster is your Frankenstein. It's important to point out that amongst our staff only two voted the same way, and although no one picked the Monster first, we're open
to arguments why the Duc should be number one.

Open Bikini Dyno Charts


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