The Running of The Buells (1st Published December 2007)

Anyone who has talked motorbikes with me knows I’ve been a fan of Erik Buell’s 2-wheeled creations since the beginning. I’ve owned an S1 Lightning, an XB9S Lightning, an XB12R Firebolt and an XB12X Ulysses, and, despite their flaws, loved riding every one. I’m even hoping to add a TT or Lightning Long to the garage this summer, if I can find the right bike. The following article (Midwest Motorcyclist, Dec. 2007) might not be one of my finest pieces technically, but it’s definitely one of the highlights of my writing career. I rode down to Mid-Ohio, unannounced, just to take a few pictures and report on Buell’s Inside Pass events. That couple hour ride led to stuffing myself into a borrowed set of Buell racing leathers, and spending the better part of the day at speed on newly designed, pre-production 1125R sportbikes- it doesn’t get better than that!

Hope you share my excitement, my exuberance, while reading this- I smiled for weeks after this event!

By the way, if you happen to follow the link over to Midwest Motorcyclist, please take some time to look around. Plenty of things to read, issues to peruse. If you like what you see (or even if you don’t), please take a minute or two to fill out our Reader’s Survey- we’d like to know what you think.

Thanks for reading! Be seen, ride smart, stay safe and I’ll see you on the road.

-mike

The Running of the Buells 

…YeeFreakinHaw!  I’m ripping through a lap on Mid-Ohio racecourse, on a pre-production Buell 1125R, no less!  The bridge and first few corners after the start are, quite honestly, just a blur.  It took a second or 2 to feel out the bike and get my head in the game, but now things have just snapped into focus. Pick my point, eyes on the exit, lean, lean and more lean, roll on the throttle and rip out of the Keyhole onto the back straight.  At my (relatively) low rate of speed, this new Buell is unflappable.  It’s everything my XB12R Firebolt wanted to be:  great handling with the addition of a lot of horsepower and a much higher redline   Unbelievable!

OK, so “ripping” may be overstating my velocity by quite a bit, but even the liberal use of exclamation points can’t begin to sum up the massive endorphin rush I experienced on a new Buell on my favorite track.  I’m still not sure just how I got out there, but I’ll be forever grateful to those who gave me the chance.  The strangest part is my trip to Mansfield was nearly cut short by traffic tie-ups on the way down.  Sometimes there really is a reward for sticking with a plan.

This all began with an email in spring from Buell, announcing their Inside Pass track day program.  This was an opportunity for riders of all skill levels to suit up in appropriate gear and experience the glory of a closed environment at speed.  I was psyched, and ready to sign.  Problem was, I had just decided to sell my Firebolt to replace it with a more passenger-friendly Ulysses.  With used Buells rather slow sellers, I had no idea where I was going to be ride-wise when October came- so I held off on enrolling.  Big mistake.

For those who haven’t already guessed this, I am a huge fan of Buell motorcycles, and have been since I first saw a RR1000.  I love anything on 2 wheels and have owned several makes of bikes, but there’s just something about the heart of a Harley beating in Buell’s homegrown sportbikes that really sings to me.  In a panicky new dad moment, I sold off my motorcycles soon after my son was born and regretted my decision immediately.  I decided I would hold off on purchasing a new scoot until I could afford a Buell.  That finally happened with a 03 XB9S Lightning, provided as a 40th Birthday gift from my unbelievably understanding wife, Lori.  I was back on 2 wheels, as I always should have been, and I had my first Buell…

I am flying!  Straight ahead, upshift, kink to the right (don’t lift), guts tightening… ugh…  Not lifting, but no longer accelerating through the kink.  Brake WAY harder than anticipated (nerves and adrenaline are a strange mix at speed), unexpectedly sliding myself forward to the faux-tank airbox in a big rush, easing off the brakes for the downhill right then uphill to the left-handers that take me back downhill.  Short straight, right, short straight accelerating again, left under the bridge, aiming for the curbing and back to the right.  I’m not sure if I’m more amazed by this new Buell, or by the fact that I’m on a bike on Mid-Ohio.  The bike is definitely making me look more composed than I actually am!  Dag, this is fun!!!

My Lightning made room for a 2004 XB12R Firebolt, an incredibly fun bike on the street.   By now, however, my wife and kids had decided they loved riding with me- and the passenger accommodations on the ‘Bolt left much to be desired.  This led to ads to sell the ‘Bolt and the purchase of a XB12X Ulysses, with little urgency on my part.  Track events fill quickly, and hesitation cost me a Novice spot in the track event. Too bad, because sending the Firebolt off to a good home in Tennessee and filling my garage with a new Ulysses actually happened fairly rapidly. I called Private Track Time, from the web link at the Buell site, and spoke to Craig Robinson about any potential openings (none) and the possibility of just coming down to watch and shoot some pictures.  Craig graciously invited me down, so on a warm but overcast October morning, I left NEOhio for a 2-hour (or so) ride down to Mansfield to watch the running of the Buells.

The ride down was nearly cut short when I came upon an accident on the construction-narrowed RT 271.  This left me stopped in traffic for nearly an hour with the bike off and tiptoeing myself forward a few feet every couple of minutes.  Fortunately, the driver of a red Jeep Cherokee with DUCATI stickers on the windows was kind enough to watch my back in the tie-up.  It’s great that bikers always watch out for one another, even when we’re stuck in the Cage.  Sitting immobile left me plenty of time to considered the emergency cut-through and a quick ride back home.  I was just going to watch, after all.  I’m glad I resisted the tug of easy freedom from the impromptu parking lot, and didn’t head back!

Accelerating out of the right-hander onto a fairly long straight before heading to another fast right-hander, elevation changes and concrete wall minimizing my “comfort zone” rocking through here.  Sweeping back left and slowing (yeah, I’m definitely wussing here) before the right-handers passing the pit entrance.  Slide back over for the left and accelerate hard for the Start/ Finish.  No flags, no signals?  Unreal:  I get to do it all again!!! This time I have a much better feel for the 1125R and the track, my adrenaline cranks back a notch, my speed cranks up a notch, and The Flow begins.  Incredible!

When I finally got to Mid-Ohio, the clouds had completely disappeared.  Who could have ever expected a perfectly sunny 80-degree October day in Ohio?  I parked the Uly and started wandering the paddock.  Inside Pass is open to all makes, so the garages and lot were filled with an eclectic mix of bikes from BMW to Yamaha- the majority being Buells, of course… including a bunch of 1125Rs, parked and accessible to all in attendance.  I had only seen photos in the mags and brochures, and the real thing is even more impressive.  Eric Schmitt, Buell Marketing genius and the man behind the Inside Pass program told me these were ALL the running 1125Rs in existence; how cool is that?  In chatting with Eric, I found out he’s also the guy who comes up with the Buell hats, slingbags, and other free promos to get us to visit our local Buell dealers.  I told him the free hat cost me the price of a XB9S, the sling bag a 12R and the new courier bag (perfect for the laptop I’m typing this on) was quite costly as the Uly is the priciest Buell.  He just laughed and said it shows his promos work.  It’s a good thing my wife wasn’t there to meet him!

I asked Eric for a bit more information on the program, and was told Inside Pass has been organized by Private Track Time (www.privatetracktime.com), the same group of people who are responsible for corporate events for Harley-Davidson as well as many other big names in motorcycles.  For this event, Private Track Time worked with Sportbike Track Time (www.sportbiketracktime.com), Mid-Ohio’s exclusive motorcycle training school. Apparently the team of Buell, STT and PTT was good mix, because I heard nothing but positive comments from all the participants.  Eric tells me the Inside Pass program has been very successful, and they intend to continue it into the foreseeable future.  After talking with many of the participants, I’m sure that will make them quite happy.  I expect to see many of the same faces at future events

Riders in Inside Pass are grouped by ability:  Novice, Intermediate or Advanced. The sessions are then comprised only of riders in the same group, which fills the track with riders of roughly the same abilities and experience.  The day starts with a bit of fundamental track instruction, and quickly progresses to the track.  Several instructors ride with the groups, and are more than happy to lead a rider on the proper line if asked.  The atmosphere is serious, but relaxed, and allows everyone to ride within his or her ability.  Riding suits are required, but may be armored textile in the Novice and Intermediate class.  Leathers are required for the advanced class.  Riders provide their own bikes, but a few Buells are on hand to try out- though not normally a large quantity of preproduction models of a brand new design!  A welcome break is provided mid-day with a terrific catered lunch, then back for more track time.  Snacks and much-needed beverages are provided throughout the day.  In all, I can’t think of a better way for an enthusiastic motorcyclist to spend a day!

Lap after lap this new Buell continues to astonish me.  My riding gets smoother, my line tighter and my speed increases a bit- though my comfort level is still well within the Novice level.  I’ve gotten the gears wrong in a few spots, both up and down, and the Buell just shrugs it off.  It has gobs of torque down low, so the missed downshift just causes a bit of momentary judder, then steady forward pull.  Forgetting the 4,000 additional revs beyond my 12R or 12X has me trying to short shift, but that issue quickly disappears- winding this new Helicon twin out is simply a joy.  My only problem at this point is containing my urge to whoop and holler from the sheer exuberance of riding on Mid-Ohio racecourse!  Again and again I ponder just how the heck did I get out here?

Throughout the day I walked about talking to the participants and various Buell managers, techs and reps. During this time, I happened upon Everett and Micki, a couple of familiar faces from “my” local Buell dealership.  They asked if I was going to try out a 1125R, and I explained I couldn’t as I’d been closed out of the class.  This was overheard by Dave, the area Buell rep, who decided I must try out the new bike.  How could I say no?  He handed me several necessary papers to fill out and sent me over to sign on for a Demo session.  They even loaned me a set of Vanson leathers, just in case, and my day just kept getting better.

The final few turns, I finally feel one with the new Buell.  As they say, all good things must end, and so should my ride on Mid-Ohio…  The white flag was out, indicating the end of the Demo rides, and the rider in front of me had their left hand in the air indicating we were pulling off the track.  Down Pit Lane, letting the bike bleed off speed on its own, I make the 90-degree left back to the paddock and staging line for the next group of riders.  I hate to end this incredible rush, but I am soaked in sweat and, quite honestly, mentally and physically smoked- it feels awesome!  I’m already thinking about what I need to do to prep the Uly for Inside Pass 2008!

After the blast of the track, the 2-hour ride back home, rush hour traffic and all, could not have seemed more lame!

-Mike Mekinda

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