Don Casto's Buell Pages

Last edit on 10/18/2008 16:33 - Page under construction, please stand by.

 

I purchase my 1998 Buell S3T from Montana Harley Davidson/Buell/Ducati in Missoula, Montana on 26 June,  1998.  There were problems with both the dealer, the sale and the bike that could be considered prophetic (pathetic?) - but I will save the details for later on the page.  For me the story of my Buell experience has been a collision of passions: a resonant visceral attraction to the Buell's handling and power, an equally strong frustration with continual build quality and design flaws and a steadily increasing distain and contempt for the company responsible for destroying and denigrating the Erik Buell's reputation in the motorcycle world.

My Motorcycle Ownership Progression

My decision to buy my Buell was as much based in concerns with previous motorcycles as it was in Buells perceived qualities.  I have always been a motorcycle enthusiast.  I can recall riding my bicycle into a strong wind on my way home from Broadway Elementary school in San Jose, California and saying, "This would be much more fun if I was on a motorcycle."  I had a paper route that went right by the local Honda/Triumph dealership and I stopped in regularly for brochures and lusting.  

The first motorcycle I rode was a Honda 250 Scrambler that belonged to a friend at Willow Glen High School.  From then on my fate was sealed - to the point where in a later life motorcycles became in integral component in "Don's Three Great Weaknesses."  The Honda 305 Scrambler that came out a little while after that only further cemented my motorcycle fixation when I could talk my friends into let me ride their 305s.

1966 Honda S90 (mine was red - and never looked as new as this one)

The first motorcycle that I owned was a Honda S90.  At the time it was all I could afford, and I needed transportation that fell within the $1 a day budget (for food and gas) that I lived under when at 18 years old I left my family and went out on my own.  The S90 put up with plenty of innocent abuse and kept coming back for more.  It even made a couple of trips up and over the Santa Cruz mountains to the coast on the back roads - but never had enough horses to ride on Highway 17, the road normal people used.  It was a year later just prior to my first marriage that I came into my own in my motorcycle fixation with the purchase of a slightly used Triumph T100C.  This motorcycle had the power I had longed for and was the fulfillment of the dreams that I had while hanging out in the Honda/Triumph dealership so many years before.  

My 1967 Triumph T110c and I  - circa 1969

The T100C was a 500 cc, 2 cylinder single carburetored magneto ignitioned motorcycle.  In spite of several additional Triumph purchases in the next few years, it remained my favorite and I only sold it in 1972 in order to ship my 1964 Volkswagen Bus to Hawaii when I moved there.  The bike had some of the usual mechanical challenges - most notably the Lucas ignition and Amal carburetor - but more than made up for it with its simplistic engineering and readily wrenchable mechanics.  It were these qualities that I was looking for when I discovered Buells, and Buell delivered this in spades.

When I returned to the mainland from Hawaii in 1992 one of the first items on my "must have" list was a motorcycle.  I had stayed away from 2 wheeled vehicles while in Hawaii due to the marginal skills shown by the drivers there.  It only took by a car while on my road bicycle, and the resulting shoulder surgery, to keep me convinced that it takes a death wish to ride a motorcycle in Hawaii.  I did have the opportunity to keep occasionally renew my motorcycle lust when I was on the mainland.  Two notable rides were my brother Bill's Kawasaki 1100 and a friends Honda 1980 Gold Wing.

My 1994 K1100 RS - shown at for sale just before the warranty expired.

It took a couple of years to bring the necessary resources together and in 1994 I began shopping for the new bike.  I read the motorcycle magazines and found myself attracted to the quality and engineering of the BMW motorcycles, and the K1100RS in particular.  I also read about the then brand new  Buell S-1 Lightening and S2 Thunderbolts.   I visited local dealerships and found that the BMWs riding position offered the comfort I needed while the Buells did not.  I made several return visits to one dealer (Sun Enterprises in Thornton, Colorado) and was told that there were "T" version handlebars, footpegs and luggage available.  After checking back the parts never were in stock and the supply seemed tenuous at best.  I opted to spend my money on the BMW rather than continue waiting on promised parts from Buell.

Although I was generally satisfied with the BMW K1100RS, it had some shortcomings that influenced my decision to sell it when the warranty expired in 1997.  The BMW was a heavy bike with a very long wheel base that required perfecting the "Y" turn in close quarters and suffered in slow speed maneuvering.  I did actually take and pass my motorcycle driving license endorsement test on the BMW - but it took two tries with hours of practice in between.  The motorcycle also had a very strange handlebar vibration that never failed to give me a serious case of "stone hands" on long road trips.

But the biggest problem with the BMW began to appear as the warranty ran down.  The over engineering began changing from an asset to a liability as I faced the real possibility of having to pay the dealership mechanics to work on my motorcycle.  I found that the full fairings made accessing the mechanical difficult and once I got to the engine there was nothing I could work on without a garage full of dealership tools.  The bike was designed for minimal owner mechanical involvement.  I could check the tire pressure, change/add oil, fill it with fuel and wash it - everything else required the dealership service department.  When I made the decision to sell the BMW the first (and only) potential replacement was a Buell.

There is a profile question on the Bad Weather Bikers website that addresses the under the broad statement "Why I do/don't ride a Buell:."  I chose to break this down into three sub-topics; "Why I bought a Buell", "Why I Have Kept My Buell" and "Why I Am Selling My Buell."  For the first I list the following:

"Why I bought a Buell" - the 1998 concept.

1) It is American made - although this is admittedly an reactionary, impractical and unrealistic reason, I have come to embrace the philosophy of America First when it comes to my consuming.  I do believe that it is important, whenever possible, to support our country's industry and labor.  There was an ironic price to be paid for this commitment that became apparent as soon as the build quality, dealership ineptitude and HD corporate arrogance issues quickly surfaced - but that is later on the page.

Buell was and is the only bike manufactured in the United States by a parent company who's profits remain in the US.  The holes in this philosophy are pretty transparent in the increasing move toward a "world economy."  Buell has many parts and components supplied by foreign factories.  I will also have to admit that I still tend to buy electronics from various non-US brands, and if Buell does not soon provide a new entry into the 'sport touring' niche of the motorcycle world I may be sending my next motorcycle purchase funds to Italy.

2) It is home wrenchable - this was the, albeit unknowingly, smartest component of my Buell purchase decision.  Casual observation told me that Buell was basic and readily accessible mechanical technology.  Its air cooled, carbureted and pushrod engine design was both proven (if not antiquated) and equally important - easy to work on.  I know that if I had not been able to do most of the repair, refit, upgrade and replacement work on this bike in my own garage I would have been back on a BMW before the first year of Buell ownership had passed.

3) It has basic engineering, great performance - There are plenty of motorcycles in the market that offer more horsepower and technological advances not found on Buells - many of these at an MSRP less by thousands than what Buell cost.  I have found that my Buell delivers more than enough horsepower to keep me on my toes but more importantly, has huge amounts of readily available torque in the "streetable" zone - that place where my skill level, need for excitement, concern for my mortality and observance of traffic codes encompasses 99% of my riding.  It handles so much better than my previous bikes and has very predictable suspension response that forgiving enough to make me look and feel like a better rider than I really am.  Most if not all of this is accomplished without using electronics, complex and advanced concept engineering or technology that requires an advanced degree to understand, diagnose and repair.

4) I wanted to try a Harley Davidson product, regrettably  - This is the joker in my original concept.  I have to admit that when I was looking for a replacement for the BMW K1100RS I was became inexplicably drawn to some of the "lifestyle" aspects of the Harley Davidson marketing campaign.  To be specific, there were two women I had spent time with that were focused completely on Harley Davidson owners to the point where going for a ride on a BMW never even made the early cut.  What I have learned since as that although HD does a pretty good job at designing, building and marketing their road bikes they should have never become involved in anything other than supplying engines for Buells.  More on this later.

"Why I Have (Had) Kept My Buell" - my evolution, resignation and the reality of 5 years as a Buell owner.

  1. It still delivers on 75% of the original concept.  I am seriously over any curiosity or fascination with the trendy attraction to Harley Davidson Motorcycles and/or their "lifestyle" marketing.  Other than that, my Buell still works for me.

  2. It is still a unique motorcycle that is seldom confused with any other brands.  Aside from having once been asked, "What kind of Yamaha is that," I find that Buells still draw interest from scores of people as it is obviously not like most of the motorcycles they see every day.

  3. I has drawn a group of people to it that have a quirky, almost cult like attraction to its unique qualities as well as its occasional irregularities.  See the "Repair History" below.  I believe that Buell owners are unique in my experience, especially when compared with both the BMW riders and "biker types" that most people are familiar with.  If it weren't for the contact I have made with (most of) my fellow Buell owners, having this unique motorcycle would have been a singularly isolating experience.

  4. I discovered and utilized a website, www.badweatherbikers.com, that is populated by other Buell enthusiasts where I found support, technical information, camaraderie and fellowship that existed no where else in Buell universe.  Surprisingly, this lack of friendliness has at one time or anther included most if not all of the HD/Buell dealerships I encountered.

  5. I have been able to use the help and assistance of my fellow BWBers to correct many of the design flaws and inadequacies that HD/Buell delivered and have come to a substantial mechanical understanding of my Buell.

  6. After the marginal value for the dollar spent original purchase and then the money spent correcting the flaws on the Buell, I cannot hope to recover much of what I have invested - even in a "parting out" sale.  Until recently it has delivered sufficient value in transportation, recreation, community membership and excitement to tilt the cost/value balance in favor of the later.

"Why I Am Selling (Have Sold) My Buell" - This is best addressed in the final paragraphs of this effort.

 

The Dealership Experience - or lack of it.

My Purchase Experience - In 1995 it was a toss up between two motorcycles for me.  I had done my reading and could not decide between the K1100RS and this new, unknown motorcycle - the Buell.  I had looked at both bikes in their Denver dealerships.  The dealer experience in each was as different as day and night.

The closest dealership between the two was the Harley Davidson dealership so I went there first.  This particular dealer also stocked at least one "Harley Clone" line and a line of bikes from a major Japanese brand.  I walked in and was able to locate a single Buell on the sales floor.  It actually easy to pick it out from the rest - it was right in front of the door and looked like nothing else in the place.  I picked up a brochure and walked around it while comparing the information in the brochure with the bike on the floor.  When I finished my initial look and comparison, I walked around the dealership looking for someone to answer some of my questions.  I finally asked a nice looking young woman in their "Motor Clothes" department and she pointed me toward a cubicle where two salesmen were drinking coffee and having a casual visit.

I went over and after waiting for a short time I introduced myself and asked if they could help me with the Buell.  They explained that they had not had them very long and didn't know much about them, but did know that there were two models and gave me the price of each.  I asked if I could "swing a leg over" on the one on the floor and after doing so discovered its riding position was much to constrictive for me.  They explained that they expected a few more Buells in before the end of the year and that the "other one" was set up better for sports touring.  I said thanks, picked up my brochure and headed down to the BMW dealership.

At BMW the sales people were available, helpful and enthusiastic about their motorcycles.  They knew their products, listened to what I owned in the past, what I had liked about my previous bikes and suggested that I test ride several of their models.  After a couple of short demo rides I found that the K1100RS suited me best.  After several hours I left with several brochures and  a sense that I been really given some direction in my buying research.

I visited each dealership several more times in the next month.  The "other model," a Buell S-2, arrived at the Harley Davidson dealership.  I was able to inspect it thoroughly without having my investigation interrupted by any sales persons.  I took another brochure and headed for the BMW dealership.  There I was offered a cup of coffee and a donut by the receptionist who remembered me from my previous visit.  The sales person I had spoken with earlier was busy, but another walked over and asked if she could help me.  I was beginning to see a pattern develop.  I asked about the availability of the K1100RS and was told they only had a used bike in inventory and would not be selling their demo bike, the one I had ridden, for another two months.  I went back to each dealership the next week and was able to swing a leg over on the S2 and found it was also to restrictive.  One of the salesmen I had initially spoken with told me that there were supposed to be a set of different bars, and hard bags available for the bike but had not received any and did not know when they would.  At BMW they reaffirmed that there would not be any new K1100RS models for at least 90 days.

The BMW at this point was the only option, and I began calling dealers in other areas after being told that the dealership I had been visiting could not "dealer trade" a bike in for me.  I found a dealership in Liberal, Kansas would be happy to bring on in.  They also told me that there was a factory clearance on left over 1994 models that they could order one in for me at a substantial savings.  I sent them a deposit the same day and told them any color would be fine as long as it was not red.

Three weeks later I brought my new silk blue BMW back to its new home in my Boulder garage.  I paid cash for the bike, and spent additional money at the dealership on helmets for my daughter and I and a leather coat for myself.

I still feel, to this very day, that I gave the local HD dealers every opportunity to sell me the Buell I wanted, but they were too inept, ambivalent or anti-Buell to perform their basic function.

The Decision to Buy in Missoula, Montana - 

I began shopping for a Buell as soon as the BMW was put up for sale.  I visited several Denver area dealers and found the same old disinterested, misinformed and unmotivated type of sales personnel that I had become used to in the years before.  I even entertained the idea of trading in the BMW for a Buell.   When I encountered a near larcenous trade in value combined with exorbitant setup/delivery/prep fees and markup I gave up on the Denver area dealers and began contacting out of state dealerships.

Before leaving the local dealerships in disgust I did discover that there had been changes in the Buell line since the last time I had shopped.  I was able to test ride both the earlier S2 model and the new S3T.  Based on a seat of the pants evaluation, I liked the newer version better.  I was also swayed by the "Thunderstorm" syndrome - a marketing ploy designed to influence those of us that focus on horsepower numbers.  I recall noting that the S3T looked much more finished around the dashboard area, and the fairing bags covered the front fairing bracing that stood out so much on the S2.  Regrettably, I did not spend enough time going over each bike on a point by point comparison.  It took a couple of years for me to realize the full consequences my mistake.

I found two by phone that had 1998 S3Ts in stock and were willing to provide some incentives.  One was in Wisconsin, the other in Missoula, Montana.  After several calls to each, they both arrived at the same price for the same package.  It came down to "Where do I want to drive to?  Wisconsin or Montana?"  Montana won out with some added consideration given to my having found property there that I was interested in buying.  As I began finalizing the deal the Missoula dealership disclosed that the bike they had in stock was an S3, but they would order in all the necessary parts to build it up to an S3T for me.

I finalized the deal with the Missoula dealership and sent them a 25% deposit.  They ordered the parts and we agreed upon a delivery date one month later.  There were several additional contacts in the next month as financing, insurance and documentation details were ironed out.  It took a little doing, but I managed to have the Buell documented to a friend's address in Seeley Lake near where I was in the process of buying property.  This maneuver saved me paying Colorado sales tax and licensing fees to the tune of around $900.

Just prior to leaving from Boulder to pick up the bike I exchanged emails with the salesman telling him that I was on my way and would be at his door to pick up the S3T two days later.  I had a days worth of real estate tasks to get through before I could afford to be distracted by my new Buell and when they were completed I drove promptly down to Missoula to sign the papers and pick up my Buell.

The First Delivery Fiasco

I remember being massively excited as I parked my truck in front of the dealership.  I dropped the tailgate, attached the tie downs and rolled out the ramps.  I strolled through the front door and noted that there a couple of Buells on the sales floor amongst a selection of Ducatis, HDs and a UJM brand.  It took a few minutes to find the sales guy and he seemed a little withdrawn when we shook hands.  "Are you here to pick up your Buell?", he asked.  This sounded a little strange to me, considering our several months of contact and my now two day old email, but I replied in the affirmative.  "Well, here it is!", he exclaimed while walking toward one of the Buells on the sales floor.  I immediately began to realize something had gone terribly wrong.

The bike he walked over to was a Billet Silver 1998 S3 - no hard bags, no lower fairings, low bars and NOT what I had ordered.  He must have seen the very dark look on my face as he added, "We can close the deal today and we can send you the rest of the parts when they come in?"  My very dark look must have gone to completely black at this point.  He said he was sorry but the additional painted plastic parts had not arrived from Buell.  This "painted part" problem was yet another prophetic moment in my Buell experience - one that was repeated several more times in the next few years.  I did my best to remain civil while asking him, "You mean to say I drove all the way up here from Colorado to pick up a bike that is not ready, and is not even close to what we agreed upon?  And you want me to take it anyway?  You have known I was coming up here today to pick it up for over a month and you did not bother to tell me it the parts were not here?  I think you had better come up with my deposit fast so I can get out of here before I really tell you what I think of the situation."

The store manager, F&I person and the salesman asked me to step into the owner's office to discuss the problem.  They explained that for some unknown reason they were not getting any cooperation from Buell on the parts they had ordered over a month ago.  They showed me the order and there was no indication there being any problem with out of stock or backorders.  The parts had just not arrived and no one knew why.  They called the SPOCK (?) line and after explaining the situation to the person in Milwaukee, it was agreed that the order was to be expedited with an arrival in Missoula ten days later.  The prospect of another round trip to Boulder was improving my disposition.  They finally agreed to knock an addition $1000 off the price, and I agreed to come back up in two weeks - if and only if the bike was complete and as ordered.

The Second Delivery - at last I am a Buell owner, and the love/hate relationship begins . . .

It was the last week in June, 1998.  I had returned to Missoula, and my return coincided with the 1998 BMW National Rally - and I had purchased tickets month before while still a BMW owner.  I went into the dealership and everyone seemed to know me.  There was no foot-dragging or stalling.  My first priority was to see the bike.  It was fully prepped and waiting for me in the service department.  Once I had given it a quick inspection, I was walked  into the F&I office.  All the paperwork was ready and correct.  I signed the papers, was handed a t-shirt and hat, and was escorted back to the service department for a new buyer introduction to Buellistics.  There was an explanation of the controls, switches, break-in and the critical bits and pieces were identified and located.  One curiosity, the tech spent an inordinate amount of time explaining how to carefully close the hard bag lids.  Another prophetic moment.  

I left the dealership an hour after my arrival.  I quick trip to the Montana Dept. of Motor Vehicles and the bike was plated and ready for the road.  The break-miles went without incident, and I was the only Buell rider at the BMW rally.  I did not even get to the 500 mile service before the mechanical challenges began with my first bag latch failure - the first of six and the beginning of what I call "chasing the Buell mechanically."

My Mechanical Anomalies

The best way I can find to preface my comments on Buell build quality, design flaws and mechanical deficiencies is to provide a log of the things that went wrong with my S3T

400 Miles

  - Failed hard bag latch (1 of 6)
- Failed kickstand (owner error)
- Failed kickstand switch
- drive belt eats inner fender (delivering dealer forgot to set preload)

900 Miles

- bag latch failure (2 of 6)
-right hand lower fairing cracked (1 of 4)

 

1500 Miles

- bag latch failure (3 of 6) bags modified at my expense to allow me to open them from the bottom when latches fail

 

2200 Miles

- bag latch failure (4 of 6)

 

4000 Miles

- Front shock bracket bolt shears off

 

 

 

12000 Miles

- Rear cylinder exhaust header breaks at port
- Right hand lower (2 of 4)
- fuel tank develops bubbles under decals, replaced by Buell under Goodwill warranty

-Replace wheel cheap failed HD wheel bearing with Timkins

14000 Miles

- Showa recall shock fails
- front brake light switch fails
- oil tank drain line found to be rubbing on swing arm
- clutch cable replaced
- Right hand lower (3 of 6)

18000 Miles

-Failed fork seal
-failed neutral switch

 

24000 Miles

-Broken hard bag latch #5
-Inner hardbag cracked in 2 places but still serviceable
-Leaking fork seal
-discovered last replacement right hand lower fairing is not for the '98 S3T, suspect a FI model was sent by Buell mistakenly.
-Right rear isolator failed after being replaced in last years recall. 12k miles on isolator at failure.
-Hard bag latch failure (6 of 6)

25000 Miles

  - Bubbled paint on tank. This is not the old style bubbling under the decals but is a paint flaw on the tank that replaced the decal bubbling tank.
- stator failure

- clutch cable failure #2

 

30000 Miles

-Speedo drive failure
-Speedo cable failure
-Starter Motor gasket leak

36000 Miles

  -Front brake rotor warped
-Primary Case leak through stator wire plug

37000 Miles

-Front Isolator bracket bolt fails.  Engine drops and head breaks.  This is the final design flaw for me.

37500 Miles

Bike sold as parts.