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Buell S3T

Thunderbolt S3TThe American Answer to Sport Touring

Sport Touring. The term is disputable as to what it's true meaning is. But there's no doubt a sport touring bike is decidedly different from that of a luxury touring machine. Luxury tourers over the years  have included machines like the Honda Gold Wing, Harley-Davidson's Road Glide and Road Kings, and most recently BMW's entrance into the foray with it's K1200LT.

But such bikes weigh in at over 600 lbs. and don't quit hit the mark when it comes to cornering.

Sport bikes on the other hand can be a lot of fun to ride, but a full 12 hour day might find you with one arm asleep and another one not far behind. The answer then is the sport tourer - a sportbike setup for long range riding. This might be as extravagant as a Kawasaki Concours or Honda ST model, or as simple as a Ducati Monster with bags on the side. 

So while the Italians, Germans and Japanese have been perfecting this kind of bike for many years, America's own motorcycle company, not Harley-Davidson, but Buell entered the arena more recently and the results are impressive.

The Buell Thunderbolt S3T is the companies first entry into sport touring and they have undeniably learned much from their competitors and summed up the best ideas into one machine. But before we get into the aesthetics, let's look at the motor that leans heavily on it's own tradition which was bred from the H-D line.

Take a 1200cc H-D motor concept, flow the heads, lighten it up and spice it with some serious performance and you've got the Thunderbolt motor. A lightweight V-twin motor that is the epitome of Erik Buell and his company's development over the years.

Gearing on this gem is such that you'll wind it up to around 4,000 rpm before you shift into 2 nd, which appears at around 40 mph. From there you're working it through the gears as you build up to highway speed, but have patience my friend, this machine isn't looking for fifth gear even at 60 mph. At this point however you can drop it into 5 th and ride it at 3,000 rpm all day racking up fuel economy of about 65 mph, unheard of from a 1200 v-twin!

During our test run we found the machine actually prefers highway cornering in forth gear giving you much more flexibility over your handling and some compression in the turn if you need it, but as soon as the straight shows up it's back to 5 th for more fuel efficiency.

The bike is fuel injected which adds a little pop when passing, no noticeable differentiation between the 1,000 and 9,000 elevations we took the bike through and no need for a choke. Sheer simplicity and stability.

And what have our American brothers learned from those around the rest of the world about sport touring? Everything. For a first time out of the gate sport tourer this bike has everything one could want. 

The side storage compartments open easily and reveal soft inner luggage that can easily be removed once you arrive at your destination for the evening, instead of piece mealing items out one by one at the end of the day. 

There's plenty of room across the back of the seat to strap on tail packs, or in our case an oversized tank bag worked great on the back. Plenty of places for hooking up bungies, and a 6 day tour of the southwest was no problem with room to spare using the tank bag, storage compartment combination.

And speaking of the seat, Buell provides a leather covered seat that will fit the average John Doe. If you're serious about long range riding on a regular basis however, you may want to look into getting a custom seat done that fits you to a tee.

As with most sport touring machines, the handle bars are a few inches higher on the Buell S3T than it's S3 Thunderbolt sportbike brother. Blinkers, horn and light switches are in the standard positions and there's even a flasher switch for signaling to drivers in front of you when setting up for a pass. A nice added touch.

Instruments are bare bones basic adding to more of the simplicity of the machine. You'll find a speedometer, tach, clock and a few lights. Nothing digital here, it's all needles and hands. The instruments are overshadowed by a medium sized windscreen that must have been contoured for a very short upper body. Those who are over 5' 8" with long upper regions may want to look for an alternative.

All in all the Buell S3T is seriously worth looking into. Weight, performance, price and efficiency are all well worth weighing into the mix the next time you're looking for a new sport touring machine.

TM/Summer 01

Special Thanks to Eastside Harley-Davidson/Buell for providing the test bike which we rode over 1,200 miles during our research.


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