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Sturgis 2001

Building a Buell for the Badlands Blast

by Bandit, Photos by Markus Cuff

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Buells are the Harley-Davidson street fighter. They are inexpensive, sharp-handling machines that give the American rider something to shout about, something to fuck with and something to race.

This bike won't compete with the 200 mph Japanese sport bikes, but it will handle like one, and brake like one. So we got hold of one and evaluated it for the Sturgis 2001 run. Since I come from a custom bike or chopper background, I wasn't sure the Cyclone would do the job for me. If you ask a guy who rides a custom bike what style of bike he enjoys and why, the answer might be strange. I want something distinctive and bad. I want it fast and cool. I need it to handle, but be a chopper. Perhaps an oxymoron of conditions, yet there's a mixture of factors that go into any ride and machine. Last year I rode a stretched rigid with a 14-over front end. What a machine. For a rigid, it rode like a dream. For a 14-over front end, it handled well and I passed everyone I dared to pass, generally because I had the ground clearance to shove it close to the pavement and the raked triple trees allowed me to turn the front end where I needed to go.

Each year the trek to the Badlands takes on a different demeanor, and this will be no different. After a week, I discovered a serious sense of enjoyment about straddling the M-2 Cyclone. It's light, fast, a nimble handler that stops on a dime. I needed to learn to ride it like a race bike with my toes on the soft rubber pegs to enhance turning radius and ground clearance. There is also a notion that in the sportbike position, you're forcing too much weight on your wrists. I discovered quickly that if I put my ass down, the weight on my wrists was not a problem. The force is substantial, however, when braking with a passenger on board. Ultimately, after riding two Buells, I decided that this motorcycle deserved a shot at a Sturgis trek. It had class, felt sporty, even nasty, and I could make it rumble. So I stood back and thought, "Can I make it even cooler?" It didn't take long to discover that I could strip it down even further than stock. I picked the Cyclone over the model with hard bags because of its bare bones feel. The crew here at developed a five-pronged approach. One, we wanted to enhance the Harley-Davidson marriage with Buell and downplay the little-known name Buell for the time being. We also wanted to enhance the Sportster motor and bring out the looks of the Harley-Davidson power plant, and chop it in a Buell way without altering the geometry of the frame, the front end length or lowering it, which is a tradition with our custom bikes. There's more. We wanted the bike to sound more like a Harley and we wanted to enhance the performance without disturbing the long-range reliability.

Our team included myself, Professor NuttBoy, consulting from Paul Davis of Charlotte, Gene Tomasen Jr. from the Harley-Davidson fleet center, and a number of Bikernet readers who knew about and were testing Buells. This is the first of several techs on the modifications and the experiences we have with the M-2. We collected and ordered parts, then ran to the fleet center to get the job done. The initial plan was to unleash the natural performance of the bike without breaking down the engine. We started by removing the carburetor.


We replaced the needle in the slide with an '88 Sportster needle, and drilled out the carb body above the idle adjust plug.


That allowed us to knock out the plug and back out the idle adjuster 2.5 turns.


Stock carburetors are adjusted from the factory to a very lean condition. Usually they are so lean that warm up takes a long time and you get an occasional cough through the carb.

Others have recommended drilling directly through the plug, but Gene warned that if you slip, you will drill into the adjuster screw and possibly damage it. Gene also recommended head work ultimately coupled with a 44 mm CV carb, manifold and roller rockers in the future. I had a Screamin' Eagle air box for a Big Twin, which I modified for the carb with an open K&N filter. We also dropped the float bowel and replaced the 42 pilot jet with a 48. Be careful not to strip the screws holding the float bowel in place. Treat them with respect or they'll cause you nightmares.

We set the carburetor aside and began to remove the timing cover to replace the cams. It's important to take a scribe to the timing plate so that you can duplicate the timing once you have replaced the cams. Then pull the plate and the rotor cup, which is screwed into the No. 2 cam. Before you go any further, remove the rocker boxes and the rocker arms to unload the tension on the non-adjustable pushrods. Now you can remove the cam cover, but don't forget to drain the oil first.

At this point we decided to add a racy feature to the appearance of the bike by shaving the cam cover plate. First remove the oil line. Unplug the timing plate wire, dismantle the connector and pull it through the plate.


Gene used a Sawzall and a grinder to remove the aluminum underneath the bolt holes.


You will note that there is a series of seemingly endless webbing in this area which is for noise reduction.


Notice that in the lower left hand corner, there is a dowel pin. Gene chose to leave it in place as a wiring guide and carve the cover around it.


The pushrods are color coded: pink or red for exhaust and brown for intake. The cams are numbered like you read from left to right, or back to front, 1 to 4. Make sure you pull the plugs for ease in turning the motor over. Install No. 4 first with red line assembly lube; No. 3 has two index marks. Slip No. 1 in next and No. 2 last. It has three index marks to line up the cam with the piston position and the other cams with an index mark that aligns with a slot on the pinion gear.


This is where we noticed that the pitch on the Screamin' Eagle race cams was different than the new pinion shaft gears. An emergency run to Bartels H-D was in order for part No. 24055-91, or No. 24061-91. The factory changed to a new pitch in '99. When replacing the cam cover, keep in mind that there are four different length Allens holding it in place. Make sure you have the right length in the right hole. The torque setting for the cam cover Allens is 17 foot pounds. After the cover went back on, it was time to reinstall the rotor cap and the timing plate.


These modifications will help it run better. Buells usually run hot from the factory because of hotter cams and Thunderstrom Heads. At this point we re-ran the wiring to the regulator behind the oil pump for a cleaner appearance. We only had to extend one wire, to the oil pressure switch. Gene Jr. handled it with solder and shrink tubing. Removal of the gas tanks is a breeze and access to the heads and top end is easy. But if you need to remove the engine, the fact that it is an integral part of the frame and suspension creates unruly problems. The entire chassis must be supported.

At this point we replaced the pushrods from the top of the engine and replaced the stock rockerbox covers with chrome units. Don't use anything on the self-sealing gaskets except a dab of grease here and there to hold them in place.


With the engine assembled, we replaced the stock exhaust with a Buell race header kit and module. While Gene Jr. was out of town, I spoke to the Buell tech of the demo fleet, Alan Varsi, who has worked at Bartels Harley-Davidson for more than 11 years. The Buell race module retards the timing 5 degrees and eliminates the rev limiter. The stainless steel header is 11 inches longer than stock, which makes each exhaust runner equal in length. The muffler is an aluminum canister type that is high flow with low resistance for additional performance at the high end.


That's it. Laughlin is right around the corner, along with our first long ride on the Harley-Davidson Street Fighter. We're looking forward to every desolate mile. We'll report upon our return. A new paint job is in the wings, along with some cosmetic mods to brighten the look of this bad-ass bike.

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