Home » I Bought A $1,000 Crashed Version Of Buell’s Worst Motorcycle With 23-Year-Old Tires As My Winter Beater

I Bought A $1,000 Crashed Version Of Buell’s Worst Motorcycle With 23-Year-Old Tires As My Winter Beater

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Winter is coming, which means most motorcyclists in the Midwest will soon put away their toys and wait until the leaves turn green once again. I am stubborn and don’t stop riding once the temperatures get frigid. But, it hit me that I don’t have a motorcycle I’m willing to ride in the snow and road salt. So, I did the logical thing and bought a beater, a bike that’s been abused and crashed. I just spent $1,000 on a 2001 Buell Blast, a motorcycle with just 1,500 miles, but crash damage and tires almost old enough to rent a car.

This summer I’ve returned to building a collection of fun and quirky motorcycles. My stable includes a Buell Lightning XB9SX City X, a Triumph Rocket III, a BMW R60/7, a Royal Enfield Classic 350, and my unfinished project Yamaha U7E. I came to the realization that I didn’t want to ride any of these bikes in the winter. Winter is harsh on a motorcycle and I would feel terrible taking any of the above bikes out into road salt and snow. My previous solution to this problem was a 1999 Triumph Tiger adventure bike. It was just crappy and broken enough that I didn’t care. It got me through two Illinois winters before I sold it earlier this year.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

So, I needed another winter beater. I set a low budget of $1,000. Just a few years ago, a grand would get you a mechanically sound Universal Japanese Motorcycle from the 1980s with a worn-out paint job. A grand would get you a nearly pristine vintage Honda Gold Wing or a well-used beginner bike. Times have changed and the vast majority of $1,000 bikes I’ve found in Illinois don’t even run or are missing major parts. Weirdly, I did find a lot of cool and sometimes obscure $1,000 bikes in Detroit, but I’m not willing to drive a 12-hour round trip for a $1,000 motorcycle.

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That’s when I remembered one motorcycle that’s always cheap no matter what: A Buell Blast, Harley’s expensive beginner bike experiment. Toss in some questionable reliability and speed so slow that some call it the Buell “B-Last” and you have the perfect recipe for a cheap beater. Bingo, I found one in Chicago for just $1,000. As luck would have it, I needed to go to Chicago for an unrelated thing, anyway, so this was perfect.

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The Buell Blast

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To understand why this motorcycle was just $1,000, we should take a look at why the motorcycle was arguably a failure in the first place. Let’s flip our calendars back to the 1990s. Harley-Davidson was riding on a wave of success thanks to major changes in the 1980s. The company launched the revolutionary Evolution engine, it broke up with American Machine and Foundry, and it even convinced the federal government to kneecap high-displacement Japanese imports with tariffs. Harley-Davidson was America’s darling and the 1990s were such a roaring period that at one point, Harley-Davidson controlled 56 percent of America’s large motorcycle market.

At any rate, Harley-Davidson was interested in keeping the cash flowing in. Harley-Davidson CEO Jeff Bleustein came up with a plan for this. The Motor Company would teach people how to ride a motorcycle at its Rider’s Edge riding school, then get those fresh riders on a Harley. Those new riders would then be expected to remain in the Harley-Davidson ecosystem for the entirety of their riding careers. Of course, in order to execute this plan, Harley needed motorcycles for beginners. As Cycle World reported, Bleustein envisioned an entire lineup of baby Harleys for beginners. Ultimately, Bleustein discovered that Harley-Davidson, a company known for its large cruisers, was unable to give him a fleet of tiny, inexpensive motorcycles. However, Harley-Davidson did own a company that could give him what he wanted.

Harley-Davidson tapped its Buell Motorcycle Company subsidiary for the job. Opened in 1983 by racer and engineer Erik Buell, Buell Motorcycle was known for its hardcore sportbikes that used Harley engines. Erik and his talented team hadn’t built a beginner bike, but they were up to the challenge.

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Erik teamed up with Harley powertrain engineer Gary Stippich to create a 500cc Blast prototype. The crude machine used a Sportster’s engine with a cylinder lobbed off and a shortened frame of a Buell Lightning. It was decided that using half of an Evolution engine was going to be the path forward. The Evolution had already proven itself to be a reliable engine and modifying an existing engine would cut down on development costs.

Buell’s team wouldn’t just build any beginner bike, either, but the ultimate beginner bike. Harley-Davidson knew its core riders were getting older and thus it needed to breathe some fresh life into the brand. The Bar and Shield would attract new and young riders away from other brands by making a motorcycle that was easier to live with than the competition. Inexperienced riders often drop and crash their bikes, which would normally mangle and break the plastics of typical motorcycles. And if the panel survived, they had to deal with dents or missing paint.

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Buell’s solution for this was Surlyn, a plastic material created by DuPont for use as golf balls and used by Chrysler for the bumpers of the Neon. Surlyn is not just extremely flexible and resistant to breaking, but it’s also molded in color, which hides damage really well. This basic concept would see other automotive use in cars like the Smart Fortwo. You could key a Buell Blast and the plastic underneath the surface is the same color as what you dragged the key through.

Of course, a motorcycle that’s resistant to breaking is only part of the puzzle. Beginners typically don’t know a ton about maintenance, so it’s best for the motorcycle itself to require little attention. A Gates belt runs the final drive, meaning no chains to lubricate. The engine used self-adjusting hydraulic valve lifters, so riders would never need to do valve adjustments. Likewise, the Blast would eventually get an automatic choke, which means no figuring out how to keep a cold engine running. Instead, the engine figures itself out. Automatic chokes are common today, especially in scooters, but over 20 years ago they were a bit more novel. Further, Buell even took away the guesswork of suspension adjustments. The 37mm Showa fork and a Showa compression shock out back cannot be adjusted.

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The motorcycle still had Buell quirks, too, such as floating brakes, fluids stored in the frame, and a final drive pulley bolted right into the rear wheel. Since the Blast was a cheaper bike, Buell figured out a way to cut the cost of his quirks. Much of the motorcycle was designed so that one part could perform duties normally done by multiple parts. For example, the motorcycle stores its oil in its frame. Other Buell motorcycles store their fuel in their frame and oil in their swingarm.

At launch in 2000, the Buell Blast was $4,395, over $1,000 cheaper than a base Sportster. That Sportster-sliced-in-half engine has a 492cc displacement and makes 34 horsepower. It’s connected to a transmission using the gears from the sporty Buell X1 Lightning. The case of the engine was designed using finite-element analysis, a computerized process that predicts how something can react to the stresses of the environment it’ll be operating. That’s a process used in all modern vehicles.

Buell

Sadly, slicing an Evolution engine in half did not save any money. As Cycle World reported, the engine came 80 percent over budget and ended up being hundreds more expensive than better engines from Rotax. Making matters worse was the fact that the 34 HP engine and its 30 lb-ft torque had a lot of grunt down low, but 250cc motorcycles easily outran it on the top end. A Kawasaki Ninja 250 had half of the displacement, but two more horsepower and had no issues hitting the ton. In my experience, Blasts struggle to exceed 95 mph.

It would appear that Erik himself felt the Blast didn’t really fit in with his company. In 2009, Buell ran an ad campaign showing the company removing the Blast from its lineup by sending one into a crusher. Some of the final Blasts were then crushed and sold as memorabilia. Erik wrote this on Buell’s website:

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“The Buell Blast was a cute little motorcycle. It just never made much of a sportbike. But, as luck would have it, it makes a killer ottoman. Or end table. Or art piece. Through an innovative process known as crushing, we’ve turned a limited number of Blasts into colorful metal cubes, each numbered and signed by Erik Buell himself. Hey, there’s no denying the Blast’s aforementioned cuteness. But there’s nothing cute about racing or riding a sportbike the way it was meant to be ridden.”

My Blast

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The Blast cost Harley-Davidson a ton of money and even today, riders mock the machine for how slow it is. So then, you’re probably wondering why I just bought one. In fact, this would be my second Buell Blast. More than five years ago, I bought a Blast as my very first motorcycle.

I’ve owned over 20 motorcycles since 2018, and many of them did not leave a lasting impression. I have fond memories of bombing a 1980 Honda Gold Wing down an interstate, but almost never think about the 1970s Yamaha DT175 that followed me home one day.

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The Blast is one of those motorcycles I sometimes think about. I loved how my old Blast sounded like the demon spawn of a Sportster and a dirt bike. I loved how you could redline every gear and still be under the speed limit. It still had those excellent Buell traits like leaning into a turn with just the mere thought of going around a corner. Going 70 mph on a Blast felt like going 120 mph on anything else. And I loved how it was a tiny bike that got a lot of attention. Having half of an Evolution engine ended up being more of a talking point than I expected. It was slow, it broke in hilarious ways, and it ate its rear tire like a Chicagoan scarfs down a hot dog, but it was fun and it had character.

So, when I saw one for $1,000, I decided to get another Blast back into my life. It’s actually sort of amazing how cheap Blasts have remained. I paid $1,200 for my first Blast back in 2018. It had 19,000 miles, bald tires, a vapor lock problem, and shook so much it literally sheared its own exhaust off. Oh, and a month into ownership it deleted its second gear.

This bike is $200 cheaper and in way better condition.

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The seller of this 2001 Buell Blast told me it had just 1,500 miles and those miles are original. I found that hard to believe. The Surlyn was bashed and beaten, obvious signs of the motorcycle having been dropped a bunch of times. A turn signal was snapped off, another turn signal didn’t work, and one of the pegs got bent. The seller told me someone had come by earlier that day and dropped it during a test ride. That person also broke one of the mirrors, which were already aftermarket replacements. It was obvious to me that this motorcycle had been dropped so many times.

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Yet, despite the damage, it’s not going to take much to make this bike pretty again. I’ll replace the turn signals with LED units, give it new mirrors, and replace the bent peg. Then I’ll polish the plastic to hide some of the drop damage. Still, this didn’t seem like 1,500 miles to me, but maybe 10,500 miles of beginners dropping it over and over.

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Still, it ran, it rode, and it had a clean title, so I gave the seller $1,000 and rode away happy. At first, I was just going to tow the bike home on a trailer, but I had to give it a ride around Chicago.

They Had No Idea What They Were Doing

Taking the Blast for a test ride was rather chaotic. The engine seemed like it was “idling” at halfway through its RPM range. I figured I would fix the issue when I got home, but I made it maybe a mile before I got fed up. Besides, idling that high was going to just cook this air-cooled engine in Chicago traffic.

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I pulled into a gas station and examined the carburetor. Sure enough, someone fully tightened the idle screw (which controls where the throttle closes). I haven’t seen such a thing before. Did one of the previous owners think this was a screw that was supposed to be tight? Was a previous owner such a bad rider that the only way they wouldn’t stall it was by having the engine essentially running away? I backed off the screw quite a few turns, which turned the idle down to something normal. The bike has a fine idle and a clean carb, so it couldn’t have been covering up an issue.

The next problem I found was with the motorcycle’s oil. The seller told me that I’d probably have to change the bike’s oil due to age, but it’s way weirder than that. Someone filled the oil tank up to the very top. It was way past full on the dipstick. Did someone think you fill up oil like you fill up gas? I ended up having to remove a bunch of oil from the system, which made the motorcycle run even better.

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Somehow, I’m still not done yet. One of the previous owners installed a nice LED headlight. This light is bright, has great coverage, and has a stylish DRL, but it points at the ground. An examination showed that not only was this light poorly installed, but nobody bothered to tighten the hex bolts on the bucket. So, the vibrating engine immediately shot the bucket down to the ground.

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Through all of this, I figured this motorcycle couldn’t have 1,500 miles. Clearly, the speedometer had to have been replaced at some point. Then, I spotted clear evidence that the seller was probably telling the truth. The front and rear tires were in terrible condition with cracking all over. Yet, they still had tons of tread and even little nubs on them. The date codes? Both tires were made in the final weeks of 2000. The motorcycle was finished in May 2001. Yep, this thing is riding on 23-year-old tires! Nobody in the past 22 years said “these tires are cracking something terrible, I should replace them.” So, I will.

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The seat is also maddeningly uncomfortable. My last Blast had this problem, so I’m not sure what I expected. But there are remedies for that.

Is It A Rescue?

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Even after replacing those tires and sprucing up the broken parts, I think this bike will serve me well. Thankfully, riding this Blast reminded me of my old one, in a good way. These are great little going-to-town rigs and I’ll have a ball sending it down country roads.

As far as modifications go, I plan on doing some minor changes like I did with the Triumph Rocket III. I want to find a more comfortable seat, or at the very least a comfortable pad to put on top of the seat. I also want to drop the pegs about an inch or so. I might even add some soft cases and a windscreen. I’m not entirely sure just yet.

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My wife, Sheryl, has a knack for saving abused animals. A couple of years ago, we adopted a senior chihuahua that was left abandoned in a house for months. His health declined severely during that abandonment and nobody wanted to adopt him. The no-kill shelter was going to put him down. We couldn’t let that happen and gave him a year of fun adventures before his health really made a hard dive. We also rescued a budgie from another abandonment situation and a conure from an irresponsible pet store chain. Seriously, the pet store had the poor guy living in a box all by himself with a broken foot and broken wings.

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When I brought home the bike, Sheryl told me I rescued it from a series of owners who didn’t appreciate it. I’m not sure about that, but I will give this bike the rides it has deserved for more than two decades.

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CSRoad
CSRoad
4 months ago

In my younger years I rode sometimes in the winter in probably not much different conditions. It is fun except when it isn’t. Get some “adventure tires” for it so you have some hope. Raise that front fender an inch or two. Get some parking lot practice, get used to picking it up. Steering, braking and power application are all different when the world is frozen. Too bad you got rid of that Yamaha 175 that would be great, but you have a Blast, you be you, have fun and for christsake take care.

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
4 months ago

I always wanted one of these.

And I have no idea why. But I really liked the idea of it.

Scott Ross
Scott Ross
4 months ago

This brings me back. My younger brother got the Buell blast. It was an experience just buying one. At this time they were still being produced and some still had liens. So there were a ton of scumbag underwater sellers. He found one from a nice older couple for a decent price.

Then he learned about the Harley Dealership BS. The Blast was pretty new, only a few years old. We HAD a Harley Dealer in town. By Brother took it for an oil change. Dealer said pound sand you did not buy the bike from them. He ended up doing the maintenance himself. The Harley Dealer they closed up within a year or two.

He eventually sold it or traded it in and got an R6. For him it was a great first bike.

Last edited 4 months ago by Scott Ross
Paul E
Paul E
4 months ago

Always wanted to try one of these, as I’ve always admired Erik’s creations. However, pricing on Blasts in my neck of the weeds has always been silly.

Now, you know what can be found cheaply, with ABS and fuel injection? BMW K bikes and Oilheads. My light project K100RS (16V) came home for under $500, luggage and all. Not a starter bike by any stretch of the imagination, but a K75 could fit the bill… and having had a bike with ABS before, there’s no way I’ll do without it.

Razzmatazz
Razzmatazz
4 months ago

I just started riding a couple months ago and an ’05 Blast with 800 miles on the clock is my first ride (it’s what I wanted back in college, if you can believe that). Not having ridden anything other than 49 cc scooters and the permit class bike, it has in fact been a blast for me! But I was constantly stalling it the first time I took it for a ride, then I found out there’s a (very late) service bulletin that adds a spring to the clutch pack and makes it behave way more like a normal bike’s clutch. Supposedly that helps with the rear tire wear, too, but I have a few thousand more miles to go before I figure that out. Anyway, from a current newbie with a Blast to a former newbie with a Blast with a Blast, I look forward to seeing how your Blast is doing! 🙂

Rob
Rob
4 months ago

The Blast made a perfectly fine starter bike.

My first bike was a 93 Kawasaki EX500 (the precursor to the Ninja 500) – it wasn’t fast, but it was great to learn on. It was 11 years old when I got it, and it had the original tires on it. I replaced the tires and had it tuned and the carbs cleaned and synced, and loved it.

The 2006 Honda VFR800A I replaced it with was a much different beast.

Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
4 months ago

I wanted one of these when I first started riding – seemed like a weird interesting bike. Ended up getting into dual sports instead. Everyone online seemed to absolutely hate them.

I later had a Katana 750 (the late 80’s reboot) – everyone talked about how garbage it was but it was a gem of a bike (a UJM in sportbike clothing) that I put many many wonderful miles on. I stopped listening to the internet. So maybe I’ll pick up a Blast someday.

Pedro
Pedro
4 months ago

I ride, I love riding, I’d never do this – the odds are already stacked. I’d see some fun in fixing it up for summer puttering if you really like it and generally spend a lot of time in the garage. But winter/early spring, I’d want ABS and traction control. I’d always want fuel injection, always. We’re reaching the point in the used market where this tech is readily available. Would it cost $1000? No. Will this cost $1000. No.

Anthony Larson
Anthony Larson
4 months ago

Something I really appreciate is that I can regularly spot a Mercedes article from the Google News headline. And I click every. single. time.

Thank you, actually my wife thanks you, for making questionable decisions and allowing me to live vicariously through your (mis)adventures. DT, same goes for you.
And Torch, my wife appreciates you less, because you typically have me talking about arcane automobile trivia usually involving headlights and trafficators.

Protodite
Protodite
4 months ago

I believe that “Winter Beater” typically means you let the winter beat up the car, not get yourself beat up by the winter! But for real, I applaud the effort! I’m seeking a new winter driver myself and willing to go a littler weird to get something more fun and cheap.

Iwannadrive637
Iwannadrive637
4 months ago

You bought a motorcycle for a winter beater? All my respect and admiration. I hope you and Wounded Warrior have fun.

Ricki
Ricki
4 months ago

I think I’ve seen this one make the rounds a few times on the local Marketplace/CL. Nice grab.

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
4 months ago

Mercedes has definitely taken DT’s “justify the purchase any way you can” to the next level. We thought we saw the peak when a person who owned a fleet of 4×4 Jeeps decided a RWD Dodge from the 60’s was the right move for winter in Detroit. Hold Mercedes’ beer.

A “winter motorcycle”. Owns a fleet of vehicles with roofs and windshields and heaters. Needs a winter motorcycle in a place where it actually gets cold and snows.

Always a fun read though. Tempts me to train for a motorcycle license and buy a cheap bike. Only one though. Maybe two to have a project like the Yamaha. And I’d park it when it gets cold.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
4 months ago

These things were gems at motorcycle safety courses. I remember when my brother took his MSC, they had a selection of Blasts, Sportster, and Ninjas. He wanted a Ninja, but he got there late and was sick with a Blast. He hated Harleys, being a Japanese sport bike fan, but had to admit that the Blast was fun in a “slow car fast” sort of way.

I also had a friend who had a Buell Lightning, and had a Blast as a loaner once while he bike was in for a warranty repair. I took that Blast for a spin and was surprised how little power it had for all the noise, but also how nimble it felt. The Lightning was absolutely the better bike, but I could see why the Blast was loved at MSCs.

With that said, my motorcycle days are behind me, but I don’t think even today I could bring myself to pick up a Blast over a Ninja 250.

CoastieLenn
CoastieLenn
4 months ago
Reply to  Squirrelmaster

I completely lucked out for my MSF course here. The fleet consisted of a couple new Rebel 300’s, a bunch of TW200’s (I love those), and one Kawi Z125 Pro. Guess which one they assigned me?? Hell yeah, the Z125. I felt like I cheated.

Scone Muncher
Scone Muncher
4 months ago
Reply to  Squirrelmaster

My beginner course was Blasts, Rebels, and CRFs with street tires. “You’re tall, have a dirt bike.”
The clutch on my CRF was basically an on/off switch, it’s amazing I even managed to pass.

Robn
Robn
4 months ago
Reply to  Squirrelmaster

I’m so old my MSF rising course donor bikes were a fleet of 1988-1990 Honda VTR250s. (And fwiw, I now very occasionally ride a 2014 Husqvarna TR650.)

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
4 months ago

I’m not a bike person but the styling/profile looks attractive to me. You can’t buy anything running decently for a grand these days so well done!

CoastieLenn
CoastieLenn
4 months ago

I absolutely love my 2008 XB12S. Yes, it usually has some annoying problem that crops up every other week, but something about the sound, the smells, the heat, the looks all work together. People see it and think “crotch rocket” but then they hear it and are confused as hell.

Mine is a bit modified with a EBR race ECM, a Drummer exhaust, a K&N filter and a bunch of appearance mods. With 18k miles, I’m sure something catastrophic is looming, but I’ll enjoy every minute that it runs well.

Library of Context
Library of Context
4 months ago

My strongest memory of a Buell Blast was a group ride that included a novice rider who had just bought the new Blast a few weeks previous. Typically, I rode sweeper with the group because I was slowest.

This new rider was fast enough to keep up with the group, but the Blast did force me to stop twice during the ride.

To pick up mirrors that had vibrated loose and fallen off.

JDE
JDE
4 months ago

I always kind of wanted to make a Harley version of the Suzuki Savage, I honestly feel like that was the missed opportunity back then, make a Virago 250 Alternative single cylinder thumper for true beginners, not a sporty looking slow mobile. Then use the V-Rod motor in a Buell style Ducati Clone with a porsche motor. Seemed like better fit for both motors, but what did I know I guess.

A. Barth
A. Barth
4 months ago

It’s been a minute, but didn’t your earlier Blast have a cherry bomb exhaust? 🙂

SYKO Simmons
SYKO Simmons
4 months ago

Indestructible bikes! Even though I’m a big litre bike guy….those things are decent scoots

Buzz
Buzz
4 months ago

My wife has a Buell Blast with a straight pipe exhaust and no muffler. It’ll turn your brain to Jello if you ride behind it in just the right spot, and it sounds like it is doing 100mph at 30. She loves it. It really is the perfect beginner bike.

JDE
JDE
4 months ago
Reply to  Buzz

I have to say the best beginner bikes I ever rode were usually the 400-650 vertical twins, standard riding position, both kick and electric start, Yamaha Honda and even near the end Kawasaki made versions. they were really all just Old triumph clones, but even today a t100 Triumph is just enough power to live with past the learning to ride phase.

CoastieLenn
CoastieLenn
4 months ago
Reply to  JDE

My beginner bike was an SV650. I liked it so much back then, I’m contemplating getting another one now!

Gubbin
Gubbin
4 months ago
Reply to  CoastieLenn

I feel like the SV650 is the Miata of bikes – durable, fun, forgiving enough to use as a learner but capable enough for most enthusiasts.

Arch Duke Maxyenko
Arch Duke Maxyenko
4 months ago

I wonder how it would sound with the Vance & Hines slip-on muffler

Gubbin
Gubbin
4 months ago

PUTT PUTT PUTT PUTT

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
4 months ago

You’re a nut riding in Midwest winters. However, I am interested in reading about your adventures while having a coffee in a warm house while snow falls softly outside.

JDE
JDE
4 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Metcalf

nuttier doing it on a carbureted bike that is automatically choked. Best pack a can of starting fluid everywhere she goes.

D-dub
D-dub
4 months ago

Thank you for reminding me that I need to order a new set of brush guards to support my HippoHands! The old ones are hanging on by a glop of Sugru and won’t survive another winter.

Last edited 4 months ago by D-dub
Jack Trade
Jack Trade
4 months ago

I can’t tell for sure, but it might have the low-profile seat (offered as an option for shorter riders). The regular seat, if you can find one, is a little more comfortable b/c more padding.

Isis
Isis
4 months ago

It likely never got broken in so it’s stuck and hardened in the out of the box shape. Usually a new bike takes a few thousand miles before the seat gets even remotely comfortable. Except on my Monkey. That thing was a couch from day 1.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
4 months ago
Reply to  Isis

A friend had a practically new Blast as a loaner twenty years ago, and I distinctly remember when I rode it the seat being wildly uncomfortable on my thighs. The bike had maybe 100 miles on it when I rode it, so I chalked it up to not being broken in because my friend’s Lightning’s seat was the same until a few thousand miles at which point it became super comfy.

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