Custom Buell X-1 Motorcycle: The Daytona Special

If Buell built a cruiser, this custom is what it might look like. From the June 2005 issue of _ Motorcycle Cruiser _ magazine. By Mark Zimmerman.

Not too long ago, Steve Carr, owner of a Tampa, Florida-based business-information company, thought it might be nice to have some sort of streetfighter/power cruiser parked in his garage between his Harley-Davidson Road King and the 1972 Honda Mini Trail, modified with a 110cc engine, that had been keeping him company since it introduced him to the mnay pleasures of motorcycles at the tender age of 9.

Carr—who says his ability to work with his hands comes from his mom, while his dad provided him with the gift of common sense—had a very clear idea of what he wanted to build. It had to be light, good-looking and based on an American V-twin. It also had to be as hot as a two dollar pistol. As a side note, Carr wanted the bike to look like something the factory could have done if only it'd had the will to do it. That being the case, one of his priorities was to start with a donor bike that came stock with lots of high-end components. That way he could simply incorporate them into his project, maintaining a factory look.

Initially, he considered something based on a Harley-Davidson Sportster. But Sportsters making the kind of tire-shredding horsepower Steve Carr wanted are expensive to build. Moreover, outside of the engine and a few minor items, there weren't many standard XL parts that would have worked well on the type of custom motorcycle Carr had in mind. Besides, lots of guys have Harley Sportsters, and unique was another of Mr. Carr's priorities for his project.

While it may seem heretical to use a top-of-the-line sportbike as a starting point for a custom, Carr realized that a Buell-based bike would be just the ticket. They make plenty of horsepower. They come out of the box with lots of custom-friendly items, such as inverted forks, awesome brakes and good-looking wheels. And last but most certainly not least, clean used ones can be purchased for a relative pittance, at least compared to some H-D products.

A well-maintained 1999 Buell X-1 Lightning with barely 3000 miles on the clock fit the bill perfectly and was priced right. Within a few days the former sportbike lay in pieces on the garage floor. What looked useful went in one pile, while everything else went in another. The engine, which after all was the centerpiece of the project, obviously made the cut, as did the complete front fork, the brakes and the wheels. A new frame was the first order of business. Stock Buell frames garner high points for rigidity and light weight. The new frame, built by Motorcycle Works of Olathe, Kansas, is also light and rigid, though in this case rigid means just that. There is no rear suspension other than what's provided by the tire and the rider's backbone. Mr. Carr reports that the hardtail frame, which uses a 35-degree rake and a 61-inch wheelbase, handles just fine, thank you, and is comfortable enough for short trips, particularly as he does most of his riding on the Sunshine State's glass-smooth roads. He readily admits it might not be the hot tip if you live somewhere with a less-attentive state DOT.

Since the stock forks worked admirably and looked trick, well enough was left alone. The triple clamps were polished till they shone like a baby's butt. Then the OEM front end, complete with a front wheel and brake, was installed just as it had come from the factory.

The rear wheel was a different story. The stock 17-inch hoop just didn't cut it, so off it went to Kosman Specialties. Kosman machined the old rim off the stock hub and replaced it with an 18-incher to accommodate a meaty 280/35-R18 Metzeler ME880, which both contains the X-1 engine's 100-plus horsepower and provides a slight bit of rear suspension. Kosman also supplied spacers for the rear sprocket and brake rotor so they'd clear the tire.

Like the front, the rear caliper and rotor were pirated from the donor bike, though a late-model Sportster rear master cylinder provides pressure. The master cylinder mounts to a tidy cover machined from billet by Carr's buddies at Motorcycle Works. The cover also contains an outboard countershaft support bearing, which prevents the relocated countershaft sprocket, a move dictated by the tire's width, from putting undue strain on the countershaft bearing and transmission. And as observant Buell aficionados have surely noticed, the stock belt has been replaced by a chain final drive.

Modifications to the Lightning mill have been kept to a minimum. Clean air is inhaled through a 42mm Mikuni flat-slide carburetor and Force Side Winder air inlet with a K&N; filter. The dirty stuff exits through a Pipe Dreamz Wet Dreamz exhaust system. The action in between is controlled by a Dyna 2Ki programmable ignition unit. Since a lot of fat (if you consider things like rear suspension fat) has been trimmed from the stock Lightning's 441-pound curb weight, the power-to-rate ratio is greatly improved, making performance sprightly, to say the least.

In keeping with the streetfighter theme, the bodywork was kept simple. The custom oil tank and seat pan were also done by Motorcycle Works. The rear fender and fuel tank are sheetmetal wizard Russ Wernimont's creations. The front fender and fairing are factory Buell items, as are the hand controls and switches. As mentioned, these were used because they look just fine and because they're in keeping with Carr's plan to make the bike appear like something right out of the Buell showroom. The forward foot controls are standard H-D replacement items sourced through the Custom Chrome catalog.

While armchair customizers may carp over the use of stock components, I applaud Carr for incorporating them into his design. They give the bike a sanitary finished look, and no one can argue that they aren't functional. A flame-cut shift linkage may look trick, but let's face it, it doesn't work any better than a nicely polished piece of tubing, and very often such a piece tends to give the finished bike a contrived or cartoonish look.

No custom would be complete without a trick paint job, and if the White Pearl base and red stripe look vaguely familiar to some of you, it may be because it replicates one of Carr's favorite bikes from his youth, the 1979 Yamaha RD400 Daytona Special (which in turn was based upon Yamaha's international racebike colors). Sharp eyes may have been clued in by the one-off Daytona Special decals on the oil tank. The House of Kolor White Pearl was laid down by local brush man Eric Warren, and the red was just something he "happened to have laying around." Lastly, Auto Upholstery Unlimited, a local Tampa, Florida shop, upholstered the Buell's bucket seat, needed to hold the pilot in the cockpit during catapult launches. The saddle's upholstery features an ostrich-skin inlay.

Although the Daytona Special had only been on the street for a few weeks when this piece was written, Carr reports it has exceeded his expectations, even if he does admit to scaring himself the first few times he really wicked up the throttle.

I'm a great believer in form following function. One of my pet peeves over the years has been that many customs sacrifice practicality for shock or artistic value. Carr's Buell custom takes the conflicting tack. It's a simple, graceful bike with no pretense.

It also has me wondering. Should Buell, whose showroom performance has been less than stellar, consider building something like this on its own? The answer is a qualified yes. If you replaced the rigid frame with a hidden shock design, mounted some mufflers and an airbox and bolted on a few street-legal amenities, you wouldn't be far from a commercially viable product. In fact, back in the 1960s, Harley did just that. It looked at a bunch of choppers and then built the Super Glide. I'm thinking a Buell power cruiser might be just the ticket to snap the company out of its sales-floor doldrums. Especially if it looks as good as this one.


Motorcycle Works
(913) 768-6888
Frame, seat pan, oil tank

Eric Warren Designs
(813) 503-4764

Kosman Specialties
(707) 837-0127
Rear-wheel modification

Pipe Dreamz
(714) 920-1588
Exhaust system

Russ Wernimont Products
Available through Drag Specialties

For more articles on custom bikes and articles about how to customize and modify your motorcycle, see the Custom section of

Photography by Mark Langello
We don't need no stinkin' speedometers.
Mikuni and K&N; let it breathe deeply.
The rear hub sports a wide 18-inch rim for the big-ass look.
Front end is all standard Buell, except for the fender.
The cover mounts the rear-brake master cylinder and supports the countershaft.