Deadly Buell Blast is no more

The motorcycle associated with more rider training fatalities is no more. Buell is no longer going to produce the Buell Blast.  Check out this tongue-in-cheek video that officially announced what insiders had known for some time:

Prior to the Blast, the smallest motorcycle Buell had ever produced was the RW750 in 1983—and that only for racing and discontinued quickly.

In 1993, the Motor Company bought 49% of Buell, Harley-Davidson Motor Company had purchased Buell shortly after it had decided that the best way to attract younger riders and women riders was to offer a motorcycle training course. To do that, they needed both a curriculum and motorcycle small enough to use for training.

Rather than dilute the Harley Big Manly Bike image, in 1998 the Motor Company bought a further 49% interest in Buell. HD misunderstood and consequently mismanaged the brand over the years and failed to establish it as a serious contender for the rapidly growing sportbike and sport-tourer market. It’s interest in Buell was primarily in providing a conduit to attract  women and young men and funnel them to the motorcycles produced by the parent company.

And controlling Buell provided them a way to own a training motorcycle—it developed the Blast, with a 492cc. engine that came in at 360 lbs. dry. That was still too big for MSF’s rider training motorcycle criteria. However, in 1998, the Motor Company was not an MSF member.

While Harley had been one of the founding members of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) back in the early 70s, it was no longer shortly after it had finagled the the infamous tariff against imported motorcycles in 1983. Whether Harley was kicked out as some say or left of its own accord due to very bad blood, it was no longer a member of MSF (and is still not a member of the Motorcycle Industry Council).

And the Motor Company began negotiations with MSF about joining the trade group. Or rather, according to sources who were present at the meetings, Harley told MSF what it wanted—and MSF complied. The new rider training curriculum MSF was developing had to be more consumer-friendly—this translated to the “student-centered/adult-learning” basis of the Basic RiderCourse (BRC)—and the motorcycle criteria had to change to fit the Blast. Harley came in with the majority market share position—thus paying the most dues—and gained the chairmanship of the board of trustees. The criteria was changed so the Blast was acceptable and Harley began Rider’s Edge using a black-and-orange version of MSF’s curriculum.

Before the Blast began to be used in training, the most expert of rider educators and administrators informed both Harley and MSF that the bike is too heavy for students to handle easily, too tall for its heavier weight, has too “torque-y” and engine for it’s weight, an “on-off” clutch with no friction zone, and while the brakes are excellent, they are not forgiving. The bike doesn’t stall out because it has so much torque and when students pop the clutch and the bike shoots forward, they grab on to the handlebars–and end up rolling on the throttle WFO. They predicted that serious crashes would occur—though they never imagined that training deaths would occur.

Right from the beginning, those experts were proven true: the Blast was associated with injury crashes resulting from riders crashing into obstacles located within 40-feet of the range. However, very few were known by the rider education community.

In fact, serious injuries began to occur before anyone suspected. The first lawsuit known to be associated with Rider’s Edge was the result of a training crash in 2002 at Wild Boar Harley Davidson in Hudsonville, MI (now Grand Rapids Harley). According to the Appeals Court summary, “Plaintiff Susan McCoy purchased two motorcycles from defendant Kelley’s Harley Davidson, Inc., d/b/a Wild Boar Harley Davidson, Inc. (“Kelley’s”) in June 2002. After purchasing the motorcycles, plaintiff enrolled in a motorcycle safety course titled “Rider’s Edge New Riders Course” partially sponsored by Kelley’s and defendant Motorcycle Safety Foundation, Inc. (“MSF”). During the course, plaintiff accidentally drove a motorcycle into a brick wall, injuring her ankle, pelvis, scapula, thumb and wrist.”  Prior to the crash that resulted in multiple injuries, instructors had “reprimanded her for handling the motorcycle improperly.” She claimed that they had failed to make sure she mastered the wrist down position.

Shortly before McCoy ran into the wall in Michigan, Juanita M. Haggerty ran into a wall in Festus, MO during a Rider’s Edge course while riding a Buell Blast. Then, shortly after McCoy’s crash, Janet Rollins ran into a wall in Laconia NH during a Rider’s Edge course.

Rider’s Edge, with its combination of a dangerous bike and dangerous courses, continued it’s injurious progress over the years. Another death occurred in Kenosha,WI at Uke’s Harley-Davidson during a course and near-fatalities were rampant including ones in West Virginia and Florida. For example, in one state where Rider’s Edge courses comprised only 25% of the sites associated with the state program, Rider’s Edge courses were responsible for 52.13% of all accidents and 60% of all injuries and all the broken bones and dislocations. Students, unable to control the clutch and throttle ran off the range into such objects as walls, fences, creeks and trees.

The Buell Blast’s market was, by far, the dealerships that offered Rider’s Edge themselves. Few of the motorcycles were sold even so. That Harley-Davidson has finally stopped producing this deadly training motorcycle is a cause for relief—but what the Motor Company will replace it with is anyone’s guess. It can only be assumed that this deadly little bike will continue to be used in Rider’s Edge until a replacement bike manufactured by the Parent Company or one of its subsidiaries such as MV Agusta is found.

Explore posts in the same categories: Harley-Davidson, History, Motorcycle crashes, Motorcycle fatalities, Motorcycle Industry, Motorcycle Safety Foundation, Motorcycle Training

13 Comments on “Deadly Buell Blast is no more”

  1. gymnast Says:

    Harley Davidson has the opportunity to develop to develop an “ideal training and beginner bike” to be used in all programs, not just riders edge. Will it again squander the opportunity as it did under AMF when the Motor-Company marketed finicky Italian Two strokes? The Pacers and Scats H-D produced in the 60s were the ideal training bike of that time however the introduction of “zippy and more reliable” Japanese lightweights resulted in the demise of the comparatively “primitive” American two stroke that had a great power to weight ratio and ergonomics as an introductory bike for training new riders.

    Your essay regarding the “Blast” is an excellent chronicle of the rise and fall of another of H-D’s ill conceived ideas where the lack of institutional memory and innovative thinking had led to “broken dreams and a dead end” in more ways than one.

  2. wmoon Says:

    Thanks, Gymnast!

  3. Gunslinger Says:


    My memory may be a bit fuzzy but I remember hearing from some banker types that Citi Bank which was the lead lender in the financing of the HD Leveraged Buy Out strong arming the motor company into discontinuing any funding to the MSF because there was little or no money available for such things. Mind you this is the same bunch that caused HD to buy that three wheeled thing. (Firehawk???)

    When I was first introduced to the Blast it was said to be the bike that instructors desired. I recall a survey sent out by the MSF asking for input regarding what would make the more perfect trainer. So much for instructor/rider coach designed motorcycles.

  4. wmoon Says:

    Gunslinger: You wrote, “So much for instructor/rider coach designed motorcycles.” Hmmm….the BRC was supposedly–according to MSF–designed in response to input from instructors and Chief Instructors, too….Like motorcycle, like curriculum. And both brought to us by the folks that make billions by more people thinking they can ride and going out to buy motorcycles.

  5. vstromer Says:

    Contrary to what the Eric Buell video might lead one to believe, the Blast will continue to be manufactured, continue to be used as a training bike in Rider’s Edge classes, and continue to be offered for sale at H-D/Buell dealerships. It will be badged as a Blast, not a Buell, not a Harley, just Blast. This information comes straight from Tim Becker’s mouth at the SMSA business meeting in Madison, WI, on Friday, 8/21/2009. Tim Becker is employed by H-D, and his title is Manager Rider’s Edge.

  6. wmoon Says:

    Well, that’s disappointing–and misleading on Eric Buell’s part…

  7. Hank Says:

    >>>>Well, that’s disappointing–and misleading on Eric Buell’s part…

    In addition, it’s inaccurate information. I supsect the poster is not very well informed or he would not have spelled Mr. Buell’s name wrong.

    The Buell Blast was an excellent selling product for Buell, was hugely inportant to Harley-Davidson for some of the manufacturing techniques and has served as one of the best and most reliable training motorcycles.

    The Buell Blast is the single most reliable product ever sold by the Harley-Davidson family of companies.

  8. wmoon Says:

    Hank–where did VStromer misspell Eric’s name? And, as you see, no one but Mark Weiss agrees with you that it was “one of the best and most reliable training motorcycle”. And, as Mark pointed out, it was tricksey in how it had to be adjusted for training purposes.

    And, since I’ve owned a Harley Sportster for 10 years that was a champ mechanically, I would put the Sportster (at least) up against a Buell–which has had five NHTSA recalls in five years to the Sportster which has had three in twelve years.

  9. Rainman Says:

    As a RE and MSF instructor, I’ve seen the same crashes on Blasts that I’ve seen on V-Stars and Rebels. The Blast has been no more dangerous in my experience than other bikes. If you go WFO on a Rebel, it will scream across the range. The Blast do tend to be back on the range quicker and repaired at less cost, but that’s by design.

  10. SuzyQ Says:

    The comment on the weight of the Blast compared to other training motorcycles is not correct. The GZ250 (Suzuki) weighs in close to the Blast. The Blast is easier to ride as it has a standard riding position and if the friction zone is explained properly in the beginning of the BRC/NRC, there should be no problem. Why do persons “bash” H-D products? Jealousy, perhaps?

  11. wmoon Says:

    Close is not “identical too”. There is NO other motorcycle used in rider training that has been associated with as many deaths and near-fatal injuries as the Buell Blast. That, not jealousy, is why responsible, expert instructors and coordinators overwhelming reject the Blast as a training bike. You seem to be very ignorant of what bikes are used in training. Your comment that if the friction zone is explained properly also seem to be very ignorant of training of any kind. Something can be explained properly doesn’t mean it’s learned properly, for one thing. Secondly, panic overcomes training even for experts. For example, even highly trained law enforcement officer don’t do the proper gun procedure in the proper order when they’re panicked, Navy SEALs–let alone newbie divers–screw up basic procedures when they’re panicked.
    Why do Harley Hogs get so defensive about H-D products?

  12. jmz Says:

    Are there more crashes reported only because there are more Blasts at the training classes than the other bikes? I ride a Blast and I am having difficulty with the statements about it having too much power for learning on. It is a very easy bike to ride and is perfect for a novice because it handles so well. Too high for its weight? The main reason for choosing a Buell Blast was because it is so low to the ground and it allows me to feel like I have a lot of control on the bike. The clutch is a little tight, but the worst problem I ever had with the clutch is not stalling in 1st gear. I have never had the bike take off on me. Maybe it’s not the right bike for everyone, but it’s not the wrong bike for everyone either. Maybe some individuals don’t possess the coordination to ride a bike. Has this ever been researched in connection with these accidents? I think it’s too bad that the Blast went away. The choices for someone who wants a sporty street bike are very limited. It’s all big cruisers or sport bikes where you are lying on the tank. I’m going to ride mine for as long as I can.

  13. wmoon Says:

    Good for you, jmz. Unfortunately, the most expert of rider instructors and state program administrators found the Blast a poor training bike long before the deaths started occurring.

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