Which came first–the Buell Blast or the criteria change?

I’ve been having an interesting side conversation with a rider administrator about the Blast. He and I disagree on many things—but his commitment to and belief in training is beyond doubt. Our discussion began when he wrote, “My recollection is that the training bike criteria changed before the Blast rolled out.” He pointed out that H-D used the old Ford Proving Grounds near Yucca, AZ during the 90s and tested the “Thor” in the late 90s that he said “strongly resembled the eventual Blast.”

He also recollected a “poll” conducted by MSF on what criteria should be used for training bikes that found that the cc. and weight limits should be raised.  Because it amuses me I’ll call him Thor.

After relying on memory for the first couple exchanges, I went back to the old MSF listserv on Topica then went to my files and pulled out the relevant documents and then did a little more finding this and that. What I found among all those things might be of interest to my readers:

As I said before, Harley re-joined MSF in 1999.[i]

The rider education community first officially heard about what would become Rider’s Edge, at the 1999 SMSA Annual Meeting in Milwaukee in late August. According to a letter from H-D from Wayne Curtain and Michael Weiss[ii] to “Fellow SMSA Members/State Administrators” dated March 9, 2000.  Harley “presented a very high level outline of Harley-Davidson’s plan to become more involved in rider education” at that conference.

In August the bike that would become the Blast was still being field-tested itself at—as my friend said—the Ford Proving Grounds.  “Thor” was the code-name for the Blast.

By November, 1999, three dealers had received the new model to use in Motorcycle Safety Foundation training programs. According to The SingleCylinder Gazette, “One dealer in the Southwest supposedly got 14, has a “non-disclosure” agreement with Buell, and employees who snuck some photos had them confiscated.” http://www.gazette9.com/buells.html/upd2.htm

Those dealers, according to Harley’s own documentation on the Rider’s Edge field-tests prepared by Jenne Meyer, were Harley-Davidson of Dothan, AL, Harley-Davidson of Baton Rouge, LA and Chick’s of Albuquerque, NM (Chick’s no longer exists and now Thunderbird H-D/Buell does).

By the time H-D was trying to get dealers to sign on as RE providers and convince state programs to accept RE, however, Dothan’s no longer was on the list of current providers.

According to that internal document by Meyer, RE was tested in a total of 9 classes before being rolled out: Dothan and Baton Rouge, LA offered two classes. Three entire and one partial class were offered in Albuquerque. All tolled—and confirmed by Michael Weiss—Rider’s Edge was tested with a total of 58 students between those 9 classes went through the course. Iow, there was an average of 6.4 students in each class. As you can see in these photos, only 5 students participated in this class. http://www.gazette9.com/buells.html/buelabq.htm

Meanwhile, rumors were flying through the motorcycling world about the new  Buell that now had a name—the Blast. Spy photos were published online and in magazines accompanied by speculations and more rumors.

On February 8,2000, instructor Eric West brought up the Buell Blast, “I am wanting MSF to approve the new Blast for the RSS. What do you think?”

The next day, Feb 09, 2000, Elisabeth Piper who was then, irrc, director of communications (her title changed frequently) wrote:

Re: Buell Blast            Elisabeth Piper

10:06 PST

“The Buell Blast is currently being tested by MSF as a possible training bike for all programs in the New Mexico and Pennsylvania state programs. MSF has already approved use of the Buell Blast for the Harley-Davidson training program [sic] for new riders. This program uses MSF curriculum and the HD sites are RERP sites subject to all the same criteria as sites run under the state program auspices [emphasis mine].

“MSF will be making announcements regarding these two facts in the coming weeks, which will be posted on the website. I will make sure to note that to the listserv so that you’ll know as soon as they are posted.”

During a phone conversation on February 26, 2000—twenty days after Piper’s post—H-D’s Michael Weiss stated that “Tim Buche has told at least one state that the Blasts will be available for general use next year” [emphasis mine]. The statement was so strong it appeared as if it’s already a done deal—the Blast was already approved.

Then, in the H-D letter signed by Curtain and Weiss dated March 9,2000—a month after Piper’s post and a few days after Weiss’ phone call—it stated, “MSF has not approved the Blast for general use in MRC:RSS. However, Harley-Davidson will be providing Buell Blasts motorycles to MSF for additional testing and, if the testing goes well, the Blast could be approved for general MRC:RSS use later this year” [emphasis mine].

H-D officially rolled out the Blast to the riding, business and general media worlds in March, 2000.

A month later, in April, Piper asked what instructors thought of training bike criteria:

“Re: was: Riders edge, now Review of the Blast     Elisabeth Piper

Apr 18, 2000 09:18 PDT

I’ve ridden the Blast too, on the LA Freeways from the westside to the San Gabriel valley, and then up and down Glendora Mountain road a few times. I have to admit that I felt a little puny on the freeway, but the bike had no problem maintain freeway speeds. The mountain roads were fun though.

“If you were going to establish criteria for what a bike must have to be considered good for a training bike, what do you think those points should be? And how important is cc size within that mix of criteria?”

It’s hardly a poll—and doesn’t reference any prior or more official poll by MSF of instructors on acceptable training bike criteria. And only two rider educators responded with their thoughts. 2 out of 5,000 instructors hardly seems to be a representative sample.

In August, Piper announces as a response to another posting:

Re: Legal issues / Buell Blast (LONG!)          Elisabeth Piper

Aug 21, 2000 11:04 PDT

“You might be interested to know that at the end of last week, the MSF Board of Trustees approved the new parameters set for training bikes, parameters for which the Buell Blast qualifies.

I’ll be putting the parameters and a list of bikes that meet them on the website by the end of the month.”

So, in this regard, I was correct and my friend Thor misremembered: there was no real poll of what instructors thought or wanted for training bike criteria and the Blast was not just rolled out but already being used in rider training prior to the Board changing the criteria.

If you were observant, however, you’ll have noticed a few things:

The private-manufacturer owned and dealer-administrated training course and motorcycle that’s associated with more near-fatal and fatal training crashes was

made based on the experience of only 58 students.

And those 58 took the class with less than the full complement of 12 students on the range but with two instructors. As all rider educators know, there’s a huge difference in how a class runs depending on how full it is.

This also means that the RE version of the MSF-designed curriculum and the motorcycle were both being simultaneously field-tested in the same less-than-full classes. That’s very poor research methodology.

Then there’s the issue of MSF approving the motorcycle—it had been approved for H-D but would be tested. It has been tested and will be further tested. If it passes it will be available—but Buche already said it will be available—and therefore it would mean it was already known it would be approved even though the testing hadn’t been done.

However, the plot has only begun to thicken—stay tuned.


[i] Stories vary as to why Harley left but only this friend, Thor, claims that H-D had tried to re-join MSF for years and wasn’t allowed—he gave no proof of that claim and is the only one I’ve heard make it.

[ii] Michael Weiss gives his title as Director of Business Development and Wayne Curtain gave his title as “Manager of Motorcycle Safety Program Relations”. However, Curtain had started at H-D a month before with the title “Manager of Government Affairs” and was Director of Government Affairs for years after this letter. In fact, only when dealing with state program administrators in this one lettere did he call himself “Manager of Motorcycle Safety Program Relations”.

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

4 Comments on “Which came first–the Buell Blast or the criteria change?”

  1. gymnast Says:

    One would wonder just how “lucre a tive” this deal was for the MSF and if the head MSFer got a bonus out of it for making the the deal with HD.

  2. Tony Brown Says:

    I don’t know If I said it already but …Excellent site, keep up the good work. I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Tony Brown

  3. Kelli Garner Says:

    Thats very good to know… thanks

  4. Tnelson Says:

    Hey very nice blog!!….I’m an instant fan, I have bookmarked you and I’ll be checking back on a regular….See ya


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