BMW, Buell, Moto Guzzi, And Cannondale Motorcycles - BMW, Buell Get Dirty! - Up To Speed

German And American Manufacturers To Enter Off-Road Market With Ground-Breaking 450s That Bend All The Rules

Love them, hate them or know not who they are, BMW and Buell are two of the most innovative motorcycle manufacturers on the planet. And in a bizarre, all-the-planets-aligning sort of scenario, word got out the same month that both are working on off-road models. Not surprisingly, the two machines are mold-breaking.

The BMW rumors are strongest because they're not rumors. Spy photos of a black-painted development bike popped up on the Web and in various European magazines after the bike competed in the opening round of the German Enduro Championship on March 11th.

While official confirmation remains forthcoming, BMW has admitted its interest in expanding into the off-road market. In fact, as this was being written in early April, BMW's Press Relations Manager Roy Oliemuller was setting up an off-road ride with company president Dr. Herbert Deiss (see interview, page 28) and select members of the U.S. motorcycle press specifically to gain an understanding of the American off-road market.

The BMW prototype looks trick and gets tricker the closer you look. It's obviously a fuel-injected, liquid-cooled, DOHC, four-valve four-stroke single that, if the stamping on its clutch cover can be believed, displaces 450cc. The clutch is too close to the crankshaft not to be connected, and judging by the location of the downdraft throttle body, the airbox is up above the engine and the fuel tank under the seat a la the F650GS. It's electric-start only, no kick, and a single radiator is positioned in front of the cylinder.

The perimeter steel-tube frame supports the engine from above and behind, and directly connects the steering head to the swingarm pivot in sportbike fashion. That pivot, incidentally, is mounted coaxially with the countershaft sprocket so chain torque (yes, it's chain-driven) should have no effect on rear-suspension action. There are no downtubes, which would seem to make the engine vulnerable to rock damage, though a skidplate is fitted. The hlins shock is tilted forward as on a KTM and looks to be linkageless, though there is a rocker-shaped piece attached to the swingarm-trained eyes suggest that's just to alter the position of the lower shock mount for testing. That's all we can discern for now.

Information on the Buell is even sketchier and stems from the fact that during the Winter Dealer Show in Florida on January 26th the firm flashed an artist's conception of a dirtbike on a video screen and announced it will be entering the off-road market.

Our subsequent call to Buell/Harley-Davidson Communications Manager Paul James must have set alarm bells ringing, because a damage-control press release was issued shortly thereafter. The statement quoted Erik Buell as saying, "We've told our dealers about our plans to bring an off-road, closed-course competition motorcycle to market within the next two years. This will allow Buell dealers the time needed to make plans to meet the needs of this new market and customer." No small point given that Harley dealers haven't had a dirtbike to sell since the 1978 MX250.

Beyond that, little is known. The bike is said to be powered by a 450cc Rotax engine and incorporates some of Buell's trademark features such as a twin-spar aluminum frame that doubles as a fuel tank. Former Yamaha of Troy Team Manager Dave Osterman has reportedly been hired to direct the project and former AMA 250cc Motocross Champion Gary Jones retained as a consultant.

Whatever happens in the dirt, let's hope the Buell/Rotax connection someday makes its way to the pavement as well. Just imagine what Erik Buell could do with one of those liquid-cooled 60-degree V-twins...

Moto Guzzi Stelvio
New street-biased adventure-tourer from Mandello del Lario

Directly from the February 23rd dealers' convention in Berlin, Germany, the first real photographs of the new Moto Guzzi Stelvio adventure-tourer.

Although the bike won't be shown to the public until the Milan Show in Italy in November, these camera-phone photos (snapped by a disreputable dealer) show the bike bears more than a passing resemblance to a Ducati Multistrada.

Speaking on the condition of anon-ymity, a company spokesman said two versions of the Stelvio will be offered: an 850 powered by the four-valve V-twin from the Breva/Griso and a 1200 powered by the new eight-valve engine developed for the 1200 Sport. The engine seems to be the only part that the Stelvio will share with its siblings, however, as it features an all-new frame that rolls on wire-spoke wheels and long-travel suspension.

Named after the famous alpine pass, the Stelvio is well-equipped for long-distance riding with an adjustable windscreen, large-capacity fuel tank, bar-mounted GPS unit and what looks to be a height-adjustable seat. It's shaft-driven, like all Guzzi models, with a single-sided swingarm, the tailpipe tucked tight into the space where the left side of the arm would ordinarily be.

Just like the BMW R1200GS then, and our spokesman openly stated that Guzzi wants to grab market shares from BMW with the Stelvio. As he said, "The Stelvio will be absolutely important-the most important Moto Guzzi in modern times."

Whatever Happened To...
Cannondale Motorcycles?
And you thought they only made bicycles...

All this talk about a Buell dirtbike begs the question: What became of the last American off-road motorcycle, the Cannondale 440?

Designed and built by the innovative Connecticut-based bicycle manufac-turer, the X440 launched in 2001 was more high-tech than even today's motocross bikes. Not only was it powered by a DOHC four-stroke-electric-start and fuel-injected at that-its single cylinder was spun around so the intake was in front and the exhaust in back. The air filter was located behind the front numberplate and air routed through the steering head to the throttle body. No less innovative was the twin-spar aluminum chassis (remember, alloy had just come into vogue with the 1997 Honda CR250R) with top-shelf hlins suspension. All of which seemed surprising until one learned that a key engineer behind the project was AMA 250cc Grand Prix roadracer Chris D'Aluisio.

Fuel-injection glitches plagued the first-year models, which unfortunately included magazine testbikes. And although the follow-up offerings were largely dialed-in, the damage had already been done. By 2003, bad press had eroded Cannondale's reputation to the point that it closed its motorcycle division.

That wasn't the end, however, as the Cannondale tooling was subsequently purchased by a Chinese manufacturer and the bikes are now being imported by yet another American dirtbike company, ATK ( But that's another story...