I have a 2000 Buell Cyclone, and am very happy with it.
The Cyclone has had more then it's fair share of problems, but if you keep a reasonable perspective on them, they have not been a huge deal. None of the problems left me stranded, and none cost me any riding time.
If you buy an older Buell, I can give you a list of about 5 things you want to do to it right off the bat that will save you trouble down the road. All are simple jobs that can be done with normal hand tools, are very low cost, and don't take too much time.
Historically, reliability is lower then most Japanese bikes, but the Buells are MUCH easier to work on, and parts are MUCH easier to find. If you can do your own work or have a good dealer, I think it ends up a wash. If you are at the mercy of an idiot dealer and can't turn a wrench, you will not be happy.
The non-engine parts of my Cyclone have been great... and you have to cut the engine a little slack. It was designed to produce 45 or so horses, and has been stretched to produce between 91 and 101.
Even with the grief I have had with my Cyclone, I would not trade the bike for anything (except the firebolt). It really is a pleasure to work on... I am by no means an expert wrench, and I can have the heads (including the valves) completely off and on the bench in about half an hour. Complete top end rebuild? New heads with valves in place ready to bolt on from the factory for around $500. About two hours work to put them in. Tranmission problem? I can have the whole thing out and on my bench in about an hour.
The firebolt promises to be the Buell we have all been waiting for. What Erik has managed to do with the existing models is remarkable... he took an old sportster cruiser engine, and managed to create a bike that really is remarkable, and that you really have to ride to appreciate.
Now that he "has the handcuffs off" (his own words), he took the strengths of the sportster engine and eliminated the weaknesses, and really came up with an innovative bike with a LOT of promise.
When you read that it's "just a warmed over sportster engine", don't believe it... it has some very significant changes. It follows a similiar geometry, and is still pushrod air cooled, but just about every part is new and rethought.
Us Buell faithfull have high hopes that the reliability issues will be behind us as well. The Blast (500cc single) has been very reliable, and has had some of the lowest warranty claims in the industry (even compared to the Japanese bikes). The Firebolt engine is much closer to a doubled blast engined then it is to a sportster engine, and Buell knows they are betting the farm on this bike. They have gone out of the way to get it right, and I believe they will make it.
To appreciate the Firebolt in particular (and Buells in general), you have to appreciate their design goals. Erik did not set out to build a pure race bike, he set out to build the best bike for the street.
Take the rotor for example. A single larger rotor (as opposed to two smaller rotors) eliminates one caliper and one rotor. This still gives you 85% or more of the rotor area for breaking, but nearly halves unsprung weight. On the track, this is a drawback, as even the dual rotor systems are prone to overheat and warp, and the pavement is smooooooth and perfect. The lower unsprung weight helps little, and the brakes overheat quicker. But on the street it is a different story.... "Real" streets are a mess of rippled pavement, potholes, and other junk. The lower unsprung weight lets the tire keep contact with the street FAR better. Remember, a tire that is not touching the road has ZERO braking... the single rotor gets you stopped more quickly.
Thats just one example of many why a racebike may suffer on the street, and why Erik is trying to create a new class of bikes... he calls them "streetfighters". Bikes that are designed to give you the best possible performance under real world conditions.
The engine is similiar. It trades a monster power hit at the top end for a broader powerband across the whole RPM range. One of the magazines that got a crack at the Firebolt was talking about how fast the thing went, but that its power delivery was so smooth they did not notice it like a twitchy race tuned 4 banger. They asked Erik if he was concerned that this was going to give people an unfair opinion of the bike, and he replied "We built this bike for great riders, not some geeky kid looking for an adrenelin rush".
Geesh. Enough typing. There are a lot of really cool innovations that are going into this bike that I think will re-write many of the rules of street tuned sportbikes. Some subltle, some obvious. It would take pages to go through them all.
And yes, especially right now, it feels great to be riding to work every day on a bike that says (from the factory) "American Motorcycles" right across the tank in big white letters. Nothing against foreign bikes or other countries. I just like having an American bike better. As an anology, I prefer a black bike over a red bike... Nothing wrong or against red bikes, I just like the black better... Same thing. I ride a motorcycle for pleasure, and I get more of it riding a bike built a few hundred miles away and designed by a guy I have a decent chance of actually meeting someday... and who may be reading this right now.