Falling for the little redhead
Geared up, lowered down, and torque on tap
Temecula, Calif., March 19—For those of you who are not up to speed on Buell Motorcycles let me do a quick history. Erik Buell has been building American sportbikes for the last 25 years. Mass centralization is his mantra, which means putting as much weight as possible down low and in the center of the machine. To achieve this he is not afraid to try some gutsy, innovative designs. For instance, the fuel goes in the frame, the oil in the swingarm and the muffler under the bike. In addition, to keep the weight to a minimum, every part is pared down and asked to do double and triple duty. The lighter the bike, the more it contributes to a positive rider experience. Moreover, a positive rider experience is why motorcyclists ride motorcycles. So sayeth the doctrine of Buell.
The majority of his machines have been branded with the sportbike badge. However, a few years ago the Ulysses XB12X showed up. Pointed at the “adventure rider,” it had long suspension, saddlebags and dual-purpose tires. It had no illusions of being a desert racer but did show some competence on a fire road. My only bitch with it was its height. It was tippy-toe time for me at the stoplight. They must have heard the same whining from everyone with a less than 35” inseam, so they have now come up with a new model, the Ulysses XB12XT, which I tested recently at their media launch.
With fully adjustable front and rear suspension, the travel came down from 6.5” to 4.92” and is now tuned with an asphalt-ripping sport rider in mind. Also added as standard equipment is a clever triple folding luggage base that can be used as a passenger backrest, heated grips, a taller windscreen, lockable side and top cases, a seat height of 30.7” and sticky Pirelli Diablo Strada tires. The only item listed as optional is a Buell Quest Navigation System. The XB12XT checks in at 465 pounds dry. No skull and crossbones freeway pegs or chrome starter motor covers here. We’re saving weight, remember?
Erik believes in a V-Twin engine, good torque, short wheelbase, low weight, great brakes and a bike that handles in the curves. To these requirements, he has added sit-up wind protection, wide bars and luggage for the XB12XT. Let’s see how well it works.
“OK, which one should I take?” I asked. It was like standing in a brothel, checking out the lineup, choosing the evening entertainment.
“Any one you want.”
“Good, I’ll take the little redhead down on the end.”
Issued a Racing Red XB12XT (it also comes in Thrust Blue) the first thing I notice is its height. At 5-foot-8 with my 30” inseam, I no longer need to catch the stirrup in a running start and mount it like a horse. The bike feels tall, but completely livable. The controls are simple and basic and I can actually see past my own elbow in the mirrors. The 1203cc Thunderstorm V-Twin fires up easily and makes real Sportster-like sounds. A few revs and any historical link to the old Ironhead is completely forgotten. This thing now makes over 100 hp at nearly 7,000 rpm and gives you 84 ft/lbs of torque. In the real world, on a bike that is not destined for the racetrack, those are great usable numbers. However, forget specifications. From this point on specs mean nothing. The seat of my pants is the only thing that will tell me anything.
We divided into two groups, each with a factory road captain and caboose, flanking four motojournalists. The Temecula Wine Country has provided a beautiful day, blue skies, and not much traffic. Whatever the Factory paid Mother Nature for this weather, it was well worth it. Lunch would be served at the top of the mountain. Being a local, I know that the first part of the ride consists of country roads and high-speed sweepers. As we start up the hill, it tightens up, and gets technical, and at the top, toward Idyllwild, there will be some patches of snow and cinders. Therefore, I warm up carefully. But in less than 10 miles, this thing feels like homecoming week and I am an alumnus. We push a little. The tires and suspension are perfect for the road. The engine is a little buzzy and the clutch is tight but my bike has almost no miles on it and that is to be expected. Later in the day, I swap rides with a bike that had thousands of miles. It felt like a Buick in comparison to my red Bug Eyed Sprite.
A half a dozen of us fly up the side of the mountain… neat. Going fast, owning the corners, being smooth, picking any gear and using the torque was a delight. I didn’t work hard, didn’t have to lay on the tank or grab clip-on bars that are halfway down the front end. My feet were under me, not on rear-sets and uncomfortable. In fact, the seating position was as good as anything I have ridden in years. The seat I liked—didn’t love, but liked—and all-day rides of 500 miles would be a piece of cake.
After lunch, more twisties and at an air temperature of 78 degrees the inner portion of my right thigh heated up a bit. I wondered about the engine heat venting onto my leg. In the Southwest, summers get well over 100 degrees and this can be a concern.
The Ulysses XB12XT comes standard with lockable hard bags and a top box. There is a ton of cargo capacity but you have to use a second key every time you open them. Safe yes, convenient no. The top box comes off… good. I like to travel with my sleeping bag and tent in a waterproof duffel bag and with the box removed the luggage rack will work well for it.
With the combination of my boots and the metal pegs, things were very slippery. Thinking it was just me, I scuffed up my soles on a granite bolder and said nothing, but another rider noticed the same thing. If the bike were mine, for a quickie fix, I would go to my friendly local welder and have him build up the tits a bit.
Quickie fixes for little things are what we all do to make our bikes fit. However, I would like to know what could be done about the loud cooling fan. I know the old axiom about loud pipes saving lives, but this can’t be Buell’s response on that piece of folk wisdom. The XB12XT has the loudest cooling fan I have ever heard on any machine. A gaggle of these things in one place, cooling off after a run up the mountain, sounds like a dozen gardeners with leaf-blowers celebrating the autumn equinox in New Hampshire. Guys please, you’ve gotten used to it, but if you’re not, it’s annoying.
Out on the road I traded bikes again for an XB12X. With the dual-purpose tires and long suspension, the ride was quite different. The front end used more of its stroke and felt lighter. As a result, the bike felt longer. Even though the wheelbase is greater by only 2/10”, you would swear it was 3” longer. And of course, again at the stoplights, it’s tippy-toe time for me. The XB12XT is much more my cup of tea than the XB12X. I traded back.
Before I returned my bike, I swapped my camera for another rider’s lady passenger. Wanting to see what the bike felt like two-up, I begged and she accommodated. Passengers have a ton of room and although the bike itself is compact, it is an easy proposition to haul two people comfortably.
Comparing motorcycles strictly by specification sheets or only by price rarely tells you the whole story. The Ulysses is a perfect example of this. The dimensions and vital statistics of this bike belie what it is and what it really does. A Harley Ultra has full weather protection, cruise control and a radio. The Ulysses XB12XT has no cruise control, 3/4-wind protection and I would wear earplugs for any distance work. At half the price this bike is not a Harley Ultra so I did not expect it to compare on those levels.
What did I expect? I expected a light, short-wheelbase sport-touring rig with competent luggage and great torque. That is exactly what I got. It is a nifty combination.
At day’s end, the machine was reluctantly returned. “How much for the little girl? How much for all the women?” It was my best impression of John Belushi as Jake Blues.
“MSRP is $12,995.”
“No, I don’t want a new one. I want this one, the one with the bugs and the dirt, the one with the scuffed tires. You keep the top box. I take this little redheaded hooker.”
They laughed and loaded her into the truck and closed the door.