Buell Ulysses XB12XT - First Ride

Finally, A Long-Distance Adventure-Tourer For Short People

By Marty Estes, Photography by Kevin Wing

The original Ulysses XB12X, launched in 2006, was the first Buell developed to venture off-road. It proved a capable adventure-sport bike from the start, and is still the favorite Buell of many of the Motorcyclist staff. But Erik Buell knows the majority of Ulysses owners never set foot in the dirt. To make the original bike off-road-capable, he and his team were forced to make certain compromises. One of which-longer suspension travel-created a towering seat height that scared off shorter and/or less experienced riders. So for '08 there are two Ulysses models: the original XB12X and the new XB12XT.

What's the difference? Some thoughtful selections from the Buell accessories catalog grace the latter, such as a lockable top box and hard bags, tall windscreen and heated handgrips. Gone is the motocross-style front fender, replaced by a streetbike-style unit that hugs the front tire. Perhaps most significantly, however, the suspension has been re-calibrated for street use and lowered by 1.5 inches. The fork is completely new, with smaller-diameter tubes. The shorter-travel suspension affected wheelbase, trail and ground clearance, but most normal-sized riders will appreciate the 1.1-inch reduction in seat height. Freed from the need to survive off-road shenanigans, the cast-aluminum wheels are each nearly a pound lighter and shod with Pirelli Diablo Strada sport-touring tires. But while unsprung weight is reduced, the bike itself gained 40 pounds, much of which is the luggage. Fortunately, it's removable.

Buell's trademark Harley-Davidson Sport-ster-based Thunderstorm V-Twin has been lightly massaged across the entire '08 XB lineup, with a larger-diameter crankpin and improved oiling system resulting in a 7100-rpm redline, 300 revs higher than before. Peak output remains the same at a claimed 103 bhp and 84 lb.-ft. of torque. Other details are classic Buell: fuel in the frame, oil in the swingarm, muffler underneath the engine, ZTL perimeter front brake rotor and Triple Tail backrest.

Sampling the XT at the U.S. press launch in Temecula, California, I initially thought the bike felt very similar to the X (which was available for comparison purposes). When I hit the first set of twisties, however, the improved suspension and handling immediately stood out. Buell did a stellar job balancing suspension compliance with the firmness needed for aggressive street riding. The XT felt firmer, better planted and more composed when pushing hard. Of course, the shorter suspension lowered the center of gravity as well, improving cornering accuracy. Even with my 210 lbs. in the saddle, the peg feelers touched down only when pushed near the edge of sensible street speeds. The brakes are up to the task as well, with the single front disc providing all I could want from a bike in this category.

The liquid-cooled Helicon V-twin in the new 1125R sportbike has many wondering if Buell will spread that Rotax-made powerplant across the rest of its lineup in the future. But company reps are quick to point out the benefits of the Thunderstorm engine, such as its classic looks, broad powerband, reliability, low maintenance, simplicity and excellent fuel economy. The Ulysses is never going to keep up with a Yamaha FJR1300 in a straight line, but while it runs out of breath on top, its relaxed, low-rpm, heavy-flywheel feel makes for a very enjoyable ride. Past experience with '06 and '07 Ulysses models confirmed its stingy ways, as those bikes consistently averaged 50 mpg. My one beef was discovering that the rear-cylinder cooling fan that has been embarrassing Ulysses owners from the beginning still howls to life when you shut off the motor.

By Marty Estes
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