2009 Buell Ulysses XB12XT | Review
Balancing sporty characteristics with enough comfort to ride hundreds of miles a day, motorcycle manufacturers make a choice to design their bikes to exhibit more or less sport bike characteristics based on the intended role and target audience. Buell strikes the perfect balance with the new Ulysses XB12XT adventure sport touring motorcycle.
A direct descendant of the Ulysses XB12X adventure bike, the XB12XT exchanges off-road capability for the high lean angles of sport touring. Some of the changes are immediately noticeable when viewing the two bikes together—factory panniers and top box, tall windscreen, and Pirelli Diablo Strada tires. The not-so-noticeable changes are the heated grips, shorter sport-tuned suspension, and lighter cast aluminum wheels.
The centerpiece of the XB12XT is the Harley-Davidson Thunderstorm 1203cc, push-rod V-twin. For those not used to American sport bikes, the low rpm power may take a little getting used to. The easily found 7100 rpm rev-limiter is a constant reminder that this bike does not have overhead cams. Short shifting is the technique needed to apply the ample torque to the ground. With 84 ft/lbs of torque at 6,000 rpm and a short wheelbase, a light hand on the throttle is all that is needed to launch the bike out of corners; a heavy hand on the throttle causes the light front end to lift and skitter around, which is exacerbated by the addition of a passenger. (Click image to enlarge)
Touring accoutrements include spacious panniers and top box, hand guards, heated grips, and power outlets. The panniers are clamshell design with bungee retention straps on both the lid and body of the case. The bungee straps in the lid are a nice addition because without them anything placed in the lid tends to fall when the lid is closed. A judicious packer can easily spend two or three weeks on the road with what can be carried inside the Ulysses’ luggage.
Protection from the elements is minimal, afforded mostly by the hand guards and heated grips. The windscreen lends itself more to the adventure side of the equation than for touring. It is four inches taller than the original Ulysses windscreen, but it provides less protection from the elements than a more touring-oriented rider would require. The fairing covers the instrument cluster, but provides no wrap-around protection. The XB12XT keeps the adventure bike ruggedness of its predecessor and rewards a rider who possesses the same degree of ruggedness with a versatile mount.
A novel feature on the Ulysses is the three-position rack and backrest called the Triple Tail. Set horizontally forward, it is a rack over the pillion where a duffle bag can be strapped. Set upright, it is a backrest for the passenger. Set horizontally back, it is a rack for a tail bag. The Triple Tail is slightly flexible to conform to the passenger’s back and has cutouts to accommodate tie-down hooks.
To fully open the top case the backrest must be set in the forward horizontal position. A slight annoyance, but the backrest is easily adjusted and the inconvenience is well made up for by its utility. Buell offers an accessory gel cover for the backrest to afford the passenger even more comfort and a slip over backpack.
For a sport-oriented bike, the XB12XT affords a comfortable upright position and slight bend past 90 degrees at the knees. The rider and passenger do not have to assume the tiring forward lean required by other bikes in this category, making the Ulysses a good choice for the long haul.
A steep fork angle and short wheelbase give the XB12XT quick steering and make it exciting to throw around on a mountain road when riding solo. A commitment by Buell to keep the center-of-gravity low and unsprung weight to a minimum affords the aggressive rider an effective platform for quick direction changes.
When riding two-up though, slower speeds must be maintained to preserve a feeling of control in tight corners. The added weight of a passenger makes the front end feel especially light. The progressive application of low-end torque from the Thunderstorm engine is helpful in this circumstance because it eliminates the need for constant gear changes and gives the passenger a smooth ride. The V-twin cruiser heritage of the engine surfaces to the benefit of the rider and passenger.
At low speed, as when approaching a stoplight, with a passenger the bike wants to wander and requires a great deal of input through the handlebars to control it. Certainly some of this can be removed by tuning the fully adjustable Showa suspension, but the two-up capability of the XB12XT is better demonstrated on the highway or at speed on long sweeping turns.
On the highway, the XB12XT is comfortable and powerful enough to haul two people with luggage at a high cruising speed. The pillion is comfortable and high enough to afford the passenger a good view forward. Passenger pegs are intelligently placed at the bottom end of the perimeter frame to give ample leverage for the passenger to remain in place when stopping. Passenger handholds are provided in the form of bars that wrap around the sides of the pillion back to the Triple Tail. At speed, the handholds work well, but the low-speed characteristics of the bike make it advisable to hold on to the driver to reduce wobble.
The Buell Ulysses XB12XT is engineered to blend the disparate characteristics of touring and sport and does so to the advantage of the solo rider. It doesn’t work quite as well for two-up riding, but the bike provides enough amenities to make pair riding for the right couple desirable. Through the application of a few intelligent changes from the original Ulysses, Buell has produced a bike that will suit a rider who tends toward the more adventurous side of sport touring.