2009 Buell Lightning XB12Scg | Review

Motorcycle Low Rider

Having spent plenty of motorcycling time to become best chums with the Buell Lightning CityX XB9SX motorcycle, I was looking forward to meeting its more muscular larger brother, the XB12Scg. I split lanes on the congested freeways of Los Angeles during the week, and sometimes tour the unpredictable downtown streets at night or on weekends, so I appreciate the Lightning family’s streetfighter style-aggressive, fast, and agile.

I also enjoy the rush of a snappy ride through the canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains, and a few extra horses under the tank could add to the fun.

While at 5′ 6" I was comfortable, but not quite flat-footed, on the CityX, the Lightning XB12Scg has slightly lowered suspension, front and rear, and its seat height (28.6 inches) sits an inch-and-a-half closer to the ground (the "cg" appendage in the model designation refers to the lower center-of-gravity). This expands my comfort zone and, even though the XB12 is not particularly heavy (395 pounds, claimed dry), it makes handling the bike at slow speeds or at a stop that much easier.

The ergonomics of the XB12 are well-suited to urban riding. The seating position is slightly aggressive, with the pegs set back behind the crankcase, controls on the wide, flat handlebars within easy reach, and the rider sits high enough to see all comers. The short wheelbase and steep rake make an extremely compact package, and the bike’s narrow dimensions allow it to slip between vehicles with ease.

Of course, even with its nimble size, sometimes one gets stuck in the stop-and-go pace of the four-wheel crowd. A thermostatically controlled fan kicks on at times like these to help the Thunderstorm keep its cool. Once parked, the variable speed fan continues its job, which may cause comment from non-riding co-workers who think you’ve left the bike on!

At almost any speed, the 1203 Thunderstorm V-twin engine produces plenty of power. The torque curve is broad and flat across the five gears, and combined with significant engine braking, there is not a lot of need to shift or tap the traditionally mounted 240 mm rear disc. If, however, you have been pushing the revs (redline is 7100) and find yourself in need of a quick slow down, Buell’s rim-mounted 375mm single front rotor is at the ready. The inside-out ZTL2 disc with 8-piston caliper gets the job done handily while keeping the front end light.

Maneuverability of the machine comes from various technological features, including Buell’s signature fuel-in-frame (3.8 gallons), oil-in-swingarm and under-engine exhaust mounting. Centralizing these weighty elements makes the bike light on its toes. When set loose in the twisties, the XB12 changes direction with ease, like the perfect dance partner anticipating your moves. And though the taut suspension may feel a bit uptight in a straight line, it has your back in turns. This bike does a very credible job taunting pure sport bikes in the corners, thanks to both its secure handling and plentiful torque.

The Lightning XB12Scg is an interesting character. Its gravel-voiced Harley-Davidson-built engine has a pleasing pulse at low speed, but smoothes out to a purr above 3500 rpm (at which point the mirrors actually become useful). Its tight, solid body is stripped-down, functional and a consistent head turner. From the translucent airbox and flyscreen, to the beautiful lines of the wide aluminum frame, to the underslung exhaust-which looks like a pocketknife tucked below the engine-the bike exudes cool. If I could pick it up and tuck it in my pocket, I would. Instead, I throw a leg across the saddle, tuck into position and zip out into the metropolis.


Helmet: Shoei RF-1000 Flutter
Jacket: Dainese Lady Luck
Gloves: Firstgear Fargo
Pants: Dainese Toronto Jeans
Boots: Alpinestars Stella S-MX 4

Photography by Don Williams