First Ride: Buell XB9S

Buell's naked, promises big kicks from its punchy motor but with a wheelbase smaller than a gnat's wheelbarrow, sharp handling too

Ben Cope's picture
Submitted by Ben Cope on Mon, 13/09/2010 - 11:49

Click to read: Buell XB9S owners reviews, Buell XB9S specs and to see the Buell XB9S image gallery.

"So, gentlemen, as you can see, the new XB9S Lightning is the latest generation in the street-inspired Buell family and a different take on the Buell XB series."

The speaker is rewarded with a couple of bemused looks as the assembled journalists scratch their heads and look at each other in some confusion. Then one brave soul, after looking at the specs of this new, third generation Lightning, puts his hand up and says: "Isn't this just a FireBolt with straight bars, lower pegs and the bikini fairing ripped off?"

Silence from the Buell bigwigs. Bugger, looks like we'll be paying our own mini-bar bill this trip, lads...
And that's pretty much what the new Lightning is. But while you could argue that there aren't many changes, the Lightning is a demonstration of how things can actually be different the more they stay the same. After all, if Buell spent money making the Lightning slower, longer and worse handling, (i.e. more 'street' orientated) all we'd do as potential purchasers would be to complain, while actual purchasers would spend more time and money to bring it up to FireBolt spec, so they could proudly tell their mates how their Lightning is as fast and light as a FireBolt. So what Buell has done does  make sense.

The important changes are to the seating position. Where the FireBolt is contorting the rider into a semi-tuck, the Lightning's more relaxed seating position is apparent as soon as you fling a size nine over the teeny-tiny pillion seat. Wide bars replace clip-ons and the high pegs which give the FireBolt such excellent ground clearance are replaced with ones that are an inch lower.

This means you're given perhaps even more control over that stable, yet wicked set of geometry figures. As a reminder, they are 21-degrees of rake and 83mm of trail - the kind of figures normally only seen on Marco Melandri's Aprilia 250 GP bike.

Wheelbase is also identical to the Bolt at 1,320mm and 45mm shorter than Aprilia's road-scalpel stroker 250. As with the XB9R, its street sibling doesn't suffer any sudden cold turkey twitches, even though those figures suggest it should be dancing on the twilight of stability. What you do get, thanks to the disappearance of that bikini fairing, is a feeling that you are perched on a precarious crow's nest right above that front wheel spindle. But wind-in-yer cheeks is what this bike is about, even if the rakish wind-deflector-cum-number board does a top job of deflecting up-to 90mph windblast.

Under that number board (Erik Buell still wanted the road-biased Lightning to have the odd hints of his racing past) are a set of clocks that are much clearer and neater than the Bolt's. Buell say they listened to press and owner comments and changed the clocks accordingly. Top job as they are much clearer and easier to read than the 9R's. Gone are the numbers in daft Sesame Street kiddie's font, replaced by something you can read at a glance. You've got a speedo, tacho, indicator lights, low fuel warning indicator, two trips and one fuel trip which starts to count mileage when the low fuel light goes on, oh and a clock.

Click to continue the Buell XB9S review on page 2.

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