Road Test: XB12R vs. VTR1000 vs. SV1000

Would ewe believe it? You can get a 1000cc twin for less than seven grand. Should we flock to buy them or are we baa-king up the wrong tree? We go to Wales to find out.

Posted: 7 May 2008
by Tim Dickson

"Are they still making these, then?" We're standing on a bright, mid-Wales hilltop and Niall is kicking the VTR1000's tyres with a puzzled look on his face. Yes, they are.

It's a beautiful day to be pondering bikes - the FireStorm, a Buell XB12R Firebolt and Suzuki's SV1000SZ - and we've got ace roads wandering off in most directions to try them out. There are also a lot of sheep around. Now don't take this the wrong way but they struck me as rather attractive. Neatly trimmed, firm bodies and strong, handsome faces I thought.

Despite their fine good looks, they have something of a death wish. Riding bikes fast across blustery Welsh moorland is out of the question no thanks to sheep. They stand at the edge of the road, chewing cud or growing wool or doing whatever sheep do, oblivious to passing traffic. So oblivious that they occasionally walk out in front of it. Sharp brakes, quick steering and a keen eye are prerequisites for safe transit through rural Wales by motorcycle.

So is a Buell XB12R Firebolt up to the job? Could be. If you want a thumping great, bug-eyed lump of American differentness your search stops here. Buell has been turning heads with its own unique uses of Harley-Davidson motors for a while now. The 1203cc XB12R Firebolt has been around for a couple of years and replaced the outwardly similar yet underpowered 984cc XB9R. The Firebolt is the nearest thing Buell does to a full-on sports tool, but pitched against a Ducati 999, Aprilia Mille or Honda SP-2, the XB12R would be left standing. Performance and price-wise it's closer to the VTR and SV.

Practicality is a different matter. While the Suzuki and Honda will prove themselves to be most things to many people, the Buell ploughs a more mono-functional furrow. I'm not sure where you'd attach any luggage to, and I certainly wouldn't invite a passenger on board. Instead, the riding position and chassis shout racer, as do the lightning steering and fierce brakes - or rather brake, as you only get the single rim-mounted disc. And it's all you need. Any more would show up the Firebolt's main weakness more than the single stopper already does: the forks are a bit soft. Nearly all the time this isn't a problem; it's only when you press on that they're lacking.

Other than that the chassis is a gem. Accurate, light steering - perfect for sheep dodging - excellent feedback and mostly rock solid stable. It was only gassing hard out of a bumpy turn here and there that I felt the vaguest of headshakes, and the roads we were on were particularly bumpy.

But the shiniest jewel in the Buell's odd-looking, offset crown is the motor. Smooth, flexible and torquey, it's a joy to use. As was the gearbox on this particular machine but, as Jon noted, every Buell you ride seems too differ in this respect. Some are sweet, others like dropping bricks into a meat grinder. Even when they're good they work best with a deliberate, well-planned action - and forget trying clutchless - but it's
satisfying enough. The belt drive too adds to a silky smooth feeling of connection with the rear tyre that the other two bikes are lacking. Buell touts the Firebolt as 'less a machine, more an extension of your body'.

And once you get over the initial shock of its all-round quirkiness, you kind of begin to see their point. Get used to it and the Buell is involving and rewarding to ride. But it won't necessarily be to everyone's tastes. A yellow tinted screen, cartoon numbers on the clocks and all that old-school metal on display won't please all. However, if you're Buell-curious then get yourself a test ride.

Speaking of beasts, remember the TL1000? Suzuki's modern day take on that is the SV1000. If you're a former TL1000 owner looking to relive that bike's lairy, lunatic lifestyle, you could be disappointed by the SV; it's a softer machine for gentler times. That said, cruising around, avoiding sheep and enjoying the view, the SV is quite nice to ride. This version, the SV1000SZ, gets a full fairing, GSX-R-esque colours and, thanks to higher compression, new cams and fuel injection mods, an extra 5bhp or so at the top end over the standard SVs. On the minus side it feels a bit, er, cheap. While bikes like the GSX-Rs, Hayabusas and shiny chrome customs get Suzuki's special treatment, others, such as the GS500, Bandits and the SVs, seem second rate. The finish isn't as good, styling isn't as sharp and footrests, brackets, levers and the like seem a bit 'that'll do'.

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Discuss this story

Hi All
I am the owner of a 02 VTR1000F, bog std with Staintunes, it has the extra 3 litres in the tank, I get 40+ mpg when pressing on (120 - 140 kph) & 54 mpg when cruising at indicated 120 kph.
So I doubt it if any of the other bikes this size can get much better fuel consumption than the Honda, see my review, here is a link
Oh & by the way I only use the high octane fuel.
But I do agree with the tester here, the VTR prefers to be out on the open road, the SV has fuel injection which would make it better in city traffic, whereas the honda sometimes grumbles a bit when going slow

Posted: 11/10/2011 at 00:37

ditto , as above regarding fuel consumption.  My 2005 VTR is standard save for high rise Staintunes. In town and when flogging it the fuel consumption will be nothing to write home about. I put this down to the relatively inaccurate metering of carburettors vs fuel injection.

On tour though, with steady throttle use and relaxed throttle roll on, the bike will manage around 5 litres/100kms for relatively fast point to point times and an easy 360kms range.

Posted: 22/06/2012 at 13:33

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