First Ride: Buell Ulysses XB12T

Spawned from the much-maligned Ulysses comes the latest entry to the adventure tourer world, Buell’s Ulysses XB12XT

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Spawned from the much-maligned Ulysses comes the latest entry to the adventure tourer world, Buell’s Ulysses XB12XT.

Despite a bit of a panning from the press Buell’s XB12X Ulysses has proved to be a hit in the showrooms. Last year it was the company’s best selling model, shifting 194 bikes in the UK. Okay, this isn’t a patch on the nearly 2,000 GS models BMW punted out but for Buell it’s very significant.

So, for 2008, Buell has decided to capitalise on this success by launching the XT, which is basically a Ulysses with no off-road pretence. Not that you would really want to take a Ulysses off road to start with.

Not much is changed but the XT gets road based Pirelli tyres (instead of sudo-knobblie ones on the Ulysses), shorter suspension and panniers and a top box as standard. What this means is that the wobble has been removed from the suspension, the touring ability has been improved and the stratospheric seat height reduced to a more normal altitude.

Now, I admit to not being a fan of the Ulysses, but the XT is a different matter. The changes to the suspension and tyres have transformed the bike into what is probably one of the best handling adventure bikes around. I was honestly surprised at what a capable machine it was on the twisty Spanish roads. With the rocking feeling removed from the suspension the XT fairly flies around corners and it reveals its excellent chassis. Remember, this bike is little more than a Firebolt with a few cosmetic tweaks and they handle fantastically. The XT has none of the slight bounce that Triumph’s Tiger has due to its longer suspension or the odd feeling from the GS’ larger front wheel, instead it feels solid, reassuring and bloody good.


And the 1200cc engine eventually feels sorted now too. Buell has tweaked the fuel-injection, fitted a lighter clutch and a gearbox that actually works without sounding like it is about to disintegrate to a whole new generation of XB motor. The clue is in the right-hand side timing cover. If it says ‘Thunderstorm 1200’ you are in luck, if not start building up that clutch hand and double sock wrapping your left foot.

Although it still vibrates like buggery at tick-over it’s not that intrusive when on the move and is a pleasant engine to cover miles with. The air-cooled V-twin produces a huge spread of flat torque and it’s a real stick it in top and enjoy the ride motor. Which won’t be for very long because XT is missing a few fairly fundamental elements for a touring bike.

For a start there is the fuel range. Or lack of. You will be lucky to get 120 miles until reserve, and 140 maximum before you are pushing, which is crap when compared to other adventure bikes. Then there is the lack of wind protection. Although a bigger screen is an optional extra the stock one fails to even shelter your nipples let alone your head. Big gripes, and the problem with the adventure bike market is that the opposition is all very good.

So where does the Buell fit in? Where I would tend to steer people clear of the Ulysses I wouldn’t dissuade them from the XT. Well, as long as they are aware of its limitations. It is in no way a GS beater, the wind protection is limited, tank range poor and it vibrates like hell when stationary, and at £8,395 it isn’t cheap. But as with all Buells, if it floats your boat then I would say give it a shot. The XT is a fun bike with a strong and lazy engine that is quirky and entertaining to ride. The only thing that would really drive me insane if I owned one is the bloody fan, which seems to start up and run with an intensely annoying pitch for approximately a year after you turn the bike off.

BUELL Ulysses XB12XT

Price: £8,395
Engine: 1,203cc, air-cooled, SOHC, 4-valve V-twin
Power: 80bhp @ 7,500rpm
Torque: 58lb.ft @ 4,500rpm
Front suspension: 47mm USD, FULLY-adjustable
Rear suspension: Monoshock, FULLY adjustable
Front brake: 375mm disc, SIX-piston caliper
Rear brake: 240mm disc, one-piston caliper
Dry weight: 193kg (claimed)
Seat height:  780mm
Fuel capacity: 16.7l
Top speed: 120mph (est)
Colours: Red, blue, black