Living with a 2002 Buell XB9R Firebolt

A carefully considered long term Buell by Jim Bowen

October 2002

Choosing the right longtermer ain’t as straight forward as you might think. As you get older and your body constantly reminds you of the bashed ligaments and poorly-healed fractures of years gone by, as your circumstances change (I now cover 32,000 miles a year in commuting alone), as the country turns into an Orwellian nightmare with different cameras for different crimes, sometimes a change can be as good as a rest.

Last year was spent mostly on a trusty maxi-scooter – hardly fantasy garage material – so the timely arrival of the Firebolt to these shores was a welcome relief as decision time loomed. The new Buell’s stunning design, with hi-tech-meets-low tech chassis and motor, the streetfighter mated with thoroughbred sportster – it all just works.

Although I naturally accept there are more exotic, potent and ultimately desirable bikes available, the necessary ingredients required this time around are individuality, attitude and grunt.

I just can’t ride an R1 or anything like it in a sensible fashion for more than five minutes, and nor do I want to. More importantly though, I don’t really want to spend every journey politely acknowledging thousands of other R1 riders. The Firebolt should hopefully never sell in such vast numbers so should remain an individual standing out in the crowd, and that to me is its single most appealing aspect.

There are so many talking points. Like the huge frame housing the fuel, the oil-laden swingarm, the rim-mounted single disc brake and, of course, that classic Harley-Davidson V-twin motor at the heart of it all. The looks alone turn heads but the proof of the pudding is in the riding. It looks small and light because it is. With a modest 75bhp available, it takes a bit of effort to hustle, with shortshifting needed to liberate the best of the torque. The lazy gearbox takes adjusting to as well asking for concentration and a positive foot to get a move on efficiently, but all this rider input is rewarding. And the chassis is tight and nimble making turning sharp and accurate, adding to the sporty feel. A sexy paint job and antisocial exhaust are all it needs to complete the street package, so it’s a shame both are sorely lacking…

To live with, it’s been a doddle. It fires up first time every time and hasn’t skipped a beat in fifteen hundred miles. Fuel economy’s okay, but the tank range isn’t. The trip meter needs to be set every fill-up as it’s time to panic when the fuel warning light appears, thanks to the reserve distance being a woeful 10 miles!

Still, comfort’s way better than the bike’s looks suggest so covering the 80-100 mile tank range without a break is nae bother. Whether strutting around town, blasting up the motorway or slicing through traffic around Donington Park (see test this issue), the Firebolt laps it up and keeps me amused. That’s good enough for me, but will it appeal to superfast racer Glen Richards?

Aw she’s alright is this little beauty. Never ridden a Buell before and although I kinda thought I’d been stiffed with the short straw on this test being the last one to turn up and all, the Firebolt was a real good laugh. She pulled good wheelies, turned better than anything related to a Harley Davidson has any right to, and even had the young girls hanging around the town centre near the hotel all gawping. Yep, I’d say this one’s alright.

Apart from the gearbox that is. Blimey that thing’s a bit prehistoric. I was glad I had my mega solid Daytona race boots on – reckon I might have been going home with a badly bruised right foot otherwise. As it was all I went home with was a cold. Bloody English summer – I have never been so wet on a bike in my life. Felt like I should have been surfing the Buell rather than riding it at times. At least the electrics held up alright though, eh?

December 2002

With just over 3k on the clock, the Buell is still on its best behaviour with no niggles to report. Surprisingly, it's proving to be a fairly handy tool for commuting with a comfortable motorway cruising speed of 85mph. The lack of wind protection and fuel capacity prevent any prolonged high speed shenanigans, which is handy for licence preservation.

As far as running costs go, the tyres have been replaced after 2,800 miles including a couple of trackdays - that's the benefit of running a 75bhp bike. Having been advised to stick with the recommended lightweight 207 Dunlops, I opted for the trusty Pilot Sport Cups from Michelin which are working a treat and haven't slowed down the steering, as I feared they might. Fuel fill-ups are a daily affair as the tank range is identical to the daily commute at 110 miles. Average fuel consumption for anyone still listening is 44mpg.

The bike has just returned from Warr's, the stylish King's Road Harley dealer, having had its second service and the official performance kit fitted. Service intervals are quite frequent at 2,500 miles but they tend to be oil & filter changes. On this occasion, they changed the plugs and the brake pads as well, as a day at

Donington Park had taken its toll. With one set of pads doing all the work on that giant front disc, I imagine it'll be a regular job. The replacement pads were quite pricey, forcing the total bill to just under £200 with labour.

So, on to the interesting part. The performance kit consists of one race muffler for race use only, one Hi-flo air filter and a replacement ECU (rather than just a chip). The total cost is £641 plus fitting (get it done during a service to save on labour).

The engine now runs more cleanly, pulling much harder than before from 4,500rpm and producing a noticeable seven extra horses up to the red line at 7,500 rpm. Torque is also up by about 10%  throughout the same rev range. Peak power is only up by about three bhp (to 77.5) at the wheel but that's not what the kit (or this bike) is all about. It's more responsive, loves being revved, makes a fearsome racket and now fires its noise out of the underbelly can via two menacing spouts - one for each of my hideous neighbours. Job done. Call Martin at Warr's (020 7736 2934) and give him your credit card number.