Used Bike

Owners Guide: XB9R Firebolt & XB9S Lightning & XB12X Ulysses p2

With a reputation for constant niggles and occasional disasters, our survey says Buells are by no means the nightmare of common lore

The nuts & bolts

Forty five percent of riders reported no problems with their bikes. 24% had suffered one, 29% a few and an unfortunate 2% had loads. That’s not brilliant. The Ducati 749 and 999s we surveyed recently came out better, so did Aprilia Tuonos. Even the Triumph T595 and 955i Daytonas recently surveyed suffered fewer problems and they’re much older bikes. So Buells have issues, but some more than others.

What are the problems?
Well, there are lots of different ones reported in our survey. The most common is wheel bearing failure with 13 people complaining of this in as little as 2,300 miles. More worryingly, several owners suffered major engine problems like a snapped conrod, broken piston and two cases of crank bearing failure. Many owners suffered minor electrical faults, two of which were caused by wires under the seat chafing. Two owners reported problems with: engine mounts, exhaust bolts breaking, regulator rectifier failure, warped brake discs and detached side stands.

One 2005 Ulysses rear subframe completely broke although the bike was rarely used with a pillion or luggage. Buell replaced it even thought the bike was not in warranty. Another Ulysses (a 2008 bike) needed a new engine after just 1,000 miles and the replacement gave trouble too – these problems were traced to a batch of dodgy oil pumps. Some bikes don’t run well in the rain or after being washed but new HT leads seem to help.

Quite a few had drive belts snap too but these can be considered consumables – a Free Spirit belt tensioner seems to help the belt and more importantly the gearbox output bearing too. 52 faults were reported in total, not including failed wheel bearings and snapped drive belts. It sounds a bit grim but XB9X City X owner, Simon Mapp, sums up most Buell owners sentiments. He says, “Normal wear and tear for a Buell is not quite the same as for other bikes.”

Many of the XB’s problems can be sorted fairly easily. It helps to belong to a good owners forum such as the excellent

Finish is generally pretty good with one exception – the exhaust. Mild steel and located where it gets a pasting from the front tyre, it can rust within 500 miles. Thirty six percent of owners said they were disappointed by this. A few also said fasteners corroded, paint came off in a few areas including rear plastics and wheels. A handful commented the switchgear was pretty antiquated but otherwise there were no real problem areas. Overall that’s pretty good and plenty of owners said their Buells had a better finish than Japanese bikes they’d owned.

Continue the Buell XB lowdown

Owner Case Study: "I rode a Ulysses up to the Arctic circle"

Alastair Clegg has owned four of these quirky devices and doesn’t have a bad word to say about them

“They’re an obsession for me. I love their quirkiness. Every time I fill up, someone comes up to me to talk about the bike. I like the fact they’re designed by one man, not a team of accountants.

“I’ve had four – a Lightning Long, a Super TT and two Ulysses and never had a single problem with any of them. I rode my Lightning Long to the south of France and almost ran it dry. I ended up filling it with diesel car oil – and it still ran like clockwork.

“I rode one of the Ulysses about 15,000 miles from Anchorage in Alaska, up to the Arctic Circle, then right down North and South America to Buenos Aires. At one point I rode with an Irish guy on a R1200GS but his immobiliser failed, stranding him. The Buell coped with everything – me falling off, a hurricane, gravel banks, poor quality fuel and never missed a beat.

“I had an Aprilia RSV Factory before and I think I’m faster round a twisty circuit or tight country roads on a Buell. I have total confidence in the Buells – you can just throw them into any corner and they’ll get round. The Super TT was the best for road blasts but the Ulysses is more versatile.”

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