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  • March 15, 2012
  • Gabe Ets-Hokin & Friends
  • Alan Lapp
  • 46 Comments

Stop me … Before I Buy a Used Buell XB

Some people are just never happy.

Here I am, owner of what may be the best all-around sporting streetbike on the road today, Triumph’s fun, funky, feisty Street Triple R: a hundred horses pushing you forwards, right around 415 pounds full of gas, and a motor that’s torquey on the bottom, free-revving through the middle, then spins to 13,000 rpm-plus and enjoys every minute of it. Top it off with brakes that feel like they’ll stop a runaway F-18, top-notch, adjustable cartridge suspension from the 675 Daytona, relaxed, upright ergos and a humane seat, and why would you need any other bike? Seriously, why?

Well, aside from my self-esteem issues that keep me from having anything too nice, the Strippler has its faults. Like most Triumphs, it’s sort of spendy to maintain. It returns lackluster fuel economy for a middleweight, has an absurdly sensitive throttle and styling that’s…well…it’s not the kind of bike you’ll want to write poetry about, let’s put it that way. I also realized the bike was worth more than I had paid for it, so I was thinking, shucks, why not cash out, get something equally fun and interesting, and apply the extra dough to something fun, like funding my kid’s college fund?

Why not? Well, the problem is finding the bike that will fill the Triumph’s shoes, performance and value-wise. A comfy, sporting standard, lightweight and torquey, for around $4,000. What was out there?

Well, I’ve always admired the fuel-in-frame Buell XB series. About 18 months ago, my pal Ivan emailed that he bought an XB9S, bringing back memories of how much I enjoyed riding theses bikes. Erik Buell intended them as true all-around streetbikes—comfortable, great handling, light and fun to ride. I mentioned on a local discussion forum (BARF) I was thinking about selling the Trumpet and buying a Buell. Before you know it, some friendly BARF-ers offered up a pair of XBs to ride, then my friend Alan wanted to ride, and then Ivan heard about it and wanted to come with his friend Dennis (who rides a ’97 Buell X1 White Lightning), so I had to have MD contributor John Joss come along as well — just to keep it real. Suddenly, we had a story on our hands.

What have you heard about the XB series? Here’s what I know. Introduced in 2002, the bikes use an exotic, made-in-Italy frame that puts fuel in the frame spars and oil in the swingarm. The motor was a first for Buell—purpose-built for the brand, it uses architecture similar to the Sportster mills used before, but with new cases and just about everything else. The 984cc version makes about 75 horsies at the wheel, add 12-15 for the manly-man 1203cc XB12. Front suspension is an inverted 41mm fork (43mm after 2004), and braking is by Buell’s ‘ZTL’ braking system, featuring a single rim-mounted 375mm disc and six-piston caliper. Wheelbase is a tidy 52 inches) and the bikes weigh in around 425 pounds with the 3.7-gallon ‘tank’ filled up.

That’s some serious tech, right? Given the bike’s history and quirkiness, you’d think they’d be rare collector’s items, with high resale values. Not. A local Craigslist scan showed you could buy Buell XBs by the metric tonne in the $2,500-$4,000 range, and they have a pretty good reputation for reliability, believe it or not. Spare parts are not just available, through 250 Harley-Davidson dealers, they also tend to be much cheaper than Japanese or European brands. Maintenance is also pretty reasonable — the Sporty-derived motor uses hydraulic valve adjusters and final drive is by a non-adjustable belt Buell claimed would last the life of the bike (but is easy and cheap to replace if it doesn’t). Icing on the cake—fuel economy is in the 50-plus range if you baby it, 40-plus if you don’t, fantastically efficient compared to my gas-guzzling Triumph, which returns 35 only if you ride like you ingested too much cold medication.

My memories of testing these bikes when I was a big-shot motojournalist are rosy — probably because I was riding brand-new, carefully prepped machines. The two machines BARFers Chess and Mandy own—a 2003 XB9S and a 2004 XB12S — are in good condition for decade-old bikes with five digits on the speedo, but still feel used. Ivan’s 2003 XB9S has the most miles, and is the most tired, but all three still fell a lot better than your average high-mileage machine and would greatly benefit from some TLC; fresh suspension and brake rebuilds, maybe some bearings and bushings.  You’d have new bikes, essentially. Judging from the loyalty of Buell owners, the last generation of the 126,000 bikes produced by Buell are solid, reliable rides that will probably outlast most of their owners.

So what are they like to ride? For a motorcycle in that price range, excellent. Let’s start with the good stuff — torque and handling. Even the revvier (but softer) XB9 mill has more power available right off idle — hell, at 500 rpm — than anything short of an electric motor. Handling isn’t what you’d expect, given the chassis numbers and relative low mass of the bikes, but at a 7/10ths pace, they are so easy to ride — stable, predictable and balanced. Comfort is also remarkable for this kind of bike; relaxed seating position, comfy seat and smooth running for a 45-degree V-Twin.

That motor won’t dazzle you unless you’re moving up from a Ninja 500 or a cruiser, but it’s still really fun. It’s not a lot of power, but it’s there everywhere, in every gear, even more so on the 12, which is like riding some kind of automatic wheelie simulator. The bottom end of the rev range is so burly you start to think about how incredible it would be if the powerband went on to 10,000 rpm or more. Instead, it peaks at around 7,000 and is bouncing off the limiter around 8,000. Still, for regular riding on bumpy two-lane roads at 60-80 mph, it’s clearly a great mill, an elegant pairing with that special chassis.

In the ‘fail’ box are two niggles: power and brakes. Low-end torque is great, but sometimes you just need that top-end hit, maybe to break the law with a little more style, or when you want to relax a bit at a trackday and not be a hazard in the B group. The Buell mill — 9 or 12 — just doesn’t quite cut it up top compared to bikes you can pick up for just a few hundred bucks more.

And finally — brakes. If there’s one thing Erik B. deserves criticism for, it’s that silly engineering-for-engineering’s sake brake system. At best, the hula-hoop disk and huge caliper work almost as well as a conventional setup, but at the cost of slower steering and interference with trail-braking fun. Even worse, the system seems to need more attention than a regular one, and all three bikes I rode needed love, performing with a weak initial bite and requiring much more squeeze to slow down. Luckily, the bike is kind of slow and doesn’t need a lot of braking, except in an emergency, in which case you’re on your own.

So would I buy one? If I only had $4,000 to spend on a used bike, absolutely. The Buell lacks power, and the brakes are goofy, but what bike is perfect? Not one I’ve ever had. For the money, you’d have to get really lucky to get this kind of fun, handling, economy, style and well-engineered quality. If you’ve got a Buell XB, hang on to it to give to your kids. If you want one, consult your motorcycle-sales professional or Craigslist if you think a Buell might be right for you.

Second Take: Big Al Lapp

I’ll own up to being an import motorcycle guy. I grew up riding mostly Suzuki and Honda, I currently own three Kawasakis and in over 35 years of riding have owned just one Yamaha. My current daily driver is a KTM dual-sport bike but back in the mid-90s I actually considered buying Buell’s first ‘regular’ production motorcycle, the S2 Thunderbolt. However, I wasn’t impressed with the essentially unmodified Sportster motor.

Imagine my pleasure when Gabe invited me along on his Buell fact-finding mission. I was to shoot, ride and provide opinions of the XB series — which are quite affordable on the used market.

So, I’ll start by saying that the thing I liked most about them 15 years ago is the thing that I now like least: it’s a tiny little sport bike. Eric Buell was said to have modeled the chassis geometry for his original bike after the TZ250, a successful track-only roadracing bike. This is possibly an urban legend, but believable. When I pulled up next to another riding buddy’s Honda Super Hawk, the Buell was visibly and significantly shorter in both wheelbase and seat height. Chess, the owner of the XB9S, said I made it look like a pit bike.

So, being taller, I had to fold up my legs pretty severely to get my feet on the high pegs. I don’t expect borrowed bikes to be set up for me but aside from the usual lever problems I was surprised to find that the suspension worked quite well for my weight, having about the right amount of damping to provide a plusher ride than I’d have expected, yet provide thoroughly confidence inspiring control.

Bottom line: would I buy it? There are pros and cons to a Buell XB: adequately muffled, they sound great, and I’m even a fan of the (somewhat polarizing) styling. On the road, they’re a nice experience — the torquey motor pulls sweetly and now that I’m older and slower and ride a thumper, provides adequate thrust for real-world riding. The true stars of the show are the chassis and the brakes. They’re both user friendly and provide good feedback. Heck, the seat is even comfortable enough for long rides if you can figure out how to fit luggage. The answer: no, I’m too tall. If I were shorter than 5’10” or had creepy short legs, I’d probably say yes.

Third Take: John Joss

Why should Gabe buy a Buell?

Why not?

Get right down to it, each of us has a different way to get from here to there: walk, ride a bicycle, take a bus, hitchhike, even — choke, gasp — drive a car, as a last resort, if all else fails.

But we don’t do any of the above. We ride . . . a motorcycle. Not any motorcycle. We who have been riding for a while and who have sampled a few different motorcycles come down to this: which should it be? Then: what should our next one be? Last: can we afford it?

Buell is a logical choice, a technical choice, an emotional choice and — in the case of Erik Buell’s Harley-Davidson-engined machines — a financial choice. In short, Erik Buell gets it. He has given us special gifts with his machines. And they are there, economically, for the taking.

He’s in select company. In the last 100-odd years since the motorcycle was invented, many brilliant designers have tried to capture the platonic essence of ‘motorcycle.’ They strove to create a machine that could go, stop and handle, one that could work reliably year in and year out, that could be maintained at reasonable cost, that could please our minds and emotions. Machines with character, class and style, machines that we would live for and live with and love. Machines with soul. Think a Vincent-HRD, a Moto-Guzzi, a bevel-drive Ducati, an air-head BMW, a flat-head Harley or . . . a Buell. Erik Buell lives in the pantheon of the great, original designers.

Every time I ride a Buell, I sense that soul-moving effect. It’s in the bike’s DNA: a big motor that delivers monster torque and a stirring V-Twin rumble, a short wheelbase that encourages the inner child with its incipient wheelies, a sensible front brake on the wheel periphery, where it works more efficiently and one disk is as good as others’ two, fuel in the frame, oil in the swingarm. Just look at it: there isn’t a boring line in it.

Should he buy one? He could do a lot worse.

46 Comments

  1. Jeremy in TX says:

    Don’t do it. Despite improvements made during the XB series, the bikes are IMO still much more problematic than other makes. And everything you like about your Streetie will cause you to get bored with the Buell pretty fast. Many, probably even most, HD dealers don’t sell Buell parts. Oh, and the lifetime belt ain’t. The ’08+ bikes are worth the extra asking price if you are set on an XB. They are better in most ways to the older versions.

    Buy an 1125CR and raise the handle bars. They can be had pretty cheap as well, you still get to be “different”, it is far more refined than the XB and the Rotax mill should tickle the adrenal glands just fine, unlike the XB motor.

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  2. Marco says:

    A $4,000.00 bike that’s fast, comfortable, reliable, efficient, fun as a drunken cheerleader, pretty, sounds seksy, and will last a lifetime: early 2000′s Kawasaki ZRX1200R. Hands down.

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  3. diver_down says:

    Before you buy a Buell, ride a Honda Superhawk. More bang for the buck and a better level of finish.

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  4. zuki says:

    I wish I had never sold my XB9S! :( It’s one of the most fun and character-filled bikes I ever owned. It embodied the essence of what ‘motorcycle’ is… it was a bike capable of inducing that “Motorcycle Fever” feeling I had as a kid with my first couple of bikes.

  5. JR says:

    This comment is for all those who always have problem prone motorcycles.. it reminds me of someone I know from years ago after he purchased a brand new Honda 750 K model. Later that same year during the heart of the winter, the temp was in the teens with snow on the ground and he asked me to listen to a sound his bike was making. So out in his garage, starting his stone cold Honda.. he rev’s the engine to red line and looks at me and say’s.. can you hear that engine clicking sound? And ask’s me.. what do you think that is? “Enough said”.

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  6. Hewlett Hermit says:

    Along with several other bikes, I have two Buells (’99 M2 & ’06 XB9R). If times got tough and I was forced to sell my bikes the XB9R would be the last to go. When I ride it for more than a few minutes it becomes more like a natural extension of my body than any other bike I’ve ridden.

    I’m not sure what caused the brake problems you have experienced. Tire/brake pad combination problem maybe? My XB9R has Metzler Z6 tires and EBC HH brake pads. It stops well enough to put me over the bars (and probably saved me from serious injury). It also trail brakes into corners very nicely.

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  7. T. Rollie says:

    where were all these great Buell reviews when Buell was still in business?

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    • FreddyJ says:

      Having owned a steel-framed Buell for seveal years, I would agree that they are great all-around machines. Not so much a sportbike as a sporty standard. I sold mine when I started doing track days, which is where the imports shine, and Buells…don’t. It’s a great motor on the street, but doesn’t cut it on the track–which is where most sport bike journalists spend a good chunk of their time. I couldn’t think of a better ride for a tight, twisty back road…

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  8. Charlie says:

    As the owner of a 2012 Street Triple R, I say don’t do it. You will regret giving up the Triumph. I find the STR to be the most enjoyable street bike I’ve ever owned. I don’t think the cost of ownership is that much more than a Honda and I get over 40 mpg consistently.

    Read your first paragraph again and take the R out for a long ride before you make up your mind!

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  9. slash5 says:

    I own an 09 Ulysses. Bought it right after the shut down. I knew what I was getting into w/ parts availability, service, etc. I enjoy wrenching on my own bike so its not a big deal for me. Haven’t had a parts problem yet. Have just done fluid changes and replaced the belt for piece of mind and to use the old one for a spare. Have put 10000 trouble free miles on it. It is easily the most comfortable bike I’ve ever ridden. Except for the right side heat it’s a great bike.

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  10. trent says:

    You just reminded me what I love about my Kawi Z750S. Without mods it gets 47mpg (measured), has a 4.8 gallon fuel tank, and an 11.5k rpm redline. I currently own three bikes, including a ZX10R, and the Z750S is the last one I would sell. I admit that part of the reason is the 636 front-end conversion the bike has now.

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  11. Thad G. says:

    I have had several Buell motorcycles, starting with a 1995 Buell S2, then onto a 1999 Buell S3T, then 2003 XB9R, then 2004 XB12R and now a 2007 XB12X. The problems with the Buells are understood issues and most have them at the same mileage. The bike allows its owner to be the mechanic with a good manual. This is not to say that I have not been left on the side of the road a time or two, this just adds to the adventure of owning an American product.

    Once the motorcycles are outfitted with a custom ECM, pipe and intake they perform much sportier than new. I was not impressed with their performance when I rode them at a demo event.

    The bikes really shine when taken to the twistiest roads you can find and hammer down thru the turns. The response and sound of the machines just puts a smile on your face.

    I look forward to what Erik Buell Racing produces and how much better it will be than anything else he has created!

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  12. bucho65 says:

    Let me just say there is a reason why XB Buells are $2500-$4000.

    From May 2005 to October 2010 I put 54,000 miles on my 05 Firebolt. In those miles I rode up to Oregon from Los Angeles and also did about 10 track days during that time. I would not call the XBs reliable machines. I never made it a year without my Buell stranding me at least once on the side of the road. I went through a stator, voltage regulator, a melted VR connector (common problems on Buells), supposedly a battery, fuel pump, these were all during the first 2 years under warranty. On paper they look like they are low maintenance but in the real world it’s a different story. Intake seals leak, TPS goes out of adjustment, engine isolators are a pain to replace, oil leaks, exhaust valve cables snapping, muffler straps break, sensors go bad because of the vibration. At 54000 miles a rod bearing went, the left crank bearing was making a lot of noise, and the trans needed to be rebuilt. I don’t feel I was that hard on it very rarely went above 5000rpm on the street, during track days I shifted at 6000, changed the oil every 2500-3000 miles with Mobil 1 or Redline 20-50.

    I made the dumb decision to have the engine rebuilt because I loved riding the bike. During the rebuild process I found out what a pile of #### HD engines are. There is no way in hell I’m buying another HD product, 1-for shutting down Buell and 2- their engines have far more cons than pros.

    The worse thing about owning a Buell is dealing with Harley dealerships. They had/have no interest in supporting Buell, service departments acting like they are forced or reluctant to work on them and parts counter guys with no knowledge of the brand. If American Sportbike ever goes out of business I’m selling my XB.

  13. JPJ says:

    Think of what could have been, if only Harley would have hung in with Buell a couple of years. Improvements to the XB series, certainly. What does Harley have with the XR-1200 ? An overweight XB.

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  14. JR says:

    I owned a new 2004 Buell XB12S Lightning for 4 years and sold it myself to purchase a new 2008 Harley Davidson FXD Superglide, otherwise I would still own it. I would love to purchase another Buell Lightning if I ever get the money to do so. They are a fun bike to own that are easy to maintain. I for one thought it was stupid to just shut the brand down, especially with the mileage they got. At some point in time since Harley shut them down, they should either bring it back or let Erik Buell bring them back under new manufacturing funding. Because the Buell XB Lightning was a fun motorcycle to own, and people know that there is already plenty of non-USA designed motorcycles for sale out there, so why not keep an American made model going to keep American’s working.

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  15. Bob says:

    There’s a reason they went out of business. Thanks for bringing the details back into focus. I wasn’t impressed when they were new either.

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  16. Trpldog says:

    I had 2 Buells – a white XB9R and a Blood red XB12R with factory gold wheels. I have since got a Roulette green rip-roaring 07 Speed Triple. The fact of the matter is, I would love to have another Buell as a second bike. Not because of any reliablity issues, but the clunky transmission, the paint-shaker vibes at idle and the low 6,000 rpm rev ceiling can get old after a while. The torque of my XB12 with the Drummer muffler was second to none, and I started riding in 1973. Once it was setup correctly, the XB would go around corners like a rabbit wearing running shoes. I may pick one up yet. The majority of guys who bad-mouthed the Buell never rode one. The XB series was totally reliable and with non-adjustable lifters and a clean belt drive – it was the the Dog’s Bollox.

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  17. Vrooom says:

    I had a thunderbolt, but have ridden the XB series a number of times as I have a friend with an XB9 who seriously coveted my Ducati at the time (a ST4s). We’d often ride an extremely twisty 70 mile strip of pavement, switch bikes, and ride back. Ergos were pretty extremely uncomfortable, especially the peg height as the author said. Vibrations weren’t unbearable, but not close to invisible, even immediately after getting off the ST. The motor was better than I thought it would be, it certainly wasn’t in a class with the Ducati, but better than you’d expect a Sportster based motor could be. The handling was excellent, as long as you didn’t touch the front brakes in a corner. That thing stood up faster than a cat with a bucket of water poured on it. As the author said, the brakes weren’t that great, not inadequate, but compared to say dual 4 pot brembos and 320 mm rotors they were sub-par but certainly got the bike stopped.
    Why not get one, the biggest reason I see is specific to Portland or the Northwet, such a miniscule fairing means it’s a fair weather bike. That doesn’t work here, but may where you life.

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  18. christow says:

    I loved my ’04XB12R. I rode it on two 500 mile days and the issue I ever had was the mirror vibrating off. Beyond that it was an amazingly fun bike that ruled the teal tight stuff. The fuel range is an issue out here in Idaho, with that small a fuel capacity the mileage has to be good. Miss that bike, although my license doesn’t.

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  19. Stinky says:

    I’ve been a Buell fan since the S1 came along in 96. I wanted a Monster in the worst way but snooty dealers pushed me towards the Buell. I don’t regret it.
    My 96 S1 is still on the original belt, I’ve rebuilt the carb in 06 (varnish) account of our short riding season with intake manifold gasket.
    I was waiting for the gas in frame to get to at least 5 gal. but when HD pulled the plug and they started giving them away I bought the XB12XT. Shoulda bought an 1125 also, but, I was worried about maintenance on the Rotax (3 counterbalancers!).
    The test isn’t too far off. They’re not fast but I seldom get to ride over 100mph without fear of losing my license and cheap insurance. I’ve alway said that up to 100 it’s hard to beat a largely maintenance free Buell.
    BTW I did get the Monster and like it just a little better than the S1 right until it needs the valves adjusted and carbs synced and lubing the chain (with related cleaning). I’m still learning to love the XB but it’s hard to imagine a more comfortable, cheap, sporty, tourer. It just doesn’t make my willie tingle like the S1 or Monster.

  20. Great article! I’ve been the ecstatic owner of an XB12R since about a week after the closure announcement back in October 2009 (walked into the dealership on October 15th itself). It has more than enough power to get away from traffic and is a lot faster than it feels – I’m often surprised by how slowly cars are moving in a 45 mph zone, only to look down at my speedo and realize I’m doing nearly 60 (sorry, officer!). At 5’11″ with longish legs, I find the ergos much more comfortable than a few Italian and Japanese sportbikes I’ve tried, and have been able to handle a few 400-500 mile days on it. I’m in my mid-40′s, which coincidentally is also what the Buell’s gas mileage generally is. For the sport-touring I do, I kind of wish it had more range, but that’s my only complaint. Oh, and Posi-Lock connectors on electrical accessories tend to loosen themselves from the vibration (which I only notice at idle), while conventional connectors seem to hold up just fine.

    I hope I’m never in so dire straits that I have to consider selling it. You guys are right – it’s a modern classic.

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  21. JT says:

    Picked up a gently used Buell last fall. The grin factor is off the charts!!!….love this thing….something special!

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  22. Stratkat says:

    ive ridden them and they are fun to ride. but im not sure about the reliability.
    seems like everytime the bike mags rode them something was always breaking. headers cracking,
    things breaking off. seems like they always liked them but couldnt recommend them till the build quality was up. this was pre Rotax however.

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  23. Christopher says:

    My M2 shook too much for commuting in stop and go and it really did not like 30 mph, perferring either 25 or 35 depending on the gear. But the XB12SS I rode at Daytona in 2008. Very nice indeed. I had a smile on my face for the whole 25 minute test ride on the backroads outside of the Speedway. I thought it was very comfortable. The motor was super. Suspension worked quite well. Seat was excellent. My feet were quite high under me but I can see that working leaned way over in a corner, which is quite frankly what this bike is meant to do. But it also woofed up to 65 mph in an instant and was smooth once it got there so highway stints are fine as well. Buy it!

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  24. Jamo says:

    What was the very last general production model and year Buell produced before HD killed Buell? Is that the XBR that’s being talked aout here? Or, is that a different model?

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    • Gabe says:

      Yes, the XB models (both XB-S standard or XB-R sport-styled) were built up until the very end, alongside the 1125R and 1125CR. The bikes I rode for this story were essentially the same, although there were some major refinements and model changes from 2003-2008.

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  25. Cali Rider says:

    Good suggestion for an inexpensive ride…however, a quick scan of Cycletrader shows the majority of available used XB’s are “at home” in Wisconsin, and prices start closer to $5K than the “metric tonne” of Craigslist ads for $2500. Here in SoCal there is one XB listed on CL with very high miles, so they’re apparently quite rare at the moment…

  26. craigj says:

    The Buell Ulysses was one of the best bikes I ever rode, but haven’t owned one. Yet. I’d still have an XB12X in a heartbeat. Like Al, the XB-S’s are comically and uncomfortably small for me. The only thing I’ve heard bad about Buells is that they can run REALLY hot, and that can play havoc with the hydraulic valve adjusters. Other than that, about as simple and reliable as stone tools.

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  27. eDiehl says:

    If you need more room on the Buell, get a Ulysses. In addition to greater comfort, you also get suspension that will soak up lumpy pavement and not blanch at the thought of a fire road. My first was an ’06, but I sold it to get the improvements that came onboard in ’08. If I didn’t already have a very nice ’09 I wouldn’t be writing this comment, for fear that I’d inspire someone to buy the bike I had my eye on…

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  28. Josh Davis says:

    I have been ridng an 03 Buell XB9R Firebolt since July of 2007. As others have said, while it isn’t “perfect” I think it is as close as a single bike can get. What other bike can do 55mpg in town, has a zero-maintenance belt drive, no coolant, no valve adjustments, is fast enough for any street, and gets 7K miles out of a supersport rear tire (Bridgestone Batlleaxe BT-014)? There are NONE that I can find. The BMW F800 gets really close, but has valve maintenance and a HUGE price difference on the used market. The only thing I’ve added is a Heli-Bars upper triple clamp, and it is an all-day motorcycle.

    To address some of Gabe’s concerns about the handling and brakes, I have found that the right tire makes all the difference with these bikes. My bike HATED the BT-014′s. The front end was vague, and turn-in required a lot of effort, and even more effort to stay leaned over. I put on a set of Continental ContiMotion sport-touring tires, and the bike LOVES them. Turn-in is instantaneous, with NO effort required to keep it turning or to change lines. I don’t know enough about tires to know if the shape of the two tires are different, I just know it handles like a dream now.

    For brakes, the same applies. If Gabe wants LOTS of bite, he can upgrade to the ZTL2 8-piston caliper and a radial MC. The pads can make a big difference too, with street pads offering less bite and more longevity than race pads. I prefer less initial bite, and a more progressive feel, so I run street sintered pads. If you want BITE, get some EBC race pads and replace them more often than I do.

    So far, I see this Buell being the last bike I ever buy. That may sound boring, but it just does everything so darn well that I can’t imagine being pleased with anything else. I am trying to convince my wife that she needs a Lightning so I can have a matched set.

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  29. Tom says:

    As an owner of an 04 XB12R that has over 18K miles I can attest that these fuel in frame Buell’s are really cheap to maintain and a pure fun street bike. I have track day’d mine and ridden it from Massachusetts to Deal’s Gap and back putting 2500 miles on it in a week. Not the best bike for that but I survived.

    Everything you mention about the bikes quirks is spot on. YET…. Some bikes make you feel slow going 100mph. This bike makes 0-75 feel like a MotoGP ride. You have to shift, listen to lots of noise and deal with throbs of vibration which translates in your brain as FUN. All while doing normal street stuff!

    I plan on holding onto my Firebolt for a long time. It just delivers the goods every time I ride it. I must say that its not my only bike ;-) There are better tools for going slow or covering lots of miles fast.

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  30. GP says:

    I should add that I would still buy and own a Ulysses if one came along at the right price. I have never ridden one, but the bike has no negative reviews at all, for what it is. It is reputed to be one of the most comfortable “Adventure” bikes ever made, and I wish more manufacturers would copy the seat.

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  31. GP says:

    My brother had one. I think it was an XB-9. It even had the “Race” pipe on it. I was excited when I saw it, and he was anxious to have me try it out. I was almost immediately disappointed. My brother and I both have lengthy dirt bike backgrounds, and from all of the things I had read about Buell’s, I was expecting CR500 fun. Instead, I got XR250. Not bad, mind you, but certainly not the type of power to weight fun that I had imagined. A wheely machine? Hardly. At least not at any speed. Both the XR250 and the Buell are great bikes, but they just do not offer the type of excitement that I look for in a motorcycle.
    I would look for a bike that excites me every time I twist the throttle – like the Street Triple.

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  32. Kentucky Red says:

    I ride a 2004 Buell XB12S. Every bike has its ups and downs, but all-in-all, I really enjoy it. It handles as well as a motorcycle can, it is torquy, and you won’t see one parked in every biker bar in town. Riding it down a 2-lane country road at a sporty pace is blissful. Riding down down an interstate for more than an hour will make you start praying for the fuel light to come on; getting a corbin seat is well worth the investment on a Buell… On the other side of the speedometer, riding it in heavy traffic is a recipe for medium-rare thighs.

    Quick Amsoil advertisement: I used Amsoil on my last oil change, and my cooling fan quit kicking on after I killed the ignition because it was running much cooler; I could really feel that the motor was not heating as much as it used to. Consider using Amoil if you ride a Buell, or any other motorcycle for that matter.

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  33. Michael H says:

    Every time I read and article about Buell motorcycles, I (a) want one, and (b)renew my anger at HD for 86ing Eric Buell and his amazing motorcycles.

    Imagine where Buell would be now, if only HD had hung on to them. New generations of XBs, a new generation Uly. Damn shame we don’t have that.

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  34. tepi says:

    So, is the suspension rebuildable and is the fork a cartridge design or do you have to add hundreds or thousands to get decent performance? I can’t imagine anybody who actually adds up all the cost of motorcycling really worrying about gas milage (but range is sometimes an issue of course). BTW, great looking Honda, I wish they had kept that in their model range instead of the Varadero.

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    • MGNorge says:

      My eyes latched upon that Honda also. Attractive bike.

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      • Bock919 says:

        I owned a Hawk for a couple years. Honestly, I don’t miss it. I replaced a 919 with the Shawk and went back to the 919. The 919 is all the bike I could ever want and more for a street ride. The Hawk just made too many compromises in all the wrong places. I feel the same about the XB line, actually. Now, I wouldn’t kick an 1125 out of bed for eating crackers, though.

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    • Kentucky Red says:

      I hear what you’re saying about the price of riding, however, Buells reall are cheap motorcycles to ride. They’re really reliable, gas milage is great (45 MPG on mine, 55 mpg on a stock model) and you can use the cheap stuff as long as you don’t take it to the track, and maintaining them is a gas-and-oil proposition. They never need valve adjustments, their belt drives have really long lives, and there’s no coolant to worry about. I’ve ridden the piss out of mine for three years, and it had never seen the inside of a shop. Also, Buells are really easy on tires; I’ve had a pair of Roadsmart Sportmaxs on mine for 3000 miles, and they still look great. It is about as cheap to ride as a motorcycle can be.

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    • Gabe says:

      I didn’t used to worry about gas prices, but when I have to pay $15 to go 110 miles it’s kind of irritating–that means a day of riding costs over $30.

      Yes, the Buell suspension is fully rebuildable.

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  35. rrrrr says:

    Don’t do it. hold out for a rotax motored buell if you have to have a buell. I rode them on a demo (xb9 is bettter, and xb12) and I wanted to believe in buell. I liked all of the practical innovative belt/frame/air cooled desin detals and the overall look and handeling(slightly harsh inverted forks) of the bike but I absolutly can not ever forgive it for the shaky unbalanced motor’s poor rev/power band and that clunky awful gear box that ruined the bike. That’s all from an 8 year old 60km 1 hour riding impression that’s still stained in my memory. Too bad… just think what the brand could have been with a TL1000 or your triples motor in it.

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  36. paul says:

    I don’t get the criticism of the brakes, especially slow steering. The ZTL setup weighs less than a conventional 2-rotor-and-caliper system and stoppies are always available. The rear brake on the Uly gets criticized for being weak, but actually just requires more pedal pressure than most to lock up.

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  37. Fred M. says:

    If the XB9S and XB12S seem a bit better suited to those of more limited inseam, go for an XB12Ss or XB12STT, both of which are a bit roomier and have about a 2″ longer wheelbase. I’ve got the former in my stable and it’s a wonderful bike. Many argue that it’s the best handling of the XB series. I know that it has less tendency to try to stand up if you brake in a decreasing radius turn.

    The ZTL (zero torsional load) brakes were made much more progressive with aftermarket pads and, trust me, the unsprung weight reduction afforded by the Buell’s unconventional front brake is well-justified. You’re literally talking pounds less unsprung weight.

    I bought my Rotax-engined Buell 1125CR for $5K (brand new, a couple of days after Harley announced the Buell shutdown. It has a good 50% more horsepower and even less weight than the XB12Ss, and I rationalized the purchase with the assertion that I could fully pay for it by selling the XB12Ss. That was well over two years ago. I still have the XB12Ss and every time I think about selling it, I take it out for a ride and it charms me all over again.

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