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Buell XB12X Ulysses

2006-03-03 07:46

Brett Hamilton

I rode the bike through our most notorious jungle, Johannesburg, to see if the Buell's burly engine is able to cry king here.

First thing you notice when you mount the machine is its tall seat. Even my six-foot frame had me tiptoeing at every traffic light.

Unfortunately, this also makes the bike top-heavy. On the other hand, this gives you a great vantage point of the traffic ahead.

You have the option of a lower seat, but I'm sure that even with this optional extra you'll still be cursing your stumpy legs. This is the reason why the Ulysses will never be able to really challenge the BMW GS on the dirt.

It's too tall, cumbersome and heavy. Even on tar the Buell doesn't hide its weight as well as the GS.

But, where the guys at Buell HQ are drawing direct comparisons between the two the local Buell staff seems to know better.

You should see it more like a SUV. A car that can be taken off-road, but the roughest terrain it'll see is the dirt on a sidewalk.

Keep this in mind and you start to appreciate the bike. In my opinion, this is a comfortable Buell that won't wince at the sight of dirt. Can't do that on a XB12S.

Another ace up its sleeve is the useful pillion seat and backrest. Simply pop up the backrest and you have a very comfortable seat for a passenger.

Adding another 60kg on the top doesn't do much for the old centre of gravity.

Even with no passenger it is easy to make the front light with a twist of the throttle. Let's just say that the backrest is there for a reason ? power wheelies is a common occurrence.

Even with its puny dimensions the bike is comfortable: the seat is plush and wide, the handlebars are high. I would have liked the footpegs to be placed slightly forward ? my legs where cramped and I slid forward under hard braking.

A small screen has been added on the front and does a great job of deflecting wind around the rider. More importantly, it doesn't cause buffeting at high speeds.

Lot of torque

Out on the road, the Ulysses ambles along with pleasure. It has the same 1 200 motor fitted to the rest of the Buell range, which means it has lots of torque and even more vibes.

They claim that the motor pushes out 75kW (100bhp). More important is the 110Nm. This means you can use the engine to brake into, correct your line through and power out of every corner.

There is a problem. Back in September 2005, Bike, the biggest motorcycle magazine in Britain, voted the XB12R as the greatest cornering bike ever.

The keys to its success are the bike's small dimensions, low centre of gravity and sporty ergonomics. The Ulysses has none of these.

The frame has been stretched by 50mm. The tall suspension lifts the weight and that GP-racer crouch has been dumped for a more up-right couch-potato perch.

Add a small 17-inch front wheel into the mix and you get a bike that struggles to hold a line through corners. Not to mention an appalling turning circle thanks to a minute steering lock.

In town and on the move this bike is nimble. You can easily flick between traffic and beat the congestion on the national roads.

Stopping power

The hardware on this bike is impressive.

You may have become used to the outlandish engineering by now: a rim-mounted brake disc, fuel in the frame, under-engine exhaust and oil in the swingarm. This is one very trick machine.

A single 375mm brake discs gives the bike outstanding stopping ability. At the back sits a single 240mm disc.

With that small front wheel it is best to do most of your braking before you lean into a corner ? otherwise the bike wants to sit up and send you wide.

There is enough low-down torque to help you power out of any hairpin, although it may be a good idea to keep the revs up.

Keep in mind the motor was originally designed to power a small, slow Harley-Davidson. Not exactly the perfect foundation for a mouth-watering racer. Buell did their best, but even so, there is a flat spot when the revs drop down too far.

Take a wide line, brake early, gear down and listen to the loud burble from the motor. Keep on the throttle all through the corner and give a massive twist when the road opens.


Loud, tall and full of vibes. If you're looking for a comfortable Buell look no further.

Fact sheet

  • Engine: 1 203cc, 45-degree V-twin.
  • Power: 100bhp (75kW) at 6 600rpm (claimed)
  • Torque: 81 lb.ft (110Nm) at 6 000rpm (claimed)
  • Transmission: 5-speed, belt drive.
  • Top speed: 185km/h (realistically)
  • Rear suspension: Monoshock, fully adjustable.
  • Front suspension: 43mm USD forks, fully adjustable.
  • Front brakes: 375mm rim disc with 6-pot callipers.
  • Rear brakes: 240mm disc with single-pot calliper.
  • Dry weight: 193kg (claimed)
  • Wheelbase: 1 370mm
  • Seat height: 841mm
  • Fuel capacity: 16.7 litres
  • Price: R102 000.

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