The introduction was held in the original mile high club, Denver, Colorado. The extreme elevation (hey, I live in Florida) played havoc with the 45-degree 1203cc motor. The location probably showed the confidence that Mr. Buell has in his product, especially with the air, or lack of it, sapping the horsepower, quoted as much as a 20% deficit as claimed by some race teams when visiting Colorado-land for AMA duties.
I’ll start with the obvious focal point the motor, I mean let’s face it, you’re either a fan of the Harley V or you’re not, it’s a big lump, true, but it’s not your typical Milwaukee motor. The fact is, the Buell motor is surprisingly effective after the massaging received by Mr. Buell. We know it’s not a 14,000RPM screamer, never will be, but it’s got grunt. Ignoring factory claimed, I suspect this thing probably makes mid 80\'s in ponies (although it felt like 65 in the high country) torque is suitably beefy though and if past experience of the breed counts, I think it’ll be surprisingly high for its class. I wish they would reduce some of the flywheel on this motor, because a little faster pick up in revs wouldn’t hurt anyone.
This year the factory has made significant improvements in the gearbox design. On Buell’s past, you had to be firm and precise on your gear change, especially when riding angry - this has been superbly addressed with a total redesign that features a racer style dog ring and helical cut tranny which was both smooth and quiet - The Ulysses also has a reconfigured clutch mechanism too that lowers the lever pull by some 22%, obviously this is a fatigue buster and I still had enough grip strength left over to hold my drink come days end. I never missed a drink.. I meant shift, all day.
The rear wheel is also tied into this affair with a newly redesigned and lightweight belt from Goodyear. Incidentally, that "old-tech" air-cooled, two-valve V-Twin passes 2008 California emissions standards without a catalytic converter.
The Italian-made frame has seen some mods that compliment this and all the other models in the Buell line up. That frame, sometimes criticized for being a little cramped, has been pulled and massaged for ‘06. That, combined with a modified air intake (over the tank, instead of through the frame) sees a major upside of a higher capacity gas tank err, frame tank. The swingarm has also been stretched two inches and restyled. Weight is similar to the bigger Suzuki V-Strom at around 500lbs wet and with that bike a reference for the class it’s a case of soul verses sterile. What the Buell might lack in beans it way makes up in character. Make no mistake, this bike will become EB’s biggest seller, it does nothing wrong and a bunch of important things right.
We did actually ride it and our group played cat and mouse with each other pretty much all day - traffic free roads saw us playing roadrace silly bugger’s too (I swear this thing backs into corners like a pro AMA supermoto). The U’ took all this and more, and most bikes survived our hi-jinks, some a little worse for wear. It’s basically a plump supermoto... you can get away with some major silliness on this bike too (isn’t that why we ride bikes?) Sure, it’s got a serious side, the fact that you could enjoy some big mileage on this seat, a seat no less, that had some quite hi-tech engineering. Seat mapping was used in its design, a test procedure that highlighted pressure points and hot spots. I’m not sure how average (or hot) my arse is (though some of the female Buell employees have above average ones) but I was truly comfortable all day.
The seat can’t nab all the credit though. The suspension up front was a somewhat plush Showa fork with an extended 6.5 inches of travel. The rear enjoys similar travel, with an easily reached fist sized preload knob for on-the-fly adjustments. Three-way adjustability for and aft will aid in personal set up and the maximum load capacity for the Buell is a Muell-like 453lbs. With the optional luggage, comprising of twin lock-able saddle bags and rear top box, cross country touring should be a relatively easy accomplishment, especially with no upper loaded speed restrictions like some other brands, namely the Ducati ST series.
That suspension makes the bike’s a tall one though, the seat height is almost 35 inches and most people will be opting for the optional 2 inch shorter seat version. The ergonomics are almost perfect for this style bike, with the foot pegs being 3 inches lower than previous XB’s. Steering effort is minimal and the company saw fit to add a little more rake and trail to keep things composed, especially with the extra leverage afforded by those MX style bars. Passenger accommodations are very good too. The rear subframe has been stretched 2 inches (to match that stretched swingarm) and the consequent real estate advantage offers a nicer perch for dual sport touring.
The rear seat back/parcel rack/thingummybob is a splendid piece of simplistic (unlike my grammar) engineering that is so handy, you can’t believe that no one has ever thought of it before. The rubberized rack rotates forward for a compact rack to carry your incidentals, rotates 180 degrees backwards for a luggage rack, replete with tie-down points for bigger items or sits bang in the middle of both positions for a comforting (and certainly safer) upright seat back for your passenger. Very clever, very versatile and almost unobtrusive.
Other "Buellisms" are still apparent, the front brake for example, is still the single sided perimeter style, that offers unsprung weight saving and to some extent style points. That front end also enjoys a small and stylish (Buellish?) two piece cockpit fairing with an easily removable (for cleaning or to fit a larger one) windscreen. That cockpit also houses the tach and speedo and a power outlet for GPS or the available XM radio duties - the underseat storage area has a similar power outlet. That familiar exhaust location that takes mass centralization to the literal sense is still there as well “It’ll take a beating too,” say’s Mr. Buell, so don’t be concerned with its lack of underside protection.
It was also pointed out to us in very colorful grafts that 35% of America’s roads are unpaved. This bike was conceived to take advantage of that percentile. We traveled up some Pikes Peak style roads that twisted and turned like a proverbial gravel strewn roller coaster. The tires equipped on this bike were a 208 compound with an aggressive cut tread to be now known throughout the land as the Dunlop 616. With the bike enjoying a 50:50 weight bias, the handling behavior on the above-mentioned gravel roads, was exemplary, with no one replicating a Dunlop 919 en route to the crest.
I got a chance to back to back the XB and the Ulysses. Personally I felt I could go just as fast on either, however, when the road gets unruly (especially dirty or bumpy) instead of a pucker up on the XB, the Ulysses just makes you grab more gas. Just like a supermoto, more gas equates to more grins. I have to stress this bike is not perfect by any means, and my biggest grouch is the lack of steering lock. Multiple U-turns for photo shooting had me cursing the limited lock, I even fell over doing a U-ey and managed to pin my boot under one of the Buell’s generous frame sliders. I never damaged myself or the bike, although I think Roadracing Worlds, Steve Atlas, might have strained a stomach muscle laughing at me or maybe his back lifting the bike off me - bar steward!
All in all, this Ulysses impressed - I wouldn’t be too quick to judge this bike - it’s easy to take a first glance, assume they stuck some long suspenders on it, then went for a long liquid lunch - nothing could be further from the truth. The little factory that could have listened to the consumer (and journalist), gone through the bike addressing issues of concern and applied some mechanical upgrades (and with no apparent band-aiding). When discussing this bike with other riders, I’ve noticed that the most vocal people of this engine brand have never really experienced this motor outside of following a cruiser down their favorite highway so keep an open mind and go grab a test ride.
Like Ulysses, I suspect Mr. Buell is both clever and cunning, and this bike is the Trojan horse of the adventure tour category - ignore it at your peril.