I thought I’d ask around local riders where I live and at bike meets as to who actually knew what they meant, did they look at the figures before buying, and did it really matter when buying a bike? Surprisingly the majority did know the meanings but didn’t base any decision on them, nor did they think it mattered in the end-their decision was based on word of mouth and a test ride.
So, as a rider, here’s my verdict of Buells new Ulysses Trail bike!
It began at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, I’d been covering the Bmf stand at the MCN Motorcycle Show at Alexander Palace and had to get to the Kings Road in Chelsea for 5:30 to pick up the new Buell Ulysses XB12X. The traffic was surprisingly light so I made it with 10 minutes to spare.
Buell calls it the ‘All road adventure sport bike’, which puts in up against the likes of the BMW R1200GS, Triumph Tiger, Suzuki, KTM 950 etc. To measure up to these proven machines it would need to be good, some would say very good and it is not far off.
After a quick run through the bike, including how to put up the pillion back rest that is fitted as standard, it was time to climb aboard-climb being the operative word, this bike is tall, an 840mm seat height tall. I’m 6ft 1 and can touch down with the balls of my feet, so I spent the week watching where I was going to stop to make sure I didn’t put my foot down a hole and end up horizontal in the road. A lower seat, 1 inch lower is available.
The good point of the height is that you can see for miles from your perch on top of the bike. Filtering through the London traffic on my way home was a doddle because of the view, but one thing that could catch you out is the turning circle, which is less than the competition. It doesn’t affect normal road riding though.
The engine is a 1203cc Harley V-Twin pushing out 100 bhp, which is more than enough for this style of bike. What will catch you out if you’re a bit heavy handed on the right is the Torque, all 81 ft/lb of it-more than an R1. It will drive away from lights like the proverbial off a shovel, and if your not careful you will be plane spotting.
The seat is very good. It is quite wide which spreads your weight nicely, and the distance between the seat and footrests makes for a very comfortable ride over a long distance. The handlebars are there; some people will know what I mean by this! Basically it’s when they are in just the right place that all the controls fall into place, and you feel in the optimum position. Taking the wife on the back for a Sunday ride out covering over 150 miles on mainly back roads, she was very impressed and loved the backrest.
Cornering is excellent thanks to the fully adjustable inverted Showa forks and shock at the back. What you would call a normal road surface, with it’s fair share of broken surface, drain covers, over banding and anything else that’s left lying around, doesn’t seem to upset the bike at all. Obviously if you hit a brick at 70mph something will happen, but as that’s not a normal occurrence-unless you know better? It takes a lot to upset this bike.
The brakes are a 375mm Rim brake on the front with a six-piston caliper, and a 240mm disc with single piston floating calliper at the rear work well. You can brake using two fingers on the front lever and pull yourself up safely at speed. You need to avoid a four-finger snatch or your bum ends up where your head was, and you could end up kissing tarmac. In an open face helmet that’s painful!
The height of the bike over the wheelbase which is 9cms shorter than Honda’s VFR800 at 1370mm, I would have thought makes the bike top heavy, but it doesn’t. Buells Mass Centralisation of the weight really does work, making the bike very easy to manoeuvre. The fuel is in the frame, so as you use more the weight becomes even lower, and with the oil in the swingarm it works for you rather than against you.
The Headlight, despite it’s size works very well. The 55/55-watt projector beam set up gives a good view of the road ahead, and on full beam they are excellent. An advantage it has over my Blackbird is that when you turn the bars the lights go with you, always helps that! Over the lights is a mini screen, which does deflect a lot of the wind over the rider’s head, although in a relatively mild cross wind there was a noticeable difference. A higher screen is available which could stop this.
Belt drive, I’d never ridden a bike with it before. The only bikes that use it on all their models are Harley Davidson, and I’m afraid they’re not my thing, too much cleaning for me. To be honest I was expecting it to detract from the acceleration in the way of slip, but to my delight there was none. Buell likes to say it is the bike with 3 wheels, the third being the belt drive idler pulley. This keeps a constant tension on the belt preventing the slip from happening.
That’s enough about the bike for now, what did I do with it? In Kent we have some lovely bike roads, so choosing which ones to ride was a tricky task. Being on an island the first part of any ride I do is slow, we’re having a new high-level bridge built so the roadwork’s make getting off take forever. From there it is dual carriageway to the better roads the other side of Maidstone.
From here your spoilt for choice. The smaller A roads like the A274, A268 and A28 will take you to Hastings. The A267 from Tunbridge Wells to Eastbourne, the A272 that will take you from the A267 across to Petersfield on the A3 is a favourite with a lot of people.
But to get onto the real roads you need to go to the B’s, two of my favourites are the B2082 from Tenterden to Rye, and the B2080 Tenterden to Brenzett. Both of these have just about everything you look for in a good biking road, up and down hills, tight corners, open corners, positive camber, adverse camber. It will keep you busy so don’t start watching the scenery as you could end up in a hedge. It didn’t happen on the Buell, I was so high up I could see over the hedges and get advance warning of oncoming traffic.
One of the favourites among the Kent riders is the Military Road. It runs from Appledore to Rye, is not on a lot of maps, which we think is a good thing, and is a good gauge to how you ride. In total it’s about 6 miles long and consists of short straights with around 6 chicanes and the odd bend thrown in. Luckily for us there are only a smattering of houses and the odd canal boat along it’s length, so as long you don’t ride like a *wat your left to it. Cars are few and far between which helps keep the interface of cars and bikes to a minimum.
For the photo’s, I wanted to get a country background as being a ‘dual purpose’ I HAD to see what it was like off road. At the far end of the island, where the housing is expanding, there’s a large amount of dirt tracks and empty fields that I used.
It’s not a full off roader, so it’s not worth riding-or trying to ride it like an enduro bike, you’ll come a cropper. The bike has a ground clearance of just over 17cm so you would be a fool to try any serious off roading on this bike. The design means at the top of that 17 cms is the under slung exhaust which will be the first thing that touches down, and the price of a replacement will make your eyes water. But, for the more realistic trails, dirt tracks such as you find through forests it’s a lot of fun.
Bad points?. Very few actually, the main one is the fuelling at slow speed as in traffic, it doesn’t like it. If your revs are in the region of 2000 it will pull along fairly evenly, but let them drop and you’re slipping the clutch and revving to keep it moving. There were a couple of small areas where the finish was a bit suspect, but being a pre-production model I’m not overly concerned..at the mo!
Accessories including a full set of Buell hard luggage, the lockable top box and cases which are apparently waterproof, with a metallic finish that compliments both colours. The Buell Quest GPS system can be added though I never got a price for it. A padded cover for the backrest is available at £72!…my thoughts exactly, and their own brand of off-road style clothing is available if you want to go the whole hog!-no pun intended.
The price, at £8149 it is cheaper than the BMW & KTM, but over a £1000 more than the Triumph. I suppose it is a realistic price for what you get, but at the top end of the price range it might seem a little too much for an as yet unproven bike.
The big question ‘would I buy one?’ If the fuelling for slow speed riding could be improved I would seriously consider it. It is a very good bike and does everything it ‘says on the tin’.
Special thanks to Gareth Jordan at Waterhouse Communications for arranging the loan of the bike, and Warrs Harley Davidson for supplying it and looking after mine for the week.