2008 Buell Ulysses XB12XT First Ride

It is said that Ulysses was set on his ten-year odyssey home from the Trojan War when he blinded the Cyclops Polyphemus, whose father Poseidon cursed the ancient Greek hero for his treacherous actions. Well, we haven’t blinded any Cyclops or offended Poseidon, lately, but we can see ourselves on some long-distance journeys aboard Buell’s latest touring machine the Ulysses XB12XT.

While the Ulysses moniker has been in the Buell lineup since the debut of its dirt-capable XB12X in 2006, the XB series has lacked a purpose-built on-road touring platform. The new Ulysses XB12XT is that touring machine.

First looks would lead to the assumption the XB12XT is just a standard Ulysses with bags, but there is more to the story. While the luggage and four-inch taller windscreen (optional accessories on the original Ulysses) come standard, another big change to the XT is the suspension, with a 43mm fork and a revamped rear monoshock replacing the XB12X’s 47mm unit.

The new Ulysses XB12XT Showa units are tuned for on-road use only, with travel reduced 1.59 inches up front and 1.46 out back. The stiffer suspension package features retuned fork damping and new triple rate springs, with the rear monoshock utilizing a new compression bumper to cushion bottoming force. The new units also reduce seat height to 30.7 inches, a crucial feat resolving a common complaint from the standard Ulysses, which features a 31.8-inch perch in current form and 33.1-inch figure back in its original ’06 incarnation. Complementing the on-road-only design are the same six-spoke cast aluminum wheels adorning the rest of the XB lineup. The XT is equipped with high-mileage touring Pirelli Diablo Strada tires.

Motoring up Highway 74 to Idyllwild, California, we sample the new XB12XT’s on-road performance on some of So-Cal’s tightest, twistiest stretches of pavement. Riding along at a steady clip, each turn is a splendid bend for the new Ulysses. The suspension sucks up road imperfections and is quite proficient for sporty riding, with a rider able to dial in the rear shock’s preload via an easy-to-access underseat dial (in fact, our Buell tech said he makes small adjustments on the fly).

2008 Buell Ulysses XB12XT First Ride

The new Buell Ulysses XB12XT is in its element in the tight and twisty roads, with the well-balanced machine an adept corner carver.

Curvy Highway 74 also showcases the Ulysses’ quick-turning chassis. The suspension changes and different tires slightly alter the XT’s steering geometry by increasing rake to 23.8 degrees and trail to 4.9 inches. Wheelbase has decreased to 53.9 inches with ground clearance also reduced to 5.94 inches. The end product is a confidence-inspiring machine that carves roads apart with swift transitions and its well balanced chassis.

Also aiding in the easy handling characteristics are all the things that make a Buell a Buell: Oil in the swingarm, fuel in the tank and, of course, the underslung exhaust. These unique features improve mass centralization and make the Ulysses a nimble and light-weight package at a claimed dry 465 lbs. A deceptively mellow handler on the twisty mountain roads, the proof was manifest when a casual glance at the speedo revealed an unexpected 50 mph through a series of tight 25 mph turns.

At the correct gear and rpm, the frisky Ulysses purrs along in euphoric bliss, and at the heart of the matter is the air-cooled Thunderstorm 1203 V-Twin. For 2008 the 45-degree Twin is tweaked, with a shorter crank pin and improved oiling responsible for raising redline from 6800 to 7100 rpm. Power claims from Buell put crank horsepower at 103 hp and torque at 84 lb-ft.

In practice the Buell drivetrain takes some getting used to. For sportbike riders accustomed to higher-revving Fours and Twins, the Buell is a different creature completely, but after some introductory miles the Thunderstorm Twin is an agreeable companion. The trick is finding that sweet spot in the middle of the powerband from about 3500 to 7000 rpm where the motor pulls along with torquey revelry, and keeping it there.

The trick to riding the Buell is keeping the Thunderstorm V-Twin revving between 3500 to 7000 rpm where it is the most responsive and potent.

Attentive gear selection is a necessity for riding the Ulysses at a spirited pace, because if the tach dips under three grand the motor tends to be a bit sluggish. While a rider can chug along through the corners a gear high, it is much preferable to slip down a gear and keep the needle up at high noon on the analog tach where the engine is much more responsive. In the lower revs the rattling Twin is mastered by its progressive throttle response tuning which keeps things smooth, although the fueling is a bit anemic down low. There are vibrations coming off the rubber-mounted engine, it’s not overly harsh and it’s accompanied by the rich rumbling exhaust note inherent to this American-made machine. Everything sounds wonderful… until the bike is turned off and the annoying oil-cooling fan begins its incessant droning. It get’s old quick.

We can’t find any major complaints about the five-speed transmission, except a somewhat elusive neutral – a common complaint from our clumsy big-footed testers. Clutch pull isn’t as stiff as it used to be but it’s still firm.

The Buell XB12XT’s Aramid-reinforced Goodyear Hibrex belt provides a smooth and quiet transfer of power to the rear wheel, which requires no lubrication or adjustments. Given the low maintenance, reliability, cleanliness and light weight of the belt-drive system, it’s a wonder more motorcycles don’t utilize it. Perhaps it is one of those areas where Buell’s flouting of convention gets it right.

The Buell XB12XT utilizes a belt drive and also flouts convention with its single ZTL front rotor brake.

Slowing down the new Ulysses are Buell’s standby stoppers, an area where Buell’s unconventional take may hinder its overall appeal to folks who can’t accept nonconformist engineering. The ZTL (Zero Torsional Load) front rotor is back, clenched by a single six-piston caliper, while the rear wheel features a conventional 240mm disc with single-piston caliper. Up front the ZTL design is formidable but it won’t be confused with the high-performance stopping power of dual four-pot radial brakes. The rear binder isn’t anything innovative, but it works. That said, the Buell brakes never caused much consternation just some stern two-finger grasps.

As for the XT’s fit and finish, it’s pure Buell – simple and minimalist in design. The instrument console features an attractive analog tach on the right and speedo to the left, but no gear position indicator, fuel gauge or engine temp gauge are to be had. The plastic switchgear isn’t spectacular and may be a turn-off to some, but it works just fine. We weren’t impressed with the mainstay circular mirrors either. They don’t offer a large field of view and tend to shake at low revs.

In order for the new Ulysses XB12XT to earn that extra “T” it needs to prove its touring mettle, which means rider comfort is paramount. In this regard the new Buell passes muster with an excellent standard riding position. We found the peg placement and wide upright handlebar amenable to long-distance treks. The seat isn’t the cushiest we’ve ever sampled, but we could pile on the miles and weren’t too sore after our 140-mile test run through the San Jacinto Mountains. The lowered seat height also aids in rider comfort, with the shorter inseamed riders in our test group commenting that they experienced less problems in stop-and-go situations than on the previous Ulysses. Another touring perk with the XT seat is a flip-up pillion backrest for those two-up journeys.

While it doesn’t offer up as much info as you would find on most touring machines, the Buell XB12XT does have a 12V plug for aftermarket goodies like a GPS system.

One issue with the Buell’s touring rider comfort which can’t be ignored, however, is the engine heat which roasts the rider’s right leg. It’s not slow-roasted BBQ hot, but it is hot. On a summer day, it could cause some discomfort.

But enough with the complaining, as the XB12XT’s touring credentials are sound. The hand protectors shield a rider’s fists from the elements and the heated grips are much appreciated as we climbed into the chilly San Jacintos, which still had snow piled roadside. The wind protection from the four-inch higher windscreen is effective, in particular during sub-freeway speeds.

Carried over from the Ulysses accessory catalog are the XB12XT’s standard side and top cases. The luggage is roomy, with intuitive turn-key opening and release. Another touring perk on the XT is a 12V plug on the left side of the instrument cluster, with the ability to mount Buell’s aftermarket Garmin GPS system or any other aftermarket accessory you may have at your disposal.

Buell is marketing the XT as the doppelganger of the regular Ulysses. Company research shows the typical XB12X rider comes from an off-road background and the American marque is banking dedicated sport riders will flock to the on-road-only XB12XT. Interested riders will have to shell out $12,995 for the new XT, which is available in Thrust Blue, Racing Red and Midnight Black.

The Ulysses XT’s comfortable riding position is complemented by decent wind protection via the four-inch taller windscreen.

The XT arrives at an exciting time for Buell. Celebrating 25 years in business, it’s safe to say that Buell is no longer a fledgling two-wheeled experiment. Earlier this year the company announced the release of the Buell 1125R, its first liquid-cooled motorcycle. Fueled by the interest in the 1125R, ’08 unit sales for Buell have been bolstered and there are plans for the 1125 to compete in the upcoming Canadian Superbike series. Buell reps also touted an improved presence in the Harley-Davidson dealer network via intensive dealer training and the advent of events like Inside Pass trackdays, which shows cruiser-oriented H-D reps the true sportbike experience. With the 1125 and XT Buell now has its grubby hands in every segment of the sportbike motorcycle market and shows no intention of slowing down anytime soon.

Coasting into Temecula, California after a full day in the saddle we can’t help but come to the conclusion that the new Ulysses XB12XT is a solid touring package. Provided Eric Buell and company keep making impressive rides such as this, it’s difficult to see America’s sole sportbike company not continuing to grow on its success.