Buell Ulysses XB12X Adventure Sportbike

Text: Eric Bass • Photography: Katy Savage

Buell promotes the XB12X as an "adventure sportbike," and that's a pretty fair description. The big twin offers speed and handling approaching that of a sport bike, and it doesn't sniff at getting its paws dirty either. The Ulysses also approximates the comfort and carrying capacity (with optional luggage system) of a sport-tourer and the frisky attitude of a naked bike. Best of all, it's one of those rare machines that seems to possess a personality distinct from its technical attributes.

Engine and Transmission
The canyon-broad powerband of the 103hp Buell Thunderstorm 1203cc V-Twin engine churns out torquey good fun at any rpm. This mill is always ready for action! Thrust is delivered smoothly and bountifully via a belt final drive, with an enthusiastic honk. Noticeably improved from Buells I've ridden before is the reduction in drive line lash response that frequently caused the bikes to surge when up-shifted. Despite this newly linear throttle response, with all that goose juice, wheelies just seem to happen, especially when assisted by a passenger and full bags adding ballast to the rear. Buell claims that the clutch action of the XB12X is 22 percent lighter than on previous models, and while the new dog ring transmission is still stiff relative to Japanese offerings, the throw has been noticeably shortened and lightened from previous iterations. Happily, the clutch never missed a gear on me, and I always found neutral. In short, Buell has delivered a bike that just loves to go, go, go!

Chassis and Suspension
If it were an easy task to design a motorcycle that performs ideally under every sort of riding condition, then, quite simply put, every motorcycle would. The trick in engineering a bike like the Ulysses is to minimize the rider's awareness of the compromises made and maximize his pleasure under as many circumstances as possible. To this end, Buell does an admirable job of squeezing a sizeable range of versatility out of the Ulysses' aluminum perimeter twin-spar chassis configuration.

The suspension takes some tinkering to get dialed in optimally for the particular load, surface, and riding style that it's being asked to digest, but fortunately the remote pre-load adjuster simplifies this procedure. When I first accepted delivery of the Buell, it responded to bumps at freeway speed with the spongy bounce of a Cadillac, and the front forks exhibited a pronounced dive response upon hard braking. Later, I was able to correct for most of these behaviors and learned by topping up the fork oil to the upper range of its suggested volume that the ride could be stiffened further if desired.

The fully adjustable Showa front and rear suspension affords 6.75 inches of clearance between the terrain and the allegedly crush-resistant muffler, and nearly as much travel. While I didn't subject it to hardcore off-road testing, the bike proved sure-footed enough on the dirt roads and fire trails I traversed, and even seemed to shrug disinterestedly at the gopher-hole riddled straw field that I pitched it across at 30 mph.

The XB12X is designed foremost for street performance, and while its wheelbase has been extended 2 inches from that of its stablemates, it still checks in at an agile 54 inches, towing just 425 pounds of dry weight. Wide bars offer plenty of leverage, although turning inputs rarely seem to require it, as the bike flicks over willingly and handles with neutrality. The tall ride height exaggerates the banking action of a turn, and adds a zesty sense of drama to gallivants through canyon chicanes.

Due to the necessarily long suspension travel, the XB12X took some getting used to when trail braking in the twisties. While the unscientifically gauged braking distances I achieved by deploying the 6-piston caliper and Zero Torsional Load disc seemed adequate, due to the fork dive, the feel just wasn't comparable to a dedicated street bike. Even a smooth and steady hand on the brake lever and throttle couldn't completely alleviate the fork's tendency to plunge on hard braking and to straighten abruptly upon load release, thereby disturbing the bike's geometry, and this rider's nerves.

That having been said, the Ulysses cruises along merrily at freeway speeds. The 17-inch wheels wrapped in Dunlop D616s did display a mild tendency to wander in highway drainage grooves parallel to the bike's direction of travel, but I stopped noticing after a brief while, and the doughnuts' sportbike carcasses and specially designed treads proved well-suited for any extreme of semi-rational street riding.

Accessories and Arrangements
Now here's a paradigm shift. Renowned for their compact ergonomics, Buell's giraffe-like new addition to the family line leads me to wonder whether the proverbial "milkman" snuck into the CAD/CAM system while the engineers were away on business. Unlike its brethren, the XB12X sports a 33.1-inch seat height that will challenge the ballet skills of anyone with much less than my 31-inch inseam. With the stock seat, I had to stretch for the tarmac with my toes, and couldn't even generate enough leverage to back the bike up on a level surface. Mounting a passenger elicited a round of Hail Marys from both of us before attempting the maneuver. After Buell swapped in the optional lowered seat for me, parking lot chores became far more palatable, as I could then touch down on the balls of my feet. However, I would be surprised if anyone shorter than I am is comfortable jockeying the Ulysses.

Nevertheless, once we were astride and underway, the XB12X's wide seat and rangy ergoes made for an all-day comfortable throne, whether on a five-hour straight shot drone from L.A. to Vegas, or a two-day hard-charging sidewinder up the Pacific Coast Highway. My co-pilot reported that the roomy pillion was comfortable enough for her needs, although the multi-functional Triple Tail backrest/carrying platform didn't offer much support, and the placement of the rear pegs thwarted any of her attempts to shift leg positions.

While I imagine that the brush guards covering the hand controls will be more frequently put to use as wind breaks than as shields to fend off jungle overgrowth, they do provide utility in both capacities. The dual 12-volt power outlets are a real convenience, and the 4.4 gallon "in-frame" fuel capacity affords a substantial range. In lane-splitting states, the index finger-accessible passing lamp lever is a huge bonus that makes me question why this isn't stock equipment on every bike.

The $ 999 optional luggage system is more than spacious and well designed. The side cases easily devoured a helmet, and even my 17-inch laptop. Dual sets of retention straps keep items from tumbling out, and mastering the mounting system became second nature after a brief learning curve. The bracketry is extremely indiscreet though, and from my perspective, the otherwise noble Ulysses appears quite homely when deprived of its bags.

My only other nits to pick in this category consist of the short radius of the steering lock-to-lock, which made close-quarter "about faces" a bit of a chore, and the inconvenient placement of the ignition. All things considered, however, it's a very well arranged bike.

Conclusion
Given the broad scope of its design brief, the Ulysses manages to do almost everything asked of it exceedingly well with few glaring deficiencies. While there would hardly be anything to be ashamed of if the XB12X were merely the sum of its parts, its most endearing quality is its intangible friskiness and charisma.

The Ulysses' temperament reminds me of a mischievous freshman pledge, ever eager to participate in any plot that his big brother can dream up. Its politically correct "adventure sportbike" designation aside, the XB12X is a straight-up "party bike"! Clearly this is the sort of bike that will develop a loyal fraternity of devotees. Every time I descended to the garage, I could practically hear that freshman, the "ghost in the machine," irrepressibly wheedling, coaxing me towards misadventure: "So what do you wanna do today Brother Eric, sir? Pop some wheelies? Go soul-searching on a desert trail ride? Pick up your girlfriend and head out on a road trip? What are we gonna do today Brother Eric...sir... huh?!".

"Hey, Ulysses - first off, she's not my girlfriend; second, quit calling me sir; and third, I just need to pick up some milk at the store, OK?"

"OK, sir...but can we still do some wheelies?"

TECHNICAL SPECS:
Buell Ulysses XB12X

+ charisma, torque, wellbalanced performance
- seat height, pillion could be better

Distributor Buell Motorcycle Company - www.buell.com
Engine 45-degree, OHV, V-twin
Displacement 1,203cc
Bore x Stroke 88.9 x 96.82 mm
Fuel system 49mm downdraft DDFI II fuel injection
Power 87hp
Cooling air / oil
Transmission five-speed
Final drive belt
Frame aluminum perimeter twin-spar
Front suspension Showa®43mm inverted fork, fully adjustable, 6.5in. travel
Rear suspension Showa® single shock, fully adjustable, 6.4in. travel
Rake/trail 23.5° / 4.8in.
Brakes front/rear floating ZTL single 376mm disc, opposed 6-piston caliper / single floating 240mm disc w/ pin slide 1-piston caliper
Tires front/rear 120/70-ZR17 / 180/55-ZR17
Dry weight 425lb
Wheelbase 54.4in.
Seat height 33.1in.
Fuel capacity 4.4 gallons
Fuel consumption 51-64mpg (estimated)
Colors Barricade Orange, Midnight Black
MSRP $ 11,495