2008 Buell Ulysses XB12XT

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Kevin Wing

The introduction of the Ulysses XB12X in 2006 marked an obvious departure from the Buell Motorcycle Company's high-performance, track-bred roots. They put aside their knee pucks, toe sliders, and pristine pavement for dual-sport boots, hand guards, and the oft-graveled (or worse) road less traveled. For 2008, the departure theme has struck again for this Wisconsin wanderer and this time, it's a return to the hard road in the form of the new Ulysses XB12XT.

Hard-core adventure touring fans needn't worry: the popular XB12X Ulysses is still rolling off showroom floors and proving itself as capable a backcountry bomber as ever. But in the last couple of years, as this machine's appeal has broadened, the folks at Buell noticed that many Ulysses owners were sticking mainly to the street and expressing interest in an even more asphalt-friendly platform. The riders spoke, the engineers listened, and in 2008 a different exploratory option began rolling out of East Troy. The X model's dirtier tendencies and trail-time aspirations have been polished up and given a T-is-for-touring designation. Enter the XB12XT, a road-going unit that company literature refers to as an Adventure Sportbike.

The Go

This reworked Ulysses still wears the XB badge, meaning that a thumping, 45-degree, air-cooled, V-twin provides the ponies. The burly 1203cc Thunderstorm® engine didn't fall very far from parent company Harley-Davidson's V-two tree, and that works out quite well for this bike. Buell's engineers claim that 75 percent of the engine's 84 pound-feet of stump-pulling torque is available as the tach needle hits 3300 rpm. Thanks to this stout grunt, I dispatched the twisting, challenging mountain roads that wind up to the California mountain town of Idyllwild by merely rolling in and out of the throttle - a job made effortless by the DDFI III engine control system and a new, progressive throttle cam. Banging gears became a minor afterthought. The cog of choice in the tight stuff usually wound up being either third or fourth, with the 1203cc of basso profundo singing the sweetest tune in the 4000-5000 rpm range. But with 103 horsepower on tap, wringing out the responsive two banger's rev limit proved to be a most enj
oyable option as well. With a larger crankpin and an increased oiling system onboard, redline has been stretched to 7100 revs for 2008, allowing the XT to build an impressive head of steam in a deceptively quick fashion. And while the Thunderstorm® twin has real fire-breather potential, it still possesses the user-friendly attitude, easygoing nature, and rhythmic rumble of its Harley roots. The low-slung InterActive exhaust ensures a low center of gravity and maintains that appealing all-American sound too.

My beefs with this mill are few, but I did find it necessary to keep the power wicked up for truly optimal performance. Although some may find this characteristic a little disconcerting, it made my riding more enjoyable and interesting. There's also the issue of engine heat exiting the bodywork near the inside of the right thigh. That didn't matter on the cooler day we rode, but it's a worrisome prospect to consider as summer wears on.

The gearbox is a five-speed unit that works quite well once you get the hang of throwing in a little extra boot. And though finding neutral can often be a bit of a chore, it's probably one of those quirks that become routine once you have that just-right flick of the ankle ingrained. The cable-actuated clutch is smooth and predictable, but can be a little heavy in stop-and-go traffic. The horses hit the road via a Hibrex® belt final drive. Clean, lightweight, and requiring no adjustments, this system is rated to last the life of the motorcycle. For an indication of how welcome that idea is in these parts, you need look no further than the stellar collection of chain-lube overflow drops decorating my garage and driveway.

The Structure

Innovation is one area Buell could never be accused of ignoring. Nearly every aspect of their bikes, including the XB1200XT, features novel solutions not seen on any other marque. Nowhere else is this more evident than the chassis. The rigid, aluminum frame pulls double duty as the gas tank, and the cast aluminum swingarm moonlights as the oil reservoir. Odd or not, it works. By keeping these fluids within the framework, mass is further centralized, thus increasing the flickability of the bike when the curves set in. The frame's Uniplanar™ mounting system uses the engine as a stressed member, increasing rigidity and reducing chassis flex, and so, contributing to greater stability in the corners. These facts, combined with a short 53.9-inch wheelbase, make for a very nimble machine. Though many have saddled Buell bikes with descriptions of twitchy, unstable attributes due to this shorter wheelbase, those alleged afflictions never materialized. In fact, quite the contrary, the XB1200XT is a rarity - one of the
few bikes on which I have felt immediately at ease. The 30.7-inch seat height didn't tax my 33-inch inseam; and once aboard, both feet rested comfortably on the ground.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the XB1200XT is its suspension. An area of particular concern to the engineers, but they got it right. The 43mm, inverted Showa forks are fully adjustable and provide 4.9 inches of travel. These legs, specially developed for the XT, have triple-rate springs and are specifically tuned for on-road performance. Out back, the Showa coil-over single shock is also fully adjustable, has 4.9 inches of travel, and features a dual-rate spring with maintenance-free direct linkage. A remote dial makes adjustments to the spring preload a quick and easy process. This suspension system works extremely well no matter the road conditions. Bumps big and small are hardly noticeable, and stability is maintained when the pace quickens and the twists come calling. It's uncommon to find a bike that strikes such an excellent balance between plush and stable, but Buell's suspension department hit the nail on the head outfitting the XB1200XT.

Frontal stopping duties are handled by the unique ZTL (Zero Torsional Load) braking system. The single, rim-mounted 375mm disc is pinched by a six-piston caliper, and even on the steep mountain roads, its action proved smooth and predictable. The back binder is a traditional single-piston caliper working on a 240mm disc. Action on the rear pedal demands a bit more stomp than most bikes get, but the adjustable lever allows fine-tuning for personal preferences.

The Show

There's absolutely no doubt that the Ulysses XT is designed with the touring rider squarely in mind. Its impressive array of standard, long-distance features is enough to make any high mileage rider take serious notice. Topping the list: the lockable hard saddlebags and top case. All three units are easily detachable, well designed, and simple to use. And with each boasting the capacity to hold a full-face helmet with room to spare, packing for long trips should pose little difficulty. Up front, a windscreen that measures a full four inches taller than the one on the Ulysses X gets a big thumbs-up for its breeze-breaking abilities. At a tick under six feet, I noticed no undue buffeting or turbulence. For those preferring the "upright with handlebars" riding position, the XT is an excellent option. The wide, comfortable handlebars, outfitted with heated grips, offer superb leverage and complement the comfortable seat nicely, easily inspiring daylong rides.

Passenger needs haven't been ignored either. The rear seat is elevated for better views and sturdy grab rails join the innovative Triple Tail™ built-in passenger backrest system to ensure extra comfort. Other nice long-haul goodies include a pair of 12-volt power outlets, handlebar deflectors, and sporty 17-inch wheels shod with Pirelli Diablo Strada tires. These skins dished out excellent grip and superb feel for the road despite a few stretches of less-than-perfect pavement and patches of pesky "traction" cinders left over from a recent snowfall.

Like many motorcyclists aware of the criticisms about Buell's quirky handling and instability, I remained a skeptic until we started rolling. And though those old complaints may still hold water regarding the more dedicated sport models, that's not so with the Ulysses XB12XT. Rarely do I instantly feel at ease on an unfamiliar machine; but barely out of the parking lot, I got a great vibe from this one. The power delivery is smooth and predictable, the handling stable yet adroit, and the seat is all-day comfortable. Once I had turned the XT in, a company spokesman implied that it may be available for long-term evaluations soon - a prospect eminently worth some follow-up phoning. They can certainly count on me to pester them about it with my bags packed and fingers crossed.