Buell Motor Company is aware of the project and has agreed to support it with accessories to evaluate and include in the report. Having spent my own money I will not, as journos are often accused of doing, be writing the review to please the factory. Over the course of the next year or so, I will report like any other rider that has saved their money and spent it on a bike.
As a potential buyer, I studied the bike and read all of the internet forums carefully. Out of everything I learned one thing was certain; internet forums can be a scary place. The Uly is either loved or loathed in these circles. There seems to be an enthusiasm surrounding this model, but a lot of buyers are scared that it will self destruct as soon as they sign their name, or their friends and family will disown them. Oftentimes a buyer will opt for a model with more universal approval instead of the bike they really want. For this reason, I will be “journaling” life with my 2008 Ulysses for the next year (10,000-15,000 miles). Hopefully this “journal” can be used as a resource for first time Buell owners as it is written by a first time Buell owner.
Honestly, I caught a bit of hell and some ribbing from friends and family for buying a Buell. After meeting some friends for breakfast, my dad and I loaded up for a 300+ mile day and got set to head out. A few friends of mine on V-Stroms offered their cell phone numbers in case the American bikes broke (me on a Buell and my dad on a Harley), and they had to come rescue us. Very nice of them, no doubt, but we didn’t need their services.
The Ulysses is different, and may cause a few furrowed brows and curious looks when it shows up. Rest assured, you’ll hardly ever stop for gas without being asked, “What is that?” It seems even in the motorcycle industry Buell is viewed as somewhat of an outsider. After all, one look at the bike and you’ll see features no other company employs. There are several innovations and patents, touted by the company’s namesake, Erik Buell, that make up this package and add to its unique character.
The aluminum frame’s large beams are hollow, and double as a fuel tank carrying 4.4 gallons of premium unleaded, as the plastic cover on top where the fuel tank would be is the air box cover. The swing arm pulls double duty as well and acts as the oil reservoir.
Look more closely and you’ll see the muffler is tucked beneath the 1203cc air cooled V-twin to further lower the center of gravity, and the 6 piston front caliper squeezes the massive floating rotor from the inside out. All of these characteristics are said to reduce overall mass and un-sprung weight, increase rigidity, eliminate unnecessary parts, and all together function to create a better handling motorcycle.
The 12X was designed to be a rider’s motorcycle; the final belt drive is maintenance free, and there are no valve adjustments necessary for the air cooled, 4 cam mill thanks to the hydraulic lifters. There’s no coolant to drain, and services are as simple as draining engine oil and primary fluid every 5,000 miles, and swapping spark plugs and fork oil at twice that interval. Keep an eye on clutch adjustment and primary chain tension when you freshen up fluids, and you’re off and riding for another 5K miles.
For 2008, the 12X comes standard with heated grips, and Buell has increased steering lock to a more user friendly 74 degrees. The diameter of the forks has been increased to 47 mm to further improve handling and front end rigidity and feel. The seat has also been reshaped to help shorter riders reach the ground, which, at 5’8” in boots, is a feature I truly could not live without.
For the new model year, redline has been bumped up to 7,100 RPM’s. The timing has been updated and now operates off of a crank position sensor, and the throttle position sensor has been changed to a unit that is easier to calibrate, thus simplifying and minimizing service time to attain proper adjustment. The oiling system has been updated from lessons learned on their XBRR race bike, and is said to have increased cooling capacity thanks to a higher output oil pump and a larger oil cooler, as compared to pre-2008 model 12X’s.
Even with all of the innovative chassis tech and top shelf suspension, skeptics often knock Buell for continuing to employ the air cooled Sportster based engine. Comparing the Thunderstorm 1203cc engine to a normal Sportster engine is something akin to comparing the Mona Lisa to Angelina Jolie. Yes, it’s true they both share basic architecture and function, but good ol’ Mona is simply nice to look at, while Ms. Jolie makes you think far dirtier and faster thoughts that may even challenge legality. Well, maybe it’s not exactly the same kind of comparison, but you get the point…
Buell’s Thunderstorm engine revs far higher, creates much more power, and is rumored to share no part numbers with its H-D “cousin”. As a result, the mid-range and top end is accessible and fun to use, but is does not create the stump pulling torque below 3K rpm’s. Around town the engine is usable below the 3,000 rpm threshold, but largely uninspiring. For hustling around the good roads, the 12X Ulysses seems happiest above 3,500 rpm’s, and will pull strong almost all the way to redline as torque peaks at 84ft/lbs @ 6,000rpm’s, and HP peaks at 103 @ 6,800.
The rubber mounted twin shakes like a teenager that knocked up the preacher’s daughter while its idling, and shakes some as she slows to a stop and the engine rpms drop; this is a fact some can’t seem to get over. However, once it gets spun up and you’re under way, the vibrations disappear and it is as smooth as any other modern motorcycle. Virtually no vibes reach your hands through the bars above 2,500-ish rpm’s, and the foot pegs have only a slight thrumming through them. Running at a steady 80mph there are minimal vibes. This bike can be ridden all day without your hands going numb, your feet tingling, or your fingers falling asleep. Cold temps increase perceived vibrations to a small degree until the rubber mounts are properly in the temperature operating range which usually only takes a few miles.
On the twisty bits, the 12X handling is very neutral, and your date with the next apex is a simple head turn and press of the upright handlebars away; providing the suspension has been adjusted as per the owner’s manual to suit your weight. Proper adjustment is the key to getting this bike to handle as designed, especially for riders with a typical “American build.” The front forks and rear shock are fully adjustable Showa units, and their adjustment is made easy thanks to clear directions presented in the owner’s manual and the easy to reach adjusters. Cornering clearance is copious, and superior to other adventure bikes allowing you to use all of the Pirelli Scorpion Synchs when dancing through corners.
Brakes are fed via braided steel lines, and the front brake is strong with a good feel at the lever; doing its job well when called upon. The rear brake is, well, just there. Once you’re used to it there are no surprises as it is predictable yet weak, and lacks the overall feel and power expected of a sport bike derived system.
As quick as the big twin spins up and makes power, it is not as quick to scrub it off when the throttle is rolled off before corner entry. The lack of engine braking can be a bit unsettling at first, especially as the tach dips toward the 3,000 rpm mark. The key is to set up early, and use the midrange and top end drive of the bike pull you through.
Riding in this manner makes the 12X a very comfortable bike to ride at a sporting pace. Obviously, the pace will be different for every rider, but for me this is a very confidence inspiring, and sure footed bike to ride at an 80+% pace. Once set up, the suspension and chassis are tough to upset, and offer a firm ride that does not wallow around despite having over 6 inches of travel at each end. It turns in precisely, goes where you point, remains planted when pitched over, and just flat makes me smile.
Around town the bike does well on a few fronts, but loses out on others. I have become accustomed to the commanding seating position that the Uly, and other adventure bikes offer, that allows you to see above and beyond traffic when fighting through town. The short wheel base and good ground clearance means you can park it almost anywhere you please and there should never be a curb that goes unchallenged as it’ll hop those, too. The flat seat and neutral seating position allow for easy movement on the bike, and make it comfortable for you to “put your head on a swivel,” and keep an eye on everything around you. The wide set mirrors will let you see that there is something behind you, but the view is skewed and unclear due to vibrations.
As she has broken in, gas mileage has slowly gotten better where she is consistently returning 40-42 mpg’s. This means 140-150+/- miles until the fuel light illuminates, which indicates there is .8 gallons remaining. A nice feature is the “F” trip mileage reader that automatically activates with the fuel light and keeps track of miles traveled since the light went on. Once the tank is full, it cancels back to zero on its own.
The clutch is good with low lever effort, but engages late in its travel. Slow progress through town is hindered as the gearing is tall; especially first gear which requires a good slip of the clutch to get rolling. The engine creates a good bit of heat on the right side; especially as outside temps get above 80 degrees. When you’re moving, the heat is much less of an issue, but if you spend time idling in slowly moving traffic, this may concern you. Riding pants seem to ease it, and it is hotter through jeans…but this is a bike you will not ride in shorts (not that I ever recommend riding in shorts). Supposedly, the heat reduces with synthetic oil and a few thousand miles…so we’ll keep you posted.
The wide handlebars offer ample leverage, and the seating position leaves the rider just slightly canted over towards the bars. The foot pegs are a bit farther aft than on other adventure bikes, which makes adding a bit of body English while cornering very comfortable. For me, however, riding to, say above 90%, will take more practice as there is a slight tendency for the bike to stand up during trail braking, a technique with which I definitely need more instruction and practice. The Uly made me realize how dependent I had become on the engine braking, and has forced me to smooth out my throttle to brake to throttle transitions as a result. I am still working on it, but for guys who have cut their teeth on a track, or a riding bit closer to the edge this should be less of an issue.
The transmission shifts smoothly, and even through break-in it never missed a shift. It’s not as user friendly as, say, a Honda transmission (primarily due to a longer throw), but shifts are clean, low effort, and predictable regardless of engine speed and load. Upshifts and downshifts are met with an audible “clunk” that lets you know you’re there.
Thus far, it has been a good companion. This motorcycle seems to engage the rider on all fronts, and makes power comfortably above 3,500 rpm’s with no dips, spikes, or otherwise. Buell seems to have sharpened the street edge of the adventure touring spectrum; kudos to Buell for not short changing the quality of the suspension to save a few bucks as many manufacturers seem to do in this tight market segment.
The bike sits with a few ticks over 2,000 miles on it in just under 2 weeks, and there have been a few very minor surprises. As the odometer rolled 81 miles, the check engine light came on, just as my brother looked over at me from his new Yamaha FJR1300. Kind of embarrassing….but we pulled off the road, tightened the battery cables, double checked all of the electrical connections, and headed for home. Another 10-15 miles on the road, and the light went off. Turns out, it was throwing a low voltage code, apparently due to the battery terminals being too loose from the dealer. Since then, the light has never returned, even when running the heated grips, heated vest and hi-beam.
There was also slight weeping from one of the oil cooler feed lines, but a quick ¼ turn of the nut that connects the lines to the cooler and it dried right up. These seem to be pre-delivery inspection issues, not indicative of Buell engineering, and neither were cause for alarm and were easily resolved with out returning to the dealer.
During the first 700 miles, the Uly burned, or pumped into the airbox, about 5 ounces of oil. That seems reasonable for an air cooled engine that is seating all of it bits and pieces, and as it has worn in, it looks to have improved. Oil in the air box seems worse during high load/high RPM running as on my 1,200 mile slab trip she only lost 2-3 ounces of H-D 20-50wt. Running through the mountains, however, leaves visible residue on the inside of the airbox as oil enters through the breather hoses and gets blown around in there. A Buell tech I contacted said a quart every 5,000 miles is within spec, and for now, I am within those limits. Reportedly, it gets better with miles…Next change I am going to synthetic, so I’ll monitor it, and keep you posted.
Future long term updates will focus on maintenance procedures, upgrades, and accessories that can sharpen the purpose of this motorcycle that attacks a sect of bikes known for their versatility and utility. We’ll take her off road, some 2-up riding, and explore the Uly as a touring rig, commuter, etc….