Buell are slowly winning over new customers, as they tweak their unique chassis and smooth out some of the niggles from their old-tech 1200cc V-twin motor.
The latest variation on the theme is the Ulysses; an adventure sporting bike, with optional hard luggage, a flip-up backrest/luggage rack and longer front suspension.
The Ulysses is primarily designed for road riding, but has some off-road pretensions too. It is relatively cheap at just over £8000 on the road, but does the Buell offer a viable, low budget alternative to more expensive rivals like the 1200 GS BMW, or KTM’s 990 Adventure?
Insidebikes spent a week racking up around 300 miles on the Ulysses to try and find out.
2006 saw the BMW R1200GS emerge as the best selling big motorbike in the UK. Think about that for one moment; that’s a ten grand adventure touring machine, in two versions admittedly, punching the lights out of Fireblades, GSXRs, R1s etc.
I reckon that says two things about the UK bike market; One, there is no recession, there’s just confused marketing by most manufacturers, who spend far too much time and money trying to selling sportbikes to people who have neither the ability, or the physical road space, to actually use them.
Secondly, middle-aged blokes with cash to spend want adventure, some kind of escapism from the daily grind of UK roads every day. More and more people are taking off for long tours in Europe and beyond – buying a Buell Ulysses, or a BMW R1200GS, is a ticket to that wider world of possibility.
That thirst for uncluttered roads, the dream of dusty farm tracks leading to a Hacienda in the hills, or picturing a tour across Italy’s Alpine passes, is what fires the dreams of the average 50-something biker – and 50 year olds have all the time and money in the world right now, thanks to booming UK property prices.
So, the good news is that if you are in the market for an adventure type bike, then your choices are getting wider by the month, as manufacturers rush to emulate the success of the mighty BMW R1200GS. The even better news is that Buell are one of the few factories who actively encourage riders to demo ride their bikes – you can try a Ulysses out at their off-road centre in Wales, or catch the Buell road test fleet at various events in 2007 across the UK.
TAKING IT EASY
What can you expect from the 07 Ulysses? Well, my first impression was that the 2007 model wasn’t quite as tall in the saddle as the 2006 model, which I rode in Daytona last Spring. The seat height has been lowered a tad, to 808mm, which is good news as the bike feels fairly top heavy when you’re shoving it around your driveway, or a fuel station forecourt.
After letting the fuel injection prime itself, you hit the button and the Buell coughs into life with a basic clanking noise, rather like a commercial diesel engine. It doesn’t inspire confidence in the bike I have to say. My test model took about 5 miles to warm up and stop spluttering and popping at junctions, but another journalist who has a Ulysses on long term loan tells me his Ulysses has run perfectly since day one.
The bike has got enough grunt for everyday riding, but the idea that this is a modern sportbike engine is a non-runner. It´s just too old, too slow and feels like it will shake itself to bits at high rpm speeds.
There’s loads of torque available from the Harley-derived 1203cc V-Twin engine, with as little as 3000rpm being enough to set the front wheel skipping off the deck in first gear. The redline is at over 6000rpm, but the Buell engine starts to feel harsh and vibey above 4500 revs. Those massive pistons start generating serious vibes, the two valve head must be under some terrific load as the pushrod valve train struggles to keep up.
Another Buell quirk which soon appears is the almost constant Hoover-like whirring from the impeller fan – it gets irritating after a while to be honest, but as the ancient pushrod engine needs all the help it can get in terms of staying cool, the noise is something you have to accept if you like Buells.
I still liked riding the bike, and Anne reported that the vibration at a steady 70-75mph `really hit the spot somehow´ whilst riding pillion, which is good news for lady riders, but when matched against the BMW R1200GS, the Buell simply gets left behind on the straights. It cannot keep pace, no matter how hard the Buell Ulysses rider works the throttle – although your female pillion rider will love you all day long for trying!
LONG WAY ROUND NORTH WALES
If the Buell/Harley 1200 motor was shipped off to a motorcycle museum, and a water-cooled, DOHC, V-twin installed, then this would be a great all-rounder. The riding position is spot-on, with wide handlebars, a good shaped dummy fuel tank to grip between the knees and a supremely comfortable saddle. The rider gets a really wide, well cut seat, and the pillion does more than OK too – excellent piece of design.
The Ulysses has longer travel suspension than the sportbike Buells, plus a two inch longer swingarm, and less steep fork angle to help lengthen the wheelbase and slow the steering in the twisty bits. It still has fairly steep forks, and coupled with 17 inch wheels and a 1374mm wheelbase give the Ulysses quite rapid turning ability at roundabouts. The turning circle is surprisingly large however, as the steering lock is restricted.
Other practical details include a 12 volt accessory socket, plus a flip-up backrest/luggage rack. It lacks a metal inner plate for the entire length of the rubberized rack however, which means that pillions leaning against it feel the top two inches bending backwards – not good. Also the slots in the rack for attaching bungee hooks are too small to take a bungee hook, another basic design fault. There´s an optional 10mm higher front screen for the Ulysses, but a more useful addition would be the rack and hard panniers set. Haven´t tested them, just seen them fitted onto another Buell.
On the open road, the Ulysses handles with a steady feel, a certain solidity which lets the rider relax and cornering hard is no problem. The rim-mounted front disc is also superb, allowing you to dive hard into corners and make up some of the ground which the sluggish motor has cost you. It still lacks the finesse of the R1200GS for me, but it matches bikes I have tested in the past like the Tiger 900/955, Varadero 1000 or Suzuki´s V-Strom 650, which is soft and spongy by comparison.
An all day ride around Wales, stopping off here `n´ there was no problem physically, although parking the Buell on roughly surfaced car parks needed extra care, as the sidestand is very long and the Buell has a disconcerting tendency to `roll´ on its stand a little bit. The only thing I wished for was a decent screen, the sort of flyscreen the old R1150 GS used to have, which deflected lots of windblast for a relatively small surface area.
WORTH A PUNT?
The answer – at £8195 on the road – is not really. True, the Buell is two grand or so less than a BMW, plus about 500 notes less than the KTM 990 Adventure S model, but it lacks the sheer class of the BMW, the excellent resale values, or the adrenaline-fuelled, pseudo-Dakar image that the KTM offers. The Buell does better than Honda´s thirsty Varadero 1000 on fuel, but it isn´t quite so practical, or so relaxing to ride at motorway speeds. I haven´t ridden the latest Tiger, but I would guess it feels like a rocketship compared to the Ulysses.
If this bike was £6500, which is the Ulysses list price in the USA by the way, then maybe you could argue it makes a budget tourer, or general commuter with a sporty twist. But at eight grand it simply feels a bit old fashioned, runs too hot and looks distinctly odd from some angles.
The Ulysses is absolutely the right concept at the right time, but it needs a new, 21st century engine and gearbox, plus some well thought out accessories to really compete at the highest level. The ten grand bike buyer is out there Erik – go tempt them.
Get Buell bike insurance for the XB12 Ulysses 2007.
Engine 1203cc, air cooled, 2 valve per cylinder 45 degree V-twin, four stroke
Bore and Stroke 88.9mm x 96.8mm
Fuelling Fuel injection, 49mm throttle body
Gears 5 speed
Peak torque 114Nms
Claimed peak power 103nhp ( claimed )
Frame; Twin aluminium spar, integral fuel cell
Forks;43mm Showa, inverted, multi-adjustable
Rear suspension; Showa monoshock
Brakes; Single 375mm disc, six pot caliper, Single 240mm rear disc.
Wheels/Tyres; 120/70 17 in front, 180/55 17 in rear
Dry weight 193kgs
Est. Top Speed 125mph
Fuel Capacity 16.7 litres
Price £8195 ( May 2007 )