Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 5th January 2009

“The last of the line is often the best example, and the air-cooled Ulysses is smoother, slicker and better equipped than the older ones.”

The Buell Ulysses XB12XT is the more commuter/Sunday leisure version of the Ulysses, the sibling XB12X being an adventure-tourer in terms of looks and equipment.

Both share the air-cooled V-Twin motor that’s been developed by Buell over the last decade and now looks set to be phased out, as Buell start to fit the Rotax water-cooled twin across their range instead.

Alastair Walker took a spin on perhaps the final and arguably the best incarnation of the Ulysses model, before the advent of the water-cooled Ulysses models in 2010.

Buell have come a long way in the last 25 years or so and the last five years in particular. With niche models like the 1125R and the Ulysses the American company is showing that it wants to produce a range of machines, not just a `sporty’ Harley themed Roadster.

The first thing you notice about the 2009 XB12XT is that the seat has been crucially lowered by a few millimetres compared to the original Ulysses. It isn’t much, about 25mm, but coupled with the shorter travel suspension fitted to the XT the end result is that shorter blokes like me now fit the Ulysses a whole lot better.

You gain confidence sat astride any motorcycle where your feet can comfortably touch the Tarmac and the restricted steering lock on the Buell makes the U-turn hard enough, without feeling yourself perched precariously way above the deck.

Now you can trickle the Ulysses XT about with more freedom and finesse at low speeds, especially two-up, knowing that if you misjudge your turning circle at least you’ll be able to get a foot down to save it from toppling over.

There’s more ergonomic good news. The standard XB12XT Ulysses now has the versatile carrier/backrest fitted as standard. This folds flat onto the pillion part of the saddle in normal use, then with a simple pull on a locking tab, it flips up 90 degrees and provides a sturdy backrest for any pillion passengers.

Or you can fold it 180 degrees, assuming you haven’t got the top box fitted, where it becomes a parcel-carrying shelf. Neat touch, I reckon more gadgets like this should be standard on all-rounder and touring models from other manufacturers.

The XB12XT comes with a luggage kit as standard, plus heated grips. There’s no doubt that this is a decent touring machine, with a unique old-fashioned kind of engine inside its chassis.

Smooth Mover

The heart and soul of all Buells is that meaty V-Twin motor. Developed from Harley’s Sportster 1000/1200 series engine many years ago, the unit has become much less vibey, more powerful and seems better on fuel consumption than the old H-D unit.

The latest Ulysses XT is the best yet in respect of fuelling, on any Buell I have ridden. Where once, the bike hunted and spluttered whilst cold for a few miles, now the Ulysses needs just a couple of seconds blipping of the throttle to get it warmed up, then you’re ready to go. Acceleration is fluid, predictable and without unexpected hiccups – a refreshing change from the Buells of old.

The bike obviously needs a few miles to warm up thoroughly, but once you feel like caning that torquey engine, it responds superbly. Even two-up, the bike punches its way out of corners with all the power you need, delivering a real kick from as little as 2000rpm. Buell have re-configured their fuel injection on the Ulysses for 2009 and added some trickery inside the exhaust, which all helps to make more poke, at lower revs.

The factory say some 85% of the engine’s power is produced by 3500rpm and t is that `real world’ power which makes the Ulysses such fun to ride, regardless of the type of road you’re on. Power is slightly down from the Ulysses XB12X version, by around 6bhp, but I couldn’t notice any difference on the road. If anything, I’d take the XT version any day over the less versatile, and taller-saddled X variant.

Twisty stuff was always a pleasure on the Buell Ulysses XT, as the bike shares the compact chassis, featuring Showa suspension, with the Lightning models. The single 375mm front brake is also good enough to let you keep up with the average sport bike rider on a decently curvy A road.

But the bike isn’t that sporty. It fels a much nicer thing to cruise around on than the more edgy Buells of old, more predictable somehow. The XT commutes brilliantly, thanks to its tweaked fuel injection which has smoothed out the power delivery, so the bike seems to have a wider spread of useful lunge now. Plus it thrums along on motorways at 75mph all day without so much of the intrusive vibration the old Ulysses used to suffer from.

There are still phases in the Ulysses power curve when you can’t see bog all in the mirrors, as they blur slightly, but overall I think this is a V-twin with the right balance of soulful character and pleasant cruising ability.

The XT didn’t whirr its cooling fan quite so irritatingly at every junction, as the old Buells always used to do. It feels a much more finished, more rounded product now, like some real time and effort has been put into making this a rival to a Guzzi Stelvio or Morini Gran Passo.

The Rival Choices

The XB12XT retails at £8400 or so, which is a hefty price tag for a bike which still offers no real performance advantage over say a Suzuki V-Strom and hasn‘t the pillion space of say a Honda Varadero or Guzzi Stelvio.

The Suzuki V-Strom 1000 is also about £1500 less than most of its rivals, and comes fully-loaded with top box and panniers for that money. But the Suzuki isn’t a handsome bike by any means, and it rusts rapidly if you ride it in winter.

The Guzzi and perhaps the Triumph Tiger 1050 are rivals to the Buell, as they are choices for the non-conformist. Here the Buell stacks up well, although the Triumph utterly demolishes the buell in terms of performance, it also sounds lovely by comparison.

Bottom line? Well the prices of new bikes in 2009 will be all over the place, as sterling dives and then perhaps recovers against the yen, euro or dollar. This bike is decent value; you get full top case, panniers, heated grips etc for a relatively small hit compared to a fully kitted Stelvio, KTM Adventure or BMW GS.

Personally, I would have a serious test ride on both the Buell and the KTM Adventure 990, which handles, steers and goes beautifully. It is undoubtedly much faster than the Buell Ulysses, and I like the KTM’s rugged panniers with their top-loading lids.

As nice as the Buell Ulysses XT is, I think the bike will be transformed into a real hot contender once that liquid-cooled, Rotax, 120bhp unit is slotted inside its chassis. That sadly makes this last-of-the-line, air-cooled Ulysses a genuinely decent motorcycle, but a poor investment in terms of future PX value.

The XT Ulysses is a great bike, but it should have been available two years ago.


Get Buell bike insurance for the XB12 XT 2009.


Vital Statistics
ENGINE 1203cc, four stroke, air/oil-cooled V-Twin.
POWER 96bhp@ 6800rpm
PEAK TORQUE 77 ft/lbs @5500rpm
GEARS 5 speed
Cycle Parts
FRAME Twin spar aluminium
FRONT SUSPENSION Showa 43mm USD fork, multi-adjustable
REAR SUSPENSION Showa Monoshock, pre-load adjustment
FRONT BRAKE single 375mm disc, six piston caliper
REAR BRAKE single 240mm disc, single piston caliper
WHEELS/TYRES 120/70 17 inch front, 180/55 17 inch rear
Buying Info
RETAIL PRICE £8395 December 2008
FUEL CAPACITY 16.7 litres