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- Written by Carole Nash Editor
- Created: 18 June 2008
Those who say modern motorbikes are all the same, should take a look at the new Buell Firebolt; fuel in the frame, engine oil inside the swingarm, plus a rim-mounted front disc brake, all combine to make this one of the most radical looking machines on the market.
Insidebikes spent a week testing the first of a new generation from Buell USA.
Buell is part of Harley-Davidson, but the two brands are distinctively different, with Buell providing a sporting spin on the V-twin motorcycling experience.
True, the 1000cc air cooled V-twin engine that powers the new Firebolt looks like a Harley, and even sounds like one when you hit the starter button, but the chassis is one of the most unusual packages seen in mainstream biking - a million miles away from Harley´s laidback cruisers and accessory-stacked tourers.
The first thing that strikes you once you get on board this bike, is how compact it feels. The XB9R is like a 400cc grey import, with its weight set really low and a short wheelbase. Oddly enough, despite this pocket size impression, and steeply angled front forks, the Buell needs a bit of rider input in town, especially on low speed turns, to steer the bike exactly where you want to go.
But once you´ve gained confidence, ( and at higher speeds ) the Buell is so precise, so beautifully supple in its handling, you can move much quicker than you think through traffic.
The slender profile helps, as does the low revving power from the fuel injected 1000cc motor. There´s instant lunge from around 2500rpm and I found the Firebolt was also extremely frugal with the unleaded, returning around 55mpg on test but that did include a fair bit of motorway riding at a steady 70-80mph.
The only bugbear in town is the Harley style gearbox, which is still antiquated and a bit clunky, to be brutally honest. It never failed to engage gear, but you need to give it some welly, particularly when getting from first to second gear.
The bike also gets hot in traffic jams, and as it lacks a radiator, an impeller fan sucks in air to keep those big twin cylinders from boiling their engine oil. The fan emits a high pitched whine, a bit like a jet engine, which has the added benefit of freaking out some car drivers enough to make them move out of the way quicker. Nice!
But it was in the swoopy curves of Cheshire´s backroads that the Firebolt really impressed me. The torquey engine allows you to use a high gear and keep momentum as you flick the bike through bumpy bends, with the superb braking from that trick-looking front disc ready for any unseen hazards. Highly addictive stuff.
The chassis is all new on the XB9R, with the monoshock moving from underneath the bike to a more conventional location behind the engine. A beautiful alloy frame replaces the old steel tubular trellis, with the new 984cc V-twin engine hanging from it. The engine oil now lives inside the rear swingarm, which is another clever way of keeping the weight set low, whilst allowing room for the drainpipe sized exhaust slung under the motor.
The new frame incorporates a gas tank set between its spars, hidden underneath the airbox, which is shaped like a gas tank, if that makes sense. It only holds 14 litres of petrol and as the bike is fuel injected, there´s no reserve tap, just a warning on the electronic dash. The miles being travelled `on reserve´ are clocked up in front of you, albeit in a tiny typeface.
Effectively, this limits the Firebolt to a range of about 90 miles hard riding before you start looking for fuel, but like most sportbikes, you are ready for a break after an hour or so in any case. You have to fill the tank slowly too, as it´s easy to have some petrol `blowback´ from the narrow top of the reservoir.
The rider is set low in the Firebolt´s saddle, with a narrow set of handlebars clamped to the headstock, so you are a bit `hunched up´ on the bike. I´m average height, and felt cramped on motorway rides, so taller riders might prefer a sportbike like a Kawasaki ZX9R, for the simple reason that it fits them better.
One final chassis detail; that superb rim-mounted front disc brake. It looks trick, but more importantly, it works extremely well and the bike is `steering biased´ in any way as it comes to a halt, just by having one brake mounted like a gyroscope on its front wheel. I was seriously impressed that the Firebolt was almost able to stand on its nose, such was the level of control, and rider feedback, you got from the brake. I can´t recall using the back brake all week.
Things Are Different On A Harley-Davidson
They sure are. They are also a bit on the slow side, with the exception of the new V-Rod, so it´s great that Harley are putting serious thought and money into making the Buell brand a genuine alternative for European sportbike riders.
If you find a Honda SP2 fast, but a tad bland, or the thought of owning a Yamaha R1 - the Vauxhall Vectra of sports biking - simply a case of following the herd, then the Buell Firebolt XB9R could be just the thing for you. The Firebolt looks truly different, totally European in its styling, this is a bike for someone who wants to do their own thing on two wheels, and doesn´t care what the world thinks. No wonder the French love Buell!
There´s no getting around the fact that isn´t really a fast bike, when compared to the opposition, but that might not bother you too much - how many times do you go beyond 130mph anyway?
At £7500 the Buell is competitively priced, because you get something truly unique, with ground-breaking chassis technology for the money. For me, the only downside is the brand´s history of reliability problems, coupled with a 2 year factory warranty.
I think that´s a poor guarantee, in an age when hatchback cars costing 7K can come with 3-6 years cover, and Harley are expecting buyers to take a chance on some unusual biking technology. Let´s hope that reliability, as well as unique character, can become Buell trademarks.
Get Buell bike insurance for the Firebolt XB9R.
|Engine||45 degree V-twin, four stroke, air cooled|
|Carbs||None, digital fuel injection|
|Claimed power||92bhp @ 7200rpm|
|Frame||Twin spar alloy|
|Front suspension||43mm upside down forks, multi adjustable|
|Rear suspension||Monoshock, multi adjustable|
|Front brakes||Rim mounted 375mm single disc, six pot caliper|
|Rear brakes||Single 230mm disc, single piston caliper|
|Fuel capactiy||14 litres|
|Top speed (est)||130mph|
|Colours||White or blue|
|Top speed||170mph (est)|
|Fuel capacity||18 litres|
|Buying info||2 year warranty, loads of optional extras available|
|Current price||Approx £7500 OTR|