Dear MOby,

Help. I can’t decide if I want a new (to me) Buell XB12S or an XR1200 Sportster. Prices seem to be roughly equivalent (cheap!), and they both appeal to slightly different parts of my medulla oblongata. What do you think?

Feeling Sporty


Dear Sporty,

A highly placed ex-executive within Buell answered thus: “Well, that would depend on whether you wanted light weight and super handling, or wanted to hang out at a biker bar, wouldn’t it?”

It’s not quite that simple, but… according to this little 2009 comparison involving the XR1200 (and a Ducati Monster), H-D claimed a dry weight of 562 pounds for its bike, which made 79.2 horses at 6950 rpm on our dyno and 66.6 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.

Meanwhile, in this 2006 shootout involving the Buell XB12S Long, that bike – using Buell’s heavily revised version of the same basic 1200 Sportster V-Twin – produced 91 hp at the back wheel, with 73 lb-ft of torque. More significant than the power difference, though, is the weight one: Buell claimed a dry weight of just 400 pounds for its aluminum-framed XB.

In any contest of speed, then, given equal riders, the Buell should be able to wipe the floor with the XR, but if it’s not about speed, then it’s totally up to you. With its new alloy swingarm and adjustable Showa 43mm inverted cartridge fork, the XR was the sportiest (by far) Sportster to date when it got to the U.S. in 2009 (it was actually released in Europe a year earlier), and I think most of us could agree the XR is still the sportiest Sportster. Many of us would even agree it’s the best-looking Sportster.

H-D in fact borrowed a few parts from Buell, including camshafts, in an effort to close the performance gap. While the XR motor didn’t achieve Buell performance levels, it did make a bunch more power than the other Sportsters. With really good cornering clearance and powerful dual front disc brakes, it’s also a seriously fun motorcycle to ride aggressively.

Still, 30% more weight than the Buell and lazier geometry – 130 millimeters of trail and a 60-inch wheelbase versus 83mm trail and a 52-inch one – mean the XR is going to feel like a sport-tourer ridden back to back with the Buell. We’ve got nothing against sport-touring. If you carry a passenger a lot, the XR has more room. (Matter of fact, the Buell XB12S Long mentioned above was an answer to criticism that the original XB was too compact for long rides two-up.) If you want a sport bike to chase the GSX-Rs, you want the Buell. If you want one to cruise around on with your BFF on back in search of a nice ceviche, the XR is probably the more reasonable choice.

What do we know? I think both bikes are going to be collectible at some point, as people recognize the error of their ways – the Harley for being the sportiest Sportster ever and for paying respect to the mighty XR dirt tracker that inspired it; the Buell for being a somewhat rare and delectable high-tech artifact of one man’s inspiring success in bucking the system. They’re both surprisingly practical, everyday rideable, easily maintainable plain old fun-to-ride motorcycles. At these prices, maybe one of each?

2004 Buell XB12S: Cheddarheads Strike Again


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  • Alaskan18724

    Two bikes I’d like to own. If I ever go Bueller, I’ll definitely look at the XB12S Long, as well as the Ulysses. Standard XB12 is too, um, petite for normal-sized Americans. By which I mean tight end, not nose tackle.

    • Gabriel Owens

      The xb9 cityx is the best choice imho

      • Mad4TheCrest

        I never got to own a Buell, but I took test rides on XB9R, XB12R, XB12S, and CityX models. The CityX was by far the most fun. My ideal Buell though, should I ever find a clean one, would be a Super TT.

  • Old MOron

    Since you’re going to be buying a used bike in either case, it should be easy to get a test ride. Ride them both and pick the one you like best.

    Or perhaps you’ve done this already. If you’ve ridden both and you still can’t decide, get the XR.

  • Buzz

    I’d take the Buell. I always enjoyed riding them in MO tests.

    Plus, it still has the potato potato exhaust note which allows access to any biker bar.

  • john phyyt

    Seems simple to me .. If you want a Harley buy a Harley. Why have any regrets ?? Millions of very happy riders:
    If you want a sporty bike then why limit yourself to a relatively slower heavier air cooled wanabe.? Lots of choice ; and as has been said ” just superb rides ” .. Everywhere.

    • Vrooom

      While I don’t generally disagree, a dry weight of 400 lbs isn’t terrible.

      • john phyyt

        I have pushed a few around a workshop. Engine/box alone are anchors. 400 lbs yeah right.

  • Starmag

    I’m sure the XB12S is a great bike, but being a Evel and Jay Springsteen fan means I’d have to go with the XR despite the weight. You could also go Evel paint or XLCR tribute too.
    http://friday-ad.s3-website-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/uploads/image/14435501_14435600/harley-davidson-xr-1200-2010-14435582-1_800X600.jpg?d8ed7ba080345b64
    http://kickstart.bikeexif.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/harley-XR1200_cafe_racer.jpg

    • Born to Ride

      That Evel homage bike makes me want to find 13 school busses and and visit the homeless despot for copious amounts of plywood and 2x4s. Keep it away from me, I have a child for God’s sake.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    One point that wasn’t made was parts and service. The XR would be easier to get parts and service for than the Buell. But the XB12 would garner more attention at any moto gathering and would be more of a collectors item.

  • Tudor Petrascu

    I have rented an XR 1200 in Germany some nine years ago and did not understand it. It seemed like an ‘foxostrich’ – trying to be a Harley with a bit advanced footpegs, but pretending to be an european street bike. Also 3000rpm in final gear at less than 100km/h. For me it looked like half baked bike. I also drove Buell STT – that was a bike to remember. But this Buell you are talking about is, i believe, the one with very low seat height, if you are a tall guy, try before you buy.

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  • Bill O’Brien

    Well if you get the XR1200, you’ll constantly be searching where to buy that non-standard size front tire unless you buy a 17″ wheel. That’s what they did when they raced them!

  • Joe7Bros

    I’ve had 3 Sportsters, though no XRs, and I’m on my third Buell, XB12Scg, preceeded by a 1997 S2T Thunderbolt and a 2009 1125CR; buy the Buell cause it’s all about the pounds per horsepower

  • Mr. Canoehead

    “Well, that would depend on whether you wanted light weight and super
    handling, or wanted to hang out at a biker bar, wouldn’t it?”

    Nailed it

    • Born to Ride

      That being said, seeing the XR1200s lap Laguna Seca in fury is one of my fondest motorcycle racing memories.

  • mog

    Young Josh at Carolina Coast H-D sold me a few Buells. Out of them all, the diminutive XB9S fits my 6’3″ body best. The seat was carved out for my boney butt and lower pegs (on street). Although a lower displacement than the 1203cc XB12S, it just plain ran the race courses better as well as trips of a few hours ripping the roads of NC. Most exhilarating with the 986cc smaller engine. The 1203cc engine is superb on the Buell XB12X Ulysses though. Each of the other bikes have great manners in their specific discipline but the XB9S just keeps getting the nod when the the need arises. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5641def0e0987bbaeab8debdcaa5d85165be9d911e7991a2b3cc05e98a133527.jpg

  • asg21

    “Buell claimed a dry weight of just 400 pounds for its aluminum-framed XB.”

    If he’s making it up, why not say 300 pounds?

  • guymacher

    Buell is always my choice–unless the alternative is Jessica Alba.

    • Gary

      Jessica won’t have anything to do with you unless you ride a Guzzi.

  • michael32853hutson@yahoo.com

    maybe i’m confused- i saw(somewhere) that the XR 1200 was rated at 91 hp-i even wrote it down!(unfortunately not where i saw it) “91 hp,73.7 ft.lbs.(torque),19.8 km/lit,196. km/h or 122 mph,10/1 compression,dry wt.562 lbs. wet wt. 579.8 lbs”

  • mackja

    I have owned a 2010 XR1200 and several Buells, while the XR is a decent and fun bike, it cannot match the Buell, the XR used the latest upgraded Buell version of the Sportster engine, but could not muster the same performance because of screwy intake system. I really wanted Harley to succeed with the XR, but they just won’t put the money into a bike like that to make it reach it’s true potential. To heavy, to heavy, and did I mention the XR is to heavy! The Buell gives you the best version of the Harley XL engine, less weight and handles like a dream, Buell all the way!!

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      “To heavy, to heavy, … ”

      Brake it to us gently …

  • Gee S

    The 7 years of parts support post shut down for The Buells has now officially ended. HD has sold off their remaining inventories of parts to a third party who promptly tripled the prices.

    As much as I loved the idea of Buell motorcycles, owning one, at least in my experience, was a lot like being in love with an evil crazy woman — all the good I did was repaid with more pain. I’ve heard apocryphal stories of folks with reliable Buells — I’ve never met one, though. =8-o

    It’s hard for me to wrap my head around advising anyone to buy a Sportster, but in this case, if you actually want to ride the thing, it seems like the better play.

    • Born to Ride

      That’s a damn shame about the parts.

    • Mark L

      Loved my 2007 Buell XB12R, but the fact that spares were about to become an issue prompted me to sell it a couple of years ago. If Buell had continued in production, I would probably still be clocking up the miles on it.

  • SRMark

    Take out a quarter and toss it in the air. If it lands on its edge, get both.

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      And then blow ones brains out.

  • Rocky Stonepebble

    A choice, eh? Harley or Buell?

    https://youtu.be/4lV5NuGu5yI

  • Rob Mitchell

    Buells are normally bought by motorcyclists, HDs are normally bought by people who just want to say the own HD and watch themselves ride past in shop windows.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Well said! What do you buy?

    • Ronald Vennell

      I’ve had one of each. Still have the Harley. I confess that I have been guilty of looking at my reflection in shop windows once or twice while putting an average of 12,000 miles a year on my poseur Harley…..
      Loved the Buell BTW, 2008 Ulysses ST.

      • Rocky Stonepebble

        Yeah. Mileage is the true measure. Get as many superslab clicks on that odometer as one might. That is the true definition of a biker.

        Tosser.

        • Ronald Vennell

          The best thing about discus comments is the ability to block trolls,……

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            And you are now blocked.

            Tosser.

  • CalH

    Well I owned an XB and ridden an XR and the Harley isn’t in the same league as the Buell. I could corner harder on my Buell than any motorcycle I’ve ever ridden, period. Unfortunately any sporty engine that makes hp is going to run hot and sticking that engine in a twin spar frame wrapped around the rear cylinder is just looking for trouble. The fan simply doesn’t pull enough air to keep rear cylinder temps down. God help you if you get stuck in a traffic jam on the highway. I learned that one the hard way. Gee S got it right below : ” I’ve heard apocryphal stories of folks with reliable Buells — I’ve never met one, though.”

    • Larry Kahn

      The Rotax Buells would cause the fuel to boil in the frame in traffic. And no fun when you have it happen the first time and open the cap to figure out what the hell is going on. Advice, don’t open it until it cools!

      • Ronald Vennell

        The Sportster engined Buells would do the same, as I discovered on a 100+F day riding from Galveston to Angleton TX.

    • Lewis

      I owned one of the tube frame Buells, a Cyclone. No reliability issues over several years quite a nice all round machine. I would actually recommend either a Cyclone or S1 Lightning. I always keep my eye out for a Thunderbolt, especially one with the PM wheels.

      • spiff

        Old school tubed Buells are the shit. Very fun rides.

  • mbk

    I had a 2009 XR1200 and loved everything about it except the washboard ride. It looked great, had a wonderful motor and reasonable ergonomics. Note that the rider sits high on this motorcycle, not “in” behind and below the fuel tank like many other machines. I almost felt like I was perched on top. If you get one I would recommend softer springs on front and rear.

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      And another bike all together.

  • Gary

    I’ll take one from column “C.”

  • jeff benson

    Considering the parts issue the Sporty is probably a better bet. Not that I would support HD again after what they did to Eric Buell. But if you like it go for it.

  • jeff benson

    Ah yes. Reminds me of the good old days on MO. MOrons would clamor for an American sportbike. “Make one and we’ll buy it”, they’d cry.

    Buell did. They didn’t.