Whenever he gets a chance, John Burns likes to ramble on about how much he likes Buell motorcycles. The old ones, the new ones, it doesn’t matter. He’s a fan of Erik Buell’s vision and its execution. Case in point? JB’s review below of the 2004 Buell XB12S. A self-proclaimed lover of the XB9S, riding a bigger, better version of the XB-S around Road America left a big smile on his face. Hell, he still speaks fondly of it today. Check out what he has to say about it below, and for more pictures of the bike be sure to click on the photo gallery.
Apr. 20, 2004
Like S. Langhorne Clemens, who came in with Halley’s Comet and went out with it, I, JB, had my first racetrack ride on a Buell (RR1000, circa 1990) and maybe my last on one the other day at Road America up in the Great White North upon the new XB12–both R and S versions. I may be hanging up the spurs, kids. I’m 43 and no longer on the Up escalator of the ol’ learning curve. I’ve always been a danger to myself, of course, but on Road America’s tight little “Motorplex” track, which is like a paved version of the 80cc track at Lake Elsinore MX Park and where we rode the S version of the bike, I also took out the correspondent for the Canadian version of “USA Today” (that’s got to be some excellent bedtime reading).
That’s right, just as I was thinking to myself, damn these Buells turn good on the brakes…
I locked up the front and took the guy out like a bowling ball heading into a tight little right. I also took a handlebar in the chest, and for the first couple of weeks afterward it hurt almost too much to smoke. Hence, I was all set to announce my retirement when the phone rang just now: Erik Buell calling to tell me don’t feel so bad, Johnny, our timers said you were going faster than Don Canet at the time…
This is of course, complete and utter crap and I bet Tripp (Tree’-up) Nobles put him up to it–and yet I shall grasp at this straw and believe it forever.
It could be true, if DC was testing low-rev carburetion during one of those laps where I cut the course. In any case, I’ll take it and in a few years will no doubt even believe it. It’ll be excellent when Canet and me are in the retirement home. As you may have noted in these pages, I was already probably the biggest fan in all of motojournalism re: the XB9S (and to a lesser degree the clip-on equipped R model). Mainly what’s going on with the new XB12 is stroking that loveable old lump of an air-cooled twin from 3.125 inches to 3.812 (leaving bores at 3.5 inches), thereby increasing displacement to 1203cc. A set of stronger new knife-and-fork connecting rods carry tough new pistons through those elongated strokes.
A new larger-bore (49mm) intake tract with a pair of revised injectors stoke the intenal combustion proceedings, while 1.75-inch exhaust pipes replace the 1.5-inchers of before and expire into a new muffler with an electronically controlled valve like the ones on Japanese literbikes. The end result of all that, Buell says, is 24 percent more torque than the XB9 in a flatter curve, and 103 crankshaft horsepower. It’s kind of like the difference, Erik Buell grins, between a big-block Corvette and a small-block. American engineering.
Apart from that, the XB12’s (and the XB9’s as well) get a few detail improvements but nothing particularly major (save the $1K bump in price to $10,995). If you’re wide you’ll appreciate mirrors on two-inch longer stalks. There’s a tougher new final-drive belt, a longer peg on the shifter, lower passenger pegs… er, I think that’s it.
Aesthetically, the 12’s sport very cool “translucent amber” wheels which sort of glow in the dark compared to conventional gold anodized ones, and to an easily amused by shiny objects person like myself, the effect against the dark gray fuel-in frame is very nice–particularly set against my favorite thing about these bikes, which is that they are tiny.
I could be biased, maybe I’m just overtaken by a wave of patriotism or nostalgia or something. My wife is from Wisconsin, but I like the place and the people there anyway. New bikes normally get introduced around January / February, which generally means press introes have to happen in Mediterranean or southern hemisphere climes, and I’m not complaining but the whole thing always winds up feeling a bit alien and jet-lagged. Buell does things differently, and so it’s the exceedingly lovely, green Road America in mid-June–right down the road from the East Troy Buell digs–and never mind that one of the fastest road circuits in North America might be the last place you’d want to showcase anything powered by what’s basically a Harley-Davidson Sportster motor.
After all the highly regimented Japanese-bike launches I’ve been on, this one was like a family picnic, with Paul James the Buell PR guy showing un-PR-guy speed on the track, and Erik would’ve been out there too if not for a ruptured disc in his back which did not keep him from giggling like a big kid the whole time anyway. Even if the new XB doesn’t have the very latest in motive power, the very advanced things it does have in its favor mean it’s still an absolute blast to ride around the track, and 140 mph on the clock into Canada Corner, at the end of the long, tree-lined backstraight doesn’t seem particularly slow to me in my advanced state of decay.
Like the XB9 but 24 percent moreso, the XB12 is sort of sneaky fast: The red zone on the tach is set at 7000 instead of 7500 rpm, and so there aren’t really any aural clues to back up the visual ones of the scenery hurrying past. Whatever. The slightly heavier yet still short-wheelbased, quick-turning little mass-compacted Buell is still one of my favorite bikes to flog whatever the venue. Dunlop D207 tires are passé at this point, even déclassé–and yet when I looked to see what kind of sticky tires we were riding on after a couple of sessions, there they were (special versions for Buell). It’s just such an excellently balanced little machine. (Buell says suspension for XB9 and XB12 is identical.) And just like the XB9, the thing is completely unruffled by bumps, and completely stable come hell or high water–amazingly so for a bike with a 52-inch wheelbase, 21-degree rake and 83mm trail. Must be some sort of highly advanced engineering going on here…
Through Road America’s big fast Carousel, the XB could carry as much speed as you could drum up on the way in, feeding in more throttle all the way around and not sliding so much as gravitating outside by the time you get to the exit. There toward the end of the day I was dragging the right footpeg feeler quite a bit–the only thing on the Buell you can drag without crashing on street tires, I think, and only when your knee puck is molten. I was thinking more aggressive brake pads might be a good thing right up until I locked the front in my aforementioned “accident” over at the kiddie track.
Shifting is still the Buell Achilles Heel, and I have to say it seems a little worse on the heavier-crankshafted 1200. I mean, the bikes do shift, but with more effort than a Ducati or Japanese bike. Our XB9S got better with a few thousand miles on the odometer, and I also know you won’t be shifting the big 1200 nearly as much on the street as you do on the track, especially on a long, fast one like Road America when you’re trying to catch somebody… it’s all fine until you start trying to squeeze that last little bit of time out of the tube; if you’re not paying attention (and using the clutch a little bit), it’s easy to get hung up between second and third. I hate to say it, but you get used to the way the things shift, really, and the bikes have so many redeeming features…
By Johnny B
Struggling for acceptance, getting it, having it yanked back from time to time… I think I learned more about people, and how things really work, in my year here at MO than in all the other years at other occupations. It was very interesting to go from a big print magazine to MO, with its somewhat checkered past and slightly irreverent editorial policy. When the shiznit hits the rotary oscillator, you find out who your friends are, and I like to think I’ve learned to recognize the signs for future reference. Look out for people, for example, who have tremendous respect for you. Be wary of those who are doing things to you for your own good, who’d like to help you but whose hands are tied.
Trust people whose actions show respect, and those who actually do things to help you. “No Time for Sergeants” and Catch 22, it turns out, were not farces. If you are starting out in a professional career, study them carefully. When you rock your canoe, it sends ripples out across the lake, ripples that rock other peoples’ canoes. My favorite people in this business are the boat-rockers, all of whom are destined mostly to remain upon the lower rungs. Sad? Maybe not. I’ve had more fun over the years with those people than I ever dreamed possible–riding Hayabusas at Catalunya, R1’s at Valencia (and Catalunya too, come to think), Mille R’s at Homestead, pursuing lactating Croatian strippers in Rimini, hurling BMW’s into rushing mountain streams.
I must’ve been on a couple hundred bike launches and extended jaunts while the Adults were stuck politicking in smoky backrooms, doing whatever they do to preserve the fiefdom. The internet is a revolutionary medium, period. As a low-tech sort of points and carburetors guy myself, it continues to amaze me how many people don’t believe it. Want to see your own work in print? Hell’s bells man, write it up, click on News, then Post Article — and you can be a published author the next day on MO, there to be instantly pilloried and underpaid just like a real magazine writer.
Speaking of which, do you think for a minute that the run-of-the-mill motorcycle magazine writer has got anything on the Aerodynamic Head? On The Highwayman? Two words: Reader Feedback. Who wouldn’t pay $11.94 to watch Boehm and Kpaul square off in a battle of wits? Oh well, story of my life, really–big ideas, no execution. I know MO and a hot mug o’ Starbucks will be right there beside me in my new cubicle. I hope to continue to do some Cycle World stuff too. A man’s got to know his limitations, and maybe I am a better writer than I am an Editor.
All I want is a slice of motorcycle now and then, not the whole damn pie. Say, what sort of retirement speech is this turning into anyway? I’m not sure if I’m retiring or not, really… but in case I am all I want to express is a huge and humble Thank You to all of you who caused my head to swell over the years by liking my “work” and taking the time to say so. Words can’t express how cool it’s been for a law school dropout seriously considering the US Postal Service to have backed into such a fantastic line of work, Phil Schilling you old dog. So, ah, wish me luck in the ad bizness. I may be back with my tail between my legs in a month or two. Thanks to the internet and MO, when I say I’ll be in touch I mean it. Go back to your homes, and if you make as good citizens as you have Morons, you’ll all do fine. —
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Anyway, does Buell still market these as “Streetfighters” or what? In the typical Californian canyon, I’d wager, the XB12 should be just as excellent a tool and even better than the XB9–particularly the S model. (Personally, I can’t think of a reason to buy the R over it.) Right, it only revs to 7000 rpm, but there’s probably just as much torque at around 3000 rpm. In the new kink they built following the Carousel at RA, I can’t think of a bike that would be easier to turn in, flick back to the right instantly, and whack the gas back on hard, with less fear of disaster. The whole Buell just sort of rotates within its own axis–it’s that Buell Trilogy thing in action, low yaw and pitch and all that, achieved by keeping things at the ends exceedingly light–and the low-revving beast just goes Bwaaaa… and spins the tire a little without SPINNING the tire, and off you go down the back straight. At the end of the day, the Buell might not be the fastest way around the track if you’re an advanced rider, and the more advanced you are the bigger the gap would grow… but the big But is that if you’re not Mat Mladin or somebody, and have no real ambition of being him, the Buell is just easy to ride and hugely forgiving.
Okay, forgiving up to a certain point of stupid, which I managed to exceed. But on the street, where there aren’t any high-speed straights–the tighter the road, the more fits this XB12 will give bigger more powerful bikes. Reliability-wise, I refuse to go there with you people again.
The quality of these new Buells, beginning with the Blast, is apparently greatly improved. I have noted, maybe along with you, that scattered among the Buell “Reader Feedbacks” which slam Buell reliability every time the topic comes up, is a near-complete, yawning dearth of complaints from people who actually own new ones. At the end of the day it’s just refreshing, after a brat and some beers, to stroll from the lovely Osthoff Resort on the lake to downtown Elkhart Lake and pound some more beers with the ex-college football player types like Tim Osterberg and Dan Grein who built the thing, and who now have excellent raccoon eyes from being in the sun all day in fashion eyewear. Who knew those guys had brains too?
“It’s all about the low-rpm and the midrange, and in those departments it’ll be tough to top a 1203 Buell…”
Abe Askenazi’s of Syrian descent by way of Mexico, but assimilating nicely and, in fact, breeding in the Wisconsin wild. More cheese curds anybody? I remember dancing, even, with a third-grade teacher in a tube top, and after that it all became a blur. In today’s corporate climate, the whole Buell attitude is hugely refreshing, and in fact it’s that David v. Goliath attitude that made the XB possible. Nobody told Buell they couldn’t build this bike. If Honda had tried to build an XB9/12, it would’ve wound up being a Pacific Coast with fuel and oil stored in an outrigger or something equally watered-down. And the fact that Buell does it with such an anachronistic engine makes it, to me, that much more interesting, and that much more an accomplishment. No doubt there’s a liquid-cooled Buell down the road, who knows when? In the meantime, I’m not getting any younger, I’ve got no time to wait–and anyway I like the air-cooled Ducati Monsters better than the quattrovalvole ones.
Here in the world, it’s all about the low-rpm and the midrange, and in those departments it’ll be tough to top a 1203 Buell with a few choice aftermarket pieces, of which there are about a million. For those who say an air-cooled engine can’t pass emissions, Buell points out this one comes in “substantially below 2004 CARB/Euro II limits without secondary air injection or catalyst.” If I picked a Motorcycle of the Year for the Actual World, I have to tell you I think this one would be it. On the other hand, now’s the time to get a smokin’ deal on an XB9S…