2007 Air-Cooled Twins Naked Comparo
Airin' It Out!
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2008 Buell Ulysses
Yep, the Uly has once again found itself in another Motorcycle.com comparison. It was only two years ago that we chose the XB12X as a wildcard, oddball last-minute addition to the mix of street-only sport tourers. And it did surprisingly well, coming in second out of five bikes.
Fortunately for the buying public, Buell gave a number of refinements and additions to this early-release '08 model. But even more exciting than the changes to the bike is the fact that it hasn't gone up one nickel from last year's $11,495.
The forks have been beefed up considerably from 43mm to 47mm, and rotating those legs right and left during a U-turn
|Vitals at a glance:|
The mighty Thunderstorm 1203 also received a tune-up with a new timing system that operates from a crank position sensor thereby eliminating the need for manual timing. Redline was bumped from 6800
rpm to 7100 rpm, and a new tach reflects the change. Crankpin size went up from 1.25 inch to 1.50 inch, and to compliment that improvement a new, higher-output oil pump was integrated, as well as a bigger oil cooler. New Jiffy-tite fittings grace line ends. Unfortunately, our test unit still managed to weep a little at the fittings around the oil cooler.
Other tech upgrades include a new engine control module, and the throttle cam is more progressive with new cables to go with it. The Uly now rides on the street-biased Pirelli Scorpion Sync rubber (like the Multistrada) instead of the dirt-minded Dunlop D616 from the original Buellysses as part of an across-the-board change from Dunlop to Pirelli last year.
Those mechanical upgrades are important and all, but the new stuff t hat will probably matter most to prospective buyers are the now-standard heated hand grips that previously demanded an additional $187 from your wallet. The Air Flow Cover Kit, although not as thrilling as heated grips, is now standard fare. Essentially, it's a small piece of plastic wedged in the space between the seat and frame, near the rider's inside thigh area, to deflect some of the heat radiating off the rear cylinder. It’s only moderately successful, as a rider’s right leg still gets lightly roasted on warm days.
For years now, people who haven't ridden Buells or are just plain skeptical of them bemoaned the use of an "antiquated" engine platform. To them we say, "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it!" The near-square (88.9mm x 96.8mm bore and stroke) 1,203 cc Harley Sportster-sourced Twin has received plenty of attention from Erik B and his team, making it a very competent if somewhat lumpy mill. Lest we forget, until the mid-2007 introduction of the liquid-cooled 1125R, the entire Buell line was born from and expanded with an air-cooled, torque-generous engine that so many mocked.
Once I learned to skip past the short first and second gears, all that was left to do in most non-freeway environments was keep the engine boiling around 4500 rpm for a very tractable drive. Though the Uly can wheelie away from stoplights with the best of them, your ride is best served by keeping the tach spinning above the aforementioned range, which is kind of odd for a big two-valve-per-cylinder Twin. Peak torque of 67.0 ft-lbs doesn’t arrive until 6100 rpm, just 750 revs short of the Uly’s rev limiter. Compare that with the free-spinning Ducati motor that pumps out its torque peak at just 4800 rpm, knowing that it also has a rev ceiling nearly 1700 rpm higher than the Buell. Also of note is that the Uly produces its maximum horsepower immediately before running into its rev limiter, which is kind of like the cops coming to the party just as the hot girls/boys arrive.
Although notably more powerful than the lazy engine in the Guzzi, the Buell mill seemed a little wheezy compared to the livelier motors in the Beemer and Duc. It picks up revs like the motor is filled with 100-weight oil. The dyno reveals bigger numbers than are felt by the old butt-dyno method, as revs are slow to pick up despite large reserves of grunt. Nevertheless, this is one "old" design that offers a very linear and user-friendly experience, and it produces peak power second only to the BMW. Hindering the Twin’s enjoyment was our bike’s glitchy fuel-injection mapping, as the engine would sometimes want to cough and stall when giving it a throttle blip before taking off from a stoplight. Buell reps assert that our tester had pre-production fuel mapping that isn’t indicative of the production bikes in dealers.
One area that held both praise and cursing was braking. The ZTL (Zero Torsional Load) perimeter-mounted, massive 375mm front brake rotor and six-piston caliper combo are a Buell signature item. And they work great too. The front binder (note that there is only one) offers great feel and plenty of power to reel in this adventure-inspired bike. Too bad the rear brake is the polar-opposite. To this day I can't understand how a bike with such a great front brake can have a rear brake that performs so poorly. Plain and simple, it's horribly lacking in feel and difficult to modulate. We know from riding other ZTL equipped Buells that these are some of the best brakes available as OEM, but the long-travel suspension on the Ulysses dives excessively during hard braking.
At least the suspension pays dividends over bumpy pavement. Yes indeedy, the XB12X has plenty of spring. With 6.5 inches up front and 6.4 inches out back, this bike coyly suggests that it may want to venture down a dusty road. The fork and shock (both Showa) are fully adjustable, with the rear offering the convenience of rider adjustable preload via a dial peeking out from the left side of the frame. Dive aside, the suspenders ate up most road imperfections, providing a very comfortable ride.
But that same generous spring travel can also be a drawback during aggressive on-road escapades. Alex was pretty spot on when he mentioned that its handling qualities are typical Buell, except that it feels like you’re riding a “Buell on stilts.” The taller suspension means more weight transfer and slightly slower reflexes. Still, the Ulysses offers "sharp turn-in, responsive handling, and a generally sportier feel than any of its competitors except the Ducati." There’s something undeniably cool about scything through a twisty road on what is essentially a really big dirt bike with a Harley motor.
And we all know that the bike entertains fire roads pretty easily, with the wide-platform footpegs allowing the rider to stand comfortably for long distances while shifting his or her weight like a true dual-sporter would, even if the bars are a little low, forcing a crouch when standing. But just like a dirt bike of one sort or another, seat height is still an issue for many sub-six-footers, despite the 1.3-inch reduction in height from 2006. That's just the price you pay for all that ground clearance that begs for a stream crossing or two. Still, the Uly’s seat remains one of the most comfortable among sporty bikes.
So what do we know about this hard-to-categorize Twin? The engine is uninspiring below 4500 rpm but has torque and power everywhere else. The front brake, despite its true nature being slightly masked by the long-travel suspension, is an excellent set-up. The rear brake, eh... not so much. The fuel-in-frame, flex-resistant aluminum chassis is simple, ingenious and unflinching in the face of tight, twisting canyons, or rough, unmaintained stretches of road, be they asphalt or otherwise.
And if we get heated grips, a couple other goodies and a number of refinements all for the price of last year's bike, we'll be willing to plug our ears a little while longer while that noisy engine cooling fan keeps running long after the bike is shut down. Any guesses on how long before we see an 1125R variant in the Ulysses? We'd love to hear what you think.
|The Perfect Bike For…|
|...someone who wants the familiarity and simplicity of an air-cooled Twin in a bike that can wear many hats, taking them over the horizon for thousands less than other bikes. Just don't expect to have your own A&E TV series.|