2004 XB12S: Cheddarheads Strike Again


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).

Johnnyb @Elkhart Lake, demonstrating the distinctive Burnsian style of lawn mowing.

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.

A nice new longer stroke takes the XB to 1203cc. Check the fatter exhaust headers...

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.

"24 percent more torque than the XB9 in a flatter curve, and 103 crankshaft horsepower."

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.

If you see a thing like this getting bigger in your mirrors instead of smaller, it's a good idea to stop for gas or something...

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.

Well it's certainly no SV650 or VFR Honda, but there is a certain appeal.

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.

Here, the XB12R goes around a corner.

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...

Here the XB9S, with actual handlebar and lower footpegs, goes around a corner.

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...

View all Photos PHOTOS & VIDEOS

03 XB12 JB2 804
03 XB12 JB2 804
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03 XB12 Static2 516
03 XB12 Static2 516
03 XB12 Static1 459
03 XB12 Static1 459
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