Big, Naked and Beautiful: Open-Class Standards 2006
2007 Buell XB12Ss v. 2006 Honda 919 v. 2006 Kawasaki Z1000 v. 2006 Yamaha FZ-1
2007 Buell XB12Ss Lightning Long
Hey, Who Let That Guy In Here?
"We've got to keep the Buells out of these comparisons!" said Pete, and there are many of you in our peanut gallery ready with a hearty "yeah!" The problem is that Erik's Wisconsin Wonders are just so darn fun to ride you're willing to overlook wonky details, hefty price tags and underpowered engines, giving the pushrod-motored things a leg up on the competitors. Many of you last year squealed like little pink piglets when the Buell won our Value Supersports test not because it was faster, cheaper or better looking, but because it was simply the most fun to ride.
For this test, we decided to give the Lightning Long a whirl. With extra passenger room and a longer wheelbase, the XB12Ss might lose a little hooligan character, but because it's a Buell, we figured it would still be a fun ride.
Approaching the distinctive-looking red bike, the build quality is different from the Japanese competition, although not necessarily better or worse. There is less plastic and more unplated, rough-looking hardware, but the overall effect is nice; the Buell is a finished and high-quality product.
The motor hangs front-and-center as you look at the bike; "heart-shaped", as Fonzie says. It's brutal-looking and purposeful, and it gets plenty of attention wherever you go, as well as acceptance from the sportbike and made-in-America cruiser crowd alike, so you can walk in both worlds.
The Lightning Long's ergonomics are remarkably normal. There is a nice reach to the bars with just a hint of forward lean. The seat is higher than some and lower than others, but it is very narrow at the front, so short folk like Gabe can get their feet flat on the ground. Said seat uses good, supportive foam for comfortable all-day riding.
"...the grunting barnyard animal of a powerplant refuses to lurch or bog, regardless of gear."
If you're "still a V-Twin lover" like Fonzie, you will appreciate everything about this motor, from the way it bounces up and down in the frame at idle to the way it revs quickly (and loudly) to the 6,800 rpm redline.
Carburetion isn't perfect-it has dips and flat spots-but it works. It works well enough to do burnouts, wheelies or to just enjoy the most torque of any of these motors, as the front wheel comes up off of bumps and the grunting barnyard animal of a powerplant refuses to lurch or bog, regardless of gear.
Fonzie still found it a "narrow powerband and hard to keep exactly on those revs in the tightest of twisties", but when the road starts to flow it feels very good. It's a good thing you don't have to shift too much, because although the gearbox is better than previous Buells, it's still Soviet-era compared to even the 13 year-old Honda's design.
It's clunky, requires a firm throw and has more neutrals than a busload of Swedes.
Luckily the clutch works smoothly, and you do get used to the whole tractor thing after a while. With 60-plus foot-pounds of torque available at just 2,000 rpm, who needs to shift?
OK, you've shelled out an extra $1,500 to experience Erik Buell's vision of sportbike perfection, so how well does all that high-tech chassis stuff work? Well. None of us could truly fault the handling of this bike. The chassis is unflappable and very precise, and the steering is light and easy. It's a rider's bike, one that makes all kinds of corners and pavement seem smoother and more flowing. However, this longer-wheelbase Long seems a little bland for a Buell, more like a Japanese standard than other models.
It's as good as the other Buells, but it somehow lacks the edge that makes the short-framed bikes so much fun. Luckily, nothing was done to the suspension, so Buell buyers can enjoy the fully-adjustable goodness that is the Buell's suspenders. You never miss the linkage in the rear shock, although Gabe dialed some more rebound damping (half a turn, if you're curious) into the front forks like he does with every Buell he rides. After that, the front end didn't wallow or flounce over the bumps or dive too much on the brakes.
Those brakes work well, although not as well as you'd think. Aside from looking really cool, the brakes work about the same as the other machines', which is remarkable in itself, as the Lightning is spotting the other boys a whole disc and caliper. What is noticeable is the light front end made possible by leaving out a lot of stuff the other bikes have, like a heavier wheel and the sprocket carrier. That means faster turning and acceleration. Good engineering produces multiple benefits with one solution.
Riding around town on the Buell is great; it's like having the world's biggest, fastest, loudest BMX bicycle. It wheelies with ease (although not as easily as some other Buells we know) stops with little drama, and has the torque you need to drag race 'busas (at least for 20 feet). On the freeway, it has more wind protection than you might expect, and is comfortable for a longer time than the Honda or Z1000. With the extra inch of passenger room, you might even persuade a friend to join you for more than 20 minutes.
So why the third-place finish? Good engineering, good handling, comfort, a passable motor, and that unique made-in-USA aura are outweighed by that blandness imparted by the longer chassis, a motor that runs out of steam too quickly and the premium price. We all liked it, but not enough to unseat the remaining two.
XB12Ss Lightning Tech Talk
Maybe you've heard of the AC Cobra? Take a hot-rodded pushrod big-block V-8 and cram it into a small, race-derived chassis. The result? A fun, powerful car that breaks all the rules and creates a legend.
Maybe a souped-up Sportster motor isn't exactly the Epic of Gilgamesh, but what makes the Buell XB-series motorcycles special is a host of special engineering solutions to create a unique bike designed for cynical but discerning enthusiasts. You can read much more from Gabe's 2007 Buell intro report, but we'll try to give you the fast skinny.
Buell starts with the motor, like everybody else. However, this one is odd; it looks like the Sportster motor of yore but is loaded with techno-trickery that allows it to pump out more horsepower--more reliably--than Grandma's Sporty.
"Buell designed the XB-series frame from scratch..."
Basic geometry is the same, sure: it's an air-cooled pushrod 45-degree V-twin with self-adjusting valves, but almost every part is different from the bike's Harley-Davidson cousins.
Compression is a heady 10.0:1, and the 3.812 inch stoke is filled with a 3.5 inch bore; not what we'd call oversquare. Fuel is squirted in by way of a 44mm downdraft injector controlled by digital electronics. It all adds up to about 91 hp at the back wheel on le dynojet du MO, with 73 foot-pounds of torque, enough torque to pull a stump-pulling tractor away from a stump. With electronic fuel injection and ignition, hydraulic self-adjusting valves and a zero-maintenance belt drive (that really doesn't have a replacement interval, according to Mr. Buell), annual service costs should be only a little more than what Mel Gibson spends on Israel bonds.
Torque, shmorque if it's in a crummy chassis; am I right, ladies? Otherwise we'd just buy cruisers. Buell designed the XB-series frame from scratch, enlisting the aid of Verlicchi, frame-builder to the stars (or at least Honda, BMW, and Ducati, among others). It's a pretty innovative bit of tackle, using the frame's massive box-section spars to store 4.4 gallons of fuel in the slightly longer XB12Ss. The swingarm is similarly massive, and doubles as the oil tank.
Suspension is pretty standard stuff; fully adjustable 43mm inverted Showa forks in front with a linkage-free fully-adjustable Showa damper in back. The wheels and brakes are not so usual. Because of the ZTL (zero torsional load) front brake--which mounts the disc to the rim rather than the hub--the front hoop can be a spindly, super light affair. That disc is a large-pizza-sized 375mm and is grabbed by a six-piston caliper. Luckily for the steering head bearings, there's only one disc up front.
The XB12Ss was released in 2006 to address criticism of the XB series bikes being too compact for long rides. It has a slightly bigger frame to give customers an extra inch of room, resulting in a lazier (for a Buell) 54-inch wheelbase. It's finished with cool plastic bodywork and a teeny bikini fairing. Buell claims a skimpy 400 pounds for dry weight and sells the bike for a not-so-skimpy $10,495.