The Dual Sport has become the SUV of the motorcycle industry. Once a company has found success with a genre of bikes, the rest of the industry takes notice and begins to develop their own version. Buell is the latest to dip their toe into the Dual Sport pool with the new Buell Ulysses XB12X.
Now to be completely honest, I saw the new Ulysses and rolled my eyes in disgust. I thought to myself “Buell? Dual Sport? I don’t see it.” Most of my skepticism came from my knowledge of the rest of Buell’s line. I have come to know Buell as a cornering sport bike with little wind protection and a ton of torque. But as a durable on road / off road bike? I had to be sold.
While perusing the web looking for rumors and innuendo, I read through Buell’s online chat about the Buell Ulysses XB12X. A questioner asked “Is Ulysses a better street bike or off road bike?” When I read Eric Buell’s response “It is definitely more street oriented, just great on paved roads. It is fun on unpaved, but at a slower pace!” my skepticism subsided a little. Not every SUV is made to go off-road. Not every Dual Sport bike will run Baja. At least Buell understood this and wasn’t trying to pull the wool over my eyes.
All this skepticism however did not take away from my want to ride the new Dual Sport. After all, when given the opportunity to ride any bike, I will take it. With the assistance of Donahue Harley-Davidson / Buell, editor Pearman was able to line up their Ulysses for a test ride and I leapt at the opportunity. Sev and I rode up to Sauk Rapids one afternoon to pick up the XB12X. First impressions are always important and the Buell Ulysess is definitely a creature to stare at. Buell’s Industrial Designer has a definite flare for flow. The bike is compact and looks solid. The profile shows off a graceful arc that starts out on the duckbill and sweeps down the frame down through the rear swing arm. The increase suspension travel and “dirt bike” look are immediately noticeable.
My first taste of the Ulysses was a 10-block “quick” ride from the dealership to the gas station. Holy crap. Can you say solid acceleration? This thing tears off the line. The riding position is very neutral and comfortable. The seat height is an issue however. I was not tip-toeing, but I was certainly not flatfooting it either. The rider under 6 feet will find this bike to be tall. The tease ride made me want more. Sev rode it home, but soon I would have my chance.
Buell continues to use their innovative frame fuel tank and swing arm oil tank. This is one of my favorite aspects of Buell. They are different in design and continue to try new things. The in-frame fuel and oil make a smaller, more compact bike with a lower center of gravity. With that being said, I found that filling the tank was a little cumbersome. The filler sits between the clocks and the bars. I was thinking of all the fuel I would accidentally dump on my speedometer over the years and didn’t like that idea.
Other innovations that are the mark of a Buell include the underbelly exhaust can. This is another good idea that is being used more and more in the road bike arena but not on a dual sport. Normally, that is space reserved for a bash plate and I didn’t like the idea of my exhaust being bashed. That was a question asked in the online chat. The answer is that the exhaust was designed to be a jack point on the bike and will be very durable without the need for a skid plate. We shall see.
The Ulysses has a great LED taillight that is almost blinding. The headlights are ok and their tricky 3-position tail section could be tossed to the dog as a chew toy in my opinion. Gimmicky, with not much use as I saw it. The drive belt was torture tested and made stronger for the off road application. The Buell testers threw large hunks of metal, asphalt, rocks and debris at their drive system to ensure that the belt will not leave you stranded on the trail.
I went exploring down in southeast Minnesota. Hauling down highway 56, I noticed that the feedback on the front end was more noticeable than most bikes at highway speeds. Due to Buell’s fork geometry you feel as if you are sitting directly over the front wheel. The sensation through the bars feels as if the front wheel is following every groove in the road. This is not headshake or vibration; it is more like static in the steering. It was not detrimental to the ride; it was just a different feeling.
Once I got down to an area that I wanted to play around in, I started to turn onto small, curvy residential and farming roads. What a great bike in the corners. The shallow rake and short wheelbase allows you to jam the Ulysses into corners and pulls strongly out of said corner into the straightaway. I was really starting to like this bike. The leverage on the bars, the power plant and a crisp transmission, it was making me consider this bike for commuting.
As for commuting, the Ulysses was a great bike. It was comfortable, quick and nimble. In fact, I really wanted to call this bike the first big bore motorcycle that I have ridden in the past 3 years an acceptable commuter, but I was having trouble with its low speed throttle control. The Ulysses is an acceleration beast. It is quick, agile and fun, but when you are behind that minivan at a red light, take off was frustrating. The bike wants to go. Period. It doesn’t want to slowly reach cruising speed. Once you are on the gas you need to stay on the gas up to 3rd gear. With the fuel injection, once you roll off the throttle you are off the gas. This leads to a jerky, rookie rider feeling that I blame on fuel injection. Too bad, I like fuel injection better than carbs, but this is a downside to technology.
That was pavement. On dirt however I was not as comfortable. The tires were designed for the Ulysses by Dunlop for Buell. But the fact that they are road tires; they tended to float over the gravel roads. As I have said before, if I had confidence in my dirt riding, I would have flogged her on the backroads, but the same sensation through the handlebars that I talked about earlier did nothing for my confidence on the dirt. I didn’t want to destroy this bike so I held back…which isn’t saying much.
I did get the opportunity to sample Buell’s parts list. I would like to say that I did it for you, the reader, but it was mostly due to an inattentive rider, me. I was riding through Northfield Minnesota when a thought came to mind. On the other side of town is a school parking lot where I could do some low speed maneuvers to see how the bike handles below 20 mph. As I was enjoying the day, I saw that building still standing there and committed to a right hand turn. Looking through the corner I completely missed a chain that was strung across the entrance 4 to 8 inches off the ground.
Thinking, “Crap!” and grabbing a fist and foot full of brakes, the bike slowed quickly, but not quite quick enough. With the chain now dragging itself across my headlights, taking the rest of the speed off the Ulysses, I laid the bike on its hand guard.
Again, Crap. Broken headlight bezel, scratched headlight, scraped hand guard and a cracked turn signal. I was bummed. I called Editor Wanchena and left a message and I contacted the shop to give them my parts list. After all was said and done, I got out of there for under $200 in replacement parts and some of my pride. For a dual sport, replacement parts need to be affordable. The whole intent for this bike is to live on both sides of the fog line and if you can’t repair the bike quickly and cheaply, then it is not a bike to take off road. For that, Buell receives a big thumbs up on affordability.
After all is said and done, the Buell Ulysses is a road bike with off road abilities. It is getting great praise in the online and paper world, and I would like to add my praise, too. I have to say that it is a break in the monotony of Made in America bikes. We have been inundated with cruisers and choppers over the years and the Ulysses breaks that mold. It is a comfortable, fast, fun bike to ride and a great addition to my wish list.
by Sev Pearman
While motorcycle design constantly changes, the changes are incremental and evolutionary. Every once in a while, a new bike appears that shatters archetypes and defies categorization. Honda did this to standard bikes with their CB-750. Suzuki did it to sport bikes with their GSX-R 750. Now Buell has re-written the book on Adventure Touring with their all-new XB12X Ulysses.
The best thing about Buell as a company is its size. It is small enough that it can react to the marketplace with a speed and agility that its juggernaut parent company can only dream of. Buell charts its own course. Current Buell style is a function of engineering principles. The execution of the XB12X Ulysses reflects this philosophy.
All components on the Ulysses are engineered first and then styled. Parts are located where they are because that is the most-efficient location for them on the motorcycle. The Buell Ulysses is the anti-cruiser.
The Ulysses is powered by the 1,203 cc Thunderstorm® motor, Buell’s latest version of the Sportster-based 45º V-twin. It is a 2-valve motor with air, oil and fan cooling. No valve adjustments are required as hydraulic lifters actuate the valve train. Claimed output is 103 hp @ 6800 rpm and 84 ft-lb torque @ 6000 rpm. Expect rear wheel numbers to be closer to 90 bhp and 73 ft-lbs torque.
One gripe is the loud non-stop cooling fan. It cycles during hard use and in stop-and-go city traffic. It is *loud* and can be heard while riding, even through a helmet and earplugs. Even worse, it continues to run with the ignition key removed. There is something embarrassing about your manly World bike screaming like a hair dryer as you walk into your watering hole.
The front end is well-sorted. The Ulysses comes with a trick removable windshield. It easily pops on and off for cleaning. While a cool feature, the screen is too small to be practical. Windblast, along with bugs and gravel, are directed full force to the top of your torso. If you like to ride behind a big fairing or windshield, you’ll need to look to the accessories catalog or the aftermarket.
Tubular braced handlebars are 7/8-inch diameter and clamped in the top triple tree. These permit easy changes should you tip over or want to try different a bend.
Wind and rain are diverted off your gloves by effective hand guards. These clip to the bar ends and pop off rather than shatter or bend. The Ulysses is loaded with functional details like this. The lollypop mirrors are just passable. At certain engine speeds, they get blurry. Unfortunately, at freeway speeds of 65-75 mph, they are poor. While not the worst stock mirrors we have seen, we hoped for better.
The Ulysses has twin round headlights protected by a metal grill. I liked the butch styling. On low beam, only the right beam is illuminated. Both lamps burn when high beam is selected. In addition, there is an Autobahn passing switch on the left bar. Since this ignites the second (high) beam, it only works if you are riding on low beam.
The instrumentation is excellent. You can easily read the electronic speedo and tach. They both employ easy-to-read sweep needles. You can cycle between two tripmeters, a clock, and a reserve trip function that counts up from zero once the low fuel level light illuminates. Time constraints prevented us from finding actual range by running our tester dry. We did ride one tank 28 miles while “on reserve” and still had fuel. As always, your mileage may vary.
The Ulysses carries 4.4 gallons of fuel in its aluminum chassis. The filler is conventionally located atop the “fuel tank”/airbox cover. The aircraft-type filler cap removes completely. We prefer this as too many hinged caps interfere with either the pump nozzle and/or a tankbag. Our tester wore a Buell tank bag that doesn’t cover the filler. You don’t have to remove the tank bag to gas up. This is another engineering flourish and we like it.
Mileage ran from a disappointing 33.8 mpg to a high of 41.1 mpg. Overall, we averaged 36.5 mpg. It didn’t help that we were running spirited engine speeds with frequent starts and stops. Buell claims 63.8 and 51.4 mileage figures are possible and we believe it. Big twins are notoriously thirsty until they break-in and loosen up. We’ve seen 1200 Sportsters get into the 50s, even at a constant at 70 mph
The sidestand is decent and keeps the bike planted. I found it somewhat awkward to deploy while on the bike, but this has more to do with my wide boots than any fault of the bike. Motorcycle testers can be guilty of latching on to a quirk of a test bike that a happy owner will quickly adapt to. No centerstand is offered.
The frame has two replaceable frame slider/knee rests. These provide comfort and wind protection for your knees and protect the frame rails/fuel tank in a tipover. We were less impressed with the rugged metal cleat footpegs. These need to be either rougher and really grab your boot soles or real street bike pegs. Buell could take a tip from BMW and offer different styles. Regrettably, our tester wasn’t wearing the optional factory hard saddlebags. Made for Buell by Givi® they retail for $699.95 for a pair of side cases or $999.95 for two side cases and the top case. Prices include all hardware and mounting. We like Givi stuff. It is both waterproof and rugged. We have said it before – once you’ve traveled with hard luggage, you’ll never go back.
I invited a passenger to try out the rear accommodations on the Ulysses. She loved the seat, feeling it firm enough to prevent butt-burn, even after 125 miles. The passenger pegs were deemed “too-sportbike-like,” forcing her knees up toward her wrists. She had no use for the cool grab-handles, preferring to rest her hands on my waist. No matter, they are handy as attachment points.
Passenger X had mixed reviews about the triple tail. She liked the cargo-carrying function while riding solo or two-up, but felt the backrest lacking. While she liked the “give” of the material, she felt it was fixed too far back. She wished the pitch were adjustable.
The wheels and tires are a compromise. Both are 17-inchers, a 3.5-inch wide rim in front, a 5.5-incher in the back. These are relatively wide tires and perfectly suited for sport riding. You have generous traction and a 39º lean angle. The wheel sizes are also good for Urban Commando riding. The rims are incredibly strong and light and are able to take the punishment meted by curbs and potholes.
These strengths become somewhat of a liability when you head off-road. We brought the Ulysses to our probably-illegal-but-no-one-has-ever-said-anything-to-us gravel range. It was all-too easy to break the rear loose. The fuel injection is abrupt near the bottom of the rev range. When you combine this abruptness, 90-odd rear-wheel horsepower and a w-i-d-e rear tire, it is all-too easy to spin the rear. Judicious throttle control is the name of the game here.
The 17-inch front rim is a dubious size for any real exploration. Most dirtbikes run a 21 or 19-inch front hoop. The larger rim size helps the front end crawl over obstacles and prevent it from falling into holes. This was an engineering choice and makes the Buell more of a street bike than Andean explorer. Another liability is the location of the muffler. While the Ulysses has 6.75 inches of ground clearance, the first part to hit will be the exhaust. If the Ducati Multistrada is a street/#1 on the adventure tourer spectrum and the KTM Adventure is a dirt/#10, we’d give the Buell Ulysses a 3.
The Dunlop 616 tires are new and designed exclusively for the Ulysses. These resemble cut slicks. Buell and Dunlop claim that they provide excellent traction and feedback on the street and good performance off road. They seemed adequate in our test, but I’d hate to run them on a wet muddy two-track. Reducing tire pressure off-road may help. On the plus side, the wider-than-dirtbike front tire helps prevent the front end from getting grabbed by rail crossings or other narrow traps. It is incredibly easy to roost the rear and spew gravel. Look, Ma – I’m flat tracking!
The Ulysses rides on topshelf fully adjustable Showa suspension components. The front is a 43 mm inverted fork, adjustable for compression and rebound damping, spring preload and has 6.5 inches of travel. The rear is a monoshock with the same adjustments and 6.39 inches of travel. Rear pre-load is adjustable via a knob, located by your left thigh. The owner’s manual cautions you to never adjust the rear preload while driving. Yeah, right…
The Ulysses has the best suspension set-up instructions we’ve ever seen. The owner’s manual contains an accurate easy-to-read chart. You note your weight, riding style and load, check the symptoms, and then adjust the front and rear to match. Bravo to Buell for providing info that permits riders to get the most out of their bike’s suspension.
Resist the inclination to compare the Ulysses to other adventure tourers. While it has some of the abilities and functions of these machines, it is its own animal. It is not the best bike for piling on 1,000 miles in a day. It is not the most dirt-worthy adventure bike. What it is a well balanced sportbike, city bike and adventure tourer.
It is arguably the Ducati Multistrada’s equal as a sportbike, but a better off-road machine. While not as dirt worthy as the KTM, it is its peer in town and can kick its ass on a twisty road. Think of it as a better-balanced platform.
Thanks to Donahue Harley-Davidson/Buell in Sauk Rapids, MN for the loan of their Ulysses for this review. These folks are riders first and simply “get it.” They are located in Sauk Rapids, just outside of St. Cloud at 3555 Shadowwood Drive NE Sauk Rapids, MN or give them a buzz at (800) 477-6980 or (320) 251-6980 On the web at www.donahueHD.com.
Wife’s First Reaction: “Its another Bug Bike.”
Touchdown: 1,000-mile ergos
Fully integrated, from-the-ground-up package
Both civilized in-towner and backroads hellion
Fumble: Muffler as bash plate?
17” front wheel hinders off-road ability
Tractionless metal footpegs
Loud cooling fans save lives
By the numbers
Rider: Editor Pearman
Total miles riden: 671
Fuel consumption: 33.8/41.1/36.5 mpg
Aprilia Capo Nord, BMW GS family, Ducati 1000 MultiStrada, KTM 950 Adventure, Suzuki DL-1000 V-Strom, Triumph Tiger.