Full Review: The 2008 Buell XB12XT

Riding Buell's XB12XT Adventure Sport Touring Motorcycle

The XB12XT, comin' atcha. Photo © Kevin Wing

Buell's liquid-cooled 1125R sportbike may be a departure from the company's (now defunct) air-cooled, Harley-powered roots, but the 2008 Buell Ulysses XB12XT adventure sport tourer capitalizes on the success of the XB12X by shifting the focus of the dirt-ready platform to long distance sport-touring.

Starting at $12,995, the Buell XB12XT includes three saddlebags, a lower seat height, and standard heated grips with built-in wind deflectors, along with sport-tuned suspension and other revisions to the XB12X platform.

Included is a 24-month, unlimited mileage warranty.

The Goods: Old Meets New

The XB12XT perpetuates Buell's practice of building quirky bikes with unique engineering. Buell's so-called "Trilogy of Tech" incorporates mass centralization, frame rigidity, and reduced unsprung weight in order to enhance performance, and the XB12XT's adheres to that philosophy. For instance, 4.4 gallons of fuel are stored inside the frame, lending it an unusually tall shape. An underslung exhaust sits directly underneath the engine in order to keep weight centralized, and oil is also stored in the swingarm for the same purpose.

The XB12XT's cast aluminum wheels are each a pound lighter than the XB12X, since they aren't reinforced for off-road riding. Zero Torsional Load brakes up front feature a 375mm rotor mounted to the outside of the wheel in order to transfer braking forces to the rim, not the spokes. A 6-piston caliper provides front stopping power, and a single-piston unit activates the rear brake.

The Harley-Davidson-sourced Thunderstorm 1,203cc V-Twin wears several improvements, among them a larger crank pin, an improved oiling system, new fuel injection, and a higher redline (7,100 rpm.) The 45 degree 4-stroke produces 103 horsepower, and 84 ft-lbs of torque-- respectable numbers considering its air-cooled setup.

Seat height is 30.7 inches-- 1.1 inches shorter than the XB12X-- and the fully adjustable suspension is tuned for aggressive paved, not offroad riding. Extra touring amenities include a windscreen that's 4 inches taller, two 12-volt power outlets, three spacious saddlebags, heated grips, and a folding rear passenger backrest.

Continued below...

 

Throw a Leg Over: Lower Than You Think

 

If you've ever climbed aboard the original Ulysses XB12X, you know it's an unusually tall machine that forces most riders to stand on tippy toes at red lights. Throw a leg over the XB12XT, and you'll be pleasantly surprised: its 30.7 inch seat height makes the bike much more manageable when it comes time to stop.

Twisting the key is an exercise in oddness, and requires threading your left hand below the handlebar and past the fork. The big V-Twin rumbles to life and shakes the entire bike like a jackhammer; you'll either love or hate its staccato exhaust note. One nice touch is that the bike doesn't require the clutch to be depressed in order to start up—a cool feature when you've got your hands full and want to warm up the engine before a ride.

A separate key operates the three large saddlebags, making it hard to avoid having an extra key flapping in the wind when the ignition is inserted.

Nonetheless, the considerable volume of these hard cases makes them worth the trouble; they can each hold a full-face helmet, and easily disconnect from the bike. Additional storage is available in an underseat compartment. The rear passenger backrest is a no frills piece of folding plastic (which requires an pointy item like a key to unlock), but one journalist's passenger reported that the seat was comfortable throughout a day of riding.

The rider sits tall in the seat, and relatively wide, upright handlebars are well-positioned for aggressive touring. Leg position is a bit swept back, in keeping with the bike's goals for sportiness on paved roads.

 

On the Road: Torquey Thermals

 

The XB12XT's engine vibrations can take a bit of getting used to for riders not acquainted with Harley's thumpy signature.

However, for the initiated this powerplant is a slice of V-twin heaven, especially in the mid-range. The clutch releases with moderate effort. The shifter's notchy feel might have been due to the previous group of journalists, who were apparently popping numerous wheelies. Neutral was a bit tricky to find, and required a delicate touch.

The engine pulls particularly strong just above idle, and the power pours on well. Hit the throttle just right, and the front wheel levitates without the aforementioned clutch-popping shenanigans: this is a fun bike to ride hard, and its torquey twin defies its reputation as an antiquated lump as long as you don't expect the revs to climb too rapidly. About 20 minutes into our ride, a hot spot developed on my right thigh— right where air exits from the engine fan. The heat worsened over time, though it helped to move my seating position back which allowed my leg sit farther away from the bike.

Handling is the XB12XT's strong point. The first portion of our ride was performed with relatively soft suspension settings, and the bike felt plush but somewhat floaty. I later dialed up the rear monoshock and Buell technicians firmed up the front, and the bike proceeded to carve the canyons of the California desert with effortless ease. Equally impressive was its ability to soak up potholes, despite its reduced 4.92 inch travel.

The front brakes work well, though the rears are a bit weak and dull feeling.

 

Road's End: Stay Quirky, Buell!

 

The Buell XB12XT is a mixed bag of a bike that elicits strong opinions; it's clear that company founder Erik Buell isn't attempting to build a clone of the Suzuki V-Strom or Triumph Tiger, but rather create an extension of his original vision.

Priced $1,500 above the XB12X, the XB12XT includes lots of amenities for the money. At $12,995 it perhaps isn't the bargain of the century, but considering the value of the add-ons- the tall windshield, the heated grips, and the saddlebags- the XB12XT is well worth the cash for riders serious about sport touring.

Call it character or call it personality, the XB12XT offers a unique combination of old school, air-cooled Harley power and trick chassis design features- which is not to say that it isn't rough around the edges. The engine is powerful but its vibrations aren't for the faint of heart; the heat it dumps on the rider is certainly less than ideal… but if you can live with those quirks, you'll enjoy putting mile after mile on the Buell XB12XT.

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