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Buell XB12X Ulysses 2004-2009 | BIKE TESTS

Radical design, decent Harley power and grunt make for an adventure tourer right outta left-field

Buell motorcycles were never mainstream and are even less so since Harley-Davidson shut it down in 2009. Nevertheless there are compelling reasons to consider joining ‘Team Buell’.

Buell’s real fringe-dweller is the XB12X Ulysses, an adventure tourer, although Erik Buell himself labelled it a ‘touring supermotard’. Lined up against its contemporaries, it’s less like a 1200 GS Beemer and more like a Ducati Multistrada. But it’s all Buell, comprising an old-school air-cooled Harley Sportster-based engine shoehorned into a compact all-alloy perimeter frame.

The frame’s hollow side beams carry the fuel, while the oil for the dry-sump engine is carried in the hollow swingarm. Air scoops and an electric fan aid the flow of cooling air into the engine’s cramped quarters between the frame rails.

The front brake is trademark Buell, with a powerful six-piston Nissin caliper acting on a single 375mm-diameter steel ‘rotor’, rim-mounted to the cast wheel. Buell was a pioneer in using USD forks, continued here with the excellent fully adjustable, long-travel Showa set-up, with an also fully adjustable, long-travel rear Showa monoshock.

Compared with contemporary BMW GS and Ducati Multistrada models, the Ulysses is more powerful (76kW/102hp), lighter (191kg) and has a significantly shorter wheelbase (1370mm). These numbers describe a lively performer that’s inclined to a bit of wickedness in terms of monos and stoppies, and also trades off some straight-line stability (especially on unsealed roads) for a readiness to change direction. This Buell’s somewhat fat supermotard-type 17-inch tyres, despite their dual-sports tread design, are a boon for handling on bitumen but a handicap away from it.

The Ulysses is the one XB-series Buell that happily accommodates big riders – in fact the height (890mm) of the high, wide seat rules out many shorter riders altogether. You sit comfortably behind wide, braced handlebars in an upright ‘attack’ posture. Clutch action is a bit heavy but progressive. The shift action of the five-speed gearbox is commendably smooth and slick for a Harley unit. Injection system fuelling is fine with a fistful of throttle, but can be a bit ropey and raw at part-throttle and under 2000rpm. Staying smooth at low speeds can require a bit of clutch slip.

The light chassis means you feel every power pulse from the big V-twin at low speeds and every touch on the throttle shoves the bike noticeably. There’s a strong vibe as you wait at the lights, with the bike seeming anxious to get moving. Then when you launch, it flies away with the engine’s throb rapidly morphing into a guttural howl as it surges towards its redline. Braking is powerful – two fingers max, with great feedback through the lever.

The Ulysses can compete convincingly with sportsbikes in the twisties, combining cornering agility with strong drive out of bends thanks to big reserves of textured V-twin torque. On dirt roads the limiting 17-inch tyres mean that a Ulysses does its best work if you keep it more upright in corners than the 19-inch and 21-inch front wheel brigade, while using more throttle-steering to make it turn.

A downside to Buell ownership these days is the increasing scarcity of some spares. Availability of regular consumable items seems okay but crash damage parts would need to be chased down.

The XB12X Ulysses offers a lively and rewarding motorcycling experience once you adapt your riding technique to its unique characteristics. It’s a bike with heaps of raw character that answers the adventure-bike question in a very different way.

If you’re up for standing out from the crowd there’s a helluva lot of fun to be had aboard this long-legged Buell.



Avoid examples showing signs of neglect or damage. A bike that has been flogged is likely to have gearbox issues.

Check battery-charging voltage (around 14v) to rule out regulator and/or stator issues.

Drive-belt life of 50-60,000km and a professional replacement cost of $600-plus mean you need to know when it’s due for a change, while also factoring in the cost of other almost-spent consumables such as tyres and brake components.

The safest choice is a clean example with service records and reasonable kilometres.


The XB12 is a reasonable proposition for routine servicing by DIY owners. Access for oil and filter changes at 4000km intervals is good. Hydraulic valve-lifters are maintenance-free. Primary chain adjustment isn’t difficult. Tight space between frame rails and engine makes for challenging top-end maintenance work, including spark plug access. Even light carbon build-up on throttle-body internals can produce a rough, unreliable idle. Issues with the engine management and fuel-injection systems are best left to specialists with the right equipment.

New Price

$17,995 (2005)

$16,495 (2009)


$6800 – $9100