Test Ride: Buell Ulysses, Part 2

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Words: Rob Harris Photos: Richard Seck

A DAY OF GRAVEL

Hopefully you’ve already read Mr. Lewis’s account of how he found the Buell Ulysses over the eight-week period that we had it in our possession. What we’re going to do in this part is recount how the bike stood up to an all the more rougher ride when I took it for a dual-sport day with Rally-Connex as well what I thought of it once back on the safety of pavement.

Frankly I was somewhat amazed that Buell had okayed us taking the Ulysses on Rally-Connex’s Blue Mountain ride. After all, our record with taking adventure-touring bikes down some of the more grueling RC rides in the past had not always resulted in a happy outcome.

Still, Buell seemed keen to allow us to do what we thought fit … especially if we took it on the gentler, stock-tired option (as opposed to the all the more nasty “aggressive” route). Either Buell hadn’t done their homework and didn’t understand what a CMG day in the dirt meant, or they really did have a whole lotta faith in their new Ulysses.

BABY STEPS

No mud!

As feared, things didn’t start well. We weren’t even at the event – just on our way to it – via a particularly nasty backroad that had become waterlogged and a bit of a mud pit to boot. It soon became painfully obvious that a fully loaded bike, fitted with tires that only had a modicum of dirtability, wasn’t going to like mud.

And what better way to tell the ignorant rider of this reality by shaking your head – violently, at a bit of a clip, in mid corner? I’d already tensed up ready for an unceremonious dump in the mud, when the Ulysses thankfully righted itself and saved me the humiliation. Okay, I got that, no mud.

I was starting to feel the familiar CMG unease. Just what exactly had I got myself into again? For all I knew the Blue Mountain ride could be a mud pit from start to end. It wasn’t going to be easy returning a mud-encrusted wreck to the once enthusiastic bunch at Buell Canada.

Oh dear.

DUAL-SPORT A GO-GO

Everyone was laughing … except ‘arris.

With a bowling ball sized knot sitting in the pit of my stomach I tried to listen to the Rally-Connex pre-ride prep talk, but I was consumed with working out how best to tell Buell that their bike just wasn’t quite up to the dirt after all … oh and sorry about the damage.

There was nothing else to do at this point other than to face my fears and do my best, regardless of how much pain may accompany this decision. I hit the trails with the rest of the CMG crew (Messers Seck, Lewis and Techie Smith) and pondered a suitable game plan.

There was only thing I could think of (other than fleeing) – get used to how the thing handles the extremes – first exercise; wheel-spinning. Okay, here’s some lose gravel, let’s giver. Uh, a wheelie? Not what I was expecting at all. In fact it was completely the opposite, but that’s the Ulysses – it’s not that it necessarily can’t do it, it just sometimes won’t.

Front wheel lifts before the back starts to spin!

Jon may have already mentioned that the Ulysses has a very light front-end (not helped by filling the bags for sure), but this makes it quite unnerving in the dirt as it has a tendency to slide the front in corners. Well, until you try to sit on the tank (as in as far forward as you can), which helps to keep some weight on the steering. A very light hand on the throttle stops the front from trying to climb to the sky as well.

Alrighty then, let’s finish the getting to know you with some heavy braking/lurid slides. And sure enough, after a couple of minutes – and some additional tire wear – I had the Ulysses going sideways and had a pretty good idea of where the lock-up point of the front wheel was (almost immediately as it turned out).

Since I figured that that was about as good as I’d get, I hit the trails with Seck, Lewis and Smith – taking it as gingerly as I could.

“I think I’m ready now”.
‘Arris ‘opes ‘e’s right. Messers Lewis and Smith couldn’t really give a toss.

Within 30 minutes we’d left Messers Lewis and Smith behind and I found myself throwing the Buell into all and sundry, hot on the tail of Mr. Seck who seemed intent on abusing his new (to him) R100GS Bumblebee.

HALLELUJAH

To my great surprise (as in praise be to the lord), the Buell seemed to be totally at home on gravel roads, and we’d gobble the vast lengths of straight stretches up at 100+ km/h. Corners were a bit more special, mainly due to the lack of grip and feedback at the front (I always half expected it to wash out whenever I hit a turn), but otherwise she was doing just fine in this terrain.

By lunchtime we were almost tempted to wick it up a bit and join the aggressive route, but talk of muddy sections and the realization that we hadn’t asked Buell if we could do that (which would leave us sans excuses if anything did go CMG), meant we ended the day on the gnarly, but not too aggressive, stock tire route.

17″ front does not give good dual-sport rubber choices.

To me, this experience was a revelation. I’d started the day babying the Buell, but at the end of the day I had not held back and threw it into anything and everything without mercy. I had truly expected the Ulysses to have either been too dangerous to have finished the day, or have succumbed to some fatal mechanical issue. Although hairy at times it never failed me, or for that matter, threw me into the ditch. Impressive.

The only issue I have with the Ulysses is the wheel sizing and resulting limitation of tire choices. For some reason current wheel sizing is the same as all the other Buell XBs (at 17” front and rear). Ideally, a 19” up front, with suitable wheel widths, would enable the Ulysses to tap into the range of tires that already fit the BMW 1200GS and Suzuki V-Stroms.

Oh yeah, and they should be spoked too, for greater resistance to bending in rocky terrain. Now that would open up some more interesting possibilities of usage!

ROAD IMPRESSIONS

Low redline wasn’t intrusive for me on the less sport-orientated Ulysses.

Okay, so enough of what I thought about slapping it around in the dirt, how about on the sanctity of the pavement? Good question.

Well, again, surprisingly good. Unlike with the other, sportier XBs, I rarely hit the lowly 6.5k rpm rev limiter on the Ulysses I’m not sure why, as the motors are pretty much the same, but I’m guessing that it’s because Buell aren’t trying to make it into a sport bike. As such, I found myself to be altogether gentler with it, and less liable to rev its knackers off.

Although air-cooled, two valved, push-rodded engines are an insult to my mechanical engineering background, I must confess that the Ulysses’ lumpy vibes and low-end torque were quite seductive. This culminated in a positively blissful moment on the way back from the Rally-Connex ride when I found myself meandering through fully bloomed farmland, lit up with the redish glow of the setting sun. Top gear, 80 km/h, lumpy torque. Delightful.

Motah!

But before I get drummed out of the Society of Sad Bastards … I mean Mechanical Engineers, there is one problem with the power plant – the fan! I mean, the thing sounds like a hedge trimmer at full whack and is seemingly always on. Pull up in front of a crowd of Catholic schoolgirls and just as you’re about to invite them to take turns for a ride on the back, ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZRRRRRRRRR …

Sigh.

Otherwise the rest of the package worked really very well. There seemed to be some issues with our specific tester when it came to the gear change (rather stiff), but I believe that this was just limited to our tester as we have ridden another one and its box was excellent.

THE CLINCHER

The RC ride took us through Willy Wonka’s farm …

I think where the Ulysses really shines though is in the comfort department. It’s a tall bike (good for the lankies such as myself), with an upright riding position and spacious ergonomics (thanks to a stretched frame and lowered pegs). Combine that with not only the most comfortable seat ever on a Buell, but possibly on any bike, and you have the first Buell that could appeal to general motorcycle masses.

For too long, Buell have come close to the mark, only to fall short on some bizarre design idea (like comfort!) and ended up appealing to those who are looking for a funky second bike for weekend blasts.

The Ulysses still has some niggly issues but no major ones, and is a very usable machine and was surprisingly capable off-road. Ultimately I’d like to see the Ulysses have a couple of years without recall or any reliability issues that have plagued Buells in the past (a concern helped by the 2 year unlimited warranty) but the fact remains, this bike actually works!


THANKS TO:

The Rally Connex team for a splendid day out in the Blue Mountain Range, near Angus, ON. Top chaps.

Anna Dagher at the Comfort Inn, Barrie for providing us with suitably luxurious accommodation and a safe place to lock up our bikes.

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