Buell Ulysses XT – Test Ride

Temecula, California – “And you ride the distant beaches upon your Buell Ulysses,” sang Eric Clapton on Cream’s “Disraeli Gears.” Okay, maybe not those exact words but beaches and Ulysses were definitely mentioned.

Words by Steve Bond. Photos by Kevin Wing / Deeley Harley Davidson Canada. Editing by ‘Arris

Temecula, California – “And you ride the distant beaches upon your Buell Ulysses,” sang Eric Clapton on Cream’s “Disraeli Gears.” Okay, maybe not those exact words but beaches and Ulysses were definitely mentioned.

California has beaches and… err, snow. After the winter we’ve had, the last thing I wanted to see in California was snow, but fortunately, it was only at elevations above 6,500 feet. The roads themselves were clear, it was 70 degrees F and I was enjoying the 2008 Buell Ulysses XB12XT on some awesome mountain roads.



Editor ‘arris took the X model through the wringer.

The original Ulysses XB12X is marketed as an “adventure tourer,” which appears to be a contradiction in terms like “rap music” or “cheerleading scholarship.” It looks like a honking big dirtbike but the comfy ergos, responsive, torquey engine and supple, well-damped suspension making it one of the best all-round motorcycles available.

(See CMG’s test of the original here – Editor ‘arris)

A major knock however was the 808mm seat height that made it just too darn tall for many riders. My giraffe-like 37-inch inseam found the chassis and riding position just about perfect, but those with shorter pins had trouble balancing the thing at stoplights or – if brave enough – off road.

The “standard” Ulysses X soldiers on but the new XT version has subtle, yet significant changes. For starters, there are no more dirt bike pretenses. Headlight guards and high-mounted front fender? Gone. The Pirelli Scorpion, sort-of dual-purpose rubber? Buh-bye. The NBA-compatible seat height is gonzo too, as the XT’s perch is 28mm lower, gained mostly by reducing front and rear suspension travel from 165mm to 125mm.


XT loses some of the adventure pretense.

A significant ONE POUND of unsprung weight was lopped off each wheel and the front fork diameter is now 43mm, down from 47mm on the standard Ulysses. The XT has new triple rate front springs and both ends are still fully adjustable for spring preload, rebound and compression damping.

Both Ulysses’ have longer frames, a longer oil-containing swingarm, and different chassis geometry from their XB12 sportbike brethren. The XT’s wheelbase is 1370mm, four shorter than the Ulysses X, and 50 mm longer than the roadgoer’s. The steering head angle is slightly more than the Ulysses X, which is in turn, slightly more than the sportybike’s.

Standard on the XT is a topbox and hardbags (all of which easily swallow a full-face lid), two electrical outlets, a 101mm taller windscreen and two-position heated grips.



Snow near the summit of Mount San Jacinto.

My route took me up towards 10,834 foot Mount San Jacinto, its snowy visage towering over the surrounding countryside. Starting up into the foothills, I noted a sign guaranteed to bring joy to every motorcyclist – “Winding Road for Next 44 Miles.” Translation – “Now Entering Two-Wheeled Heaven.”

Motorcyclists in much of Canada would kill for roads such as these. Just think – 75 kilometers of baby-bottom smooth twisties with every type of corner you can think of. You like a constant series of switchbacks? We got ‘em. Perhaps you’d prefer 90-degree bends with no guardrail and nothing but 8,000 feet of eagle habitat between you and the valley floor? Yep, we’ve got that too!

My favourites were the slightly banked corners where you can see all the way around and just RAIL through. Under all conditions, the Pirelli Diablo Strada tires were a good match for the XT and the steering was light and neutral, with excellent feel and feedback.


Happiness in California.

Buell’s unique ZTL (zero torsion load) perimeter-mounted front disc is certainly up to the task – two fingers on the adjustable lever brings the XT to a safe, controlled stop. The initial bite seems a bit weak but feel is above average with no tendency to stand up when trailbraking deep into corners.

On the rare occasion where (ahem) I might’ve been a tad enthusiastic with my corner entry – a gentle push on the inside bar and a smooth squeeze on the lever compressed the forks and initiated the turn. And with the Buell’s excellent chassis and ample ground clearance, there was never any worry about touching down hard parts.

The snow itself wasn’t a factor but there were many places where melt water rivulets flowed across the road. Caution was the word of the day and the XT never slipped a wheel.


XT also gets taller screen.

The riding position is one of the best in the business with a very roomy cockpit – low pegs, high and wide bars with an incredibly comfy seat that’s firm but not hard, narrow at the front and no seams around the edge irritating tender thighs.

The windscreen provides surprisingly good protection considering its small size and the handguards not only protect delicate fingers from debris, they keep chilly winds away as well.


Like all air/oil/fan cooled Buells for 08, the XT is powered by the 1203cc Thunderstorm 45-degree, two-valve, V-twin engine with all the usual electronic management goodies including a new fuel injection system.

A larger crankpin and improved oiling system allows the 08 version to rev to 7,100 rpm, up 300 over the older models. Incidentally, the “old-tech” air-cooled, Buells pass strict California and Euro emissions standards without a catalytic converter.


Thunderstorm motor shakes but is smooth on the go.

The motor produces a usable 55 ft lbs of torque at 2.000 rpm with a whopping 65 ft lbs at 3,000 – and the power delivery is linear and predictable all through the rev range. Rubber mounts allow the engine to shake and shake it does. Idling, I was vibrating up and down like a double exposure and my teeth were chattering.

Once underway, everything smooths out although you always know there’s a functioning mechanical device under you. The mirrors are very good except when stopped as vibration transforms them into an X Files episode – something is back there.

Filling up after spirited mountain riding, fuel consumption was a surprising 57 miles per US gallon, or 4.1 liters per 100 km. A short stretch of freeway had the XT loafing along at 3,000 rpm at an indicated 62 mph (100 kmh) so highway cruising under our conditions will be effortless as well as economical – expect 400 km from the 16.7L tank between fills.



Clocks are slightly obscured by clutch cable.

The Ulysses does have a few quirks however. The clutch lever isn’t adjustable and the clutch cable bends around so it obscures the trip-meter / clock section of the display. And for some reason, the ignition switch is still inconveniently buried up on the left side of the headlight pod.

The Ulysses, being air and oil-cooled, has the oil cooler mounted up under the seat, necessitating a fan to direct the air through it. The fan never came on when riding but as soon as the motor is shut off, the fan kicks in noisily. It may be annoying but Buell engineers tell me it’s necessary to keep the head temperature down after shutting the engine off.



Mr. Bond’s kind of motorcycle.

The standard Ulysses X price is $12,379 (which is down from $13,879 in early 07) with the new XT version coming in at $13,999 – but that includes standard hard bags, topbox and heated grips. Both models come with a two-year, unlimited mileage warranty.

All told, the Buell Ulysses XT is a little different from yer run-of-the-mill, everyday motorcycle. Yeah, it’s got some quirks but it’s fun, comfortable and has something more motorcycles should aspire to – character

I thought the original Ulysses was the best Buell yet – and even though Editor ‘arris was able to do some dirty work with it, it was about as dirt-friendly (or not) as other “adventure tourers”.

For those wanting the “urban-assault SUV look,” go for the Ulysses X. For anyone with strictly pavement aspirations, the XT ably fills the bill. It’s my kind of motorcycle.


  1. Ditto previous comment, if by under the seat you mean lower than the seat you are partially correct. Overall great review though. Buell is doing a great job, the current stable of bikes are show imagination and quality. “Own the Curves”

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