Find of the Month: 2008 Buell Ulysses XB12XT

Welcome to the Find of the Month, where we share some of the cool bikes we find for sale on This month, we’re checking out a 2008 Buell XB12XT for sale in St-Hyacinthe, Quebec.

With all the flap about Harley-Davidson’s new Pan America adventure motorcycle coming soon, one might forget that we’ve all been here before, and not really that long ago. Back in the early days of the 21st century, before Facebook came along and made everyone’s lives better different, Harley-Davidson had an adventure bike that was quite well-liked.

Ancient scrolls speak of a Harley-Davidson subsidiary called Buell, named for Erik Buell, the mystic wizard who founded it. While Harley-Davidson was content to continue pounding out Big Twin after Big Twin in the foundries of Mount Doom, Buell was taking that same air-cooled V-twin technology and putting its own spin on it. Want a naked bike? Buell was building those. Want a small-bore, entry-level beginner bike? Buell was building those. Want an adventure bike? Buell was building those as well.

Look, Ma, ZTL brakes!

Some more cynical industry onlookers might point out that with its Streetfighter and Pan America programs, Harley-Davidson is just getting back to where it was 10 years ago. Maybe, but the MoCo can’t change the course of the past decade, only move ahead, so it’s probably best not to say too many unkind things. Still, some Buell fans will never forgive Harley-Davidson for axing their favourite brand, especially those who liked the Ulysses adventure bike. This is a bike that, despite its flaws, did have plenty going for it.

The Buell XB12X was launched for 2006 as an adventure tourer, but by 2008, everyone had more or less realized it wasn’t going to be much of a dirt bike, and Buell sensibly peeled some of the offroad bits off the bike.  Let’s face it, that “beak” wasn’t doing much anyway, and the ridiculously high seat wasn’t working for many riders. The offroady-type tires were scrapped for more street-oriented rubber (Pirelli Strada), because that’s what this bike was intended to do: street duty.

This was about the time, roughly, that the Great Schism appeared in the ADV world. Manufacturers realized most adventure bikes weren’t really going off-road, they were only selling based on their ergonomics, looks and comfort. The Kawasaki Versys, the Ducati Multistrada and other similar machines appeared on the market, basically becoming the moto equivalent of soccer mom SUVs, with the looks of a rugged beast and the capabilities of a grocery-getting station wagon.

Some classic Buell lines, and much more street-friendly than the original Ulysses.

That’s where the XB12XT came in. It still looked like a Mad Max bike, but it was only meant for paved surfaces.

It was probably for the best, as the XB12XT had the same belt drive as the earlier Ulysses model, a rather silly design flaw for an adventure bike. An errant stone chip could mean the quick destruction of your driveline (don’t tell Buellites that, they will tell you they never fail, blah blah blah). Most journos of the time would tell you the Ulysses was really just a competent street bike anyway.

The engine was a 45-degree V-twin,  based off the Sportster 1200 but with plenty of Buell-specific internals (heads, jugs, pistons, con rods, etc). Buell also bolted on an oil cooler. EFI was standard, and as it was a Sporty engine, it had a five-speed gearbox. Like all Buells, power delivery was aimed at torque, not high-end horsepower. Buell claimed 103 hp at the crank, and 84 lb-ft of torque. Very respectable, at the time.

Like many of Erik Buell’s other bikes, the XB12XT featured ZTL perimeter brakes instead of standard discs. Although Editor ‘Arris deemed them pretty powerful at the time of the bike’s launch (see his review here), history has deemed ZTL brakes to be crap. Who’s to say? Just don’t get into an argument with a Buellite over it, because they’ll never accept the criticism.

The Ulysses used a highly modified Sportster engine.

Again, like other Buell machines, the XB12XT got an oil-in-the-swingarm, fuel-in-the-frame design, meaning aftermarket gas tanks were out of the question. Reviews of the time indicated a range of 290ish kilometres, although the low fuel light would come on well before that.

Although those design features may seem a tad fanciful, the XB12XT did have lots of practical features for long days in the saddle — a tall windshield (removable), heated grips, and factory detachable hard bags. The suspension was fully adjustable, although it was a bit scaled-down from the standard Ulysses model, and the bike sacrificed some ground clearance to make a shorter seat height. But on the street, that didn’t matter.

That’s a decent amount of luggage space.

So, what about this particular machine for sale in Quebec? The dealer hasn’t gotten the proper name on the ad, which might not be promising, and the ad is basically just a list of specs, with no specific information on the bike. The $7,000 price might be a bit on the high side, but they’re not making any more of these bikes, and they’re already collectible. Give ’em 10 years, and they’ll be even more desirable. If you want a Buell, the time to buy really is now.

The ad is in French, but chances are someone at the dealership speaks English. If you’re interested, give them a call.


  1. Ĺoved to ride mine, but had to get rid of it when the wife refused to hitch up the trailer and bring me home any more. Belt flexed one way around sprockets,the opposite way around idler ,so they broke. There was no adjustment for belt tension so new belts were too tight and overstressed rear wheel bearings, so they broke. Butterfly shaft in throttle body was not strong enough,so it broke, and if you were lucky screws didn’t go into the engine. Stator connectors would usually fail at some point and dealers would try to sell you a new stator
    rather than just solder up the leads.Again stranded. And it WAS too tall, too hot and too easy to dump in a parking lot,as other comments have noted, but I still miss it!

  2. I own 2 XB9S Lightnings and an 1125R. Some day, i hope to buy an XB12XT, to replace my aging BMW K75S for 2-4 day touring with my wife. The Ulysses (XB12X) would be too tall for me to ride comfortably two-up. I’ve toured with my Lightnings, but they’re physically too small for two-up duty, even for short trips. The XT looks like the perfect combination of features and capabilities for me.

  3. I had a 2008 model that I bought new in 2009. Best handling bike I’ve ever ridden. The heat coming off that rear cylinder in hot weather though was a ball burner. There was a “comfort kit” that I bought which basically is a plastic scoop on the front right side to direct air to the rear cylinder, which helped, but not quite enough. I blame that rear cylinder for the fact that my 2nd kid was born 4.5 years after the first, instead of the 2 or 3 years we were hoping for, and that he was conceived towards the end of winter.

    Great bike though, full of character. Amazing what Buell was able to do with an old fashioned engine. Vibration at idle was laugh inducing, but once underway it smoothed out nicely.

    Sold it a couple of years ago when I wanted something more modern and long distance oriented.

  4. I wanted one so much when it was presented… But I remember when I sat on an Ulysses for the first time. Like you said, ridiculously high. And then I read about u-turns… And then I rode my wife’s XB9 City X in traffic… Really glad I never bought one!

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