For the model year 2006, the Buell Motorcycle Company came across an unfamiliar fork in the road. Tossing conventional wisdom aside, its designers and engineers decided to jump on a path they had never been down before. Anyone familiar with Buell motorcycles knows that they are race born and bred.
Beginning with the very first motorcycle built by now-Chairman and Chief Technical Officer Erik Buell, it has always been about racing. Each new model produced by the company (a subsidiary of Harley-Davidson) is designed to build on previously gained knowledge, centered around making Buell’s bikes handle better while getting the most out of every last bit of power, resulting in a faster motorcycle. It sounds simple enough, but as with most things, life has a tendency to toss a few roadblocks in the way. Erik sees these as nothing more than challenges to overcome. His engineering background brings him back to the table time after time with new ideas, and one objective in mind-building better motorcycles.
In a departure from manufacturing bikes built to do nothing but win at the track (and give street riders gobs of pure power and a stout chassis that makes tossing the bike from side to side nothing short of exhilarating), Buell has entered the world of adventure touring with the new Ulysses XB12X.
For those not familiar with “adventure touring,” take one part sport bike and one part dirt bike, mix well, and check out the results. In Buell’s case, the Ulysses is designed to be 90-percent street bike and 10-percent dirt bike. It’s not a dirt bike in the true sense of the word, but more of a bike designed to get off the asphalt and out on unpaved roads and packed surfaces. In the past few years the adventure touring market has exploded. Every day more and more riders are discovering the excitement that comes with riding ’til the pavement ends, then getting out and discovering previously unexplored territory. Depending on where you get your facts, somewhere in the vicinity of 90 to 95 percent of all the roads on earth are unpaved. While this number might be a bit high for the USA, suffice it to say that there are countless thousands of miles of unpaved roads to explore, with many very close to home.
If you’re dyed-in-the wool Harley purists who would never think of tossing a leg over a bike such as the Ulysses, think again. The bike is based around the heart and soul of Harley’s philosophy: a really strong, torquey V-Twin designed to afford the rider the ability to roll on the throttle and accelerate with ease at almost any rpm range.
As with all other ’06 Buells, the Ulysses was designed around what Erik Buell calls a “trilogy of technology” principles, including frame rigidity, mass centralization, and low unsprung weight. When combined, these principles work together, resulting in a better motorcycle.
Sharing technology across the XB platform, the Ulysses chassis construction consists of a lightweight, stiff frame that carries 4.4 gallons of fuel inside its members. This, along with a stiff aluminum swingarm that doubles as the bike’s oil reservoir, helps keep weight low. Adding to this concept is the revolutionary InterActive exhaust system, which Erik has placed beneath the bike’s 103hp at 6,800 rpm and 84 lb-ft of torque at 6,000 rpm (measured at the crank) Thunderstorm engine. By locating the exhaust under the bike as opposed to higher up on the side of the bike, the Ulysses is able to take full advantage of better balance and a lower center of gravity.
Unsprung weight on the Ulysses has been drastically reduced through the use of Buell’s ZTL braking system. ZTL (short for zero torsional load) utilizes a 375mm stainless-steel front rotor mounted directly to the wheel’s perimeter. When the six-piston caliper applies pressure, braking forces are transmitted directly to the outer portion of the wheel without transferring this energy through the wheel’s hub or spokes. When compared to equivalent systems using a dual-disc setup, the Ulysses front wheel/rotor assembly weighs somewhere in the vicinity of 6 lbs less than the competitors. The reduction in weight has a direct correlation to better handling, as it allows the tire to remain in better contact with the road when it encounters bumps. The rear brake utilizes a single-piston floating caliper and a more familiar 240mm stainless-steel one-piece rotor.
Keeping the 54.5-inch-wheelbase bike off the ground is the job of Showa components in the front and rear. Allowing for 6.51 inches of suspension travel, the front employs a 43mm inverted frontend with adjustments for compression damping, rebound damping, and spring preload. Out back, the Ulysses enlists the services of a coilover monoshock designed to give the bike 6.38 inches of travel, complete with all the adjustments available on the frontend. Adding to the uniqueness of the rear Showa is a remotely mounted fluid reservoir and preload adjuster. Accessible from the left side of the bike for quick adjustments, this setup makes for dealing with changing loads a breeze.
Buell worked closely with Dunlop to develop a pair of tires specifically for the Ulysses. The skins are designed with an aggressive open tread pattern to give the bike excellent traction on both paved and off-road environments. Tire sizes are 180/55R-17 out back and 120/70R-17 between the forks.
The Ulysses is powered by Buell’s 1,203cc Thunderstorm V-Twin engine. Cooling is provided by a combination of both air and oil, with assistance coming from a fan-cooled oil cooler mounted to the left downtube. Bore and stroke numbers are 3.5×3.812 inches, creating a displacement of 73.4 inches. Air and fuel find their way to the heads via a combination of a 49mm downdraft DDFI II fuel injection and Buell’s zero-resistance airbox. Once inside the 10:1 combustion chamber, the mixture is ignited and flows out through a pair (one per cylinder) of self-adjusting, pushrod-activated overhead valves and makes its way to the tuned, tri-pass resonance-chamber InterActive exhaust. Once inside the exhaust system, the gasses are routed based on the position of an ECM-controlled valve designed to optimize torque and horsepower based on different riding conditions.
Making sure the bike can take full advantage of all the power the Thunderstorm has to offer, Buellengineers developed a new transmission design with low-mass dog rings for quicker, easier shifting. Couple that with helical-cut gears, and you end up with a lighter clutch feel and smoother, quieter gears.Filling both the trans and primary drive is Harley’s new Formula+ oil. This new product is said to extend service intervals to 10,000 miles. The final link in the driveline is Goodyear Hibrex drive belt.
Other areas of the bike are decked out with new features, including a small and easily removable windshield that’s designed to take the wind pressure off the rider’s chest while still leaving the head and shoulders in the air. Taking storage and passenger needs to new heights, Buell engineers developed what they call a Triple Tail. The adjustable unit is designed to give the rider two options when carrying cargo. In the first position it is folded forward, occupying the space designed for a passenger. Once loaded, the weight of the stowed gear adds to the mass-centralization principle. Although the load is set high on the bike, it is much closer to the bike’s center than it is when it’s in the second position over the rear fender carrying gear. The third position is upright and acts as a passenger backrest.
Helping keep rocks, dirt, wind, and debris off both the bike and the rider, Buell utilizes a twin-fender setup in the front as well as the back. In addition, the back’s design helps throw debris back toward the road, making the ride better for anyone who might be following you. Up front as part of the lower fender are plastic guards that wrap around and protect the fork tubes. Up above on the wide handlebars is a pair of deflectors designed to keep both wind and debris off the rider’s hands. The deflectors are designed in such a way as to break away via a pivot mechanism in case of hard contact with the rider’s hands or other objects. An additional feature is a dual-wire rock guard designed to protect the pair of 55-watt hi- and low-beam headlights.
The Ulysses comes complete with two 12-volt cigarette-light adapters to power goodies such as GPS units, satellite phones, and other auxiliary items. One is located on the XB12X’s dash, and the second is in the under-seat storage area. The Ulysses has an analog speedometer and tachometer, along with dash-mounted indicator lights for hi-beam, Neutral, oil, turn signal, low fuel, clock, miles traveled on reserve (although there is really no reserve), and a clock. In addition to the standard odometer, the Ulysses utilizes a pair of resettable trip meters.
Available in two color choices, Barricade Orange (seen here) and Midnight Black, the Ulysses can be set up with accessory saddlebags and a top case (MSRP: $999.95 for all three cases and the mounting system). One other accessory we strongly recommend is a seat cut 1-1/2 inches shorter than stock, making the reach to the ground that much easier.
When it came to testing the Ulysses, we changed things up a bit from our normal routine. Since the XB12X was designed to be ridden off pavement, we thought a refresher course might be in order prior to going into the back country and thrashing both the bike and ourselves. To knock the rust off our off-road skill sets, we attended a riding camp put on by Jim Hyde and his staff at his RawHyde Adventures, located in Castaic Lake, CA, about 15 miles up the road from the Love Ride’s final destination.
Jim and crew methodically took a dozen journalists through a six-hour course, covering the skills and techniques needed to safely navigate a bike such as the Ulysses through a variety of terrain. This partial day of instruction was based on RawHyde’s weekend-long “Adventure Camp.” The learning process was punctuated by proper techniques of acceleration, deceleration, turning, and riding in varied conditions once off the beaten track. The second day of our stay was used as an opportunity to put these newly acquired skills to the test by way of a full day’s ride that included a variety of highways, mountain roads, dirt and gravel roads, and general out-back terrain. The day was highlighted by a couple of us, along with Jim and photographer Mike Wing, conquering a very challenging section by ascending a dirt road with a 2,200-foot increase in elevation over about 6 miles. The prize at the top: a breathtaking 360-degree view of beautiful mountain terrain complete with a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean some 30 miles to the west. All of this and a perfect sunset to boot-that’s what the Ulysses is all about.
First things first. The XB12X is a tall bike, no-make that a very tall bike. Even with the optional lowered seat, it’s all most riders can do to get one foot flat on the ground while on the bike. This takes some getting used to, especially on loose or uneven ground. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with this, everything else is a breeze. The ergonomic setup of the bike works quite well. The relationship among the seat, handlebars, and mid-controls makes for a very comfortable riding position both on the highway and in the twisties. Sitting in the neutral position feels quite natural for either long, straight sections or tossing the bike from side to side on a canyon road. The Thunderstorm engine is more than up to the task when it comes to quickly accelerating the motorcycle, without the need to constantly bang up and down through the gears. The engine’s redline is set at 7,000 rpm, and the torque is strong through most of that range but really kicks in around 4,000 rpm. The effects of Erik’s mass-centralization principle are apparent as you take the bike through turns. It easily moves from side to side with little input needed from the rider. Based on the bike’s height and placement of the foot controls, there is plenty of lean angle before the bike touches down on either side. The bike’s lean angles are left 40 degrees and right 43 degrees before contacting any hard components. The Showa suspension soaked up bumps with ease both on and off the road, and that, coupled with the Uniplanar Powertrain vibration-isolation system, made for an exceptionally smooth ride.
Chalk up smooth, easy shifting and light clutch operation to the XB12X’s new transmission. Although we did check out all the gearing possibilities, it was rare that we found ourselves shifting into Fifth gear even on the highway. When we got into the dirt, First through Third gears were where we spent the majority of our time.
Bringing the Ulysses out in the dirt is what it’s all about. Buell tells us this bike is designed for only 10-percent off-road use; well, that seems a bit low to us. Using the skills taught by Jim, we were able to easily navigate the XB12X in a wide range of off-road conditions. The technique of standing on the pegs to help with balance came in real handy for a good part of our off-road travels. Keeping the bike upright while overcoming obstacles in your path is a challenge, but using our new skills we were well-equipped to handle what was thrown at us.
If we had to condense it down to a few critical points when riding off-road, one of the most important things to remember is to work the clutch constantly, allowing it to slip; this keeps the bike moving smoothly without the jerking action that comes from too much throttle. Take it easy on the front brake, especially when going slow with the bars turned. Failure to heed this could be tragic, resulting in your being tossed over the bars. When navigating at slow speeds, you must maintain enough momentum to keep the bike from toppling over to the side. With these principles in mind, we went out and proceeded to have a major good time.
Considering that ’06 was the first model year for the Ulysses, we think the company nailed it on the head. By jumping into a market it had never been in before, Buell took a bold step and succeeded. This bike works, and works well in a broad range of riding situations. There is no reason we can think of that would keep you from riding the Ulysses coast to coast on just about any road in between. Even if you label yourself as a hardcore Harley rider and have never thought about getting off the pavement, there’s a huge, beautiful world out there that’s accessible only if you give it a chance on a bike such as the Ulysses.