~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Adventure Poser


The Buell Ulysses XB12X Free wallpaper from Buell.

I seem to find myself out of step with the masses again. Big surprise. The U.S. bike magazines are all aglow over H-D / Buell's new "adventure sportbike," the Ulysses XB12X. You know it must be a cool bike and great if it has two X's in the name as that's a sure sign of engineering prowess or at least a Mexican beer.

I've been tempted to rant a bit about the bike mostly just because it seems so rant-worthy and because so many people seem enamored of the thing. The idea of a sport bike (a Buell) based around the stodgy old H-D Sportster engine has always been good fodder for jokes if not derision for some years now. Taking a creation like the Buell sport bike, adding extra ground clearance and calling it an "adventure sport bike" seems even more deserving of at least healthy skepticism if not laughter. As I am not encumbered by advertising revenue from H-D I am free to make fun of the bike in ways the press is probably thinking but afraid to put into print themselves.

I've watched the Buell Ulysses prototypes for a year or so now (don't ask how, I just did) and I've never been especially impressed with anything about them, least of all their looks. But then prototypes are usually cobby and ragged looking things, a work in progress with details never fully finalized until the last minute. The first H-D V-Rod I saw was simply the old H-D VR1000 road race motor crammed in a one-off frame and everything painted flat black. It was rough. The production V-Rod looks much nicer. The Ulysses always looked cobby and ugly but now that it's in production it looks well finished and ugly.

About two months back now I looked at the production Ulysses and found it to be ridiculously tall (even compared to my Caponord), ugly, the seat was a plank, and did I mention the Ulysses is ugly? The bellypan fairing surely will take a beating and won't look good too long even on moderate dirt roads and the cool rim-mounted front brake discs ride lower than the bellypan, just a few inches above rocks and other unfriendly things. Of course the bike will be serviced by H-D dealers which means you get to be a second class citizen in a world of pseudo-bikers (thank you, Angry Bob, for confirming my suspicions).

About that name "Ulysses", could Buell have picked a more goofy name for their new bike? It brings to mind not classic heroes of navigation and adventure but the hokey Italian "sword and sandal" movies of the 50's wherein second rate actors pretended to be serious actors and did battle with jerky, stop-action animated monsters. Will the de rigor clothing for Buell Ulysses riders be a Greek leather skirt and sandals? Will KTM release a competitor to the Ulysses called the Cyclops? Will BMW pick up styling cues from the Ulysses and make their GS series even uglier now? Will people who actually want an adventure sport bike be smart enough to visit the Aprilia dealer and look at a Caponord? Will the Aprilia dealer even have a Caponord in stock?

The press loves the performance of the Ulysses but is it useful performance? Is it even not-useful-but-at-least-crazy-classy performance like the Aprilia Tuono or Ducati Monster? The off-road capability of the Buell XB12XXXXX (there, I made it even better!) is limited according to the press so you can toss that out the window as a plus. The engine is fairly strong in the horsepower department of you believe Buell's figures (they also claim it gets 64 mpg). So the biggest feature of the Buell seems to be that it combines a short wheelbase (54.1"), tall bike (33" seat height with two people on board!) with a decent amount of torque to give you wheelies in nearly every gear. Zowie, wheelies in nearly every gear, that's useful, especially when carrying a passenger. 22 year old squids in t-shirts and baggy pants should love it. My guess is that adults who actually want to ride somewhere in sporting comfort AND take a tour down some dirt roads may decide otherwise once the praises of the latest Harley-David$on / motorcycle pre$$ love fest fades from the mind.

It will be interesting to see how well the Ulysses is selling in two years. I'll bet the new Triumph Scrambler out sells the Ulysses. The Triumph, according to the Triumph management, is a styling exercise not actually designed for off-road use. I have to admire their honesty in admitting that and also their styling tastes. With the Buell I see only a contrived bike offered up as a serious contender in order to fill a growing niche market pioneered by BMW. Take a gander at Buell's own web page and compare the pictures of the Ulysses with any of the other Buell's except the Blast. Take the Buell Lightning, jack it up 2 inches, tweak the chassis geometry a bit, add some semi-off road tires and presto! An adventure sport bike and perhaps a whole new clothing and accessory line.

Buell, I suspect, is actually hoping to attract a legion not of adventure touring enthusiasts but of adventure touring RUBs to go with the H-D RUBs "potato, potato-ing" their way around town. Have a Hummer in the driveway? Then you should have a Ulysses too! And the official Ulysses jacket, and Ulysses boots, and Ulysses gloves, and Ulysses underwear. Don't forget your Ulysses golf balls too. You'll look great cruising through the county park while pretending it's Timbuktu. Anyway, I suppose the Ulysses performs well in some general sense as a motorcycle, especially if you need a too-tall bike (passed off as "flickable" is used by the motorcycle press) with no weather protection and an engine based on the mediocre "half a Harley" Sportster lump.

For "adventure sport bike touring" or whatever the heck they call it, I'll stick with my Caponord as it at least has a proper amount of weather protection and isn't sold through H-D dealers. If I had money to burn the GS might be a better choice for the adventure half of things as it's more dirt worthy than the Capo and the Triumph Scrambler is cooler than the Ulysses will ever be even if it's got less horsepower. However, if I ever have the urge to ride in a Greek leather skirt and sandals and do wheelies I'll take another look at the Buell Ulysses.

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"When my mood gets too hot and I find myself wandering beyond control I pull out my motor-bike and hurl it top-speed through these unfit roads for hour after hour." - T.E. Lawrence



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