~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.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Farkle Time!

The ST1300, as nice as it is, could always be better. The idea of adding goodies or farkles as they are called now, to a bike to make it a more personalized ride is an old one. No doubt Gottlieb Daimler would have added highway pegs and sissy bar to his first motorcycle had there been an Internet mail order place from which to order them. More likely he merely hoped to send the saddle out to Honda top box gray-marketed into the US by selected parts supplies because Honda is apparently too focused on sport bikes, Goldwings and dirt bikes to sell it themselves. The box comes with a nice looking "Pan European" label on the back, that being the ST's model designation for Europe. The label now graces my tool box along with assorted other decals from over badged parts and bikes. I have no problem panning Europeans but I don't need it on my bike.

Happily, the Euro ST1300 is the same color as the US model so the wonderful candy red paint is a perfect match and the box is built to Honda's usual high standards. There must be some small difference though in the luggage racks because I found it necessary to substitute some supplied washers for stuff from my accumulated M/C bit n pieces box. I ordered the passenger elbow supports for the box, in for a penny, in for a pound I figured, but at $98 for the cheesy rubber elbow rests they can't be classified as anything but a serious rip off. The box might be worth it's asking prices of $550 compared to the non-color matched, far less stylish Givi units many guys mount on their ST's but arm rests are a rip. At least they mounted easily although the instructions advise you to drill holes in your shiny new box that would be at least 1/16 or so too large for the screws. Glad I didn't trust the directions and sized the fittings myself. I'd have been seriously torqued if I'd have drilled big holes and wound up with sloppily fit parts.

Other goodies already added to the bike are GenMar's handle bar risers to get the bars a bit closer to my arms and take some load off of my short arms. 325 miles the other day proved their worth. A sheepskin seat cover makes the stock seat bearable but not ideal; I'm sure it's nothing another $500 can't fix. A Helmet Guardian helmet lock set up has been secured behind the license plate to make locking the skidlid simpler than taking off the seat to use Honda's crappy built-in wire loop (Really Honda, was that the best you could do?). The biggie so far is a new Scorpio i500 alarm system with a perimeter sensor. For the first time in decades I don't feel so uneasy walking away from the bike to go into a restaurant. I'm not sure how useful the perimeter sensor feature will be but it was fun to adjust and play with in the garage and of course the essence of any good farkle is some degree of impracticality.

On order but not received yet are some Powerlet 12v power outlets, a rider/passenger intercom system, some heat deflectors to ward off the merciless ST1300 engine heat, and a Cee Bailey 4" wider windscreen. The stock screen is just ok and just ok isn't what I'm after. Speaking of ST1300 engine heat, it's still not as bad as the foot roasting cylinders on my old R100/RT BMW but some slightly better fairing design by Honda would have helped. Note to Honda: Find yourself a FLIR thermocamera and a good operator and figure out where the heat is happening.

Total farkle bill thus far: About $1700. Ouch. For a mere $3,300 more I coulda had the new Beemer. Ah but wait, that was MY $3,300 and not someone else's so I'm still very happy to have not spent already and to have it to get the ST1300 fitted out to suit me. The Beemer at $19,000 would have left me with no farkle money and we can't have that.

I'm not sure what else the ST needs that I just can't live without but there is bound to be something.

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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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