Part II - The Test Ride
After reading the reviews and sorting through all the hype online about the new Buell Ulysses XB12X and having seen one in person I decided it was time to hunt down a test ride. I did some posting over on SacBORG, the Sacramento Area Buell Owners and Riders Group website to ask some owners where the good dealerships are in my area. After getting some recommendations I started calling around to see if any of the dealers had the Ulysses in stock and more importantly if they had one they would let me ride. I called Harley Davidson / Buell of Vallejo and spoke with Dustin, he quickly told me that they had a Ulysses demo bike and then asked me if I wanted to come in and take it for a test ride. I responded, that I would like that very much!
I setup a time with Dustin for the upcoming Saturday and I was all set.
My friend and I headed out Saturday morning to the dealership. When we arrived, I was told that another rider was out test riding the bike and they were expecting him back soon. Apparently he had come in at 9:30 for a half-hour ride and it was now 11:00 AM.
The rider and the Ulysses returned in a few minutes. My friend and I filled out some paperwork, Dustin went over the bike with us, filled it up with gas, handed me the keys and we were on our way.
The first thing you notice when you fire up the engine on this bike is the idle. The idle is rather rough compared to my 650 single thumper from BMW. The rough idle should not be a problem but if you're currently riding an inline 4 sportbike it will take some time to get used to this engine. As soon as you get the revs up past the idle range the engine smoothes out nicely.
We were not familiar with the area so we headed out of the parking lot with no particular destination or route in mind. I decided to head back to the freeway so I could get the bike up to speed and because I knew where that was. At the first stop sign I was a little clumsy coming to a stop because this bike is so much taller than mine. I am 5'-11" and I don't think I would be able to ride the Ulysses comfortably if I was any shorter without installing the low seat. Ulysses owners report the unladen seat height to be about 35 inches, a bit taller than my 32 inch inseam. Of course adding your body weight and the weight of anything you happen to be packing will compress the suspension somwhat. After a couple stops at lights I had already developed a technique to support the bike. Just slide your butt off the seat a little to the left and plant your left foot while keeping your right foot on the rear brake pedal. No problem, I'm already looking like a pro.
As we headed up a small hill back towards the freeway I was already anxious to see what this thing could do. I rolled on the throttle a little bit and the engine came to life producing a deep howling exhaust note. Far different than anything I have ever experienced before on a motorcycle. The 1200cc Harley Davidson engine sounds nothing like a Sportster. There is no potato - potato thump here. It's just a solid deep roar. The closest thing I can equate it to is the sound of a Dodge Viper hauling down the road. If you have never drove or ridden in a Viper you still won't know what I mean. Just imagine a high performance diesel semi truck motor on steroids. I must say the sound was quite pleasing.
As we made our way back to the freeway and turned down the street leading to the on ramp I noticed the traffic was backed up and slow moving. At this point the freeway was no place to put the Ulysses through it's paces. We made a quick detour and headed through some hilly residential areas. The suspension sucked up the bumps in the road making for a rather comfortable ride while at the same time remaining firmer and more confident than the rather relaxed suspension on my F650. I didn't mess with any of the suspension settings on the bike but I suspect it could have been dialed in quite a bit to suit my weight and riding position.
After making our way through some homes in the hills we stumbled upon and actually blew past a road that looked intriguing for a test ride, Lake Herman Road. We turned around and headed down the road. This road turned out to be just about perfect for a test ride on the new Ulysses. There were a couple tight corners a nice chicane and some decent high speed sweepers and most important, very little traffic. Oh yeah I think there was a view of a lake or something too?
After a few short minutes on the Ulysses the fan kicked in and it was quite noticeable to me since I ride a water-cooled bike without a fan. The fan is by no means annoying but there is quite a chorus of voices while riding the Buell. You have the engine and with it's deep bass
exhaust note, the alto
whine of the fan and the tenor
whir of air entering the air box through the high mounted intake.
Wind blast on the Ulysses is going to be far more pronounced if your riding a full touring bike. The rather small fly screen on the front of the bike doesn't do a whole lot to block the wind as the speeds climb above the 75 MPH mark. The screen on the Ulysses is designed for quick detachment and I'm sure we'll see taller screens become available in the coming months. Comparing the wind protection to that of my BMW I believe it to be only slightly different with the advantage going to my BMW. I also noticed the air flow over my hands even with the standard hand guards. When I rode a BMW R1200GS a few weeks back there wasn't much airflow to my hands at all. Because it was a hot day I actually found myself removing my hands from the grips to put them in the air flow to cool down while riding BMWs big GS. The experience on the Ulysses was somewhat different.
After completing Lake Herman Road I pulled over into a parking lot and allowed my friend Dan to take the Ulysses for a spin. As I hopped back on my motorcycle I instantly felt like I was riding a children's bicycle, not because of the lack of power but because of the riding position. The Ulysses is tall and while no more upright than my BMW there is quite a bit more distance between the seat and the pegs on the Ulysses. I felt all scrunched up on my bike after getting off the Buell. Comparing the bikes to cars, my BMW F650CS would be a sporty compact and the Buell Ulysses XB12X is a full size SUV... with a Hemi!
As Dan rode the Ulysses, I followed. The big LED brake light on the Buell is a nice touch and is quite bright. I like the added safety of a nice big and bright brake light. After getting comfortable Dan took the Buell up to speed and I had a great time chasing him on my CS. After Dan had some fun we switched back again and I got some more seat time on the Ulysses.
One of the things we both noticed about the Ulysses was the powerful torque and with it's broad range you could easily lighten the front wheel and while neither of us tried we both got the front wheel off the ground. It was only by a matter of inches but nonetheless the front end lifted without any effort on our part. That broad torque range has it's advantages in that gear changes are a little less important. You won't have to worry too much about lugging this engine. It will pull even from way down in the rev range. That means running some twisties would require less clutch work and fewer transmission shifts.
Buell has reduced the clutch pull effort by 22% and updated the transmissions with dog rings on all 2006 XB models. On my test ride I found the pull on the clutch easy and transmission shifts to be smooth and reliable.
On the ride back to the dealer one of the things that I noticed about the Ulysses that I found a little unpleasant was the low RPM shaking from the engine. It's not so bad when your sitting at a light but as your decreasing speed leading up to a stop the rumble gave me the sensation that the engine was about to die even though I had the clutch pulled in all the way. It would take some time for me to get used to this sensation. While sitting at stop lights I found myself entertained with the front turn signals mounted to the Ulysses. The arms for the turn signals are made from a plastic that is quite flexible, which is probably by design. The combination of the engines idling characteristics and the soft plastic makes the signals bobble up and down whenever you come to a stop.
The dash layout on the Buell proved to be functional on my test ride but I did again notice the clutch cable getting in the way of the odometer most of the time. There are no frills on the dash either, just the speedometer, tach and a few lights. I looked down a couple of times to check what time it was and both times found no clock. Imagine that no clock magically appeared between the first and second times I looked. Humm?
As we pulled back into the dealership and I got off the bike I began to inspect the hard bags which were fitted on the Ulysses. I didn't mention them before now because I hardly noticed them throughout the ride. To me that's the sign of a good set of luggage. I didn't notice them in the mirrors and they didn't seem to effect the handling in any way. Buell also points out that their bags have no designated maximum speed warnings like those found on some other manufacturers bikes. The hard luggage for the Ulysses is Buell branded but manufactured by Hepco & Becker. The luggage is large and integrates well with the design of the Ulysses. The bags are lightweight and secure when mounted to the frames. The bags are all keyed the same but not the same as the ignition key, a feature found on factory BMW bags. If you don't mind carrying an extra key it won't be a big issue. One thing I wish they had done differently was the locking mechanism. The key is required for both unlocking and locking the cases. It would be easier if the cases could be locked without the key or even could be left unlocked. I guess this prevents you from accidentally leaving the cases unlocked.
One thing you may have noticed is I didn't test the Ulysses in the dirt. I'm not that confident with my dirt riding skills and the last thing I wanted to do was drop the demo bike and become it's new owner before I was ready. If I were to purchase the Ulysses I don't think I would spend all that much time in the dirt anyway.
Overall the Ulysses is a great new bike and could be the best bike Buell has made to date. I have never considered a Buell before I found out about the Ulysses. All the attention this bike has garnered is a testament to the hard work the design team at Buell has put into this bike. My friend Dan commented to me that the Ulysses is a handful. I think there is some truth to that statement. This bike isn't a Gold Wing. If you like to just kick back and enjoy the ride in comfort and quiet the Ulysses isn't for you. The Ulysses involves you with the riding experience, it immerses you in the elements and makes sure you are an active participant in the journey. You feel the wind, you hear the engine, the fan, the intake, the exhaust. This bike demands your attention but give it your attention and you will be rewarded with an exciting ride.
P.S. Sorry I don't have any pictures for this part of the review. I took my camera but forgot to put the memory card in it before I left the house.