User Rating: Excellent
Handling And Control:
Quality and Craftsmanship:
Pros: Superb handling, awesome design, 100% fun and answers all concerns from XB9R
Cons: Still not a liter-bike in terms of performance- but this one’s alotttta fun!
The Bottom Line: Probably the most fun you’ll find on 2 wheels. If you can let go of the cutting edge Japanese literbikes, this American joy is truly a BLAST to ride!
When Buell released the first XB9R firerbolt pic’s to the press it left the world slack-jawed and drooling. A frame that doubled as a fuel tank? A swing-arm that become the oil tank? ALUMINUM no less. a short-stack wheelbase clearly intended for backroad carving. wow- for someone who thought the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, I was pretty impressed with how FAR Buell had removed itself from the Harley-side. with the exception of some facets of the engine, there’s not too much Harley of this bike I said to myself. and repeated it after I finally rode one for a day up in the twisties of back-door new hampshire.
Obviously, evolution continues- Japanese sportbikes have pushed the envelope even farther now- whilst for the last 2 years it was the 600 class which got ultra competitive in terms of break-neck lightening speed that was almost too close to call across manufacturers, this year the liter bike class is in the spotlight- icredible machines boasting close too 200 shafthorsepower (This years R1 and Kawi ZX10 are pushing 160 at the wheel. ) and yet even in the midst of this insanity, Buell stays the course and continues to be devoted to offering realistic sport machines made in the good ol’ US of A marketed under the Harley family. Yeah I like my Jap-Sport machines, but you can bet I like buying American!
Enter the Newest Buell fury, the XB12R firebolt. Buell pushes its own envelope this year by taking the toddler XB platform- now past its infancy and proven in its third year- and has applied a 1200 v-twin as a follow up to its successful 900 little brother. The 1200 is quite an amazing machine- inherently, it must be wild since it offers all the wonderful handling attributes of it’s smaller sibling, including the same chassis and essentially the same ergo/wheelbase combo AND the same ultra cool inside-out front rotors which had me from day one (the first time I saw them on a production bike it blew me away. made me think of the Norton Nemesis which sadly never came to fruition).
Buell’s definitely got it figured out nowadays- they make a super fun to ride machine, offer great performance and now, with the onset of 1200cc’s in this top-sport superstar, the line is certainly more complete- as alot of buyers took an XB9 firebolt gritting their teeth as they wanted a bigger engine to complement the same ultra-nimble machine. Before we go any further, I want to be superclear on one thing: the firebolt WILL NOT compete on the same caliber as the japanese sport-bike class cousins will – it just isn’t reasonable. However the Buell wasn’t intended for that- it was intended for FUN- and stays true to this, as the bike is A JOY to ride.
This years new 1203cc engine makes a respectable 103 hp and 84 ft/lbs of torque. Bear in mind, it does so at a very realistic 6 grand, whereas peak HP on a japanese machine would be probably double that on the rev counter- for reference, my R1’s peak is at 10,300 and redlines at 12,300.
The Buell makes super torque- more than many japanese machines in fact- Inherently, the v twin is torquier and the bike does not need to be downshifted like a japanese sportbike does- however moreso with the 1200, Buell has truly improved the situation. Back when I wrote my first review on the Buell XB9R firebolt, one of my criticisms was purely power-related. the 900 really wasn’t enough to get my blood boiling, however the bike more than made up for the shortcoming with its superb handling and manners on the road.
The situation has gotten really hairy now however- because 1200cc’s was the final answer in making the Firebolt truly an eye-tearer without sacrificing the amazing characteristics of the younger sibling. Typically, this is one of the hardest parts of designing such a model – bigger brother design is usually inhibited by being unable to fit a larger engine on the same frame or platform- exceptions need to be made- engines turned or tweaked within the frame- this causes weight distribution to change and/or shift and it causes certain handling characteristics to potentially change (sometime quite radically) and japanese liter-bikes have had this problem for some time- it makes design a real challenge.
Buell’s innovative chassis/swingarm design make it possible to squeeze the bigger engine in the chassis without actually causing such a squeeze. The air-cooled 1200 twin has a super cool growl, even the factory exhaust note is quite decent and listenable. Power delivery is absolutely super- the 1200 responds like a minute-man and power is on tap.
The engine pulls in a very linear fashion all the way from idle- 3 gear full-throttle exits are predicatable and POSSIBLE- meaning there is no need to downshift to second because torque is on tap at such an early point on the rev band.
On-road habits-wise, the firebolt is a dream. The shortened wheelbase, taken directly from the XB9R concept make knee-dragging almost inevitable, and contrary to alot of unforgiving japanese machines, the buell is manageable and predictable- the frame design DOES have something still, over any other design- it is the stiffest, most tortionally rigid frame on any bike- the idea was awesome and it continues to make the buell such a fun little bike to thrash.
Braking is accomplished with floating 4 pots, again, the front brakes utilize the trademark BUell inside-out front rotors which offer a more efficient cooling ( and thus stopping ) surface for the pads to work with. Braking is also very linear and predictable with nearly no signs of fade- There were limited instances where I did miss my oversize brembo package, however the Buell’s stoppers work extremely well – the spots which gav eme grief was at EXTREME late-entrances where I was really pushing to see what this front-end was made of. Clearly, the bike is manageable- ALOT more than a typical sportbike.
Buell still has the magic and really has the formula correct. Shifting is reasonbly smooth- still clunky for those of you used to japanese razor-like precision, but considering it originates from harley, the shifting is quite good. CLutch action is taught and the range is medium-short – perfect for quick, trouble free shifts and fast starts.
The Close-ratio gearing is set up nearly ideally for street and highway, only if you really understand how to push will you be wishing you had another gear- the bike turns very well and most times I suspect, the rider will be more focused on making better turns and faster exits based on better riding skills than wishing the bike had more. This one’s a charm.
Final Considerations: Again, a Buell is a Buell. This would NOT be my choice for a track bike- it is clearly intended to be a street-use bike for those who like to turn- STILL, it is not a competitive track-tool. how could it be- read about hte japanese liter class and rest assured, there will be no compromises made there. So basically, if you’re thinking to use this bike as a competitive tool- forget it.
But if you are looking for joy on two wheels, the Buell is a wonderful choice- it does just about everything and does it very well. Luggage options are obviously limited- softbags will work, but this is not a tourer. this is a balls-to-the-wall fun-sport done American style. Kudos to Buell for really putting together such an amazing effort and such a wonderful machine.
Recommend this product? Yes
Amount Paid (US$): 11,800
- 2004 Buell Firebolt XB12R
- Buell TT – Speedzilla Motorcycle Message Forums
- 2002 Buell Firebolt XB9R Consumer Reviews Test Ride Experience Epinions.com
- Custom: Pegasus Race Team experimental Buell 1125R RideApart
- 2009 Buell Blast motorcycle review @ Top Speed