Buell Firebolt provides sport bike fun

March 06, 2004|by ARV VOSS/Motor Matters

Much like buying a new car, there are a myriad of choices in selecting the motorcycle that's right for you, making it a genuine chore.

Your performance requirements, the type of riding that you intend to do, and personal styling preferences, all play a significant role in making the ideal selection. Ride quality and affordability are other factors to consider, not to mention your physical size and age, which are also important issues.

I rode last year's Buell Lightning XB9S and came away with a favorable impression. For this review, I tried on the Firebolt XB12R for size. Buell models start with a fun-to-ride, easy-to-own Buell Blast, followed by two versions of the Buell Firebolt (XB9R and XB12R), and wrapped up by three Buell Lightning versions (XB9S and XB12S). The XB9S features two configurations - short and shorter. In essence, there is a standard model and a lower model (seat height is 28.6 inches compared to the standard 30.1 inches) for vertically challenged riders.


Though there's no official reference for the "S" and "R" designations, it seems appropriate to think of the "S" as "Street-Savvy" and the "R" as "Road-Racer." The primary difference between S and R models is the riding position - S versions feature a more upright position with raised handlebars, lower footpegs and a flyscreen. The R models invite a laydown position sporting lower, raked cafe-style bars and higher pegs with a larger fairing. R models are more conducive to racing and aggressive road riding.

XB9 models for both the Firebolt and Lightning are powered by a 984 cc air-cooled four-stroke, 45-degree isolation mounted V-Twin Cam motor, with the exhaust split through full length duals. The 92 horsepower, electronically fuel-injected motor puts out 70 lbs.-ft. of torque over a broad, pleasing range, and is mated to a five-speed constant mesh manual transmission.

XB12 bikes draw their motive power from a stroked version of the same motor yielding 1203 cc and generating 103 horses and 84 lbs.-ft. of torque. Triple digit speeds come up quickly and effortlessly.

My test Buell Firebolt XB was the 12R finished in Red with black frame components. Up front were Showa inverted forks with adjustable compression damping, rebound damping and spring preload. Out back are Showa shock absorbers, also with adjustable compression damping, rebound damping and spring preload. Wheels were six-spoke cast alloy, 17-inchers finished in Translucent Amber, with a Dunlop D207 FY 120/70 ZR17 front tire and a fat D207 U 180/55 ZR17 bringing up the rear. The rear wheel features solid spokes while the front wheel actually consists of 12 spokes in a double-six design. Bringing the Firebolt to a halt is a piece of cake with a ZTL type stainless floating rotor and six-piston caliper up front and single disc aft.

My Firebolt XB12R test bike was finished in Racing Red with silver and black accents. The base price was set at $10,995 while California models run $12,824.46 out the door.

SUMMARY: Initially, one would think that the Buell sport bike lineup isn't for everyone - particularly not for cruiser types like myself. When first swinging a leg over, I must admit I felt akin to a 500-pound mature Silverback Gorilla on a little kid's motorized mini-scooter, which later evolved into a more comfortable Chimpanzee on a surfboard. The Buell is well balanced, responding rapidly and easily to steering input. It's almost as if the bike goes where you think, before you actually initiate a physical directional move.

The sculpted solo seat is comfortable enough for the right-sized rider, and there is a passenger pillion stowed beneath a locking panel for occasions when you want to go two up - just don't forget to adjust the suspension to compensate for the added weight.

The bars are relatively narrow but angle down and back enough for a secure, controlled feeling. As indicated, at 6' 4", I'm a little too tall in the saddle, elevating the center of gravity. Even so, the front wheel of this short wheelbase, Italian-framed ride is virtually invisible, blocked from view by the fairing (unless you scoot forward, which actually seems to be more comfortable) positioned just ahead of the instrument panel housing speedo, tach and indicator lights.

Controls and switches are ideally positioned for user-friendly operation without taking one's eyes off the road. The only negative for me, was my long legs. Positioning myself forward set up for the best shifting and braking accessibility, but that necessitated holding my head up when laying over the tank (airbox), resulting in sore rear neck muscles. The riding rush was enough to offset that, though, and it shouldn't be an issue for riders 6 feet or under.

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