Three and a half years ago, when shopping around for a bike to buy, two machines with very different pedigree’s, from very different stables, emerged as strong contenders; the BMW R1200GS and the Buell XB9SX. The decision was a difficult one. On the one hand, I had always owned BMW’s and knew the bike and the brand well, on the other; I had loved the Buell ever since I had first seen it (over 10 years ago) and it continued to impress and inspire. In the end, I went with the BMW, for mostly practical reasons.
Fast forward a couple of years and the BMW is reluctantly up for sale, to make way for a house purchase and 18 long months later I’m back at the same juncture; lusting after another bike while enduring the indignity of a crowded bus journey during the 2 days of (illegal) strikes called by the RMT which brought the City of London to a standstill.
That same Saturday I found myself at Warrs Harley Davidson in Chelsea looking at the 2009 Buell XB9SX, which is now even better looking thanks to a new all-black option which was lacking from the translucent blue and cherry line-up offered in previous years. Miraculously, the price had also come down by 10%. The deal was sealed, I called and placed the order that Monday and collected my shiny, brand new Buell that Friday after work, just in time for the weekend. All credit to Warrs for pulling it together on such short notice.
Having had the bike now for a few months and really having the chance to really know it, I can comprehensively say, I love it. It is a riding experience unlike any other.
Upon first starting the bike, the 984cc Thunderstorm engine rumbles into life almost the same instant the starter button is pressed. For the first few minutes, the engine feels a little rough and the rear view mirrors are ablur, but as it warms up, it becomes remarkably smooth for an engine of its type and size. Selecting first gear might feel a little strange for sports bike riders. There can be no doubt the gear has been selected, much like the 1200GS, the gear thunks into position like the closing of a luxury German car door and you’re ready to go. The power delivery is constant through the entire rev-range and at no time does the bike feel distressed. There is no ‘power band’ like you get on many other bikes, the engine spins up and pulls hard, all the way. The Buell is light and agile, it feels and handles like a scooter, but has all the brute-force of a superbike. This, along with the low-down torque, makes this bike ideal for city riding, but it’s also at home on winding roads or the motorway, as I recently discovered on a round-trip from London to Manchester, although the lack of a front fairing means you take a bit of a buffeting. Riding 2-up is the biggest surprise, and pleasantly so. Even on the mighty 1200GS, one can really feel a passenger, but on the Buell, it’s almost not noticeable. The front remains solid and deliberate, instead of light and twitchy. The back remains taught and responsive, instead of sunken and lethargic. Best of all, the engine just doesn’t care, it happily purrs along oblivious to the extra weight.
There are however a few negatives and it would be remiss to neglect to mention these. First, the controls and instrumentation are generally quite poor. The indicator switch looks like a throwback to the 80’s and the clocks yield little more information than speed and revs per minute. Attempts to operate with winter gloves yields butterfingeritis. Second, occasionally when pulling off from an idle, the engine will skip a beat and splutter. According to the guys at Warrs, it’s peculiar to this type of engine and in fairness, it happens infrequently and is easily controlled. Third, there is very little space for luggage. Perhaps this is not a legitimate complaint as the XB9SX is, after all, a streetfighter with an exceptionally short wheel base, but I like a bit of luggage for those days in the country (I know, I know… “cake and eat it”).
I look forward to many more days out with the Buell and future offerings from the Buell stable. Yup, this could very well be the start of something beautiful.
Update 18/05/2010: It is with great regret I note Buell will no longer be producing motorcycles. More from the founder of Buell here: http://www.buell.com/en_us/company/news/detail.asp?news_id=1497
Tip 24/05/2010: Somehow I punctured my back tyre this past Friday. I recall from the days of my R1200GS that a puncture on a bike is not a fun experience. Back then I just got the bike recovered to the dealership for a replacement. This happened twice, at £250 a time. So when it happened to my Buell I could see all kinds of expense coming my way. The first thing to remember is, don't use TyreWeld or any kind of in-tyre sealant, doing so renders the tyre irreparable and you are then required to purchase a replacement. Having said that, nobody will actually recommend repairing a tyre, but several people I have spoken to say they've never had a problem. Suffice to say, I used TyreWeld and was therefore in for a new tyre. I called up the dealership I bought the bike from, Warrs Harley Davidson and was horrified to be quoted £235 for a new tyre (including fitting). I was convinced it could be done far cheaper but after calling around I discovered almost nobody would touch a Buell, what with the belt drive and the fuel in the frame and the oil in the swing-arm, it proved too much for your average grease shop. That is, until I found HGB Motorcycles who not only had the tyre I wanted in stock, for the best price I found, but also replaced the tyre while I waited, with no apparent difficulty, for half the price of Warrs, with some free number plate bolts I was missing, and a smile