1,000 miles in 24 hours on the 2006 Buell XB12X Ulysses
Story by Reg Kittrelle
When I fired up the 2006 Buell XB12X Ulysses my wife was at home asleep. When she arose, went to work, and then returned home, I was still riding the Buell. When she went to bed, slept the night away, and got up, I was still riding the Buell. Some sort of masochistic fantasy? No, just the inaugural Sport Bike Adventures 1000, a bit of a challenge wherein the objective was to ride 1,000 miles in 24, or less, hours.
Until 2006, Buell’s focus had been on the “streetfighter,” a replica-racer niche where its “Lightning” and “Firebolt” models have been yapping at the heels of their Japanese counterparts. The Ulysses, however, takes Buell off in another direction, one that’s populated by the likes of the BMW GS-series, KTM Adventurer, Triumph Tiger and Suzuki V-Stroms…all big iron that are loosely labeled as “adventure” motorcycles.
The Ulysses features all the virtues of the Lightning and Firebolt, such as the very torquey 103-horsepower, 73-cubic-inch V-Twin motor, the aluminum frame with its integral gas tank, and the 375mm single front disc “Zero Torsional Load” braking system. But the Ulysses differs significantly in its physical size: it’s big!
Since its 2003 introduction, the XB chassis has taken hits from some riders for its small, 250cc-like dimensions. With a 52-inch wheelbase and overall length of just over 76 inches, the compact XBs have been favored by those of smaller stature, and griped about by the taller riders. The “Big U” should stop all current and future whining in this regard as it follows the fashion of the other “adventure” mounts by being just a bit bigger than life. The wheelbase has been stretched 2 inches, the length by 9 inches and the seat height is 1.7-inches closer to the sky, all thanks to a larger frame that also includes an additional half-gallon of gas capacity.
While Buell claims a 31.7-inch seat height, know that these are sturdy Wisconsin brat-fed inches that somehow seem to be a bit bigger than your everyday inch. Anyone over about six feet tall will find the foregoing slightly silly and probably remark how Buell has finally built a “full-sized” motorcycle. For those of us much under that height (me), being very careful of our footing when stopping becomes a face-saving necessity.
Under power the Ulysses treats the short or tall rider with well-positioned controls, a comfortable seat, and a feeling that this is a very stable, fun bike to ride on an adventure. In my case, that adventure began at 5:55 A.M. on a Saturday this past summer in Lancaster, California, the starting point of the Sport Bike Adventure 1000. Riding long distances in minimum time qualifies as great fun for many riders, the most fanatical of which participate in the biannual “Iron Butt,” wherein they spend 12 days riding 12,000 miles, a truly awesome accomplishment that earns my greatest respect, but not my presence at its starting line. Hey, even my fanaticism has its limits. A thousand miles in 24 hours, on the other hand, is a reasonable challenge that satisfies my urge to do something different every once in a while.
As the name implies, the Sport Bike Adventure 1000 was structured to attract sport bikes rather than tourers. “Structured” here means a minimum of superslab and a maximum of twists and turns, all laid out by a small group of sportbike endurance freaks with a particular penchant for doing this at night.
While neither tourer nor conventional sportbike, the Ulysses is a formidable weapon with which to attack long miles and bent roads. In preparation for this event I added a tank bag and set of Buell soft bags packed with the standards of travel: a good tool kit, tire repair stuff and an assortment of tape, wire and nuts and bolts. You can go a bit nutso deciding what to carry, so I work from the premise that I’ll need the tools to repair what might logically break in a not-too-serious get-off. Years ago I decided to trust the motor to get me through, so I carry nothing that would be required to delve into the powerplant; hey, that’s what cell phones are for. I also added a set of halogen Motolights that I’ve used on several different motorcycles in the past. Rounding out the “must haves” was an Escort radar detector and a Garmin GPS unit.
Total entries numbered in the mid-thirties, a good turnout for a first-time event that caters to such a niche group. My strategy was to complete the route in 20 hours. This allowed for leisurely gas stops and a pace that would keep me out of the rear seat of patrol cars. The start was staggered so I planned to be one of the first out at 4 a.m. A good plan, but a series of events best left unexplained conspired to have me almost missing the start entirely as I arrived as the last starter with only five minutes to spare before the cutoff point.
The difficulty with these events is not with the miles, or even the long hours, but rather the route itself. Those straight lines on the map can be gobbled up relatively easily. Throw in two-lane canyon twisties, three mountain passes, 9,600 feet worth of elevation change, and temperatures as high as 105 F (with a bit of rain thrown in for the hell of it), and it easily becomes a highly technical, and more than a bit risky, riding day.
In the mountains and the canyons the Buell performed brilliantly. Its 84 foot-pounds of torque yanks the bike out of a turn and jets it into the next one. Add in a confidence-inspiring stability (helped in great measure by Pirelli Scorpion Sync tires) and long-travel suspension that soaks up potholes and broken pavement, and the result is a motorcycle that does everything on your side and never works against you.
As the roads tightened up over the passes I began to catch up with a few of the sportbikes that had left before me; they had more power but had to work harder to get it to the ground given their high-rpm motors and the resulting necessity to shift continually through the thousands of turns.
Coming down out of the mountains really tested the brakes. In fact, I was at first concerned about them given the instant drop-offs with granite landings that characterized most of the roads. No problem, though, as there was never any discernable brake fade.
As much of the fun stuff as there was, it was still necessary to have several long, straight sections as fun connectors. Though a bit boring, they’re useful for putting a bit of time in the bank, so to speak; if you’re behind schedule, it’s a way to catch up. If you’re ahead of the clock you can add to the cushion. After eight hours I was in decent shape timewise; about an hour behind my plan, but I figured to make it up on the flat and straight.
That didn’t happen. That big, torquey, stable, comfortable Ulysses that worked so well in the mountains was shy about 30 miles per hour in top speed compared to many of the bikes that were passing me. It’s not slow, you understand — triple digits can easily be found — it’s just that the nutcases who put this event together were sportbike riders…fast sportbike riders. About halfway through, it was obvious that my leisurely gas stops were tanking my strategy.
This epiphany came as the sun was setting, which brought on another problem: the Buell’s twin halogen (H7) headlights. While perfectly fine for average night driving I found them to be wanting at higher speeds on, for example, Highway 25 south of Hollister, a road that is also known as “The Zoo” for its dense deer and wild pig population. The added Motolights helped significantly, but any high-speed traversing in this area required even more. That “more” arrived in the form of a trailing entrant that was running a blinding, illegal auxiliary lighting system (the norm for devotees of these events). I tucked in behind him and followed his brighter-than-daylight trail for the next hundred miles to Coalinga.
As a way to verify the route traveled, the receipts from the 10 gas stops had to be turned in at the end. On the average these stops were about 100 miles apart, easily met with the Ulysses’ 4.4 gallon tank and 40-plus mpg average consumption rate. As the day and night wore on I caught myself lingering a bit too long at each stop, which served to put me seriously behind the clock. My psychological low point came around 2 a.m. Sunday morning. I was on a very dark and badly marked Highway 33 outside Ojai. I found myself creeping along and being very tentative. I had to give myself a mental butt kick to pick up the pace. Which I did, and that brought me to seriously fog-shrouded Ojai in which I promptly got lost. Here I was, a mere hundred miles from the finish, but in danger of missing the 24-hour cutoff point. All ended well, though. I found the proper road and hot-footed to the finish clocking a 23-hour, three-minute time (about five hours behind the first few to finish) and a total distance traveled of 1,101.64 miles.
Events such as this are not for every rider, but they’re hugely revealing about a motorcycle and your own abilities. I came away mightily impressed with the Buell Ulysses. It never missed a beat, hiccupped, coughed or otherwise gave me any indication that it was under any strain. Even more impressive was its impeccable handling in the “technical” parts of the route. The chassis’ stability allowed me to place the wheels right where I wanted them to be, and they never wavered from that point. The several slides from “dirty” corners were non-events and the severe drop-offs in the mountains were amusements, not terror-inducing. Its comfort was also notable: after 23 hours in the saddle my fanny had yet to cry “Uncle!”