Well, first let me give a little background on how I ended up with a Buell. I'm a Japanese bike guy, through and through, and the only thing the Buell initially had going for it in my eyes was that it's a litre twin... kinda. I love big twins, and for better or worse this Buell will be compared to the only two other twin litre bikes I'm very familiar with; the RC51 and the TL1000R, with an emphasis on the TL1000R as that was my last bike. As to why I bought the Buell instead of the RC51 I was set on trying this time around, well the reason isn't too glamorous, the Buell simply popped up at a price I couldn't resist. And that's that. I was returning to the saddle after a couple years off, and wanted something interesting, and I had to admit the Buell was such a departure from what I'd been into before it certainly counted for "interesting".
The XB9R boasts some unique, if not impressive, engineering that in concept makes a remarkable amount of sense, like storing its fuel in the frame, oil in the swingarm, and using a massive inverse, rim mounted disc on the front that transfers its load directly to the rim rather than the hub. Using the space inside the box frame and swingarm certainly makes sense, and in theory the inverse disc makes does too (and it does make the weight of the front wheel assembly less than other bikes, like the R6 for instance).
Other interesting points on this bike are the projector headlamps, which are actually very good at night, though the low beam is a bit weak IMO like many bikes, underslung exhaust, and the 250GP bike sized chassis geometry. The size is one of the first impressions that sticks when you get on, more so the fact the bike is very short than slender and svelte. I questioned the highway stability upon first glance with that wheelbase, but it turned out to track remarkably well and dutifully.
First good impression; that Milwaukee twin sounds ferocious
First bad impression; this clutch sucks
Pulling off from my place of purchase on my first ride, the bike proved utterly and surprisingly docile and user friendly, no concerns there, and low speed handling is excellent. The clutch however, I will never be able to praise. It is a cable clutch, and it is pure Harley. Stiff pull, and operation is far out near the end of travel for the dry plates. In function, it works quite well and the clutch allows for fast shots off the line and smooth downshifts, but the comfort factor is definitely a "D", I've used worse, but this is close, I think the TLR's silky hydraulic clutch spoiled me rotten...
The powerplant is surprisingly sophisticated (can I say that???!!), at idle the thing sounds like it's going to let loose and die violently at any moment taking you with it, in a very aggressive big block kinda way, but soon as the revs pull over 2000 the vibes drop off and everything goes smooth, but the pushrod valve train clatter is ever present, and as much as I hate to admit it, it's growing on me...
I was quite concerned about the air cooling (this is my first aircooled bike since the 2 stroke dirt bikes of my childhood) and my first day with it was to entail rush hour in the city and on the highway, combined with an unusually sunny and warm spring after noon we experienced yesterday. My fears were ill founded. The electric ducted fan did an admirable job of switching on and off thermostatically when required, and the big twin kept thumpin', nice and regular with no pings or knocks despite 20 minute crawl sessions... In fact, it was downright comfortable, if only it wasn't for that damned clutch...
Out of town, and gridlock, I let her rip onto the highway, with a nice second-shift wheelie (I had read it didn't like to wheelie, not my experience, 1st/2nd shifts under power will often prompt one). The thing you have to get used to with this engine is that there is no real power band... My post learner bike (ninja 250 and SV's) chronology of bikes goes like this R6- bigtime powerband, TLR- less of a powerband, XB9R- where is that power band? The thing runs on all torque. There literally is NO "whip" of pull higher in the revs, just one straight torque delivering pump that pulls in muscular "boosts" rather than the whipping slingshot of an R6. The TLR had a lot more power, no doubt, delivering in an entirely different fashion; there was a reason to bring the revs above 5500rpm. On the XB9R, you just shift at 5500 to 6k as there's little point in going higher, and do it all over again for another "shove" of torque in the next gear, and then hit it again. The bike's fast, no doubt. But not TLR/RC fast. Then again, it's not the race bike those are either, it's a 'streetfighter', and it certainly fulfills the attitude requirements. Torque abounds, and it putters along even at 1500rpm in top gear without lugging. Nice for rolling by the cops and keeping the noise out of that slip on to a minimum...
Range on it's 12L of fuel is pretty standard fare, would like it to hold more, but it doesn't, just like the TLR, oh well it gets from A to B and goes 200-230km on a fill in town, punching it here and there, on the highway I haven't tried yet, but I'd expect 275km.
Suspension and handling:
Suspension is standard fare, inverted adjustable forks and a mono assembly rear on that fat stubby swingarm. I was told the XB9R is a grumpy one until tuned just right for your weight, which for me proved a non issue as I'm middle of the road weight wise (175lbs 'geared').
Where the XB9R came into its own, was handling, my god! I was utterly shocked how it handled in the twisties! I haven't done any serious riding in a couple years, and this thing left me comfortable and confident, and flicks almost like my old R6, just more predictably, if that can be believed (still sinking in for me too).
The bike tracks beautifully, and combined with quick flicking, cuts corners like a knife. No worries leaning this one down it's very comfortable and confidence inspiring, more so than the TLR for me. The torquey Milwaukee cement mixer (I meant engine, oops ) provides kick-in-the-arse punch out of corners, as it should, delivering almost anywhere on the tac above 2500 and standing the bike up smoothly, all with one uber bad-arse snarl and growl... Delivery when rolling on the throttle while leaned over is smooth and doesn't upset the bike.
That strange looking front brake assembly is remarkably powerful too, though with less feel than the TLR's. It's bites quite hard, and burns off the speed in a hurry as it should. I was admittedly skeptical of that single strange looking disc, which I now know was unfounded. Buell's race bikes still wear the standard hub mounted discs, which quite clearly shows this is by no means a revelation in design, but it does work well and makes a neat conversation piece if nothing else. I notice no difference in brake power between this and the R6, and it 'feels' like it slows down faster than the TLR, but with less feel.
So, high points? HANDLING, wow. Sound, mean look.
Low points? CLUTCH, expensive parts ala Harley.
Overall a remarkably good offering from a company I once paid zero attention too. Shockingly fun, really.
New pic of the progression...
To this... (new black higher windscreen enroute)