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Motorcycle Paradise

Out of the past

My 2003 Buell XB9.

P1000403

Few motorcycles were so misunderstood as Eric Buell’s XB.

I had paid no attention to them when launched. A guy I worked with booked a test ride and asked me to come along after our shift. 

The sales rep said there are two demo bikes would I like to come along just for fun and so ok might as well.

I was struck immediately by how tiny the bikes are. You know the little Suzuki RGV250, well the XB has a smaller wheelbase and sharper steering angle. It’s closer to a 125cc in size. Something not evident in any photo I have. Then feel of the XB on the road was incredible. Crazy nimble. Like a 125 scooter some mad man had shoehorned a big engine into and blessed with razor sharp handling.

Upon return I said it was nothing like I expected and quite frankly the most impressive handling bike I had ridden. The rep smiled and said they surprise everyone, the problem is getting people to actually try one.

The advertising from Harley was counter to what the bike was. Being promoted as a sports bike just made people scoff. Once ridden I started to actually look at the details. Eric Buell was obsessed with mass centralization putting the fuel in the frame, the engine oil in the swing arm and of course the underslung muffler rare then but widely used now. He put a ZTL disc on the front rim and chose a light kevlar belt for final drive. The bike was quite minimalist with all wires, hoses or clamps hidden, unlike the Speed Triples and Ducati Monsters of the time. The Harley v-twin was also hidden with a fan behind it to extract heat which could have been implemented better. Also the engine fueling was not quite right but otherwise the pushrod mill gave reliable service and about 90hp. Modest figure for sports bike riders, but a superb figure for supermoto riders and didn’t need oil changed every 500km like a Husaberg.

The bike above was the demo I rode that day. I got a terrific deal on it. Not a machine suited to open road blasting nor is something like a Duke 690 which is closest bike I can think to compare it to. By promoting the XB as a sports bike journalists put it in a box based on cc and then had it in comparisons with bikes twice as powerful. But I doubt anything written by the press could have changed minds at the time. Nobody got it and everyone who had never owned one told me it must be crap. Their loss, the XB was a barrel of laughs to ride and 100% reliable.

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