Before the Pan America, the Buell Ulysses Offered Harley Adventures

The upcoming Pan America is going to bring a touch of adventure to Harley-Davidson’s current crop of cruisers. And given the off-road motorcycle segment’s current popularity, it has a great sense of timing. However, while the Pan America is the first adventure bike to wear the Harley badge, it’s not the first ADV with a Harley-Davidson connection. That would be the Buell Ulysses.

The Buell Ulysses: an adventure bike with a Harley-Davidson heart

Buell and Harley-Davidson have a significant shared history. The former’s founder, Erik Buell, was a Harley engineer, and Harley later purchased the performance-oriented brand. And up until Buell shuttered (for the first time) in 2009, its bikes used Harley-Davidson engines. Today, the company is back as EBR, and focuses on “high-performance” bikes, The Drive reports. But while Buell offered sportbikes back in the day, too, it also had the Ulysses.

Launched in 2005 as a 2006 bike, Buell described the Ulysses XB12X as “’ the world’s first adventure sport bike,’” RevZilla reports. It was the first Buell motorcycle designed with off-roading in mind, Motorcyclist reports. Though, to broaden the bike’s appeal, in 2008 Buell released the Ulysses XB12XT, a more on-road-touring-focused model. Think of it as the Triumph Tiger 900 GT to the more off-road-capable Tiger 900 Rally.

The side view of a blue 2008 Buell Ulysses XB12X
2008 Buell Ulysses XB12X side | Cycle Trader

As with earlier Buell models, the Ulysses has a Harley-Davidson engine. Specifically, the 1203cc fuel-injected V-twin from the contemporary Sportster, linked to a 5-speed manual. However, it’s more accurate to say the Ulysses uses a Sportster-derived engine, Rider explains.

The V-twin has proprietary pistons, cylinders, a different exhaust system, and several other modifications. As a result, it makes 103 hp and 84 lb-ft, Motorcyclist reports. Plus, it has unique rubber engine mounts for less vibration. And for 2008, Buell upgraded the engine’s crankpin, ECU, and oiling system, Motorcyclist reports.

But, as with other Buell bikes, there’s more to the Ulysses XB12X and XB12XT’s unique touches. As with the other XB bikes, it uses the frame as a fuel tank, RevZilla reports. Instead of a dedicated tank, the oil is stored in the swingarm. And to lower unsprung weight, the front disc brake rotor is mounted on the wheel rim, not the hub, Rider reports.

Does the Buell Ulysses make for a good adventure bike?

The Buell Ulysses XB12X and XB12XT serve slightly different sides of the adventure motorcycle community. The former can genuinely go off-road, while the latter is more for long-distance paved-road touring, Motorcyclist reports. But while they’re not perfect, they’re excellent choices in both respects.

The Buell Ulysses XB12X’s off-road chops start with roughly 6.4” of travel from the fully-adjustable suspension, Motorcyclist reports. It also has frame protectors, handguards, Pirelli Scorpion off-road tires, and 6.8” of ground clearance, Motorcyclist reports.

Admittedly, the travel and ground clearance make it somewhat tall, and the steering lock is a bit limited, Motorcyclist reports. But it’s still a “fun and good-handling motorcycle” that can tackle off-road trails, Road & Track reports. On dirt roads it “’ exceeded expectations,’” RevZilla reports, and can tackle paved corners almost at “’ sport bike pace.’” Plus, it has a multi-position rear platform that serves as either a passenger backrest, luggage rack, or both. And later models have standard heated grips, Motorcyclist reports.

In comparison, the Buell Ulysses XB12XT is better-suited to gravel roads than dirt fire roads, Cycle World reports. That’s due in part to about 2” less suspension travel and different tires, CW reports. However, thanks to the firmer suspension and lower seat, the XT handles better and is more approachable.

It feels “less like a big supermoto and more like a big standard,” CW reports, which is impressive for an ADV. Plus, it has lighter wheels, as well as standard hard saddlebags, a trunk case, and a taller windscreen, reports. Those features were optional on the XB12X.

Pros and cons

Besides the limited steering lock and non-XT’s ride height, most Buell Ulysses criticism focuses on the V-twin’s heat output, CW and MCN report. However, it’s really only a problem on “a very hot day” with strong winds, CW reports. And the engine itself has plenty of torque, both at low and high RPMs.

The rear 3/4 view of a blue 2008 Buell Ulysses XB12X
2008 Buell Ulysses XB12X rear 3/4 | Cycle Trader

Plus, the Buell Ulysses is designed to be a low-maintenance, reliable adventure bike. Veteran motorcycle journalist Peter Egan has owned a 2009 model since new, and hasn’t had to do any maintenance except for oil and tire changes. The V-twin has hydraulic valve lifters, so they don’t need to be adjusted. And the bike’s belt-drive also doesn’t need adjustment.

In short, whether you prefer the dirt or the street, the Buell Ulysses makes for a comfortable and fun adventure companion.

Getting one won’t cost you much

As we noted earlier, Buell made running changes to the Ulysses throughout its 2006-2010 production run. Besides the engine tweaks, 2008-and-later bikes also have upgraded bump stops and forks, Motorcyclist reports. But even the early models are worth a test ride.

A rider takes the Harley-Davidson Pan America concept through a forest
Harley-Davidson Pan America concept in forest | Harley-Davidson

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Luckily, a seat on a Buell Ulysses isn’t particularly pricey. As of this writing, the most expensive example on Cycle Trader costs less than $5000. And with regular maintenance, it’s an easy bike to live with.

The Pan America, then, has big shoes to fill.

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