readers may remember that we had rather a high opinion
of the Buell Lightning XB12S when we tested it earlier this
year. It was, in fact, one of the most entertaining and characterful
bikes we had ever encountered. You may also remember that
a couple of weeks ago we ran a short news item about the new
CityX and what a laugh it looked as though it would be.
Well now we've tested
one. And we were mistaken only in that we underestimated just
how much fun it would be.
Buell are now only
importing the Firebolt and Lightning as 1200s, so if you want
the 900 motor you'll have to come here for it. But that's
not a bad thing, believe me. The 900, while obviously lacking
some of the outright grunt of its larger brother, is a sweeter
motor, revving more freely and, I suspect, more likely to
respond well to a few judicious tweaks. But as it comes, 84bhp
at something just above tickover is still plenty. More on
that in a minute, though. For now lets just take in the looks.
The Buell Lightning
is not, it's fair to say, a very pretty motorbike. Characterful,
yes. Attractive even. But not pretty. And the CityX takes
that characterful attractiveness, takes away a little of the
prettiness and adds something else. That something else is
attitude. Something the original was hardly short of in the
first place. So your basic Lightning gets satin black wheels.
The lower bodywork, such as there is, is black as well. The
city is a filthy dirty place and the amount of road crud that
gets thrown up makes non-glossy black a Good Thing. But while
we're on wheels, the tyres get a slightly higher, rounder
profile with the fitment of Pirelli Scorpions - the first
time the Italian company has supplied OE tyres to Buell or
Harley Davidson. The tread pattern is great for clearing water
and handling the irregularities you can reasonably expect
around town, while the higher profile makes the ride a little
more plush. Cast alloy brackets lower the pegs a little while
the seat is slightly more padded to make the seat to peg distance
more comfortable at the expense of making the whole bike a
little taller. And the (black, of course) bars are higher
and wider with a meaty cross-brace in Supermoto style. Brushguards
are hardy necessary in town but do a great job of protecting
the digits from marauding transit van mirrors as well as keeping
them warmer as the windblast gets neatly deflected.
the real icing on the cake is the clear bodywork which
can only be described as sheer genius. You'll either like
it or hate it, though I didn't find anyone who thought it
anything other than fantastic, but whatever the opinion you'll
never be ignored. The roo bars on the lights are a bit over
the top, but again given the overall eccentricity of the CityX
they're hardly out of place at all.
Leaving the Buell parked
up guaranteed attention. Riding it was even better. There
are those who believe that if it walks like a duck and quacks
like a duck then it's a duck. Well, this quacks like a Harley,
changes gear like a Harley and handles, stops and goes like
something entirely different. I may not be sure what that
means it should be, but I can certainly tell you what it is.
Around town the CityX
is nigh on unbeatable. The high bars give stacks of leverage,
the turning circle is good and tight, the brakes are phenomenal
and the whole plot is skinny enough to get through most gaps.
But it gets better. The noise and sheer bloody mindedness
seem to conspire to shout "GET OUT OF THE DAMN' WAY!"
with sufficient authority that the CityX is one of the quickest
cross town bikes I have ever ridden. Add the proper exhaust
rather than the rather emasculated standard one and pop a
pair of HID bulbs in to get a really bright, slightly blue
light and you'd never, ever get stuck in traffic. And when
the traffic gets really, really bad you can go cross country
if necessary. I was looking for a photo location and found
something slightly different. But in spite of being as accomplished
an off road rider as the average spaniel, I found the CityX
to be patient, understanding and easy to pick up when I dropped
it. That last part is a joke - we managed to remain upright
and the Buell did a great job of making it as easy as possible
As far as the basic
necessities are concerned, the Buell has them covered. The
mirrors are there and, when not vibrating the world into a
blur are actually quite good. The horn is OK - an important
thing for town riding - though I'd add the ambience of the
Buell kit exhaust to make really sure they hear you coming
while the clocks are clear enough most of the time and nice
to look at as well. Switchgear is impeccable in positioning
things? Sure, the gearbox is still the same as before. But
it's something you ride around and get used to. And in fairness,
it may not be the slickest box ever, or the fastest, but I
didn't miss a single gear in three weeks riding every day.
If you get out of town and start to really press on then you'll
feel the tread blocks walking a bit. Not a problem but a little
unsettling. So if you're going to do that a lot then may I
respectfully point you at the Lightning? But if I had to find
a single real fault it is the mirrors. They are quite clear
at speed but in town they're all but unusable through vibration.
May not be a big deal but it's a little trying sometimes.
Oh, and the shorty rear cheesegrater pretending to be a mudguard
means that when it rains you get a wet back. And if you're
carrying a rucksack it gets jetwashed from the bottom. And
But those are all outweighed
by the sheer feelgood factor of this bike, allied to the fact
that it is astonishingly practical and spectacularly good
value to boot. Practicality comes with excellent fuel consumption,
bullet proof engine and nice things like steel mudguards you
can strap luggage onto. There's a pillion seat, too, but you'd
have to be really, really good friends. Best strap your bag
there instead - it stays drier too.
And the feelgood part?
Every time I rode this bike I grinned. Then
smiled. And then laughed out loud. It is a fantastic, exuberant
eccentric piece of everyday usable fun. And that alone makes
it worthy of being considered one of the finest bikes I have
ever ridden. And, of course, there's the small matter of the
price. A very small matter indeed. It's a steal.
STOP PRESS If you fancy
a bit of a hybrid, you can fit any or all of the modifications
(except the bodywork) to, for example, your 1200 Lightning...
Now that would be mental. When you do it, could I have a go?