The one and only sportbike maker in America
has never taken a conformist approach to motorcycle design,
and the new Buell Firebolt is no exception, even for Buell.
It is masterpiece of function and form and rather difficult
to compare with any other motorcycle...if there were any
other motorcycle to compare it with.The Firebolt is no conventional
sportbike, it isn't a race replica either, in fact it isn't
an anything replica. Eric Buell calls the Firebolt a "sport
fighter". In fact it's a fuel-injected 45-degree
Milwaukee V-twin ingeniously shoehorned into a chassis with
it's dimensions resembling that of a 250cc racer. But you
only have to look at the XB9R Firebolt to decide that it's
about as far away from Harley-Davidson as you can possibly
get. Its striking insect-like styling and ultra aggressive
stance are pure modern sport-bike
Ok what's so different about it?
The styling of the bike, especially the
front end resembles an angry insect about to pounce. The
overall size of the bike is tiny, nothing sticks out on
this bike except the indicators (and they are made from
floppy rubber to stop vibes destroying bulbs!). The first
thing that strikes you about the Firebolt is it's dimensions
and the incredibly steep front end. You get a 21 degree
fork angle and just 84mm of trail, that's nearly 2 degs
steeper than a GSXR or R6! So when you get on the bike you
are actually looking straight down the fork legs at the
front wheel spindle, scary! In this super small space Eric
Buell has managed to shoehorn in the latest 984cc HD Sportster
derived motor, which must have taken some doing as the wheelbase
is only 1320mm between the axles! The Firebolt weighs in
at only 175kg which is quite surprising looking at that
HD Motor, but as you begin to look at the frame and so on,
it all becomes clear just where the weight has been saved.
Like many current sport bikes, the Firebolt
uses a twin-spar aluminium frame, but this frame also serves
as your 14 lt fuel tank! To top that off the super stiff
alloy swingarm does double duty as the oil tank. Both these
components are made in Italy by Verlicchi and Brembo of
all people, so quality is shouldn't be an issue. Chassis
design engineer Vance Strader decided to put all the bike's
heavy stuff down toward the centre of the bike, this results
in major components doing more than one job. The front brake
on the Firebolt is the first of its kind on a production
motorcycle. A single 375mm rotor bolts directly to the front
wheel rim instead of the hub. Weight, especially the unsprung
is the enemy, and braking loads are sent (almost) directly
to the tyre, this make for less work for the inverted Showa
forks and so the front wheel only weighs 4kgs and runs on
a light, hollow axle.
Buell's Uniplanar engine mounting system
restricts the HD V-twin's thrashing and uses its structure
as part of the chassis. Various strands of design DNA come
from Harley-Davidson's XL family, but it's not really a
Sportster engine. The gearbox, primary drive and clutch
are all Buell existing parts, and the rest of the components
are a mix and match, making the most of Harley's manufacturing
capabilities. Everything from the pistons and connecting
rods to the crankcases and valves are dedicated Firebolt.
The high-flow cylinder heads are new, and NASCAR designed
valve-train give the Buell a rev range up to the 7500rpm.
The engine weighs 75kg dry, complete with oil coolers and
all mountings, that's pretty good for a HD based motor but
still 20kg heavier than KTM's new superlight V-twin.
the weight down low makes the Firebolt feel incredibly
light, it feels lighter than the 175kg (dry) would suggest.
Sitting on the bike you get the feel of an exceedingly small
bike, and that you are almost sitting over the front wheel.
Everything looks neat and cleanly styled from the saddle.
The instruments feature an LCD clock, two trip meters and
mileage on reserve (a-la-Yamaha), and is all well placed.
The speedo and rev counter are both analogue and do feature
some of the most interesting number styles that I have ever
seen! A little hard to read sometimes, but they match the
bikes character well. The bars are a comfortable reach from
the seat, but the foot pegs are mounted seriously high up
and some riders will no doubt be put off by this position.
Fire up the engine only after the V-Twin
light goes out, this is what I was told, so this is what
I did! It allows the fuel injection to set everything up
ready for cold start, warm start etc and supposedly takes
all the hiccups out of the mix during starting. When you
eventually get it started after waiting (always first time
mind you), the following mechanical commotion is pure HD
Sportster, it is somewhat loud, but it's a dead giveaway
as to what this bike really is.
The Firebolt is perfectly cooperative
around town, all the vibes on tick-over disappear and everything
smoothes out from 3000 rpm on up. The clutch pull is on
the heavy side and the gear selection is a bit 'clunky'
to say the least! You certainly know when you have selected
that gear, and clutchless changes on the Firebolt are a
thing of the past. Take your time when you change gear,
use a little clutch on the up-shift and you will be able
to ride it smoothly. The engine definitely has smooth power
delivery, and there is not as much vibration as I had first
expected. The power output of the Buell is a respectable
92bhp and has a good torque figure of 68ft-lb. This torque
really shows coming out of the corners, it does go a bit
as you approach the red line but it feels like it has a
little left, this might just be choked a little bit by the
current emission standards though. Buell do a replacement
twin exit pipe which releases a bit more power and torque,
it also sounds more fruity and looks so much better than
the standard one.
handling is really nice on the Buell, It's very
nimble through the corners and the front end feels very
well planted, but at the same time you can flick the bike
easily from left to right. When you're in the corner, mid
corner, you can basically pull the bike down for more lean
angle if you want, in fact you can pretty much put the bike
anywhere you want! the general idea when riding the Buell
is to keep the revs somewhere between 5000 and 7200 rpm
for maximum thrust, and be smooth, keeping momentum is the
name of the game with the Firebolt, once you've got it,
4500rpm is about 75mph on the Firebolt,
and considering its size the bikini fairing will give you
a decent amount of protection upward of here. I doubt if
you would ride it for much longer than about an hour or
so at motorway speeds as the peg position and lack of seating
room will see you pulling in for a rest and for more fuel.
This will be about when the reserve light comes on anyway,
expect about 120miles between fill-ups if you are relatively
easy on the throttle. Going easy on the throttle become
far less likely when you get to those twisty roads, this
bike just becomes even more fun! The Firebolt chassis plays
the starring role on twisty roads, on paper, all the extremist
steering geometry could add up to one very twitchy little
twin, but reality it doesn't, how it works is still a mystery
to me, all I can say is that is does - very well.
Another touch that will be immediately
noticeable on the Firebolt is that smart little idler pulley
keeping the belt drive tensioned so you don't have to. In
fact, you cant' because it has a fixed rear-axle. The strangest
thing of all though is the whir of the intermittent 2 speed
blow-dryer that keeps the rear cylinder cool, it's just
not something you would expect from the engine bay of a
Milwaukee twin. The problem is, it tends to run on high
speed for a while once you've parked, it's not quiet either
which is sometimes a bit embarrassing when you turn up at
the cafe or at the Sunday-morning hangout!
I said earlier, the Buell XB9R Firebolt is as far
from a traditional Harley Davidson as a motorcycle can get.
It has a truly innovative design, razor sharp handling,
stunning looks, and could well start an exciting new performance
tradition of its own. Buell's Firebolt is either a breakthrough
or a bomb depending upon your expectations and preconceptions.
Devotees of American iron will probably want to have no
connection with the Buell Firebolt, but the street fighter
oriented among us will be dancing in the streets with this
bike. If you're looking for the ultimate 'B' road weapon
then look elsewhere, but if its unique you're after, and
you can accept life strictly on its terms, then this could
be your new bike.
The Buell Firebolt is an absolute hoot to ride
- its a pure fun package. It literally shouts out 'look
at me I'm different', and it gets the looks and attention
it deserves. I always get asked which bike is the best of
the lot, I always answer 'if it has two wheels and a motor
it's fun'. Much more important than that is to buy a bike
that suits your needs and your character, The Buell will
suit a lot of people, but it will not suit them, you can't
just get on it and ride it straight off without first having
some sports bike experience, that would be a recipe for
disaster. If you prefer your biking to be anonymous then
draw a line through this on your list, you'll be better
off on a Honda or some other Japanese bike that just blends
in with everything else! But if you dare to be different,
want some fun in life and a bike that draws a crowd, then
buy a Firebolt, you won't be disappointed.
opinion by Simon Bradley
The Buell is very much like a bumble bee, not in colour
or even loveable daftness, but in the fact that it really
shouldn't work at all. The frame geometry is far too radical
to be stable, the engine is just too heavy and slow revving
and the gearbox is just too horrible. And yet this bizarre
mishmash of ill suited components, seemingly cobbled together
on the whim of an eccentric American, is one of the most
potent track bikes you can imagine.
The almighty clunk as you boot the thing into first and
the strange delay between opening the throttle and the revs
starting to build (matched only by the even stranger delay
between shutting the throttle and anything happening as
the huge flywheel effect keeps the revs up for a while)
makes you instantly suspicious, and the apparent lack of
power doesn't bode well. But the Buell has two secret weapons.
The first is handling. You can, quite simply, throw this
bike into a corner almost as hard
and as late as you like and it will just drop in and go
around. The second is ground clearance - no matter how hard
I tried I just couldn't get anything to touch down. The
combined result is a corner speed higher than pretty well
anything else you'll encounter. On a trackday that either
means leaving a gap behind the bike ahead of you so that
he doesn't wreck your corner and then perhaps getting past
on the exit or going in much harder and getting past on
the way in. Or, of course, you can simply ride around the
other bike, either inside or outside, mid bend. But one
thing you won't be doing is going past them on the straights.
Get used to being overtaken because it will happen a lot.
That ancient engine has some limitations, after all, it
would seem, although the optional performance pack liberates
another 10 horses or so and sounds a lot better to boot.
But also get used to grinning like an idiot, because that
will happen even more.