Buell XB12S Lightning
Buell XB12S Lightning
Air cooled, 45° V-Twin, four stroke, pushrod
actuated overhead valve.
hydraulic self-adjusting lifters,
2 valve per cylinder.
Bore x Stroke
88.9 x 96.8 mm
49 mm downdraft DDFI II fuel injection
- / electric
103 hp @ 6800 rpm
84 ft-lb @ 6000 rpm
5 Speed / chain
Aluminium frame with Uniplanar™ Powertrain
vibration isolation system
Showa inverted forks
compression damping, rebound damping and spring preload adjustable, 120mm wheel travel
Showa coil-over monoshock, remote underseat
reservoir and adjustable compression damping, rebound damping and spring
preload, 127mm wheel travel
ZTL type brake, 6-piston, fixed caliper, 375
mm single-sided, inside out, stainless steel, floating rotor
Single 240mm disc 1 piston
The original Lightning XB12S takes the Buell Street fighter to the edge. The
Thunderstorm 1203 V-Twin engine delivers a well-rounded portion of torque,
thanks to the Buell InterActive Exhaust, a valve in the dual-chamber muffler
controlled by the ECM that adjusts exhaust flow according to riding
conditions to optimize engine power. A coarse-texture seat and athletic
riding position offer outstanding control. A new, stiffer swingarm and
smooth-shifting transmission up the performance ante for 2006. The Lightning
XB12S is offered in Midnight Black, or with a new Valencia Orange Translucid
airbox cover and flyscreen with Midnight Black front fender and chin
spoiler, both with high-gloss Translucent Amber wheels.
Buell Lightning XB12S features:
Buell Thunderstorm 1203 fuel-injected air/oil/fan-cooled V-Twin engine
103 peak hp, 84 ft. lbs. peak torque
Buell InterActive Exhaust
New easy-shif ting transmission
New Goodyear Hibrex drive belt with Flexten Plus technology
New lighter, stiffer swingarm design
New air intake location
New Valencia Orange Translucid bodywork
43mm fully adjustable Showa upside-down fork
Fully adjustable Showa rear shock absorber
Buell ZTL front brake system
Translucent Amber wheels
Flat track-style handlebars
Buelligan (‘bu:ligun) n A person who rides large
engined, slightly eccentric American motorbikes while grinning wildly and
playing fast and loose with the Road Traffic Act.
It is widely believed that everyone has a dark side. A Mr Hyde, if you like. And
if this is the case, everyone has their equivalent of the potion nice Dr Jekyll
produced to unleash his less urbane second persona. Eric Buell is clearly an
alchemist of no mean skill, because he appears to have found the magic
combination of ingredients that have this effect on everybody.
There are some bikes where you can feel Mr Hyde on the pillion seat, muttering
and swearing and generally egging you on, regardless of your good intentions.
The Buell Lightning XB12-S is not one of those bikes. Oh no. Mr Hyde doesn’t
ride pillion on a Lightning. Nice Dr Jekyll is left standing by the side of the
road, shaking his head sadly, as Mr Hyde wheelies off into the sunset.
This bike would make a Buelligan out of an IAM examiner.
But before we go into the nitty gritty of what it is that makes the Lightning
so, um, special, let’s clear up a few basic facts.
The Lightning isn’t very big. Most people who noticed the XB12 S badge on the
screen misread it and thought it was a noisy 125. I parked next to an RS125 at
one stage. Not exactly renowned for being a giant among motorbikes, the little
learner legal Aprilia dwarfed the 1200cc Buell.
It isn’t what you’d call relaxing at high speeds. The little flyscreen does just
as much as it looks as though it will, and as a result you end up either with a
bit of a weave from the death grip you are exerting on the bars trying to stay
upright or you give yourself an excellent abs workout as you take the strain and
try to sit into the howling gale.
This Buell isn’t a bike for shrinking violets. People will look and point, and
it will draw a crowd when you park up.
And it isn’t even a little bit boring. Or conventional. Or characterless. Or
uncomfortable. Or unusable.
It is, however, great fun, as practical as it can be, stuffed full of character,
great in traffic and it sounds like two flatulent skeletons in a dustbin. At
least at low revs. But no matter – there is a lovely performance exhaust kit to
The 1200 Lightning is, it will come as no surprise to learn, the bigger brother
of the 900 Lightning released last year. As such, it shares the same bleeding
edge technology chassis with fuel in the frame, oil in the swingarm, toothed
kevlar belt drive and a single, massive brake disc bolted to the front wheel
rim. It also has a similar wheezy old pushrod engine with the obligatory box of
spanners masquerading as a gearbox. There’s nothing on Earth that mixes the new
and the prehistoric in quite the same way as a Buell. And yet, in spite of all
that, it works fantastically well. The gearbox, which is frankly horrible,
manages to transmit the enormous torque without a grumble and, in fairness,
works well enough provided shifts are approached in a deliberate and steady way.
Please don’t try to a clutchless shift. You can do it but at the expense of
painful noises and crushed toes. And even when it works it will be so violent
that you won’t gain anything from the experience and you will just sound like an
The not particularly impressive looking front brake will lift the rear wheel on
demand, at any speed you like, while the purposeful looking frame and suspension
make short work of the bends. The engine may well redline at 2rpm, but it
generates huge amounts of torque from nowhere and doesn’t need to be revved out
to give its best. Mind you, it sounds great when given its head and is certainly
capable of hustling the bike up to respectable (or totally unrespectable,
depending on your viewpoint) speeds in very little time.
And that’s one of the little quirks.
This bike has a very short wheelbase. Very short indeed. And it has an awful lot
of grunt. From tickover. Come off the line fast and you’ll be monowheeling, like
it or not. Be too heavy handed about it and you’ll be on your bum. If you want
to do wheelies, get one of these. Because you could perfectly easily ride all
the way across town alternating from front wheel to rear and never putting both
down unless you’ve stopped. You see, that front brake may look a little odd, and
may not even be that impressive at first glance, but it has the sort of stopping
power normally reserved for unlit skips on quiet back roads. And there’s still
that short wheelbase, but this time working in cahoots with a very steep
steering head angle as well…
Of course, there may be times when Mr Hyde is indisposed and you actually get to
ride the bike yourself. Expect this once or twice a week. But it’s only fair to
let you know what to expect.
The first thing you will notice about the Lightning is that it is physically
tiny. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. This is not a big
bike. And it feels small when you’re on board, although the engine tall enough
to prevent any risk of getting cramped. It feels very well screwed together, and
though the clocks may not be the clearest in the world the rest of the controls
fall comfortably and easily to hand. Take a glance in the neat and very well
positioned mirrors, turn the ignition on, wait for the fuel pump to finish and
the check engine light to go out, thumb the starter and feel what 1200cc of off
balance vee twin does to a very light frame. And to the rider. Marvel as the
clear view of the world in those mirrors vanishes into a haze of vibration. And
grin the first of many grins you enjoy as the bike reaches up inside you, goes
straight to the dial marked ‘Feelgood’ and cranks it up a few notches.
The clutch is surprisingly light for something that has to handle so much
potential abuse, although it still has a pleasingly agricultural feel to it.
Engaging first is rewarded, if such a term is appropriate, by a loud clunk and a
slight lurch forward. Nothing too alarming but enough to make you aware that
something is stirring. Accelerate away and, as if by magic, the world behind
stops shaking and blurring and all becomes clear in those mirrors. Nice. The
transmission is very direct, the throttle response is crisp enough although not
exactly razor sharp and the whole thing generally gels together in a very
satisfying way. Changing into second, best done very deliberately, remember,
sees little change. The bike still bunny hops over speed bumps given half a
chance and the front wheel, while far more manageable, is still a little keen to
save tyre wear by relinquishing contact with the ground.
Handling is very nice indeed. Although hardly a featherweight, the Buell is very
easy to drop into corners and tracks steadily and surely under all the
conditions I could throw at it. Open road high speed corners sometimes induced a
very slight weave, but I think that was down to me rather than the bike, and it
certainly never felt as though it were getting out of hand. Turning in requires
a deliberate effort but is by no means hard work, and the bike responds equally
well to shifting your body as to staying in the seat. Ground clearance is not a
problem – I think you will touch your elbow down before anything solid decks out
on the bike.
The brakes remain powerful and progressive right up to silly speeds, the lights
are very good, the horn is as effective as it could possibly be asked to be and
the pillion seat is only of any use if you are on very good terms indeed with
your passenger. And they are quite bendy. And brave. And not very big. Look,
just assume it’s a single seater and you’ll be fine.
Around town the Buell is comfortable and narrow enough to get through most gaps
without problem. The clutch gets heavy after a while, especially with the tall
first gear necessitating quite a lot of slipping at times, and the engine
produces an immense amount of heat. Which was great during the winter but which
I could imagine would get a bit of a pain, possibly literally, in the summer. I
was happily able to ride the Lightning for a couple of hundred miles without any
aches and pains although the lack of wind protection, while putting a sensible,
licence saving cap on maximum sustained speed, does things a little
uncomfortable on the motorway.
So don’t take the motorway – this bike doesn’t belong there anyway.
To sum up, then. The Buell XB12S Lightning is a character. A flawed character,
perhaps, but no less loveable for that. A bit like the kid at school – there’s
always one – who’s totally out of control, usually quite clever, takes huge
liberties with everyone but somehow avoids getting detentions or kickings
because he makes everyone laugh. It’s a great bike. I don’t know for sure that I
could live with one if it were the only bike I had, but if I were picking
something for riding around, say, within the M25 then it would be very near the
top of my list.