Friday, March 30, 2012
Extreme Cornering and the Buell XB12R Firebolt
Back in 2005, the unthinkable happened. The Buell XB12R Firebolt – a little-known motorcycle from a small-volumes manufacturer – was declared the best bike in the world, for cornering. In the UK-based Bike magazine’s story on the Top 50 Cornering Bikes, the XB12R came out right on top, beating, among others, contenders like the Ducati 999R, Suzuki GSX-R1000, Triumph Speed Triple 1050, Aprilia RSV1000R, Honda RC30, KTM 990 Super Duke and Yamaha YZF750R. Which was pretty much everything, then.
So what exactly was the XB12R, again? Well, it was a sportsbike built Buell-style, powered by an air-cooled, fuel-injected 1203cc ‘Thunderstorm’ V-twin that produced 103bhp and 112Nm of torque. With a dry weight of 178 kilos, wheelbase of 52 inches and steering geometry which, according to Bike, was akin to that of a 250cc GP racer, the XB12R Firebolt was definitely not a conventional sportsbike. But with its fully adjustable Showa 43mm inverted forks and monoshock, sticky Pirelli Diablo Corsa III tyres and single-disc, four-pad, eight-piston ZTL2 front braking system, the machine was apparently built to go around corners better than anything else. So let’s then take a quick look at what Bike mag had to say about the XB12R back then:
Erik Buell’s creation may be oddball, yes, but it’s also supremely satisfying, gifted and rewarding through corners. What we have is basically a lumpy, air-cooled, 1203cc Harley-Davidson engine housed in a tiny chassis with the geometry of a 250GP racer. It sounds like madness, but the method uses several innovative techniques to minimize weight and put what there is exactly where it needs to be for handling.
Fuel is carried in the frame and the exhaust is under the engine to centralize the mass around the centre of gravity, oil for the dry sump engine is housed in the swingarm to dodge the need for an oil tank and allow a short wheelbase, while the front brake disc is mounted to the rim to allow thinner spokes and lighter wheels. Pegs are high and narrow and there are no unnecessary features, no clutter, just the essentials for cornering perfection.
We love the Firebolt. It looks tall, short and thin, like a bike built to murder apexes, and it doesn’t disappoint. “It leans, leans and leans before the pegs eventually skim the surface, going at least as far over as an Aprilia RS125 or Ducati 999R and covering ground at an alarming pace. But it does it with much more stability and poise than the skittish Aprilia and takes far less effort than the longer, heavier, slower-steering 999R,” says road tester Mike Armitage.
But it isn’t just in the hooligan category that the American steed shines. Compared with a Kawasaki ZX-6R or the like, the bars are relatively high and quite close, allowing easy pushing and pulling for darting past obstructions and counter-steering your way about the countryside. The thudding, slow-revving V-twin may not be everyone’s ideal motor, but though the vibrating, shuddering lump lacks a howling top-end rush, it does supply the expected, easily accessed torque that smears the rear tyre against the road and kicks the bike out of corners. It’ll pull strongly from 3,000rpm, so it doesn’t matter if you miss a downshift. Get your gear wrong on a 600 or a small two-stroke and your perfect corner is screwed, but not on this. That isn’t to say the bike isn’t involving. Yes, it does all the above, but it needs a rider to tell it what to do – there isn’t the feeling of being a mere spectator to the cornering process as there is with, say, a Honda CBR1000RR.
The XB12R feels alive and full of character, the rev range is quite short so it needs a bit of monitoring and there’s a barrage of feedback from the front forks. Do what it asks and it’ll change direction so briskly you feel as if your head is going to spin round. So it leans for England (well, America) without fear of anything digging in or running off-line, responds rapidly to every input and carries huge speed, well within its safe limits with a predictable, effective yet gentle power delivery. It remains as stable and composed in fast turns as it is nimble and accurate in tight switchbacks, keeps you fully engaged while riding and does it all better than expected. And better than GSX-R riders expect when you pass them on their favourite winding road. That does it for us.
Oh, well, it seems Erik Buell had got it right after all, with the XB12R Firebolt. Now let’s just wait until Bike magazine do an updated version of their Top 50 Cornering Bikes and let’s see where the EBR1190RS lands up on the list. We suspect it won’t be too far off the top…
Source: Bike magazine
Those who may want to read the original story published in Bike magazine, download the PDF file here
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