Buell Firebolt XB9R

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Buell Firebolt XB9R

Buell Firebolt XB9R (October 2002)

If you could boost a Buell XB9R’s horsepower by nearly 25 percent for a mere $1300 investment, why wouldn’t you

As I wheelied past the unsuspecting Porsche driver, front wheel clawing towards the heavens, a sudden gust of wind caught the XB9R. I did the best I could to bring the featherweight bike back on line, but it was too late. Way too late.


As the front wheel crashed back to planet Earth I realised I’d miscalculated by the narrowest of margins, the Buell’s clutch lever just clipping the driver-side mirror pod on the $200K German sportster.

Oh dear, one damaged clutch lever and one very red face.

But hey, when the bike you’re riding has copped a race-kitted makeover that yields an extra 15 ponies at the rear wheel, as well as throttle response that makes a jab from Kostya Tszyu look slow, then does it really matter.

There was no way I was hanging around, the positively minuscule XB9R carving into the distance as the rorty pipe played out its tune around the twists and turns of Brisbane’s Mount Glorious biker heaven.

THE DREADED FILE.

That’s the story I settled on, and it’s in fact the one I e-mailed through to ZZ-R1100-riding Jim, who’d I’d met not long before atop Brisbane’s (in)famous biking road at the Mount Glorious cafe.

I was hoping he’d find it believable enough for me to then pull the wool over my colleagues’ eyes at Horror HQ. After all, I’d stoop to anything to avoid adding my name to the dreaded AMCN Crash File.

Needless to say Jim found my yarn hard to believe, although he gave me points for trying.

You’re phaarkin’ unbelievable, he commented. I don’t care how I do it, but I’ll get the true story through to the guys at Horror HQ one way or another.

Three intercepted e-mails later Jim gave up, and I’ve heard not a boo from him since.

As for the reason he found my story hard to believe? Well, that’s because he, along with around a dozen other motorcyclists, had borne witness to my goodself ‘re-erecting’ the race-kitted Firebolt from the horizontal position it had found itself in. No gust of wind, no Porsche, no diesel spill, just a dodgy sidestand and a corresponding very red face on yours truly.

LESS IS MORE?

When I attended the Aussie launch of the Firebolt back in April, I commented that it’s not often a whizbang new sportsbike is released with a claimed horsepower figure lower than the model it’s superseding.

I went on to add that when the claimed torque is over 25 percent more on the old model (X1 Lightning) than the new kid on the block, you’ve gotta start asking questions!

Well those questions continued to be asked when the $17,995 Firebolt finally made it on to Aussie roads a couple months back — our ADR requirements had robbed even more of the Firebolt’s get-up-and-go. Around 7ps in fact from the testbikes I’d sampled at the launch.

But I’ve found the answer, albeit a $1364 one. It consists of a Firebolt racekit — which includes a replacement ECU, twin-exit sports pipe and high-flow filter.

For those extra bucks you get those aforementioned 7ps back, plus an extra 8ps (15 ponies all told), as well as throttle response more akin to an injected Jap four. The engine is unbelievably crisp for a 984cc pushrod 45-degree V-twin.

Further good news is that you still get the 21-degree rake and 83mm of trail, a claimed 175kg, and a tiny 1320mm wheelbase that is some 55cm shorter than my goodself.

SECOND SAMPLING

My recent second chance for Firebolt sampling came a few weeks back, again in Queensland — in Brisbane’s hinterland and on the Gold Coast.

My intitial fang at Norwell at the Aussie launch had put to rest any concerns over the XB9R’s straightline stability, but I was keen to see how the innovative chassis would perform with the extra ponies.

I needn’t have worried. If someone had told me that a bike with 21-degree rake and 83mm trail wouldn’t suffer a single slapper over typical Aussie roads, even in power-up mode, I would never have believed them. But I’ve been converted.

I’m still not fully sold on Buell’s theories as to why it’s supposed to be better to run one large ‘rim’ disc, but it’s certainly no worse than a traditional set-up and gave plenty of feedback during my mountain gallop.

I still can’t see how you can reduce unsprung weight and reduce gyroscopic effect by putting a bigger rotor on the outside of the front wheel. However, it does looks good, and grabbed plenty of attention at the cafe — well, when the bike was vertical, that is.

Buell Firebolt XB9R

EFFECTIVE SCRATCHER

The race-kitted Firebolt is a deceptively effective backroads scrathcher — good suspension (when set for my, errr, 94kg), nimble chassis, great cornering clearance, grippy Dunlop D207 rubber, effective brakes, and light weight. With the extra ponies it’ll surprise many higher-pedigreed sportsbikes.

Despite its sporting abilities, the Firebolt isn’t an intimidating motorcycle to ride — either fast or slow. The chassis holds no nasty surprises at ‘go to jail’ speeds, despite the quick 250GP-like stats, yet the engine is one that allows congested city usage without copious clutch-fanning or cog swapping.

And I should know, having spent an afternoon cutting laps around Surfers’ main drag. Sure beats the hell out of riding through the streets of Oakleigh (Gassit HQ)!

Even in racekit form the XB9R has a far smoother powerplant than the old 1200 Sporty-sourced donk. Although I found the Firebolt more rewarding on the open road when playing with the gearbox and keeping the engine percolating, say between 4000-7000rpm, I did find the box on this particular bike to be a little stiffer than what I remember from the launch. The odometer had around 3700km on it, so it should have loosened up by now.

I had to keep reminding myself I was riding a 1000cc V-twin, not because of engine performance, but because the Firebolt felt like a 250 in size. No need for 250-type revs though — with a litre donk between my legs, short-shifting wasn’t a drama.

I could keep things below 4000rpm for a more relaxed ride if I wished, although 4000rpm was where the engine felt most comfortable. On the open road that equates to 120kmh, which can get expensive.

PLENTY OF ROOM

One thing my most road ride did bring back is the amount of room offered on such a small bike for someone with a 187cm frame, and the rational riding position for such a small and sporty motorcycle. I certainly wasn’t cramped.

Sure, the seat is hard, but there are ample ‘nice’ user-friendly touches — good mirrors and strong headlights among them. Ultimately though, there were two far more important things that stood out after my second time around with a Firebolt.

Firstly, if you’re stumping up the $17,995 for a XB9R, then make sure you’ve also got the $1363.90 for the optional racekit. The pipe isn’t overly loud — I’m sure the under-engine exit for the decibels helps there. But the improvement to the engine’s power and responsiveness is worth any drawback in neighbour aggro at 6.00am.

The other lasting memory is how I could ‘crash’ in front of a dozen Queenslanders on a bike with an apparent ‘vulnerable’ frame, yet emerge with a zero damage bill. And just to round out the exercise, it seems Buell is retro-fitting a different sidestand to minimise what happened to yours truly.

So Jimbo, send as many e-mails as you like. The Porsche story is old hat — I’m now an RD tester for the factory.

Story and Photos: Ken Wootton

Published. Friday, 4 October 2002

Buell Firebolt XB9R
Buell Firebolt XB9R
Buell Firebolt XB9R

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