BUELL XB12R FIREBOLT (2003-2007) Review

Published: 22 November 2006

"A real Frankenstein's monster of a motorcycle; but it works"

Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Riding

"A real Frankenstein's monster of a motorcycle; but it works"

  • At a glance
  • 1203cc  -  100 bhp
  • 42 mpg  -  125 miles range
  • Medium seat height (775mm)

Overall Rating 4 out of 5

The Buell XB12R Firebolt is a real Frankenstein’s monster of a motorcycle – but it works. Ancient Harley-Davidson engine mated to a stubby, innovative, high-tech aluminium frame with lots of well thought out touches makes a superb, nimble sports bike. The Buell XB12R may not be the fastest thing in a straight line but awesome in corners and stacks of fun.

 

Ride Quality & Brakes 3 out of 5

As a sports bike or even a track day tool, the Buell XB12R Firebolt’s handling works. Steering’s so rapid you look and the motorcycle turns. But it manages this without being unstable too – testament that Buell’s innovations work. On the road it can be a handful. Instant power, fast steering and firm suspension make it a committed rather than relaxed ride.

Engine 4 out of 5

Yes the Buell XB12R Firebolt engine's crude and lumpy. But that’s part of its charm. Nothing could be further than the in-line fours the Japanese power their sports motorcycles with. This 1203cc air cooled, narrow angle V-twin is an old-school charmer with plenty of brawny torque. The refinement’s not there or the manic top end power but it’s immensely satisfying to use and it digs in and drives out of corners superbly.

Build Quality & Reliability 2 out of 5

Always a Buell bugbear, although they claim issues have been sorted out. Older bikes had major problems, newer ones only seem to have minor niggles. The finish on some parts chucks in the towel at the first sign of winter and electrical glitches are not unheard of. No match for Honda.

Value & Running Costs 3 out of 5

The Buell XB12R Firebolt's price is competitive compared to other litre sports bikes – but not good next to the 600s which have similar / better performance. It’s on par with other character machines like the Tuono and Speed Triple. Running costs are moderate including depreciation as long as you don’t rack up too many miles. Find a Buell XB12R  for sale.

Insurance group: 16 of 17 – compare motorcycle insurance quotes now.

Equipment 2 out of 5

The latest sports motorcycles are pretty well equipped – the Buell XB12R Firebolt is somewhat behind. There’s a couple of bungee hooks on the rear seat until, basic clocks and not much else. Being part of Harley-Davidson there’s a big range of extras from carbon parts to performance exhausts and air filters. Compare and buy parts for the Firebolt in the MCN Shop.

 

Owners' Reviews

13 owners have reviewed their BUELL XB12R FIREBOLT (2003-2007) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.

We’re currently improving the way this section works, which means we’ve had to suspend the submission of new owners’ reviews for a short period. Please check back soon.

Summary of Owners' Reviews
Overall Rating 4.2 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 4.6 out of 5
Engine 4.2 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 4.2 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 4.4 out of 5
Equipment 3.8 out of 5
4 out of 5

A real V-twin experience

08 October 2009 by 2sCompany3sariot

I had several Firebolt test rides and attended a Buell Experience at Mallory Park before I finally got a secondhand 04 XB12 in December 07. I run a Sprint 1050 ST as well so the 'bolt isn't my main bike but I've still managed about 5000 miles so... Read more far (total about 16K). I've always liked Vtwins and have previously owned several Guzzis, Dukes, a Honda Firestorm, Aprilias and 2 Harley FXR's, so I've experienced a selection of V-engines before I came to the Buell. I think the Buell delivers the kind of engine performance that I always looked for in the others. That is, a low revving torquey engine with a great sound (on a race can anyway) and with enough performance to excite, and cheap to run too. I've seen 135 on the clocks and it feels surprisingly good at that speed considering the relatively low-tech design of the engine. The Buell really does surprise you with how it feels on the road. It's pretty quick off the mark and I've caught out quite a few race rep fours at the lights who've found that they've had to dial in a few more revs than they thought to overhaul me. And when they do fly past and hit the corners, the Buell is not far behind most ordinary riders and can make up ground fast. The gearbox can be agricultural but is definitely not as bad some Guzzis. I get very few false neutrals and the box is very positive for 95% of the time as long as you have the clutch cable and primary chain coorectly adjusted. Like anything you learn how to use if effectively. You'll notice it more in town as you go up and down the box and it will seem heavier in these situations but it's no worse than many in that respect. You can buy kits to reduce the lever pressure but it's never bothered me that much! I have not had one single issue with reliability. I put fuel in and it goes. It uses no oil and returns on average 130 miles to reserve. I've kept a fuel log and average 54.08(uk)mpg,(lowest 44.28mpg, best 61.39). I've only done under 50mpg twice in the whole time!!! Because it's so low revving it's very deceptive at speed and very easy to find yourself doing an indicated 80mph or more when you think you're doing 60. I have got a non-standard Zero Gravity double bubble screen,though, which takes the wind blast down helping the sensation of effortless speed. The bike also came with an HP (Hot Performance) can which possibly allows it to breathe a little better.The engine may be an old design but whatever Buell do to the engine gives it just about perfect power and torque for real world riding. You can rev it through the gears if you want but it's equally as good changing up and letting the torque work for you. You can often leave it in top top and roll on and off the throttle making use of the huge midrange shove to overtake. Lazy and effortless. The single rim mounted disc is also very efficient and far better or equal to many twin disc set ups that I've used. The standard (showa?) rear shock doesn't always deliver the most compliant ride. It's worth spending time to dial in both front and rear as there is a comprehensive guide provided in the handbook for basic settings based on rider weight. I've had a play but never seem to get the bike absolutely right for me. The handling around corners is great but sometimes the rear seems too harsh over bumps.I'm no expert so it could just be me! I can say that I have never felt out of control on the bike so maybe I'm just being fussy - then again British roads are getting much crappier these days so maybe it's that as well!!!! The seat is very minimal for both rider and pillion. Having said that, I can't ever remember actually feeling any pain or need to stop for a rest because of it (Which I have had on the Sprint when touring). The riding position is pretty good and I've done several 120+ mile journeys without any aches or real discomfort. One absolutely diabolical part of the bike is the headlights. They really are the crappest lights I have ever sat behind! I won't even think of riding in the dark on an unfamiliar unlit road because it would be dangerous. When I say lights, Well, One side comes on for dip and one for main but they are both poor. It's an arse of a law or regulation that stops bikes having twin headlights.I haven't even tried to improve it - I just take the Sprint if I have to ride at night. If the Buell was your only bike, you would need to look at this area if you regularly ride at night. I've used BT020 tyres front and rear (same as I have on the Sprint. Just my preference but they seem to work well wet or dry and give good mileage. Both are still good after 5000 miles and should see 7000 or more. I would have expected the torque to punish the rear, but it certainly does not seem to be the case. The mirrors are so so. Sometimes they're ok but other times at speed, you can't really see what's in them due to the vibration! The belt drive (a first for me ) is great. No chain to oil, no need to adjust, no fuss, no bother. Another maintenance plus. The bike is nimble and easy to filter with and pass traffic on the move. The torque just zips you past slower traffic and I often find myself going for overtakes that I wouldn't go for on the Sprint because the Buell is small, light and nippy. The Sprint requires a bit more thought and planning because of it's extra size,weight and power!! I really really like the Buell, it's grown and grown on me over time. It provides you with a unique experience in biking and really delivers more in so many ways than the stats on paper would suggest. It never fails to put a smile on my face and that's really important for me. I can only suggest that you try one but don't blame me if it gets under your skin and you end up wanting one. Just don't expect anything like a Jap race rep as it's as far away from that as anything could be. But that is exactly why I love it.

Overall Rating 4 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 5 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 5 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5
5 out of 5

Love HD

30 April 2009 by ThomasD

You got to give it to Harley Davidson and love them. When they took over they finally brought some sense into Buells. Erik had great visions but not the ability to build quality bikes. The Tube frame models are cheap produced and that is why they are... Read more failing. HD could see the good side of Erik he is a visionary thinker but he did not know how to make good and lasting bikes. He has the concept and HD makes it real and good. There you go you have the XB series reliable and with a fair quality for a good price.

Overall Rating 5 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 5 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 5 out of 5
Equipment 5 out of 5
5 out of 5

Brilliant like the other XB's

30 April 2009 by svens

The R is a little more sharper than the S because of its sportsbike riding position and the clip-on handlebars other than that a brilliant and reliable bike. Read more

Overall Rating 5 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 5 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 5 out of 5
Equipment 5 out of 5
4 out of 5

Buell XB12R Firebolt

11 March 2008 by Doug45

I bought an XB12R new in 2004, complete with race kit. A really good handling bike, and not too slow considering the age of the motor, although I don't know where you get 155 mph from, as mine was bouncing off the rev-limiter in top at 145 mph.... Read more Totally reliable, and not too bad for touring with a Ventura pack fitted. Recommended.

Overall Rating 4 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 3 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 4 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 4 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5
4 out of 5

yes iv the 1200 now

01 January 2008 by red123

I said i was considering the 1200 had one now 4 a year love it . But it needs input so if your used jap bikes . You ll prob hate it Read more

Overall Rating 4 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 4 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 4 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5
4 out of 5

bloody good bike

07 September 2007 by jigga04

I've had my 07 firebolt for 3 months and i want to marry if i could. She is black and red all stock standard (for now) . Could do with a bit more power but it still a great bike . I want to buy a race kit but all the one i have seen are so damn... Read more expensive can anyone help me with a good kit at a low cost

Overall Rating 4 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 3 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 4 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 3 out of 5
Equipment 2 out of 5
4 out of 5

Love the Firebolt

13 May 2007 by Anonymous

I fancied a big twin again,had my fill of jap fours,all seem the bloody same.I rang up my local dealer Just Harly's of Newcastle,I asked the sales guy if I could have a test ride on a Firebolt,he said yes no problem I arrived the next morning and... Read more took one out for three hours. I fell in love with the bloody thing strait away, masses of grunt from tickover,very sharp handeling flicks from side to side with no efort at all. The vibes at tickover smooth out once you are running,and it is very roomy on the bike for it's compact size.I got back to the dealers three hours later and orderd a new Bolt strate away. I would recomend a Firebolt to any fellow biker,just book a test ride you will love the thing.

Overall Rating 4 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 4 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 4 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5
4 out of 5

Hooked

24 March 2007 by golfnutXB

I have always liked the look and sound of this bike since its launch, but was always put off by the reviews, until I test rode one!! That was it, had to have one. Now its not a Japanese straight line rocket, but as individual as the rider him or... Read more herself, with all its quirky misgivings, but still an amazing riding experience.Weaknesses: Me - I want two!!

Overall Rating 4 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 3 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 4 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5
1 out of 5

I bought the bike ex-demo from stockport Harley - it was recommended as being a good reliable bike.

16 October 2006 by harryford

I have had trouble with the bike, the side stand bolt snapped, the engine rattled when warm, the belt pully bearing seized, the exhaust corroded badly, the front wheel bearing collapsed, finally the key fell apart in the ignition. All this between... Read more December 23rd  2005 untill october 15th 2006! Strengths: The bike handles well when not broken, looks good. Weaknesses: Everything!

Overall Rating 1 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 2 out of 5
Engine 2 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 1 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 3 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5
5 out of 5

Most fun I've ever had on a bike. Better than the missus!?!

01 September 2006 by red123

Its a real fun bike the handling is excellant so is the braking. The fuel consumption is very good so is the service back up .Dunlop 207s are the best I've found. I've ridden it all day and comfort is fine, even for a 50 year old! I am... Read more considering the 1200, but it has the same lights, which are useless! I can't believe Buell let the bike down with such crap head light. Strengths: Handling , comfort, braking, fuel mpg, dealer back up. Weaknesses: Head light crap.

Overall Rating 5 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 5 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 5 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5
Read all 13 owners' reviews in full

Facts & Figures

Model info
Year introduced 2003
Year discontinued 2007
Original price -
Warranty term (when new) Two year unlimited mileage
Running costs
Insurance group 16 of 17
Annual road tax £80
Annual service cost -
Performance
Max power 100 bhp
Max torque 81 ft-lb
Top speed 155 mph
1/4-mile acceleration 11.43 secs
Average fuel consumption 42 mpg
Tank range 125 miles
Specification
Engine size 1203cc
Engine type 4v V-twin, 5 gears
Frame type Aluminium twin spar
Fuel capacity 14 litres
Seat height 775mm
Bike weight 175kg
Front suspension Preload, rebound, compression
Rear suspension Preload, rebound, compression
Front brake 375mm disc
Rear brake 240mm disc
Front tyre size 120/70 x 17
Rear tyre size 180/55 x 17

History & Versions

Model history

2003: Buel XB12R Firebolt launched.

Other versions

Buell XB9R Firebolt: Near identical but with a 984cc engine. Ran from 2002-04.

Photo Gallery

  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Top view
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Top view
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review
  • Buell XB12R Firebolt motorcycle review - Riding