BUELL XB12S LIGHTNING (2003-2009) Review

Published: 22 November 2006

"An antique, character-rich engine in a stubby street-fighter motorcycle"

Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Riding

"An antique, character-rich engine in a stubby street-fighter motorcycle"

  • At a glance
  • 1203cc  -  100 bhp
  • 46 mpg  -  145 miles range
  • Medium seat height (765mm)

Overall Rating 4 out of 5

The Buell XB12S Lightning is weird but it works. An antique, character-rich engine in a stubby street-fighter motorcycle chassis dripping technical innovation. Buell motorcycles is a subsidiary of Harley-Davidson set up by employee/ motorcycle racer/visionary Eric Buell. The Buell XB12S Lightning  is a very individual motorcycle and hugely enjoyable to ride. Easy to love if hard to justify.

Ride Quality & Brakes 5 out of 5

Superb handling. Buell were talking about (and using) mass centralisation years before the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers cottoned on. The Buell XB12S Lightning's rim mounted disc brake works well plus lets the wheel be lighter for lower unsprung mass. Fuel in frame and oil in the swing arm aren’t rocket science but help keep the motorcycle's weight where it’s best carried and the Buell XB12S Lightning corners with aplomb.

Engine 4 out of 5

1202cc Harley-Davidson air cooled V-twin in the Buell XB12S Lightning has been tuned and lays down fat wads of torque from tick over upwards. The Buell XB12S Lightning's power is plentiful if not excessive. The gearbox is not good though. It needs a firm prod and makes plenty of noise as you swap cogs – but it kind of adds to the experience of taming this motorcycle. Injection somewhat jerky with this particular motorcycle.

Build Quality & Reliability 2 out of 5

Buell promise the glitches and niggles of earlier years are sorted with the Buell XB12S Lightning  but owners of the motorcycle report otherwise. Electrical problems and poor finish are more minor than the snapping bolts and drive belts that earlier Buell motorcycles suffered. A local dealer who understands the Buell XB12S Lightning will make ownership easier.

Value & Running Costs 3 out of 5

Rival motorcycles are available for similar money to the Buell XB12S Lightning. The exciting and dependable Triumph Speed Triple 1050 and the punchy Aprilia Tuono 1000 are both as desirable and capable but with their own character and cachet. You have to really want any of those motorcycles to buy one but if you do, little else will fit the bill. Used Buell XB12S Lightnings can be a mixed bag – be wary of far-out modifications. Find a Buell XB12S Lightning for sale.

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

Equipment 2 out of 5

Little is expected on streetfighter motorcycles and the Buell XB12S Lightning is particularly minimalist. The motorcycle's seat is barely adequate for one, let alone two and the lack of wind protection makes longer journeys tiring on a Buell XB12S Lightning.  Fuel range poor. Twin trip meters is about as much luxury as you get with this motorcycle. Factory extras include a gel seat, rigid panniers, frame protectors, loads of carbon and dress up parts and more. Compare and buy parts for the Lightning in the MCN Shop.

 

Owners' Reviews

16 owners have reviewed their BUELL XB12S LIGHTNING (2003-2009) 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 4.5 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 4.9 out of 5
Engine 4.6 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 4.5 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 4.4 out of 5
Equipment 4.3 out of 5
5 out of 5

Can only Agree

27 May 2009 by EHoen

I can only agree to the last comments what a great 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
5 out of 5

Nice

27 May 2009 by USchwarz

I owned a lot of bikes from Jap, German, american, Italian, british, austrian and even a Russian. But the Buell is the one which always puts a smile on my face. When I get up on my day off after a 14 hour day, tired and exhausted I look out of the... Read more kitchen window and see her sleeping and I just know I gotta get out asap. Reliability? Well I owned an Italian primadonna which would not start straight away when it was raining or under 10C! Bearing in mind that the BUELL is a pretty exclusive bike it never let me down in 54K miles on the original belt!! Highly recommendable even as first 'big' bike.

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

Excellent

26 May 2009 by V2Alf

Love that 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
5 out of 5

All You ever need

26 May 2009 by BuelTom

Best bike I ever ridden. Go on the twisty country roads or up on the serpentines in the alps and all those r1, blades or zx will eat ****. You don't need to be a Rossi to scrape your knee with the XB. 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
2 out of 5

problems

22 May 2009 by martyn242

i owned an XB12sx for 18 months and put 11000 mile on her, in that 18 months the bike cost me £1600 in parts, repairs and hassle. I loved the way it handled and looked but every single other bit was appauling. anyone wanting an everydy bike should... Read more not even consider a buell - they dont work!!

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

I love it

30 April 2009 by Schwarzi

Brilliant bike just love it. No big problems on it had a misfire due to bad spark plugs and a tps reset which is nothing. I had a Super Duke before and I love to Buell more than any other bike I had. Never had a bike before giving me so much... Read more confidence to throw it into corners and get my knee down than the XB. I know on the UKBEG forum there is a stark tendency to slag the XB of and praise the 'easy fix' Tuber but I think that is all due to people who spend all those hours on their bikes that they just dishonest to themselves how the Tubers really are. I rode any X1 and S1 and the handling is just awful. Also the standard looks of the Tubers are ugly compared to the XB where only the Cheesegrater in the way of the beauty but easily removable. I am using my bike every day in every weather the XB whether it is a S, R, TT or Uly are great bikes and reliable.

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

Ride one

30 April 2009 by svens

I could write a book on here explaining why it is so good but you have to experience it yourself so get down to your local dealership and test ride one and you will see what I mean. 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
5 out of 5

You have to own one

30 April 2009 by ThomasD

As Clarkson always says you have to own at least one Alfa in your life. I have to say you have to own at least one Buell in your life and this is the model or the XB12R. Forget the old unreliable tube frame models these bikes apart from very early 03... Read more bikes are absolute fun. The first time you sit on them and start em up it might feel weird but the first time you out on a country road you cannot stop loving them. XB riders are known for a constant grin on their face. The handling is idiot proof and superb. The engine, yes it want do over 120 (I don't know where they get the 150 from) but you don't want to do that on it anyway but saying that it will do motorway miles without problems. The old tubers are known for exploding engines on motorways. The XB has tons of torque and will kill any superbike in cornering. Than there is the exclusivity turn up at your local biker caff and you will see how many other Buell's there are most times you will be the only one and you will piss these mid life crisis weekend granpa-rossis on their sunshine bikes off in stealing them the show. only problem is when you wonna hit off you have to fight through the crowd which has build up around your XB.

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

Always loved Buell

28 April 2009 by TomRider

Well yes I always did. I had a S1 and an X1 both where absolutely horrible blowing engines at early stage. After riding some Nippon the XB came out and wow it looked the business. Love at first sight. But grown older and matured I thought do you want... Read more to go through all that again, having the bike fixed when the mates riding on the weekend. Well I test rode one and I just had to have one. Now after 5 years and 56700mls I still love it like on the first day. Thanks to Harley the rubbish reliability of the old tube frame models got sorted and Erik still has his crazy input on the design both pared made a superb handling bike. No other bike handles like the XB and the grunt of the 1203cc is just awesome. If you want to stand out from the crowd, without spending lots of money on a Italo exotica than you have to have the XB!!!!!

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 2 out of 5
5 out of 5

Give it a chance

13 February 2009 by Cornerthief

If I could only enter one sentence here, it would be: Just take it for a test drive. I admit, the first time you get on it, having a tweaked harley engine thumping away is a bit odd. But once you open it up, ohhh boy. It has power nearly everywhere... Read more along the rev range and the cornering is excellent. The bike just has tons of character and makes you smile constantly. As for the comments in the review concerning the engine and the gearbox: not an issue, at least not in the 2008 model that I have. The gearbox is great and there's no jerkeyness what so ever. There's nothing wrong with the build quality these days, the review above definately needs updating. The only thing that might be a problem is the exhaust. Its been known to rust, so far though, i haven't had a problem with it. Fuell range: poor? Thats just plain wrong. If you ride it as a commuter you'll get 200 miles out of it. And as for the equipment, why it gets two stars astounds me as the speed triple get 5 stars (which is also a streetfighter), which is just as minimalist. There's tons of parts available if you want to customize it.

Overall Rating 5 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 5 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5
Read all 16 owners' reviews in full

Facts & Figures

Model info
Year introduced 2003
Year discontinued 2009
Original price £7,745
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 150 mph
1/4-mile acceleration 11.2 secs
Average fuel consumption 46 mpg
Tank range 145 miles
Specification
Engine size 1203cc
Engine type 8v V-twin, 5 gears
Frame type Aluminium dual spar
Fuel capacity 14.5 litres
Seat height 765mm
Bike weight 179kg
Front suspension Preload, rebound, compression
Rear suspension Preload, rebound, compression
Front brake Single 375mm disc
Rear brake 240mm disc
Front tyre size 120/70 x 17
Rear tyre size 180/55 x 17

History & Versions

Model history

2002: Buell XB9S Lightning introduced.
2003: Buell XB12S Lightning introduced.
2004: Buell XB9S replaced by Buell XB9S City-X.
2005: Buell XB12Ss Lightning Long introduced.
2005: Buell XB12X Ulysses introduced.

Other versions

Buell XB9S Lightning: the original Lightning (in 2002) came with a smaller 984cc engine
Beull XB9S City-X: smaller 984cc engine motocross style bars, transparent bodywork.
Buell XB12S Lightning Long: longer wheelbase, more spacious riding position and slower steering geometry for a less manic ride. Other minor mods.
Buell XB12X Ulysses: 'adventure sport' style with enduro bars and bodywork and long travel suspension.

Photo Gallery

  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Exhaust
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Rear view
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Front view
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Exhaust
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Side view
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Rear view
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Front view
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Riding
  • Buell XB12S Lightning motorcycle review - Riding