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Buell posted by

Not Like The Other Girls – 2003 Buell XB9R Firebolt

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2003 Buell XB-9R Firebolt

I’ll admit, it’s not allll that rare. The remnants of what could’ve been one of the most unique sport bike brands in history are littered all over the place. Parts are available too. A couple die-hards private companies make replacements/upgrades and St. Paul Harley Davidson still pretty much sells everything you need to keep these on the road…which is actually not that much. Anyways, what’s actually pretty hard to come by is a Harley-powered Buell in good condition. It’s a different group of unsophisticated goons who butchered these than the group of unsophisticated goons who butchered many of our favorite 90s bikes but, nonetheless, too many of these can grouped into the write-off pile today.

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The Lightning variant has always been a little bit more palatable than the Firebolt to consumers but I feel the Firebolt look is starting to grow. The Lightning fit the naked bike description more squarely while the Firebolt was a big departure from the normal design language of the time. One must realize at the end of the day, Buells weren’t bred for the track and they were air-cooled. That lets/forces you to strip the fairings and posture up a bit in the seat.

This seems to be in excellent cosmetic condition and is finished in one of the two most desirable colors: red or blue. It seems like there is not even any dirt in the cooling fins which is a great sign.

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If you could question anything about the Buell it was the design. The overall performance wasn’t groundbreaking but it was more than enough to clearly distinguish it as a successful sports machine. A souped up Harley Evo delivered it’s signature torque down low but new heads, throttle bodies, a tank-sized intake, and a valved exhaust all contributed to the 92 hp at the crank. Fully adjustable Showa suspension carried the weight while the single rotor/caliper and wheel design lowered the leftovers of the Showas.

Although the engineering was new and many parts had more than one function, the design was still fairly simple. Most DIY mechanics should be able to complete common maintenance and fix the common issues. You’ll just have to get used to draining oil from the swingarm and only getting 1 set of brake pads.

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Some of the most unique and innovative designs have historically come from small builders who are allowed to build and test what they want. The radical designs always receive a healthy dose of skepticism, as they should, but not all of them are bad and that’s certainly not always the reason that they go under. Sometimes you just have bad timing. The Financial Crisis took millions of victims and Buell was merely swept up in the wake.

We’re all enthusiasts here. I think the reason most of you all read this site is because you think the modern stuff is cool and comfortable but that’s not what tickles your fancy. Speed-induced adrenaline is something you like but you know there’s more to it. I think these are fantastic bikes to ride and own because they offer one of the most unique experiences in motorcycling. Listening to the brutish v-twin and it’s deep roar as the revs… eh I’m not going to do these any justice with my cliche adjectives. The real thing is always better than the magazines. Go ride one. You don’t have to like it.

With 4K miles you’ll be hard pressed to find one with lower miles or in better condition. However, you should be able to get some movement on the price. I think the market isn’t there yet so deals can be had. It’s low-risk addition the collection that anyone will respect. If it’s good enough for Barber it should be good for us!

My questions to the audience:

  1. What were your first impressions after riding an air-cooled Buell?
  2. How do you think Buells are aging?
  3. Where you think values will go in the medium-long term?

Thanks for reading!



  • Interesting. Oddly I have never seen this color on one of thee before. I think it looks great. Not interested in oning one but i like this. Lot more thn ny similir vintge models. Not bd in my book.

    • I think they actually made a few in white as well. Those are the most rare I believe.

  • Had a 12R Lightning and it was an absolute joy to own for the nearly 30,000 miles I put on mine. The only issue was a clutch cable that broke and it loved to eat batteries every two years. I would love to own another clean example like this one. It really is a joy to ride on tight winding roads. From 0 -100 its a great street bike that makes street speeds feel like all hell is breaking loose. On the local race tracks here in the northeast that have more turns than straights it really excelled in corner speed. Yes the brakes overheated so corner speed was a better idea than late braking! Still the bike has so much character. What a fun machine!

    • They settle into a corner very nicely.

  • I bought a 2003 Firebolt XB9R last year to ride on a trip in the Rockies. I put about 1,500 miles on it in nine days riding in the mountains and back home across the Prairies.

    1. It seemed very much like my ’95 Ducati 900SS/SP in power delivery but was MUCH more nimble and easy to turn. It didn’t rev high and you didn’t need to rev it; the engine is very torquey down low. It can keep up with most anything ridden by sane individuals on public roads, and it was the perfect tool for the mountains. It was really hot on the trip though and you had to be careful not to let it idle too long as it’s air-cooled.

    2. I may be biased as an owner, but I think the bike is aging well. If you get one though, beware of cosmetic mods that may have been inflicted on it. Mine had ugly aftermarket LED turn signals and it was tough to find stock replacements at a reasonable price. DO NOT BELIEVE ANYONE who says that their aftermarket signals that look like stock ones will work – THEY ARE LYING. Other than that the styling is unique and for better or worse, it is an entree into the “Harley Club” – there is certainly no other Harley I’d be interested in riding or owning.

    3. As for values, I have no idea. Mine was cheap enough that I don’t really care where it goes in value. I’d like to say I think they’ll go up because of the unique engineering and legacy of Erik Buell as an innovator in the industry, but that may be wishful thinking. Having said that, the few I’ve seen for sale have had asking prices higher than I paid for mine, but asking isn’t getting.

    Thanks for the great post – this Firebolt looks great!

  • I almost forgot, there’s more on my Firebolt on my blog at http://www.things-thatgo.blogspot.com. Cheers!

  • I have a love/hate relationship with Buell’s. I love riding them, I hate maintaining them. I’ve got Ducati’s, Buell’s and Moto Guzzi’s out in the garage and the Buell’s make the other two brands look like paragon’s of mechanical reliability. The issue is at idle where the bike flops and bounces like a dying fish and literally self destructs all the delicate stuff on the bike. Electronics, engine mounts, exhaust studs, header pipes, mufflers, various nuts and bolts are all subject to that jack hammer thing that all air-cooled Buell’s do at idle. Everything on the bike needs to be Loctited and or double nutted to keep from shaking to bits. Of course the pain in the ass happens when you have to undo anything that has been Loctited and you have to pull out a torch to break things free. I’m constantly tugging at the head pipe when I start the bike from cold to make sure its secure and tapping on the muffler to make sure the rivets haven’t shaken loose again.
    All that being said, Buell’s actually can make good track day bikes because the way they put power to the track is very forgiving, like an oversized four stroke dirt bike. You can make all kinds of stupid throttle mistakes on a Buell and you will be hard pressed to invoke wheel spin and the much dreaded resulting high side. One of the greatest joys in my life is passing $20K+ Ducati’s and Aprilia’s on the inside corners of Mosport on my $6K 2009 XB12R with its gutted muffler. The Buell will get dropped on the strait-a-ways but will always pull bikes back in through the corners and it sounds so good at 5000RPM+ with that NASCAR drone. If you are over 200lbs you will need to put stiffer springs on the bike front and rear. Buell front disks warp in track day riding, it’s just a fact of life. Prepare to budget for front disks like you would tires. Buell engines self destruct after 8000RPM so keep that in mind when you are doing 140MPH on the back straight at Mosport (or any other track) and get lazy and figure downshifting from 5th to 4th is all you need to do to make corner eight.

    In future some Buell models will appreciate in value, most won’t. Buell’s to make money on will be….
    …the ’95 and ’96 Buell S2 Thunderbolt. Some old timers (like all those jerktards over on Bad Weather Bikers) claim the S2 is the best Buell of all time. I’m old so I tend to agree. If kept stock these bikes are quite reliable so long as they don’t shake themselves to bits at idle. The ’95 and ’96 Buell engines were under stressed and can easily go 100K miles before a rebuild and make decent daily riders and have that curvy Vargas girl thing going on.
    …the ’96, ’97, ’98 Lightnings. The bikes with the postage stamp seats. Entirely impractical + low production numbers = future collectible.
    …the ’07,’08’,09′ 1200cc Firebolts. The XB series bikes improved over the years and the last year, the 2009 XB12 Firebolt is the best of the bunch with the 2008 and 2007 close behind. Some British bike magazine listed the XB as the best cornering bike of all time and eventually that will get picked up and regurgitated and sometime around 2027-2029 people will be start picking up XB’s as future icons of “what could have been”, etc.

    • The shaking at idle can be quite unnerving if you’re coming from a sewing machine. They walk backwards on the stand on flat ground. Mine use to move 1 ft on a slightly angled driveway by the time I geared up. I had an 08 Lightning SCG. Never any maintenance outside of the regular issues.

      I think the 96, 97, 98 Lightnings were the best looking ones ever made. Big power and with a D&D exhaust, I think it may have been the best sound I’ve ever heard out of a motorcycle.

  • Great bikes- if Erik Buell had built these in Italy he would have been hailed as a god.
    Harleys embrace proved fatal.
    A good rider on a Buell will always embarrass the lads on shiny crotch rockets, unless it’s a drag race, which isnt what they were designed for.
    If you enjoy corners and torque, buy an early one and keep it.
    Stuff the values.

Comment rules: Add something useful and constructive, and don't be a jerk. Comments that don't add value will be deleted. Comments will automatically close after 30 days. Thank you. -dc

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