2003 Buell Firebolt XB9R

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A bike that goes fast instead of scaring you

May 21, 2003 (Updated May 27, 2003)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Reliability:
  • Comfort:
  • Handling And Control:
  • Quality and Craftsmanship:

Pros:Great Ergonomics, Riding Position, Handling, and Brakes, Quality

Cons:A little underpowered, expensive compared to the competition

The Bottom Line: A great bike at a good price, real world performance and very unique. Easy to finance and good resale value. A great ride to the Harley function.


This bike is certainly a mixed bag. It has innovative features such as a frame that doubles as a fuel tank and a dry sump oiling system that stores oil in the hollow swingarm. The mirrors, like most sportbikes, give you a great view of your elbows. You have to hold up your arms in order to see behind you. The engine produces power very quickly, and the extremely tight kevlar belt has zero lash, so you get power immediately and without oil or chain wax being slung all over the rear wheel and swingarm. Then engine seems to be able to rev far beyond the 7500rpm rev limiter.

The engine is built much like a modern Chevrolet truck with roller-lifters, pushrods, and hardened roller-rockers. It also has a 45 degree, 2-valve, twin cylinder engine that makes the same sort of racket as any sportster. The engine claims to put out 92HP, but use this only to compare values to other bikes. A dyno test on a DynoJet dynamometer showed that the bike makes 64 Rear Wheel horsepower and about 62ft-lbs of torque. That was at 5100ft above sea level, so the actual values should be more like 72hp and 70lbs of torque (at the rear wheel). This bike will easily hit the rev limiter in its top gear (5th) with a top speed of 140mph. It is probably capable of something like 155 or so if it had the gearing.

The price, out the door in New Mexico, was $10,612. There are many bikes in that price range ad several bikes that are simply better for less money including the Honda 919, CBR600RR, CBR929RR, Yamaha R6, R1, and a few others.

The big thing about this bike is that you get very good performance, at a pretty good price, and you still fit in with the Harley crowd. When is the last time you went to a biker event where Foreign bikes were welcomed? This bike draws plenty of attention ad compliments, rides beautifully, is affordable, ad will definitely be another collectible Harley because they are not selling. I expect mine to be like the Road-Racing XR750's in the near future. I don't see Harley sticking with this good idea very long only because the young people that ride sport bikes are more interested in scaring themselves than actually having a torque-filled monster actually making them go fast.

The HighWay Test.

Me and my friend wet out on I-25 to test my FireBolt against his CBR600RR he just bought. From a 70mph roll-on, He would hit the gas and I could dart out in front of him about 3 bike lengths, then about 5 seconds later he would go by me about 5-10mph faster. As soon as his bike gets revved to the 14-15k rpm range, his 600 eats me alive. The only thing the Buell does really right is that the limited amount of power it puts out is available right away. The Honda requires you to drop 1 or 2 gears, ad then wait for the bike to go from 7000 to 14000rpm. If you get the jump on the Honda, that is, hit the accelerator first, there is no way the Honda can keep up for the first few seconds. You just have to let them see your brake light before they pass you.

The CloverLeaf Test.

This bike can lean farther than any other bike I have ever ridden or even seen. The pegs have "warning tabs" on them like many bikes, but it would be nearly impossible to drag them. I have size 11 shoes and have dragged my toes on nearly every sport bike I have ridden including all of the Hondas and Yamahas. This bike is super-solid in radical cornering and is again way ahead of the foreign competition.

Drag Racing Test

Because of the 70 lbs of torque and the zero-lash belt, this bike accelerates as hard as any bike out there. To take off fast on the CBR600RR, you have to dump the clutch while the bike is making alot of horsepower. This tends to scare the crap out of the rider. The Buell Firebolt is easy to launch and get through the tach in 1st gear, then ride second from 5000rpm to 7500rpm, then 3rd from 5000rpm to 7500rpm, etc. The other bikes will eventually pass you going much faster at the end of the 1/4 mile, but you can beat almost any bike in the 1/8th mile, which is good enough for most street racing. Again, just let them see your brake light and they will think you got off the throttle because you knew you could win. It is somewhat hard to spin the rear tire on this bike, so you have to be ready for the front wheel to come up in the launch and also in second gear.

Performance Parts

There are several exhaust mufflers you can buy for the FireBolt from D&D, WileyCo, Harley-Davidson (raceKit), Latus (Latus HD), and you can also modify the stock muffler by eliminating the return pipe (see http://www.geocities.com/buell_racing/muffler.html ) . You can buy a K&N air filter, but only from Harley Dealers because they own the design. You can also buy a Race-Only ECM from Harley Dealers that will allow you to increase the fuel delivered to go with the increase in Air flow from the muffler/air filter mods. There is no Power Commader available for the FireBolt, as DynoJet has abandoned the project. The open-loop portion of the ECM has some issues and the throttle-position sensor and the O2 sensor is all that is considered. When you try to increase the fuel in the fuel-air mixture, the ECM sees the change and moves the entire fuel curve to compensate. This does not allow the Power Commander to work with offset-technology that is uses for other bikes. If you use the Race ECM, it will do a pretty good job on the open-loop portion (below 3400RPM), and you you can use a PowerCommander made for the Buell X-1 to tune the fuel-map over 3500rpm. The Race ECM, Harley Race Muffler, and K&N filter cost about $650 as a package from a Harley Dealer, for about a 10hp and 10ft-lbs gain. You can perform the stock pipe mod and add a K&N Filter for about $100 for the same hp gain, with some bottom end loss.

Road Racing

I took this bike out on a race track on a practice day (it cost $110 to practice) at Sandia Motorsports park. You can see the track layout at http://www.sandiamotorsports.com/ .
I was very surprised that I could run with any bike there. since the track is sort of short, the quickness of the XB9R really becomes important. On the street, where my buddy can wind up his CBR600RR, the Firebolt seems a little slow, but on this short, tight, track, this bike is a real winner. I am not the best rider in the world and my number one concern was to "not wreck" my streetbike. If I were a little more agressive, I could probably win out there easily. The bike is easy to control in corners, you can speed-up and slow-down which has been somewhat difficult on other bikes. I would go into a corner, lay down as far as possible, then turn the throttle to hold the line. I could not believe how well the bike cornered on a race track. I was shifting much less than the other riders. I was trying to keep the bike in a 5000rpm to 7500rpm band, where it makes its best power, and that was easy to do staying in 3rd, 4th, and 5th gears. The asian bikes were having to downshift 2 gears in the corners, where I only downshifted one gear. The torque of the bike made all the difference.

Engine Heat

This bike is air-cooled and it gets HOT on a hot day. There is no way you could wear shorts on this bike on a warm day. The air outlets by the seat route the air right under your thighs. It wasn't the worst thing in the world or a reason to not ride on a hot day, but I have never ridden another bike whos engine get this hot. The only good thing about it is that it runs really good when it is hot. I use synthetic oil (Bel-Ray EXS 5W-60) and have been very happy with it.

Tires

I have been told that the stock tires are very special Dunlops made just for this bike. I also heard that you can only get them from a Harley Dealer. They are Dunlop 207 "U". the other 207's (180-55-17's) have the letter "P" instead of "U". The "P" tire has more rain grooves and is heavier. Harley recommends that you by the tires from a Harley Dealer in order to not increase the tire weight, which will affect torque a little. I am still going to get the Dunlop 208GP tires when it is time change them.

Financing

Since Harley's and Buell's have good re-sale value, Harley Credit is much more lenient to buyers with less than perfect credit. It will be much easier to finance the Buell firebolt than a comparable Japanese Bike. If you are turned down by Good Times Credit (Kawasaki) or Honda Credit, there is still a good chance that you can get a Buell financed and the difference in good and bad credit will only be about $50/month for the payment. That is, a good credit guy might pay $180 a month, and a bad credit guy might have to pay $230/month, but at least they will finance you and maybe you can refinance later for a better deal.

Insurance

I have State Farm Insurance and it is only $34/month for full coverage. I talked with progressive and Geico and it was obvious they were not interested in insuring the bikes at all. One was $179/month and the other was $168/month. Basically as much as the payment. I have my 2 cars and house also insured with State Farm and there is a small discount involved. I am also 39 years old and have been a licensed rider for 25 years.

Durability

The first week I had my bike, someone hit it in the parking lot at the DMV, it broke the Left peg, Left front turn signal, Clutch lever, and barely scratched the swingarm. I fixed the bike for $79 and was very pleased how well it took the hit. The bike rests on its bar end and peg mount when it falls over, so there is no chance of case or fairing damage. This was a big plus for me.


I highly recommend the bike, but only if you really want to go fast in town and are not worried about keeping up with a Suzuki, Honda, or Yamaha sport bike at top speed. This bike will get you plenty of compliments because it looks like a million bucks and sounds like a Harley. It will easily outrun any "custom" or "cruiser" model. The bikes that will give you trouble are the Yamaha R6 and R1, Honda RC51, CBR900RR, CBR600RR, CBR600F4i; Kawasaki ZX12R, ZX7r, ZX6r; Suzuki GSXR600, GSXR750, GSXR1000, SV1000 and a few others. But for the most part, you can run with any of them except over 130mph. You could outrun any bike that weighs over 600lbs.

Just today, this bike got me out of a speeding ticket. The cop had never seen one and it basically distracted him.


Recommend this product? Yes


Amount Paid (US$): 10,600
Condition: New
Model Year: 2003


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