Buell Lightning XB12Scg “One of life’s healthier addictions”

Filed under: Bike Reviews,Buell |


When you have a small and compact chassis that already does the job perfectly, how on this earth can you make it yet smaller still without compromise?
Well the clever boys and girls at Buell have the answer, managing to reduce the XB1200Scg by around 39mm at seat level. Before the Buell aficionados shout aloud, let me assure them that none of the excellent features of the XB series has been compromised in any tangible way, while in the process Buell have made the type more suitable for those short on leg length. This has been achieved not only by reshaping the seat, but also by altering the suspension dimensions, effectively dropping the ride height by a few millimeters and with it, the centre of gravity, hence the CG after the S in the bikes title. For the tech buffs out there, I will admit that a lower of centre of gravity does require a greater angle of lean for any given corner speed but, as the Buell is doubly blessed, with copious amounts of ground clearance, and the ability to use it safely, we can largely ignore the science behind the design. There is a noticeable improvement in the agility stakes too, particularly when changing direction from full lean one way to full the other.
The XB1200Scg is a heady mix of supermoto, short circuit racer, and fairground ride, armed with 100bhp and a wheelbase more at home on a bicycle, allied to benchmark handling and grip, the numbers add up to fun by the bucket load. Buell place great store in their machines handling abilities and I for one can only reaffirm these claims. I have rarely had a machine that, direct from the showroom, was at my total command; the mere thought of tipping into a bend has the Scg in, and almost out again, before my brain has chance to catch up with events.

The big Harley Davidson V engine is a joy too, willing and able to take off at the drop of a hat, although, off the gas it isn’t so much fun. The mass of the engine internals means there is little engine braking on the over run, especially in the lower rev range, making mid-corner throttle adjustments difficult to get spot on and it is a good idea to have a brake covered just in case you have gone in that little bit too hot. Of course that phrase needs some recalibrating when on any Buell as they can handle situations that most other machines would call a crash, too hot on a Buell is probably a good few degrees beyond where most people would like to be anyway. You do have some good mates on board to help out should things get a little out of shape, Pirelli Diablo tyres have bags of grip even at extreme lean angles, while the superb chassis set up will pull a tighter line at any point in the cornering process simply by pulling on the outside bar and gritting your teeth. If all other avenues have failed you can count on the brakes to chip in and have a good go at saving the day, the huge front stopper has bags of feel and power, rarely requiring more than a couple of fingers to spring the six pot caliper into action, hauling the XB up well before it jumps off the edge of a sixpence.

With peak torque and horsepower happening within 600rpm of each other, at 6000 and 6600rpm respectively, you just know that will be the sweet spot for the most amount of fun to be had and it certainly is. This is also where the best engine braking is to be found too so, by keeping the revs somewhere near this point on corner entry, you are perfectly placed to hammer out the other side of it too. The revs soon rise, and with it the need to throw another gear into the equation, especially if short shifting to stay near the sweet spot rather than letting the engine find the redline, in double quick time you have used the whole gearbox up and find yourself crying out, and continually flicking your left foot for, the none existent six ratio. This in reality means you start to have your fun at much lower speeds than normal, this is good for all concerned and your licence will be grateful too, although quite who will end up paying for the police force if we all start to behave past the speed cameras is anyone’s guess.
With less suspension travel than most modern machinery, just 74mm for the front and 90mm at the rear, the ride is pin sharp but sometimes brunt to the point of discomfort. This short travel set up does help the Buell however and causes less upset during crucial phases of the bikes trajectory so, is all part of the game plan. Every aspect of the suspension is fully adjustable and the smallest tweak has a noticeable impact upon the bikes behaviour, its size and weight making it susceptible to the slightest change either good or bad. The standard settings are good though, whether solo or two up. With such an abrupt rear end one could be forgiven for thinking a pillion would not be a practical proposition, but the opposite is true. The small seat is not suitable for lengthy two up use, but then again this bike isn’t so much about long distance work, more short, fun packed hops. Even with a passenger, the fine balance of this honed machine isn’t too compromised, the mass of the 45-degree, Harley mill making up the bulk of the bikes weight and taking some considerable shifting out of place.
Only Buell dare produce a machine with such a sharp head angle and abrupt wheelbase, at 21 degrees and 1320mm respectively the XB1200 doesn’t make any concession to inline stability and yet, as if defying the laws of physics, it doesn’t need too. To further compound the rules, 83mm trail isn’t a lot either; trail is effectively what gives the front end stability, and above all, feel; the less you have the less of these two attributes are there to play with and yet the bike never gets into minor head shake, let alone the dreaded tank slapper.
Clever design and mass centralisation means that, even with the unfeasibly sharp dimensions the XB1200 tracks true and safely, yet in the blink of an eye can change tack, ducking and diving like the steering is supercharged. With 14 litres of fuel slung low in the frame tubes, and the engine oil in either the sump or the swing arm, all of the crucial weight is well below knee level and most much lower than that. This, combined with the steep head angle, makes for an easy machine to throw around.
There aren’t many purebred race machines that can change direction like a road going Buell although, on the road at least, I wouldn’t like to add much more power or torque into this equation. 100bhp is just about safe enough to be letting loose to push such a small and lightweight machine around without heading, lemming like, over the edge of acceptable behaviour and performance.
The XB1200Scg is all about addictions, the acceleration, the low down pull, the handling, the braking, even the noise from the air box, addictions every one. The only complaint I could come up with in over two weeks of living with this fine machine, would be the openness of the engine, and the front wheels ability to liberally coat it with every form of crud from the road, cleaning it became a chore in the end.

The alternatives

Ducati Monster S4R
Arguably, the bike that started it all in the first place and still going strong in many forms. Effectively ticks off all of the boxes and then some, adding a few ounces of kudos, via the Ducati logo on the tank, into the equation too. Cheap, fast and sweet handling, if a little expensive to keep on top form.

Yamaha MT-01
The Japanese miss the point by a good few yards but still deserve a pat on the back for their efforts, this tall and angular torque monster does all tasks asked of it with ease but still doesn’t have that sporty edge of the Buell. It is pricey too.

Morini Corsaro 1200
This brutal, Latin machine shares many attributes with the Buell ethos but, is faster in all areas. The 140bhp, 1200cc engine is a dream to play with while the conventional size chassis feels more like a Superbike for those wanting such stability. Pricey, but top fun, if a bit of an unknown quantity at this stage in its life.

Type: air/oil cooled 4-stroke V-Twin
Bore x stroke: 88.9 x 96.8mm
Maximum power: 100bhp @ 6600rpm
Maximum torque: 81ft-lb @ 6000rpm
Fuel system: 49mm downdraft DDFI fuel injection
Starter: electric

Clutch: wet multi plate
Gearbox: five-speed
Final drive: Goodyear Hibrex belt

Frame: alloy beam frame
Front suspension: 41mm Showa USD forks
Rear suspension: Showa monoshock
Front brake: 375mm ZTL disc 6-piston caliper
Rear brake: 240mm disc single-piston floating-caliper
Front tyre: 120/70 x 17 Pirelli Diablo
Rear tyre: 180/55 x 17 Pirelli Diablo


Length: 1950mm
Width: 753mm
Height: 1125mm
Seat height: 726mm
Dry weight: 179kgs
Fuel capacity: 14.5 litres