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SUSAN CARPENTER / THROTTLE JOCKEY

This baby does everything but paint itself

January 24, 2007|THROTTLE JOCKEY

BUELL'S latest has a tongue twister of a name that rivals the military for acronymic ambiguity. It's called the Lightning Super TT XB12STT.

Try saying that three times quickly. It's still faster than explaining what the bike actually is. The latest in Buell's Lightning lineup, the Super TT is a tribute to the past, present and future. It's a nod to Buell's parent company, Harley-Davidson -- both its early history in TT racing and its present as the custom culture standard. But it's also a wink at the future and the rising sport of supermoto -- a technologically innovative, functional and fun dual sport designed for urban attack.

When a bike tries to do so many things at once, it's hard to do it all well, but the latest Buell comes close. It may not be the supermoto bike it's billed as; at 1,200 cc and 400 pounds, with just 5.63 inches of suspension travel, it's got too much junk in the trunk to compete against the small European exotics that dominate the sport. But in the street, it really is super, with a torque-y V-twin that's quick as a bolt and a Zen-like center of gravity that made me feel at one with the bike.

The Super TT builds on the XB platform and the "trilogy of technology" Buell introduced in 2003. To centralize and lower the weight, the exhaust shoots out from the bottom of the bike; the 4.4 gallons of gas are stowed inside the frame. The tall beams of the frame also add to torsional stiffness, while allowing a bit of flex in turns. And the front brake is a single, hubless disc to reduce unsprung weight.

The Super TT is really a street bike in supermoto clothing -- the fly screen and tail sections are racer plates, but there aren't any numbers. They're as blank as copy paper -- the better to customize.

My bike was Arctic White, which means it looked like a boiled egg before I asked some friends to draw on it. Unfortunately, the white parts are billed as dry erase boards but don't actually work that way. Water, then Windex failed to wipe it clean. Sure, the marker came off easier than the tags I've occasionally found on my front gate, but just like those knuckleheads' painted initials, there's residue.

Good thing the tail section plates are only $18 a pop. And good thing I didn't touch the $176 air box cover. A better way to go: paint.

The Super TT is actually a hybrid of two other Lightning bikes. Company founder Erik Buell first dreamed up the idea at Buell's 2005 dealer meeting, when he blew off corporate obligations to tear through the Colorado mountains on the two new models he was unveiling -- the Ulysses adventure and the CityX. He wanted to ride them both at the same time, and voila: the Super TT XB, etc.

The 17-inch wheels, fully adjustable Showa suspension and fuel injection -- they're the same for all three models. But the Super TT trumps both on the lean angle: It's 44 degrees for the sort of soft-contact cornering we moms may experience, and up to 53 degrees before the guys who don't have kids do real damage.

The 54-inch wheelbase, 84 pound-feet of torque and 103 horsepower came courtesy of the Ulysses. The shorter seat and easy-to-replace crash guards were cribbed from the CityX.

To reduce repair costs, Buell has crash-proofed some of the hard parts that break in a fall. The signals are on rubbery mounts, the headlight is fenced in, the front brake and clutch levers are guarded and pucks protect the angled-out parts of the frame. The only problem with the frame configuration is that my knees occasionally hit it when I braked suddenly and slid forward on the banana seat. I may have a 34-inch inseam but, to my knowledge, I don't have an abnormally long femur bone.

That was confirmed when I stopped and had to stand ballet style -- on pointe. The seat is 31.4 inches, but it felt taller because it flares a little on the sides. The stock seat, by the way, is only solo. To transform the Super TT into a motorbike built for two costs an extra $110.

To borrow the name of another Buell model, the Super TT was a blast in the canyons, powering through turns with Pirellis hugging the ground, while in the street, the bike's narrow, 32.3-inch profile made lane-splitting a snap. Even though the front brake was a single disc, the six-piston, fixed-caliper system was ample. And the powertrain vibration isolation system did the trick. Quivering was minimal -- until I slowed down. From 1,500 RPM to idle, it started to feel like a pit bull ready to pounce.

Which is nothing much to growl about. Not at all.

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susan.carpenter@latimes.com

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2007 Buell Lightning Super TT XB12STT

Base price: $10,295

Powertrain: Air/oil/fan-cooled, four-stroke, 45-degree V-twin, OHV, two valves per cylinder, five-speed

Displacement: 73.4 cubic inches

Bore and stroke: 3.500 inches by 3.812 inches

Horsepower: 103 at 6,800 rpm

Torque: 84 pound-feet at 6,000 rpm

Seat height: 31.4 inches

Dry weight: 400 pounds

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