Freedom! That’s what these four score and some years we enjoy on this planet are all about. Freedom to live your life the way you want to. Freedom to choose. To choose your spouse, your job, where you live. What motorcycle to ride. That last is a tough one. Especially when you have loved one for a long time, and then a newer, lither, younger model comes along to steal your heart. Happens all the time.
It is hard to imagine two more different motorcycles than Harley’s FLHTC Electra Glide Classic and the Buell’s XB12XT Ulysses. First there is the fully encumbered FLH with big batwing fairing, large saddlebags and trunk, fat tires, modest lean angles, weighing in at a good 800-plus pounds. It is a great bike, I love it, and it is a top-notch touring bike, akin to a ’65 Cadillac convertible.
At the other end of the company’s spectrum is the 500-pound Buell Ulysses, set up like a Jeep Wrangler. I like the XT version, with a small windshield, saddlebags, and a modestly sized trunk, giving me the opportunity to travel, but in a very different manner than with Electra.
There are hundreds of thousands of dirt-road miles in North America, from the two reasonably groomed miles that led to my father-in-law’s farm in northwestern Minnesota, to the gnarly old mining roads in the Rocky Mountains, climbing over 12,000-foot passes. A hundred years ago 99 percent of our roads were dirt, which often became mud. Today, dirt roads can be found in every state in the union, from well-maintained farm roads to the rutted old logging roads in the national forests. Sometimes you don’t know where a dirt road is going to take you, which is where, for me, the pleasure really lies. There could be deep ruts and broken bridges along some of these remote roads, but that is all in the adventure.
An asphalted road, on the other hand, is generally a known quantity. A good map, or a competent GPS, will tell you where Interstate 530 will take you, but if you want to go from Cass to Pelsor in Arkansas’ Ozark National Forest, you could let Mapquest show you the paved way, or you could find some more interesting byways.
I like the names of these two models, both out of Greek mythology. Electra? Forget the electric starting; think back a couple of thousand years when a beautiful girl called Electra got really upset after her mother (who had taken a new lover to her bed) killed her father. So she, sensible young woman, got together with her brother and pulled off a little matricide. And we think we have domestic disputes these days. Anyway, the FLH is just as strong-minded as Electra ever was, and will happily take you wherever a paved road leads you. I’ll say she handles okay on a good dirt road, but is happiest with a hard surface.
Ulysses, a fellow with a deserved reputation as a Rambo type, was headed home after fighting in the Trojan War, but his navigational skills were not too good and he sort of got lost. He wandered around for a few years, fighting one-eyed monsters, avoiding getting eaten by giant cannibals, occasionally being seduced by beautiful women—he had some real adventures along the way, which is just what the Buell Ulysses will provide the rider. Ever thought of riding up to Goose Bay in Canada’s Labrador province? Lots and lots of dirt road, and then you can ferry over to Newfoundland. Or go down to the bottom of Mexico’s Copper Canyon?
The Ulysses and the Electra are both fine examples of American motorcycles, so the decision comes down to the buyer. What does he or she want to do? The comfort-prone folk will probably lean toward the Electra, but they may look a little unhappy when they see a tempting dirt road leading into the Green Mountains of Vermont. The big roads lead to the next Best Western motel, the next Denny’s or Waffle House, the next gas station, for that matter. It’s the small roads that promise the real fun, the freedom to have a real adventure.
Freedom! The Ulysses gives me more of that, freedom to choose where I am going. To my admittedly skewed version of the world, a motorcycle gives me freedom, the freedom to go where I want—within reason. I’m not going to cross the Darien Gap between Panama and Columbia, a jungly, roadless stretch of hills, rivers, swamps and mosquitoes, nor barrel over the vast expanses of the Sahara Desert—both feats have been accomplished by motorcyclists, but I’m not the suffering type, and suffering is required. No, I don’t want to cross uncharted territory, I just want to follow roads, any roads. And the Ulysses is better than the Electra at that. Of course, when I win the lottery, or get some of that bailout money, I will have both in my garage.[This Harley’s FLHTC Electra Glide Classic vs Buell’s XB12XT Ulysses motorcycle comparison was originally published in American Rider magazine]