Hand Erik Buell a setback, and he’ll build an amazing new machine.
By Bill Heald
If you live outside of U.S. motorcycle-road-racing circles, you may not know the story of Erik Buell and the struggles he endured to bring a special brand of American motorcycle to market. He started as a racer, became an engineer for Harley Davidson, and ultimately created sport and sport-touring motorcycles under his name that originally used Harley’s Sportster V-twin engines. The Motor Company acquired controlling interest in Buell’s efforts and then took full control in 2003, but after only six years (and steady improvements to the bikes) Harley decided to close Buell’s doors for good. You might have thought that would be the end of Erik’s efforts, but only if you didn’t really know Buell or his passion for sporting motorcycles.
Behold Erik Buell Racing, and its first creation: the EBR 1190RS. Where some would have seen the abandonment of Harley’s ownership as a disaster, Erik realized he had the opportunity to build on all the innovations and experience from decades of developing his own breed of motorcycle, and craft a bike free from the restrictions a big corporation can impose on a designer. Erik’s experience as a racer and his creative drive as an engineer meant he was always looking for ways to improve performance (especially handling). But for every unusual engineering solution Buell came up with (the original motto of his first company was “Different in Every Sense”), there were production considerations that limited full deployment of his ideas.
With the EBR 1190RS, the new company is free to worry less about the price tag and more about getting it right. Already successfully racing in the AMA Superbike class, the RS production model comes in limited numbers. Austria’s Rotax builds the torque-rich, liquid-cooled, 175-horsepower V-twin engine, and Buell’s innovative chassis includes massive aluminum-frame spars (and the fuel is contained within this backbone in an internal reservoir). A Buell trademark has always been to distribute components to centralize the bike’s mass as low as possible, with the ultimate aim of lightning-quick steering along with excellent high-speed stability. Wilder still is the front brake, where instead of two rotors it has one enormous one, as favored by Buell for years to lower unsprung weight. The first time I used Buell’s design in anger a few years ago, I was delighted to experience strong, smooth brake response on par with anything out there. It works.
The RS is a stunning motorcycle; supremely exclusive and built by passionate, dedicated people. Two paint schemes and an ultra-tasty carbon version are available, but only 100 units will be sold. After that, Erik Buell assures the motorcycle world that more models are on the way. This is only the beginning of what Buells were always meant to be: distinctly American designs to take on the best in the world.
|Engine type||Liquid-cooled V-twin|
|Bore x stroke||106 mm x 67.5 mm|
|Fuel system||Electronic fuel injection|
|Front suspension||43-mm Öhlins male slider forks, fully adjustable|
|Rear suspension||Öhlins monoshock, fully adjustable|
|Front brakes||Single 386-mm disc, eight-piston caliper|
|Rear brake||Single 220-mm disc|
|Front tire||120/70 R17|
|Rear tire||190/55 R17|
|Fuel tank||4.5-gallon capacity|
|Seat height||30.5 inches|
|Curb weight||389 pounds|
|Base price||$39,999; carbon: $43,999|