£13,998 | 185bhp@10,600rpm | 101lb-ft@8200rpm | 1191cc liquid-cooled V-twin
Tested by Roland Brown. Motorcycle Journalist and former international racer, Roland Brown is one of the world’s most respected bike testers. Subscribe to his fantastic YouTube channel – iMotorcycle Video – here.
You could never accuse Erik Buell of being a quitter. Less than five years after Buell was dramatically shut down by its parent company Harley-Davidson, as the credit crunch hit, the man who had founded the firm and still ran it is back with a new business, Erik Buell Racing, and a new bike: the 1190RX.
The initials EBR on its tank are new but there’s something familiar about the lean super-sports bike with its thick aluminium frame spars and large, perimeter front brake disc. Those features were Buell trademarks, as was a big V-twin engine like the one the powers the RX. And this new generation bike is far more powerful and advanced than any Buell model.
Tell me about the engine
Like the 1125R from the old Buell firm, the RX uses a liquid-cooled, 72-degree V-twin engine. But instead of being built by Rotax of Austria, it’s now assembled by EBR in Wisconsin, USA, after Erik bought rights and tooling. And it has been dramatically uprated, with updates including Controlled Swirl Induction, by which one titanium inlet valve opens slightly before the other, to enhance combustion.
The RX design owes much to EBR’s debut model, a limited-edition sportster called the 1190RS. The firm built and sold around 150 units of the RS over the last couple of years, despite its US $40,000 price. The RX retains its capacity of 1191cc but makes more power and torque, but is less expensive. Its maximum output is 185bhp at 10,600rpm —impressive from a bike with a wet weight of just 190kg.
What’s the chassis like?
Erik Buell’s innovative design thinking has always been most clear in his chassis, and the RX is no exception. In typical Buell fashion it holds 17 litres of petrol in the frame, though the aluminium swing-arm, which pivots on the back of the motor, doesn’t follow models such as the Firebolt by doubling as a tank for the dry-sump powerplant’s oil. Instead it operates the diagonally mounted Showa shock directly, with no rising-rate linkage. As always with Buell, the emphasis is on light weight and on keeping it near the centre of the bike.
A magnesium rear subframe helps in that regard, as do the lightweight 17-inch wheels with their slim spokes in cast aluminium. The perimeter disc is also notably light, although the rotor is a dinner-plate like 386mm in diameter and there’s a hefty eight-pot Nissin caliper to do the biting. Plastic ducts direct cooling air to the caliper around the legs of the Showa Big Piston Forks, which are held by chunky alloy yokes with a transverse steering damper.
Should I buy one?
If you fancy a light and powerful American V-twin sports bike and are open to something exotic and slightly quirky it’s definitely worth considering. At £13,998 (less than the £15,000 previously announced) the RX is far from cheap but it’s competitively priced against the likes of Aprilia’s RSV4 R ABS (£14,132) and Ducati’s base-model 1199 Panigale, which costs £16,250.
The RX is more attractive than the last couple of Buell sports bikes, with colour options of red or black as well as yellow. Finish and build quality also seem well up to scratch. We’d need to put the EBR head-to-head with the Italians and other rivals to get a full picture of its ability. But what can be said confidently is that the 1190RX is not just the fastest and best American sports bike yet, it’s the first one that gives the European aristocrats some genuine opposition. EBR’s European boss Edwin Belonje, formerly of Triumph, is currently putting together a network with a UK base at Donington, and will be appointing the first EBR dealers within weeks.
Fast, fine-handling and lots of fun, on the basis of the launch at the Varano circuit in northern Italy, although the damp track meant it wasn’t possible to test either its engine or chassis ability to the full. At least the motor’s grunt and sweet fuelling made it controllable in the slippery conditions. Throttle response was light but very precise.
The RX has a traction control system, which was very useful on such a powerful bike. I left it on the recommended rain setting (14 of 21) and it did a good job of keeping the rear Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa in line on extra-damp patches. Shame there’s no button for changing the setting while riding. A series of change-up-soon lights would also be handy at times but the digital dash is easy to read.
The dyno chart shows the engine’s top-end power matched by strong torque throughout the range — it kicks out 80 per cent of its maximum torque figure all the way from 4500rpm to the 11,500rpm redline. So given the RX’s light weight it’s no surprise that it accelerated at a hugely entertaining rate, almost regardless of what the digital tacho was reading.
Varano is tight and twisty, so there wasn’t much chance to stretch the bike’s legs towards its claimed top speed of 186mph. But it devoured the short straights at an impressive rate, aided by a six-speed box that worked well but wasn’t fitted with a quick-shifter, surprisingly for a bike of this quality.
The RX does at least have conventional chain final drive, rather than relying on the belts that caused Buell owners some problems. This bike’s only transmission related aggro might be that the slipper clutch has a heavy action that will require a strong left wrist in town. At the other end of the scale, long trips might result in the rider becoming aware of the big twin’s vibration at high revs. I didn’t find vibes a problem on the track but one rider reported numbness from a buzz through the bars.
Handling was very neutral and predictable, aided by a reasonably roomy riding position, firm seat, short 1409mm wheelbase, racy steering geometry, and forward-biased weight distribution. That all helped make the bike very flickable through Varano’s slow-speed chicanes, yet it was stable in the faster turns and under acceleration, and very accurate through the long, cambered left-hander towards the end of the lap.
There’s plenty of scope for tweaking the multi-adjustable Showa suspension, which gave a well-controlled ride in the conditions. The Rosso Corsas did a decent job too, though racing wets would have been more suitable. The RX doesn’t come with ABS yet, though there will be a system available later this year. The big perimeter disc and Nissin combo worked very well in the damp, giving plenty of feel, but it was impossible to say what absolute stopping power was like, or how well those cooling ducts would work to prevent the overheating problems that some Buell models suffered with.
Tested by: Roland Brown Photography by: Stuart Collins
Engine: 1191cc, liquid-cooled, dohc 8-valve V-twin
Power: 185bhp (138kW)@10,600rpm
Torque: 101lb-ft (137.8Nm)@8200rpm
Kerb weight: 191kg
Seat height: 826mm
Tank size: 17 litres
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