2011 Erik Buell Racing 1190RS Preview - Motorcycle.com

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

When Harley-Davidson shuttered its Buell Motorcycle Company subsidiary in October 2009, America’s greatest motorcycle pioneer of the last three decades, Erik Buell, seemed to be out of the bike-building business.

But anyone who is familiar with the ever-tenacious Erik Buell knew that we’d again see him and his influence in another streetbike. It was only a matter of time.

Well, that time became this weekend at the Powersports Dealer Expo in Indianapolis, Indiana, when Mr. Buell rolled out his new 1190RS streetbike.

“I’m into this deep!” he told Motorcycle.com during the bike’s debut, with a mix of elation and exhaustion painted on his face.

Erik Buell enters the next chapter in his dream to produce an American sportbike that can compete with anything on the market. Enter the EBR 1190RS.

After Harley-Davidson killed the Buell Motorcycle Company, it restricted Buell from building streetbikes, allowing construction solely of racing motorcycles based on the previous production bikes. That agreement has now ended.

Buell’s vision of producing an American sportbike enters a new chapter with the 1190RS, a serious evolution of the 1190RR racebike privately campaigned during the 2010 AMA Superbike season with rider Geoff May.

Buell’s RS is cloaked in fresh new skin, now with a full fairing in a slim and edgy new design constructed of carbon fiber. Its nose is now much pointier, fitted with a pair of projector lens headlights stacked atop each other similar to Ducati’s 999 but in a more streamlined layout.

Meanwhile, the tailsection is skimpier than anything we’ve seen before, with just slits of bodywork underpinned by a spidery cast-magnesium subframe built in the USA.

Speaking of magnesium, the wheels of the RS are quite special. Magnesium alloys aren’t normally used for streetbike wheels, as the pounding from bumps and potholes can damage the stiff and relatively brittle metal.

The EBR 1190RS has roots in the Buell 1125R, but nearly everything is new, including a sharp new fairing and a more powerful engine. Weight is pared down to just 400 pounds.

But a newly developed casting process – ablation casting – has the ability to vary the properties of the metal depending on what’s needed where, and it enables complex castings in which the metal can be formed in a wide variety of thickness. It’s proving to work especially well for magnesium components which can be difficult to cast to precise levels. Buell says this new method allows a ductile rim area (able to slightly deform on impact to retain structural integrity), while the spoke and hub region can be built stiff enough to support the motorcycle.

A bullet-shaped nose is far more stylish than the 1125R's wide proboscis.
The cockpit of the 1190RS shows off the billet-aluminum triple clamp holding an Ohlins fork. LCD gauge panel is from AIM.

The expensive efforts to reduce weight also include the adoption of a lithium-ion battery, helping bring down the total mass to less than 400 lbs (wet but without fuel).

Power for the 1190RS comes from a modded Buell 1125R engine, enlarged to 1190cc via a 106mm bore job. Rotax – builder and co-developer of the 1125R motor - bought back the rights to the engine from Harley, and it supplies EBR with a core unit that is then fitted with new cylinders, pistons, crank and cams. Ports are smoothed out with CNC machining. Titanium valves replace steel poppets to allow for higher revs, somewhere in the high 11,000-rpm range, according to Buell. The engine in race tune can spin up to 12,500 rpm. The 1190 motor recently passed EPA testing.

High-performance automotive brakes always incorporate cooling ducts, so, asks Buell, why shouldn’t motorcycles?

The cast-aluminum frame looks outwardly similar to the 1125R but is actually a fresh design, as is a new swingarm that incorporates chain drive instead of the 1125R’s belt.

Gone are the awkward dual side-mounted radiators that made the 1125R look fat, replaced by twin rads in front of the engine sandwiching an oil cooler near the belly pan.

Buell continues his predilection for a single-rotor front brake setup, now using a slightly different Nissin 8-piston caliper augmented by a dual-inlet carbon-fiber duct routing cool air to help shed heat. It’s something EBR has incorporated on its racebike since midway through last season.

No longer having to build bikes to fit a price point, Buell has equipped the RS with high-end componentry. Top-shelf Ohlins fork and shock handle suspension duties, while billet-aluminum is used for the foot controls and triple clamps.

As you might expect, all this exotic goodness has a lofty price tag. Base models start at $39,995, with a list of options that can boost the price up around $50K. Just 100 1190RSs will be built.

Selecting appropriate dealers is the next step for EBR. Buell says he doesn’t care what brand(s) a prospective dealer currently sells, but he insists on them being passionate about sportbikes. Initially, the first EBR 1190RSs will be sold from Buell’s operations in East Troy, Wisconsin, located in a corner of Buell’s former factory.

Along with lightweight magnesium and carbon-fiber parts, the use of billet aluminum adds to the 1190RS’s high-end appeal. It’s closer to an American-built Bimota than to any previous Buell streetbike.

Buell is well known for his years of endless dedication and hard work, but he’s again taken it to another level. “I’m working harder now than I’ve ever dreamed,” he told us. “I’m actually enjoying it in a strange, manic sense.”

And, knowing Buell, we expect there’s more to come from his fertile mind.

“There are lots of options,” he says about what might be next, including the possibility of new engines and fresh bike designs.

The 1190R platform continues development on the racetrack with rider Geoff May piloting the machine for another season in AMA Superbike competition.

In the meantime, we hope to get a spin on the 1190RS as soon as possible. Is there any snow at Road America...?

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Kevin Duke
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