Maverick motorcycle designer Erik Buell, after a difficult exit from the Harley-Davidson marriage that produced the much-admired Buell line of sport bikes, has bounced back with a string of wins at world raceways and a new line of street racers.
The EBR 1190RX, the first of his new moderately priced machines made for the street, is a total winner.
A marvel of sophisticated engineering and track-tested technology, the 1190RX is being compared favorably to Ducati's flagship street bike, the Panigale R.
Make no mistake, this is a race motorcycle. It comes fitted with pro-grade Showa suspension, Pirelli Diablo Corsa tires, Buell's patented perimeter rotor front disc brakes (with their own air scoop cooling system), slipper clutch, a steering damper, and a race-grade exhaust system that looks and sounds like an expensive after-market item from Akropovic.
It has race-track lines, too. The rider ergonomics are aggressively forward- and downward-oriented. The narrow lines and "gas tank" (like the Buells that preceded them, the fuel on the 1190RX is actually stored inside the frame; the "gas tank" area houses wiring and air filter) are molded for the maximum knee-gripping that flicking a bike like this into the turns requires.
The thinly padded seat isn't meant for long stretches. The minimalist dashboard offers almost nothing but speedo, tach and traction control setting, with the tiniest turn signal indicators allowed by law.
The 1190RX also comes with a little power. The ET V2 V-twin, liquid-cooled engine puts out a staggering 185 horsepower, and 106 pound-feet of torque, on an all-aluminum frame motorcycle that weighs only 419 pounds, without gas in it.
It's a rocket, with power distributed intelligently through a well-managed six-speed transmission, and unmoderated by riding modes. Though the 1190RX offers a tunable traction control system, with 21 settings, the engine delivers undiluted power to the rear wheel.
The handling is responsive and intuitive. On the Angeles Crest Highway, it's buttery-smooth, twisting and leaning fluidly through the turns, and accelerating out of them with enough force to make you grateful to have set the traction control at a mid-point, which kept the rear tire holding the pavement and the front tire on the ground.
There is a downside to the high performance. The 1190RX, for most operators, will not be a daily rider. It's balky at slow speeds. It's as hot literally as it is figuratively. The suspension is stiff. So is the seat. And the clutch pull requires more muscle than any bike I've ever ridden.
Getting stuck for half an hour in city traffic, on a warm day, was more tiring than a fast two-hour ride in the mountains.
Buell's first post-Harley public offering was the track-ready 1190RS. Only 135 of these were made, which was sensible, because they retailed for almost $50,000. The 1190RX, first revealed to the public late last year, was designed to be the more affordable and accessible version -- and, at $18,995, it is.
Buell has promised one more model this year, too. Now in production, and coming to dealers starting in September, the 1190SX is a slightly more upright, naked-bike version of this magnificent machine.
Using the same power plant, and about five pounds lighter, it is sure to feel wicked-fast.
The 1190RX comes in Strike Yellow, Racing Red and Galactic Black. The 1190SX will arrive in Frostbite White, Racing Red and Galactic Black.
These are not mass-produced motorcycles, yet. When I parked at a popular motorcycle watering hole on a Sunday morning, I had a dozen avid riders asking to take a picture of the 1190RX. They wanted to sit on it, hear about how it handled, and know how much it cost and when they could buy one.
So, you may not see a lot of them on the road right away. But when you do, they'll be the sleek-looking bikes going past you, really fast.