After 10 years of moto-journalism, I can still be intimidated. For example: riding a $19,000, 185-horsepower superbike at the most famous racetrack in the United States. In the rain. And here’s what I found out about Erik Buell Racing’s (EBR) 1190RX superbike: it’s so comfortable, so easy to ride, I really shouldn’t have worried.
Does that sound like the mark of a very good motorcycle to you? Because it does to me. EBR’s 1190RX is far from a perfect bike, but is it as good as we’ve hoped it would be since Erik Buell first declared he wanted to make a “real American sportbike” decades ago?
We’ll find out, but now for something not-completely different: the 1190SX. EBR’s people whipped the cover off it while we were eating our pulled-pork sandwiches, and I was so excited I got barbecue sauce on my pants. Details are coming, but it looks pretty much like somebody took the fairing off the 1190RX and installed a handlebar and a small windscreen—my idea of a good time, and Erik Buell’s, too. I don’t think it’ll be much different from the 1190RX, which means it will be overkill for a naked-bike experience, offering “bragging rights and unlimited wheelies” in the words of MD reader Motoworrier. Well said, sir (or ma’am).
Back to the RX. I am a small, timid person, and my racing and trackday experience is mostly relegated to small, timid motorcycles. Blasting down 3/4-mile long straights at 160 mph is fun, sure, but most corners will be entered and exited at about the same speed on a middleweight as on the most hairy-chested open-classer, so what is all the extra power and expense for? Oh yeah—bragging rights and unlimited wheelies. I forgot. I lack the self-esteem required for bragging and the skill to do decent wheelies, so I’m not a fan of these license-burning monsters.
Luckily, I think Erik and his engineers get that, so rideability is a hallmark of his products. Styling? Not so much. But Buell is a racer first, so his design choices are for function, not form. The 1190′s aluminum frame is big, beefy and industrial-looking; think GSX-R750 c. 1995. No single-sided swingarms, and the bodywork, though purposeful, probably won’t win any beauty contests. The motor is just machinery, hidden under plastic covers.
But that’s okay, because a sportbike is built to make you go fast, and this bike is fast. That huge frame holds 4.5 gallons of fuel, putting the weight down low and close to the center of gravity. Chassis geometry (22.4 degrees of rake, 3.8 inches of trail, 56-inch wheelbase) was optimized, according to Director of Product Development Tony Stefanelli, by splitting the radiator like on the 1125R, keeping things tucked in and tidy without hanging huge, hideous pods on the side of the bike. Ready-to-ride weight is tidy, too: EBR claims 419 pounds dry and Cycle World weighed its test unit gassed up at 453 pounds.
That’s 20 pounds heavier than the Ducati Panigale that’s the most-likely competition to the EBR. Both motorcycles are priced identically—$18,995—and appeal to the same demographic: “guys who love bikes, been riding for a while, in their 30s-early 40s and can afford superbikes,” Stefanelli tells me. Twenty pounds heavier, but it feels smaller and lighter to me than the Ducati. The seat is a little lower, and the bars are higher and less angled and the fuel-in-frame design further fosters the illusion that’s it’s smaller.
For me, small equals comfortable and easy to ride, and though I’m out for sighting laps on a bike I’ve never ridden, on a MotoGP circuit I’ve never ridden (very few street motorcycles have ever been on this track, in fact) dodging puddles in a light sprinkle, within a few laps I’m dragging a knee and building confidence in the excellent Diablo Rosso Corsas. The steering is very light for a bike with a long-ish wheelbase and it holds its line well while feeling as stable as a big Twin should.
The traction control isn’t this bike’s strong suit—but the motor’s drivability is so good an experienced rider will probably feel comfortable turning it off or down to a low level. At level 20 (Stefanelli told me you can drive on a gravel road with the T.C. set to max), it feels like the fuel injection is malfunctioning it’s so intrusive; down in the single digits it starts to feel seamless. You can still feel it, though, and judging by the settings on the bikes of other journalists (and racers) at the event, veteran riders will leave it at 1, 2 or, if they want to do a stand-up wheelie for an entire 3/4-mile straightaway, leave it off completely.
What the bike does do brilliantly is combine raw V-Twin power with control. It feels like a middleweight in the turns and then fires onto the straights with terrifying and brutal acceleration, rocketing you to triple-digit speeds much faster than you expect while delivering a touch of lumpy, chugging American-style character. One intake valve opens slightly ahead of the other, creating a swirl effect that enhances burn—better midrange, plus the bike returned better than 50 mpg in EPA testing (60 is you’re really careful, Stefanelli says), making the bike frugal as well as fast.
When it’s time to slow down, the giant single disc works much better than I remember prior Buell setups. There was no juddering or fade and one or two digits were fine for my pace. It does require a little better pull than the top-notch Brembo systems require, and isn’t as sensitive, but it’s very good. A notable disadvantage is the lack of ABS, but according to Stefanelli, while acknowledging European mandates would force EBR into putting it on all its motorcycles soon, the company decided to forgo it because its customers don’t ask for it. Advantage: European manufacturers.
Another bit of electronic kit missing is a quick shifter, which would work well with the vacuum-assisted slipper clutch. But it works well, and though the clutch pull is stiff with the engine off, I found shifting and clutch effort were reasonable, and I liked the gear ratios as well—second or third worked well in the tight stuff and fifth gear was more than tall enough for this leather-suited chicken to hit an indicated speed of over 140 mph before I rolled off early in anticipation of the Turn One puddle that didn’t disappear until about 2:00 pm.
I found the suspension as workmanlike and well-selected as the brakes. Showa supplied the outstanding 43mm Big-Piston fork as well as the linkage-less multi-adjustable shock. I asked why no linkage, and Stefanelli told me shock technology is advanced enough that the benefits of the linkage were largely superfluous and outweighed by the disadvantage of a linkage’s maintenance requirements, weight and potential for failure. And on the super-smooth MotoGP roadcourse at Indy, I didn’t miss the linkage one bit.
So here’s a bike that has some flaws—what bike doesn’t?—but more pluses. It’s made in the USA (I asked Stefanelli if any of it was made in India, given Hero Moto’s stake in EBR, but no, he told me “we have 163 suppliers from 14 countries, I’m sure none of these parts come from India.”), has a two-year warranty, is fast, fun and easy to ride all while being competitively priced with its European competition. It’s the American sportbike Erik Buell has been wanting to build—and maybe you’ve been waiting to buy—since Reagan was president. For additional details, specifications and color choices (two of which are pictured here) for the $18,995 EBR 1190RX, visit EBR’s site.