It’s an old Viking story: A tall, one-eyed man goes into a bar…well, actually, a Viking great hall…in any case, a place where much beer is consumed. He strides toward the tree the hall was built around, pulls a sword from under his cloak and sticks it deeply into the trunk. This sword, he says—now that he has everyone’s attention—is like no other, but only the man who deserves it will be able to pull it free. No one can, of course, until the hero arrives and pulls the sword as if from its scabbard. It turns out to be capable of cleaving an anvil in half, and eventually his son, the most famous hero in Scandinavian mythology, uses it to kill an equally famous dragon. And, yes, that wasn’t any normal half-blind tree-sticker: It was Odin, ruler of the gods.
There’s a theme in that tale: Warriors have always dreamed and told stories about magical weapons—swords that shatter other swords, guns that shoot farther and straighter, fighter planes that are invisible to their opponents and outmaneuver them. The only thing that has changed much is that we no longer just tell stories about such things; we very actively pursue technology to make such things.
Which brings us to a new bit of magical technology: Erik Buell’s EBR 1190RS. After riding it for about 50 laps at Road America, during a test session that had originally been intended for EBR racer Geoff May alone, I was almost speechless. But May, who was trying the street machine for the first time, wasn’t: “This thing is too good to be a streetbike,” he said as he pulled his helmet off after his first laps on an EBR 1190 with a headlight, turnsignals and taillight. “It’s faster than my 1125RR.”
The carbon fiber ducts, similar to those used on NASCAR racers, helps drop pad temperatures more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit. But for the rider, the big advantage is that brake feel is superb, light, powerful and controllable, with the possibility of dialing in a very precise amount of braking when the bike is leaned over.
He wasn’t kidding. The completely stock EBR 1190RS, serial number 11—the first production version—in the Carbon-Fiber Edition, weighed just 384 pounds at the curb, full of everything except fuel. With the optional race muffler and race ECU, the way it appeared at Road America, it weighed just 369 pounds with a dry tank, or 397 pounds with fuel brimming. And it made as much or more power (175-plus horsepower) than the 1125cc bike May had been racing and placing in the top ten in AMA SuperBike, and with which he even briefly led the 2010 Barber SuperBike race. Meanwhile, the new skinny fairing offered a substantial aerodynamic improvement over more bulbous fairings from the Buell era. The equation was simple: similar power with more torque, similar weight as the pure racing bike and significantly better aerodynamics. No wonder the 1190RS in Stage 1 trim (muffler, ECU) was literally faster than its pure racing predecessor.
It certainly showed on the long Road America front straight. Coming out of the last corner and starting up the hill, the torquey V-Twin had a hard time keeping its front wheel on the ground, requiring me to feather the throttle to prevent a loop. Even as it crested the hill in fourth gear at 140 mph, even while I pulled hard up against the airbox cover to move more weight forward, the front wheel elevated 6 inches before settling down. Top speed at the end of the front straight was pushing 170 mph, and I was braking early!
But what was truly amazing was the character of the power. The 1190cc engine was created in East Troy by boring a Rotax 1125cc powerplant 3mm. The 106mm CP pistons are machined from aluminum billets in California and, with a thick base gasket under the cylinders, yield a 13.6:1 compression ratio. The rods are forged steel, and overall reciprocating weight is reduced, as is the crankshaft mass. The camshafts are identical to the 1125cc race cams but timed for less overlap so the bike can pass emissions tests. A Swiss Suter Racing slipper clutch is fitted, along with a compensated output sprocket for the 520 chain drive. The engine breathes through a much-expanded airbox and larger ram-air system.
Despite its state of tune, this Superbike hot-rod starts just like any other streetbike, even if the race muffler is loud. It settles into an easy idle and pulls smoothly from just above 3000 rpm in top gear.
On the track, the operating range is amazingly broad, with plentiful torque for exiting corners from below 6000 rpm, followed by a top-end that pulls harder and harder through 11,000 on the way to an 11,500-rpm redline. It’s an engine that is almost the essence of V-Twin: tractable, torquey, a little lazy compared to the frenetic energy of a Four but with none of the liabilities of classic V-Twins.
Braking hard from the back straight into tight Turn 5, I could just click down four gears, and between the slipper clutch and the ECU bleeding extra air through the Idle-Air-Control (IAC) system, there was no need to think about matching revs or worry about rear-wheel hop. May says that the Suter is the best slipper clutch he has ever used, and that one of the big advantages of the 1125RR is that it can dive deeper into corners than the Jordan Suzuki he rode in 2009.
The other advantage May mentions is maneuverability—comparing his 1125RR to a 600—something that this flyweight Open-Class machine has in spades. You can put it anywhere on the track, then change lines with a subtle movement of the handlebars. It makes a Ducati 848 seem like a truck. Yet it’s thrilling and fun through the fast, fast sweeper at Kettle Bottoms and is composed at the end of the straights, even as the 170-mph wind rips at you. Similarly, there’s not a hint of stand-up under braking, revised steering geometry burying that old Buell bugaboo. The suspension is almost literally the best money can buy, with the Öhlins fork fitted not with its usual “road and track” damper cartridges but the 30mm Öhlins racing cartridges that May uses in his 1125RR—and that Eric Bostrom ran last season in the Cycle World Attack Performance Yoshimura Suzuki SuperBike. You can tell because the fork can handle big compressive loads like a wheelie landing with soft aplomb. The rear shock is an Öhlins TTX, also the top choice for Superbike racing.
Perhaps the biggest improvement over previous Buell offerings, however, is the front brake. Every component in the front brake system has been changed, and May has run a race-length test with it on an 1190RR Superbike at Road America—the toughest circuit of the AMA series on brakes. The still singular, still inside-out brake worked as well at the end as at the beginning, something that wasn’t the case with Buell Motorcycle Company ZTL systems, as Danny Eslick can attest. The new finned rotor sheds heat quicker and is more dimensionally stable, with pad-wiping slots instead of holes and a “glove-cooling” system blowing through the caliper. The carbon fiber ducts, similar to those used on NASCAR racers, helps drop pad temperatures more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit. But for the rider, the big advantage is that brake feel is superb, light, powerful and controllable, with the possibility of dialing in a very precise amount of braking when the bike is leaned over. And it’s light: The 1190RS front wheel, disc, mounting hardware and caliper weigh only 14.9 pounds, compared to 21.1 pounds for the lightest dual-disc system on a competitive open-class bike.
You might think of the 1190RS as magic technology, or perhaps simply as a limited-production homologation bike for racing. But the EBR 1190RS is more than a machine built for homologation needs. It is not the basis for a Superbike; it is a Superbike, more like a racer than anything that has come before, including the Ducati 1098R. (Geoff May’s new racers are 1190RSs with retimed cams and thin base gaskets, and few other changes.) As such, it’s a near-perfect track-day bike for anyone who can bear the steep price tag (an estimated $40,000). It’s also Erik Buell’s first statement of what he can achieve without his hands bound by corporate management.
I can’t wait for the next.