The inaugural American International Motorcycle Expo (AIMExpo, for short) held in mid-October was a robust event. I was there for the first media-only day and most of the next, and still I didn't get to see everyone I wanted to. Aaron and Ari, who were there after me, said the mood was positive during the consumer days at the end. On the first day, press conferences were stacked tightly, and I barely made it to the Erik Buell Racing (EBR) booth, one of the larger manufacturer exhibits, in time for the reveal of the new 1190RX. By now you've seen photos and may even have caught our video preview on motorcyclistonline.com.
But photos and videos hardly do the bike justice. In the flesh, it's gorgeous. The tall-section cast-aluminum frame, which carries the bike's fuel load, and the arched swingarm are reminiscent of previous Buell motorcycles. A sharply creased "tank" that's really the airbox cover carries forward some Buell styling influences. And the nose of the fairing pulls a few visual elements from the limited-run EBR 1190RS.
These are all good things for a company getting back on the horse, as it were. But what surprised me most was the overall fit and finish of the RX models on the floor. The slim fairing's pieces notch together precisely, the magnesium rear subframe is a work of art, and the LED headlamp, said to be absolutely at the high end of the allowable brightness range, lends a distinctive form to the RX.
Even better, the ungainly flanks that held the old 1125's radiators have been replaced by narrow slits, made possible by a conventional front-to-back airflow arrangement. I know Erik Buell likes to flout convention whenever he can, and there may well be technical advantages to the old "outside-in" system, but the new one simply looks right.
So do the specs. Although the 72-degree V-twin shares some distant DNA with the Rotax-built Helicon engine, it's been extensively redesigned by EBR in East Troy, Wisconsin, and has an entirely new manufacturing base, using vendors from all over the world. Where the original 1,125cc Helicon made a claimed 146 hp, the new one is said to put down 185, with a prodigious amount of torque: a claimed 101.6 pound-feet at 8,200 rpm. Considering the whole motorcycle weighs just 419 pounds (fully wet but for fuel), that's an impressive power-to-weight ratio. Lightweight components throughout, including a lithium-ion battery, really pay dividends.
While the 1190RS racer-with-lights was also feathery, it lacked a few of the RX's tricks, like multi-adjustable standard traction control, a first for an EBR machine, and an absolutely stunning color TFT instrument panel. While the bikes didn't run at the show, I could tell that the segments of the bar-graph tach are tall enough to have a good shot at legibility.
Don't misconstrue the RX's apparently conventional-looking exhaust pipe, though; the twin pipes run down to a Buell-esque under-body resonator. One pipe is shorter than the other and enters the under-chamber at a different place, making up what EBR calls a Quarter Wave Tuner. Benefits include improved midrange performance and the opportunity to say your bike has a 2-into-1-into-2-into-1 exhaust system.
I know that I've spilled a lot of critical ink on Buell models in the past—particularly the versions powered by heavily tweaked Sportster engines. Those had promising chassis with powerplants you can only say were "better than they should have been." Don't confuse that with good. My limited time on the 1125 came via an early bike with poor fuel injection, and I never rode the 1190RS outside of the track, where it was massively fun.
But now I'm genuinely eager to ride this new machine, which appears to embody all the lessons Erik and his team have learned through their fateful ownership by Harley and a shot at independence before Hero arrived with a taxicab full of cash. Here's hoping the 1190RX is as good as it looks.