2006 Buell XBRR | First Ride

Hot stuff

Much has been made of Erik Buell coming full circle with the XBRR. He was a racer, after all, and he even built his own racebike, the two-stroke RW750. But to my mind, where the XBRR brings Buell full circle is that it's reminiscent of his first Harley-Davidson-powered model, the 1987 RR1000.

With its V-twin engine derived from the dirt-track-inspired XR1000, that first RR was fully faired and single-minded in purpose; it may have been street-legal, but it wasn't meant for the street. And it was brutish: It shook, it buzzed, it made ugly noises; rider comfort was given nary a thought. It was a no-compromises hot rod that channeled the spirit of Harley's legendary Battle of the Twins racer, Lucifer's Hammer. Just 50 examples were built before it was replaced by the RR1200 with its more refined Evolution 1200 motor.

I couldn't help but recall the RR1000 when I got a chance to throw a leg over an XBRR at a press intro at Buttonwillow Raceway this past July. Summer in California's Central Valley? Don't they have a Farmer's Almanac in East Troy? Damn right it was hot--104 degrees in the shade--and hotter still given the proximity of the V-twin's forward header pipe to the twistgrip.

"There's supposed to be a heat shield, but we didn't get it finished in time," warned Buell Platform Director (and former Cycle magazine editor) Steve Anderson as I plopped down in the saddle. Even with the engine idling, exhaust heat was baking my right hand, and it only got hotter while running full-throttle. Forget about a cooling breeze; the XBRR's wind-tunnel-developed fairing routes air out past the tips of your pinkies.

That wasn't the only thing making me uncomfortable. The compact seating position was clearly designed for pint-sized racers like Irishman Jeremy McWilliams and Canadian Steve Crevier, who made up part of a four-rider international assault on the 2006 Daytona 200. That was supposed to be the XBRR's coming-out party, but instead all four bikes were felled by mechanical problems, leaving egg on Erik Buell's face and delaying production.

"We didn't have enough time to test the changes we'd made, but we'd made a commitment to be there, so we went with our fingers crossed," said Buell, who has vowed to do his part to return the Daytona 200 to its former glory. The team went back to the drawing board and redesigned the components that had failed. New parts included a new timing trigger-wheel, a switch from a high-contact to a coarse-pitch fifth gear and a larger oil cooler to prevent further bearing failures.

Internet message boards lit up when the XBRR was first revealed early this year. The main discussion point was the AMA's decision to let this purpose-built racebike compete in the Formula Xtreme class, the rules of which mandate production-based machines. But to hear the Buell folks tell it, the XBRR is not far removed from an XB12R Firebolt. In fact, they originally considered offering race kits before deciding to build--ahem, "modify"--50 bikes in-house. They ended up making 56, slightly more than half of which stayed in America.

Think of the XBRR as an XB12R that incorporates all the lessons learned over the past few years in FX and Pro Thunder racing. To that end, the frame (which houses fuel inside, remember) is XB12R-spec, but uses the wider frame spars from an XB12X Ulysses to boost fuel capacity from 3.8 to 4.4 gallons--crucial in endurance races such as the Daytona 200. The swingarm (which doubles as an oil tank for the dry-sump motor) is patterned after that of an XB, but is equipped with billet axle adjusters to allow chain drive; the standard belt was retired to allow a choice of final-drive ratios. Similarly, the six-spoke wheels look like standard XB issue but are cast in magnesium, the rear growing a quarter-inch in width to 5.75 inches to accommodate the standard 190mm Pirelli slick.

The engine is also a bit of a hodgepodge. The Sportster-based 45-degree V-twin uses the shorter, 79.4mm stroke from the 984cc XB9R to limit piston speed, but the cylinders are bored to 103.6mm--bigger than on any other Buell model--for 1339cc displacement, just shy of the 1350cc FX limit for air-cooled twins. And the dual-downdraft 62mm throttle bodies--largest of any production motorcycle's--are also unique to the XBRR. Measured at the crankshaft, output is said to be 150 horsepower at 8000 rpm and 100 lb.-ft. of torque at 6400 rpm. That's Ducati 999R territory.

It doesn't feel anything like a desmo Ducati, however. V-twins tend to have broader powerbands than their multi-cylinder counterparts, but they don't rev as high. And with its venerable pushrod valve train, the XBRR's redline is lower yet. It doesn't have a powerband per se; it just explodes off idle and runs smack into its 8200-rpm rev limiter. If the power delivery resembles anything, it's a 500cc two-stroke motocrosser's; no matter how little gas you give it, you're accelerating hard, the rear tire scrambling to keep up. This was a bit of an issue exiting Buttonwillow's tight and slippery Turn Two, where the XBRR's rear tire stepped out no matter how gingerly I turned the throttle.

Entering corners presented another dilemma. With the engine's lightened flywheels, it proved difficult to match engine and wheel speeds when banging downshifts in rapid succession. A slipper clutch would seem a foregone conclusion and, sure enough, Anderson said that when McWilliams was asked to list his top-10 improvement points, "Numbers one through five were `slipper clutch.'"

McWilliams got his slipper clutch for Laguna Seca and promptly posted an eighth-place finish, bettering the XBRR's previous best result of ninth in the hands of Crevier at Mid-Ohio. That's plenty respectable against a field of highly modified 600cc fours that include factory entries from Honda and Yamaha.

It doesn't surprise me, though, as whatever the XBRR lacks in power or delivery it makes up in handling. Thanks to its rigid chassis and top-shelf hlins suspension, the bike railed through Buttonwillow's sweeping 110-mph Riverside corner without a trace of instability. Its single ZTL (Zero Torsional Load) front disc with Nissin eight-piston caliper (upgraded from six on the XB12R) lets it stop as quickly as any bike with double discs. Feedback from the front tire rivals that of a Ducati or MV. And the XBRR's relatively light weight, combined with the reduced inertia of that single front disc, lets it change direction quickly--even if the cramped quarters meant I had to stand on the pegs to move from side to side.

Given the number of journalists sharing a single XBRR, Buell limited us to three laps apiece, which while insufficient for a proper test were about as many as my baking right hand could handle. When I pulled back into the pits, Anderson asked me what I thought.

"It's like nothing I've ever ridden," I blurted out. Let's leave it at that.


MSRP: $30,995

Type: a-c 45-degree V-twin
Valves: OHV, 4 valves
Displacement: 1339cc
Transmission: 5-speed

Weight: 362 lb. claimed dry (164 kg)
Fuel capacity: 4.4 gal. (16.7L)
Wheelbase: 52.8 in. (1341mm)
Seat height: 30.5 in. (775mm)