The EBR 1190RX isn’t the first bike to rise from the ashes of the Buell Motorcycle Company after Harley-Davidson shut the brand down in 2009, but it is the first real massed produced model and is one well worth considering in comparison to the better known exotic rivals from Europe like the Ducati Panigale 1199, Aprilia RSV4 and even the KTM RC8. And while the EBR 1190RX doesn’t have the sex appeal of a Ducati Panigale or the cutting edge technology of the BMW S1000R, it does have a wonderful and unique character of its own that potentially makes it better than either of these bikes.
The last five years have been a roller coaster for fans and aficionados of Erikk Buell and his motorcycles. After his first company, Buell Motorycle Company was bought out and subsequently closed by Harley-Davidson, Buell established Erik Buell Racing to keep his dreams alive. Things really began to move last year when Indian motorcycle company, Hero MotoCorp injected $25 million (and took a 49.2% stake) into EBR which has allowed the release of the EBR 1190RX.
So what’s this American sportsbike like? It’s always a struggle to review superbikes like this. From the perspective for what this bike is built for (and Buell has made no secret of intentions to compete in the World Superbike Championship), then it’s mission accomplished. But if you’re spending nearly $19,000 on this machine, it’s more than likely that 99% of your time on it will be on the street as opposed to the track – and it’s a massive compromise to live with it.
And as you can imagine, that compromise becomes immediate as soon as you sit on the bike. It’s certainly not as bad as it could be though. In fact, compared to say the Panigalle 1190 or even the Daytona 675, the EBR 1190RX is positively comfortable to sit on. Of course, it’s still not something you want to be sitting on for long stints unless your spine is made out of some sort of flexible rubber. You sit on this bike to race it, not commute.
The rider’s seat is massive with plenty of room to move back and forth on it. Obviously this is again aimed at the track so you can shift your weight towards either the front or rear tires, but it also allows you to find a more favorable position on the road. While both right and left rider pegs are adjustable, the same can’t be said for the clip-ons which is a real shame – being able to increase their height would go a long way to making this bike more street friendly.
Riding in traffic is certainly not the 1190RX’s strong suit. It feels like the bike is actually offended by asking it to plod around at speed limits, requiring you to feather the clutch in first gear even when you’re doing around 15 mph as it threatens to stall. That’s bad, because the clutch on the 1190RX is the heaviest I’ve ever encountered. Even after adjusting it, you still have to pull hard to disengage the clutch and within an hour of suburban and city riding my left hand was cramping. On the track I could only imagine it would be worse and there’s no quick shifter to help out.
Despite the fact that the EBR 1190RX weighs only 419 lb, it feels like a cruiser at low speed. The large 190 rear tires don’t help, but again, you’re trying to ride a thoroughbred like it’s a donkey. Just be aware that lane splitting isn’t easy on this bike.
Thankfully, all that changes once you can open the throttle and ride in some more open environments. And it’s when you ride it like it was meant to be ridden that you almost forget all the negatives while in the city.
First of all the engine. It’s based on a Rotax Helicon which Buell has been making use of since about 2009. It’s been heavily revised however, with the original size increased from 1125 cc to 1190 cc and heavy modification to the throttle bodies, injectors and cam lobes. That all equates to a sizable 185 bhp at 10,600 rpm. More impressive though is that it pushes out a whopping 101.6 ft-lbs of torque at 8,200 rpm. While the Buell is 10 bhp down on the 1199 Panigale, it’s slightly ahead on torque. But it’s the engine’s characteristics that go in the 1190RX’s favour, with the power delivery more linear and accessible down low.
As you’d expect on a bike with an engine like this, it’s an aural delight. Even in the city it emits a fantastic grow at idle and low speed. But that sound takes a back seat to high-rpm downshifts. The bike has a chain idler that applies tension to the drive chain under engine braking, creating an almost turbocharger like whine when you reengage the clutch. It’s almost worth the price of admission alone.
It’s things like that sound that really endear you to the EBR 1190RX – this isn’t a bike that’s satisfied with being conventional. See the fuel tank? Well, that’s not the fuel tank at all, it’s the airbox. The fuel is actually held within the aluminium frame of the bike. And a signature feature of so many Buell developed bikes, the perminter brake rotor or Zero Torsional Load rim-mounted front brake system.
This unique brake design isn’t done as a gimmick, there’s practical thinking behind it. EBR says the ZTL system saves a considerable 6.6 lb from the front wheel, which therefore reduces the gyroscopic weight which improves handling and gives the front shocks less to do. Arguably, initial bite from the brakes isn’t quite as good as a conventional setup, but the 8-piston caliper will still allow you to lift the rear wheel up without trying too hard.
Handling overall is great and the bike really comes in to its own once you get to a good pace. Despite that massive rear tire, the 1190RX tips from side to side with ease, carving up corner like you’re on a nimble little learner bike. A bike of this size and power shouldn’t handle as well as it does, but this has been a feature of Buell bikes for a long, long time. And despite all that torque available, there’s plenty of electronic gadgetry to keep things in check. In a possible case of overkill, traction control with 20 levels is available. You can change it while moving, but doing so is difficult as the controls are mounted on the LCD dash rather than near the grips.
Overall, the EBR 1190RX is a fantastic machine, especially considering that this is really the first true release from the renewed Erik Buell Racing. The lack of a quickshifter really is inexcusable for a machine of this caliber and it would also be nice to have some switchable engine modes in addition to traction control. While I understand the reason for no ABS on a bike that’s really made for the track, it is again something that should be included in this day and age.
But as said at the outset, any bike like this is a compromise. I personally couldn’t live with it as a daily, but if I was forced to choose a superbike, the EBR 1190RX would quite likely be the pick of the bunch.
|Power||185 bhp @ 10,600 rpm|
|Torque||101.6 ft-lbs. @ 8200 rpm|
|Front Brakes||386mm (15.19in.) Single perimeter rotor, 8 piston inside-out calipe|
|Rear Brakes||220mm (8.66in.) Disc, 2-piston Hayes Performance Brakes Caliper|
|Front Suspension||Showa, inverted big piston front forks|
|Rear Suspension||Showa, single shock without linkage|
|Wheels||FRONT: 17 x 3.5 Aluminum REAR: 17 x 6.0 Aluminum|
|Wet Weight||419 lb (no fuel)|
|Tank Capacity||4.50 gallons|