concentration on cruisers and tourers has, over the years, led many smaller
firms to produce sports bikes powered by the Milwaukee company's trademark
V-twin engine. Most successful has been Erik Buell, a former road-racer and
Harley engineer, whose series of innovative bikes have justified Buell's
slogan: 'America's Faaast Motorcycle'.
Buell's first model, the RR1000,
combined a tuned V-twin powerplant and lightweight chassis with aerodynamic,
all-enveloping bodywork that boosted straight-line speed. The RR was
successful in twin-cylinder racing, and made a swift and singleminded road
bike too. Trouble was, nobody could tell its engine was a Harley unit - so
in 1989 Buell produced a new model called the RSI200.
The RS featured broadly similar
engineering to the RR, but the fully-enclosed bodywork was gone. Instead
there was a sleekly integrated half-fairing, which put on display not only
the all-important 1200 Sportster powerplant, but also the ingenious chassis
that had also previously been buried behind fibreglass.
Buell's 'Uniplanar' frame design
combined a Ducati-style ladder of slender steel tubes with a unique
anti-vibration system. Four adjustable rods, each joining engine and frame,
restricted the 45-degree V-twin motor's shaking to the vertical plane only.
The design added engine stiffness to the chassis without passing vibration
to the rider.
Other chassis details were
equally clever, notably the RS1200's Marzocchi forks, which were fitted with
Buell's own anti-dive system. The Works Performance rear shock unit was
placed horizontally beneath the engine, and was adapted to extend over bumps
- the opposite of a normal shock action.
Brakes and wheels were also of
Buell's own design. The 17-inch wheels were made from polished aluminium,
and held broad, sticky Dunlop Elite tyres. Big twin front discs were gripped
by four-piston calipers, designed by Buell and built by specialists
All bodywork was also shaped and
created by Buell and his small team from MukWanago, near Milwaukee in
Wisconsin. The new fairing blended neatly into the tank/seat unit, while the
seat featured a hump that hinged to become a pillion back-rest.
The Harley motor was left
internally standard, and was boosted by a SuperTrapp exhaust system that
raised its maximum output to about 60bhp at 5000rpm. Typically generous
levels of low- and mid-range torque gave effortless acceleration with a
twist of the throttle - and the Uniplanar system did a great job of
controlling the V-twin's normal vibration. Even when revved hard, the Buell
remained pleasantly smooth to a top speed of 120mph.
Equally importantly, the Buell's
compact and well-appointed chassis meant that this was one Harley-engined
bike that positively encouraged hard riding on twisty roads. The RS1200's
racy steering geometry, excellent frame design and taut forks gave quick
steering and flawless high-speed stability, though cornering was compromised
slightly by the rather imprecise rear suspension set-up.
Buell's low production levels and
labour-intensive assembly kept the RS1200's price high, but for riders who wanted a
sporty Harley it was hard to beat. And that position changed in January
1993, when Harley-Davidson, keen to enter the sports bike market officially,
bought a 49 per cent stake in Buell's company and raised the levels of
investment, production and marketing.
In 1994 the renamed Buell
Motorcycle Company launched its first bike, the S2 Thunderbolt - heavily
based on the RSI200 but with numerous refinements in styling, power delivery
and suspension. The Thunderbolt was a fast, fine-handling and handsome
sports bike that was priced more competitively than ever. Boosted by
Harley's backing, Buell looked set for an exciting future.
Source Super Bikes by Mac McDiarmid