A lot has been written about Erik Buell and his motorcycles after Harley-Davidson decided to shut down Buell last year. To be honest, Buell bikes have never really been a part of our (completely imaginary) dream garage, where all the space is taken up by the latest Yamaha R1, Ducati 1198R, MV Agusta F4 1000, BMW S1000RR, Aprilia RSV4, Suzuki Hayabusa and Kawasaki ZZR1400. Still, we definitely believe Buell made some great, unusual bikes and we wish H-D had given Buell another chance. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – the world of motorcycling is poorer without Buell machines.
But to carry on, we thought we’d take a quick look at one of Buell’s very first production bikes – the RR1000 BattleTwin – which was produced from 1986-1988. Fitted with a 998cc air-cooled OHV V-twin (from the Harley XR1000) that produced 77 horsepower, the RR1000 had a top speed of around 225km/h. The bike cost about US$12,500 when it was launched and, according to a recent story done by Motorcycle Classics, a good, well-maintained example could cost anywhere between US$25,000-50,000 today!
The RR1000 was the first bike to incorporate Erik Buell’s radical ideas on chassis design, including Buell’s patented Uniplanar rubber engine mounts, which permitted the Harley XR engine to be mounted as a fully stressed component of the bike’s tubular steel space frame. The bike was designed around the principles of mass centralisation, chassis rigidity and low unsprung weight. ‘It doesn’t matter what materials you use – whether it’s a tube frame like our earlier bikes, or a fuel-in-frame aluminium one like nowadays – those are the principles that matter,’ says Erik Buell.
‘It was hard starting a manufacturing facility in my barn, especially with no money, but I managed to get 25 firm orders from Harley dealers who wanted to expand their range with a sport bike, and Harley agreed to supply me with motors,’ says Erik Buell, about how he got started with building the BattleTwin. ‘We started production in 1986, and the 25 bikes became 50 in all, each fitted with the 4-speed XR1000 iron engine,’ he adds.
The RR1000 was an intriguing mix of old and new – a thoroughly modern chassis combined with a really old engine and a bulbous, all-enveloping fairing designed to reduce drag. With Buell’s minimalist triangulated chrome-molybdenum tube space frame, car-type muffler positioned underneath the engine (to help with mass centralisation), Marzocchi MlR forks with an electrically operated anti-dive mechanism, and offset monolever with horizontally mounted shock, the focus was on handling. And the BattleTwin – which weighed about 170 kilos – was a quick steering yet stable bike that was a delight to ride at high speeds through flowing turns.
The bike’s wide seat was quite comfortable for a sportsbike and thanks to Buell’s patented Uniplanar engine mounting system, the Harley engine’s vibrations were kept in check. The bike rode on British-made 16-inch Dymag wheels, shod with Pirelli MP-7R rubber. Brakes were 12.2-inch floating discs up front, with four-piston Lockheed Racing callipers, and an 8.7-inch floating disc at the rear.
In terms of handling, the Buell RR1000 was about as good as anything from Europe. It liked to be taken through corners on power and would understeer if you backed off the throttle while leant over in a corner. Powered through with the engine driving hard and you’d be rewarded with positive and neutral handling that made it hard to believe you were on a Harley.
The Buell RR1000 BattleTwin was, perhaps, a machine ahead of its time – maybe America wasn’t really ready for such an innovative, path breaking machine back in the late-1980s. But to his credit, Erik Buell did go on to make many more bikes and for a quarter of a century, Buells were the only truly American sportsbikes you could buy. We can only wonder what may have been, had Harley-Davidson decided to give Buell another chance instead of shutting it down.
This article is based on excerpts taken from a story done by Motorcycle Classics and some of the pics used here are from Flickr
In its own eccentric way, the Buell RR1000 BattleTwin looks very cool...