The Buell RS1200, the company's first streetbike, was expensive, low production, and unusual for its time
A visual tour de force, the RS1200 looks good whether it's sitting still or running fast on the road. A stock Harley-Davidson 1200 Sportster engine provides power.
Photo by Roland Brown
Years produced: 1989-93
Total production: 200 (est.)
Top speed: 120mph (est.)
Claimed power: 70hp (est.)
Engine type: 1,200cc air-cooled, 45-degree V-twin
Weight (wet): 210kg (462lb)
Price then: $14,795
Price now: $8,000-$12,000
Sometimes people can be a little bit too clever for their own good. Back in the 1980s, a little-known former racer, musician and Harley-Davidson engineer named Erik Buell decided to build what his T-shirt slogan described as “America’s Faaast Motorcycle” around a Harley engine: He left no stone unturned in the search for speed.
After designing a neat, compact, lightweight and extremely clever chassis to hold the big V-twin, Buell finished the job in the most logical way possible: with all-enveloping bodywork that held the lone rider in a perfect tuck, gave the moving bike a supremely aerodynamic shape, and provided maximum speed from the horsepower at his disposal.
One problem: you couldn’t tell that its engine was a Harley. No matter that Buell painted his creation in Milwaukee orange, black and white, and wrote “Powered by Harley-Davidson” on its bulbous flanks. With its uniquely evocative engine hidden away, the Buell Battletwin looked like a cross between a Honda CBR1000F and a brightly decorated Easter egg.
That did not stop the first Buell from being a success, originally as the RR1000 and then — after Buell had negotiated with his former employers for supplies of Evolution Sportster engines — as the RR1200. The bikes created interest as roadsters and did well on the racetrack, too. Production of the RR crept steadily towards three figures.
A new tact: The RS1200
It was in 1989 that Buell released a distinctly different and arguably more significant model: the RS1200. From one viewpoint, the half-faired, dual-seated RS was less outstanding than the RR, having lost the single-minded devotion to speed that was the characteristic of the original Buell. One step backwards, perhaps, but two steps forward as a result. And this time, there was absolutely no need to note, even on bodywork finished in anonymous blue, that Harley-Davidson powered the Buell RS1200.
The RS1200’s big lump of twin-cylindered Milwaukee metal hung out for inspection, and even if the powerplant still wasn’t completely visible, there was no doubt at all as to this Buell’s motive power. The dramatic facelift had other advantages, too, because it had always been a shame that so much of Erik Buell’s clever engineering had been buried — along with the engine — behind fiberglass.
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