Buell RS1200

The Buell RS1200, the company's first streetbike, was expensive, low production, and unusual for its time

| May/June 2006

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    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
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    Photo by Roland Brown
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    Photo by Roland Brown
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    Ultimate chic: Fold up seat hump is a clever touch allowing instant conversion from solo canyon thrashing to two-up riding.
    Photo by Roland Brown
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    Photo by Roland Brown
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    Photo by Roland Brown

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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
MPG: 42

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.



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