The History of the RR1000
by Dave Gess, copyright 2000 all rights reserved
Just what the heck is a Buell RR1000 anyways?
The year is 1985. A young ambitious engineer has recently quit a nice
job at Harley Davidson to launch a company building AMA formula 750 race
bikes. He mortgages the house and hocks everything he has to produce the
first one. Cycle Magazine does a major feature on the bike, all the other
bike magazines run nice pieces on it. He is off and running.
Then the AMA drops the class. Overnight there is no market for these bikes.
The engineer goes broke.
And therein hangs a tale.
The engineer was of course Erik Buell and the bike was the RW750. A wicked
siren of a bike it has its own tale but this is not the place for that.
The magazine stories on the RW750 caught the eye of Rex Marsee. He had
the commission to come up with a motorcycle celebrating 100 years of American
Motorcycling for the Great American Motorcycle show. He asked Erik for
a street version of the RW750 to represented the latest in American motorcycle
Erik had two reasons for talking Marsee out of it .
The one he used was that it was a pure race bike impossible to translate
to the street. He argued that he could design a bike that was just as
wild using the Harley XR-1000 engine. This bike would be street legal
and for sale to the public. Marsee bought it.
The second, the one he did not mention to Marsee, was that he had been
in contact with the Harley Owners Group about designing a replacement
for the aging Lucifers Hammer. This was Harleys championship
Battle of the Twins race bike. It had plenty of power but the superior
handling of the Ducatis was making it tougher to win races.
If he could combine the two jobs, essentially designing one bike for two
uses he might actually make the whole deal work.
Behind the whole deal was Eriks belief that if he could get a prototype
and a race bike done he could talk HD into selling him the 50 XR-1000
engines gathering dust in the Parts and Accessories warehouse. Then all
he had to do was build and sell 50 bikes.
Lets pause here and think about what this meant. Not only was this flat
broke unemployed individual going to a talk HD into supplying him engines
and other parts (on credit no less) he was going to go into series production
with the resulting bike. This would make him the first American to start
a street motorcycle manufacturing company since the 1920s. Of all
the companies started before that only one was left standing (staggering
might be a more appropriate term) in 1985 and that was HD. And the bike
would need to meet ALL Federal noise, smog and safety regulations. (The
book these regs are in is 6 inches thick.) Long odds indeed.
But before he got to the hard part he had to tackle the easy task (said
with tongue firmly in cheek) design a bike. Eriks idea was, typically
for him, ambitious. An XR motor in flashy bodywork would have made Marsee
happy. A bike fast enough to beat the Ducatis , this is before Ducati
started notching up world championships remember, would have satisfied
HOG. None of this was good enough for Erik Buell.
This was going to be an American superbike. Superbikes of the time were
big 750cc 4 cylinder Japanese street bikes. Brutally fast with powerful
engines their street bike origins were revealed by suspect handling, extra
weight and size. These things were large. The also ran in the premier
AMA racing class and competed in the worlds most celebrated race
the Daytona 200. To Erik a superbike needed to compete with these bikes,
not just Ducatis, BMWs and Moto Guzzis. That is what
Erik set out to do, build a bike that could win the Daytona 200.
Erik had at his disposal a heavy engine that didnt make nearly enough
power. It was large and shook like a paint mixer. Erik of course saw the
positives; you could get pretty good power out of it with some work, it
made a whole lot of torque with a wide powerband, it was relatively short
for a v twin, it had a lot of possible dealers, and most importantly he
could get 50 so it would qualify as a production bike by AMA standards
and most brilliantly it only shook in one plane.
With access to a high speed cad package Erik entered the engines dimensions,
drew a wire frame of a chassis. modeled the stresses and
I must have fallen asleep and been dreaming. Erik had a Mac Plus and a
dot matrix printer. He had to figure this stuff out in his head. Eriks
cad package consisted of setting an engine on a workbench, tacking a couple
of tubes around it and than staring at it for hours. Literally. You would
find Erik out in his garage staring a pile of tubing and an XR motor.
He wouldnt move for 20 minutes, then he would shift a tube and stare
some more. You could ask him a direct question and he would not hear you,
or he would answer ten minutes after the question was asked.
Truth be told Eriks head was packed with data from the testing he
had done on the FXR chassis package. His knowledge of motorcycle chassis
behavior would rival anyones in the world. And he had a little help.
H-D provided computer time to do calculations. He was able to model different
tube materials and do some stress analysis. Mostly this just confirmed
that Erik was right.
The frame he came up with is not much different than the one in use on
Buells today. Sure the high tech stress analysis stuff and 3 dimensional
modeling have resulted in a frame that is a little cheaper to produce
with some improvements to serviceability and rider comfort but in terms
of stiffness to weight; 5 will get you 10 that the original is better.
The key to the whole package was the Uniplaner ® mounting system.
( I am attached to that name as it was one of the better ideas that came
out frequent late night phone calls with Erik.) Using it made the bike
light enough to be competitive and the chassis stiff enough to make the
handling work properly without beating the crap out of the rider. (You
need to remember that back in 1985 it was still widely believed that a
really stiff chassis was a bad thing. We have since gone through a stiffer
is better phase with GP bikes finally reaching the point that they really
did get too stiff . But we can talk about that over a beer some night.)
Then the bodywork was developed. Maximum top speed and fuel economy were
the goals. A really good understanding of aerodynamics plus access to
some Caltech wind tunnel research lead to the huge body work. Every detail
of the flow was attended to. A 510" rider is needed to complete
the package. Airflow over the riders back and legs keeps the boundary
layer intact from the point of first penetration to the end of the tail.
It is still the slipperiest production motorcycle ever produced.
The result was the RR1000. A tiny bike the wheel base is only 53.5 inches
with a very steep 25 degree steering head angle and only 4.6 inches of
trail. The wheels are 16" with dual 320 mm rotors in the front. The
maximum lean angle is 55 degrees with a dry weight of only 395 pounds
(the engine weighed 200 pounds!). The dimensions are much closer to contemporary
GP numbers than the superbikes of the time. The bike proved to be a superb
handler and the aerodynamics were spot on.
The looks attracted crowds at the bike shows and when Don Tilley and Gene
Church arrived at Daytona it was hugely fast. Unfortunately the bike was
not ready for the early practice sessions and Church only got a few laps
in never really nailing a full fast lap. This would prove the end of his
career. When race day arrived the bike was ready and Church was pumped.
It jumped out to a huge lead on lap one, its 178 mph through the
speed trap pretty much put all the Ducatis on the trailer (hell
that number would as fast as the superbikes ran this year ) but when Church
hit his brake marker for turn one he was going about 30 mph faster than
the old Lucifers Hammer had ever gone. Tucked in behind the big
windscreen there is little wind noise and his perception of how fast he
was going was way, way wrong. To compound his problems as turn one blasted
toward him the gearbox, a very trick one off close ratio 5 speed, picked
that moment to do it favorite trick, a false neutral. Church never had
a chance. He slammed into the hay bales somersaulting the bike and badly
breaking his wrist. The chassis was so strong that is was undamaged.
Church would make a return to racing in June at Road America but crashed
again re-injuring the wrist. He retired. Tilley did not have a back up
rider and was not real interested in racing without Church.
While all this was going on Erik had been smuggled on board the annual
H-D dealer cruise and taken orders for 25 bikes. He talked H-D into extending
him credit and supplying him with all the XR motors left on as needed
basis. Bikes began rolling out the doors of the shop in Mukwonago at a
rate of about two a month.
Unfortunately most of them were snapped up by collectors. Only a handful
ever raced. A bike in New Zealand won the BEARS championship there in
1989, one in Japan won some races there, while the London based H-D dealer
John Warr campaigned one in Europe with some success. Here in the US Clark
Ohstrom ran one in CCS races, winning weveral and eventually taking third
in the 1990 championship. That year Scott Zampach won that championship,
run at Road Atlanta, so easily that the AMA changed the rules effectively
outlawing the bike.
While the bike never really got a fair shot at the race track and never
even entered the Daytona 200 race that Erik dreamed about they did show
that they had the ability to run with some of the fastest bikes in the
world. It is a real pleasure for me to be involved in bringing one of
these bikes back to where it belongs; racing.