Firebolt’s innovations hollow in frame only – Chicago Tribune

20 Mar 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Firebolt’s innovations hollow in frame only – Chicago Tribune
Buell Firebolt Sport Bike

Firebolt’s innovations hollow in frame only

Motorcycle technology tends to follow a predictable course. With deference to the adage that what wins on Sunday sells on Monday, manufacturers pour considerable time and money into developing faster, lighter and tighter bikes for the racetrack.

But every now and then, something arrives in showrooms that is so radical it bites its thumb at technology’s traditional trickle. Buell’s 2003 Firebolt XB9R is such a bike.

Erik Buell and his namesake company, now largely owned by Harley-Davidson, set out to build a back-road burner that takes on twisties like nothing built before. It’s a tall order, but this thing has innovations galore to help it rise to the challenge.

Buell’s philosophy is that great handling begins with mass centralization, a concept that dictates keeping as much of the motorcycle’s weight as low and as close to the center of the bike as possible. Like Buells past, the Firebolt achieves this by confining the exhaust pipe and muffler to the tight space under the engine, rather than letting it hang off the back as on most bikes.

But that’s just the beginning. The $9,995 Firebolt sports a massive aluminum frame that uses the 984-cc, fuel-injected motor as a stressed member for increased rigidity, an important quality in a bike made to corner hard. When a motor is a stressed member, it becomes part of the motorcycle’s supporting structure, rather than a clump of metal supported by the frame.

Most impressive is this bike’s front end, which features a Showa racing-style inverted fork mounted at a 21-degree angle for super-fast steering.

The front wheel sports an innovative Zero Torsional Load brake system in which a single 375-mm disc is mounted to the wheel rim, rather than the spokes or center hub. The design reduces wheel weight and sends braking forces directly to the rim and tire for increased responsiveness.

There are a lot more high-tech goodies to improve the Firebolt’s handling, but most are hidden. That big aluminum frame, for instance, is hollow and doubles as the bike’s gas tank, which lowers the center of gravity compared with a traditional top-mounted gas tank.

A cosmetic cover at the top of the frame looks like a gas tank and the fuel nozzle is inserted into a conventional looking opening in that cover, but the fuel flows into the frame.

The swingarm, a device that holds the rear wheel on a motorcycle, is also hollow on this Buell so it can serve as the engine oil reservoir. The design trick allowed engineers to keep the wheelbase at just 52 inches–as short as it gets on a sportbike–which Buell says creates remarkable agility while maintaining stability at speed.

Buell Firebolt Sport Bike

Buell is not the only company with new bikes, of course. Here are some of the freshest of the sportbikes, sport-touring bikes and standards out this year.

– Aprilia RSV Mille: Best known in Europe for its scooters and small commuter bikes, Aprilia has learned a lot since it attacked the world sportbike market a couple of years ago. This knowledge found its way into Aprilia’s new 1-liter motor for the RXV line in the form of new cams, valves and pistons for more power. MSRP: $13,499

– BMW K1200RS: The RS gets Bimmer’s acclaimed anti-lock brake system this year, which not only keeps the brakes from locking but also modulates stopping power between front and rear wheels to result in faster stops for most riders. Though the 1,171-cc inline 4 motor is unchanged, BMW focused on creature comforts, giving this sport-tourer a new fairing design for better protection from the elements and taller handlebars to take pressure off the wrists on longer rides. MSRP: $16,990

– Ducati ST4s: The old ST4 sport-tourer got major engine and suspension upgrades and is called the ST4s this year. Supplying power is the 996-cc mill that powered Ducati’s previous superbikes. The revamped suspension includes a top-notch Ohlins shock, Showa fork and a new aluminum swingarm, which give the bike a sportier focus. MSRP: $15,195

– Ducati Monster 620 i.e. Priced and sized for entry-level riders, this baby Duc has an array of upscale bits, including fuel injection, dual disc front brakes and a 28-mm trellis frame. Bargain-hunters might consider the $500-cheaper Dark model, which has matte-black paint and a single-disc brake upfront. MSRP: $6,995

– Honda CBR954RR: The RR sportbike just keeps getting bigger and badder. After jumping to 929 from 919 cc for 2000, the fuel-injected engine is up to 954 cc, thanks to a 1-millimeter bore increase. It looks cooler, too, thanks to a new three-bulb headlight assembly and sporty graphics.

Honda also put this bike on a diet, shaving nearly five pounds to give the 954 a svelte 370-pound claimed dry weight. MSRP: $10,599

Buell Firebolt Sport Bike
Buell Firebolt Sport Bike
Buell Firebolt Sport Bike
Buell Firebolt Sport Bike

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