Fischer MRX: the quest to build the next great American sportsbike
Since the untimely demise of the much-loved Buell brand during the global financial crisis, there's been a gaping hole in the motorcycle market for an interesting, innovative, high-performance American sportsbike. And while the Fischer MRX might not tick all those boxes in its first incarnation, things are looking very positive for Dan Fischer and his new motorcycle company. The MRX650 takes the engine, forks, wheels and brakes from a Hyosung GT650 (itself a copy of the Suzuki SV650), and mates it to a 1990s GP-stype frame and swingarm by Gemini Technologies, with an improbable Ohlins shock on the back and a killer fairing design by Glynn Kerr. It's targeted to sell under US$8,000, and there's talk of a 1000cc variant once the Korean engine manufacturer starts making a litre-sized motor.
The road to the MRX was at once surprisingly easy and plagued with setbacks for ex-AMA Superbike rider Dan Fischer. Back in 2002, he hooked up an engine deal with Rotax to use the same wonderful 1000cc v-twin engine as the Aprilia RSV Mille, pulled styling and design expert Glynn Kerr together with American chassis specialists Gemini Technologies, and had a sportsbike prototype up and running within 6 months that handled like a dream and went just as well as you'd expect with that outstanding motor.
Unfortunately, it turned out Rotax wasn't being completely straight with Fischer - and when Aprilia got wind of the American project that was planning to go into production using the RSV engine, the Italian company made it clear that Rotax had no right to be selling the engine on.
Without the Rotax 1000cc engine, Fischer went back to Korean manufacturer Hyosung, whose production facilities and willingness to co-operate had impressed him before he'd settled on the Rotax engine - and now, some years later, the Fischer MRX has gone into production in Maryland, USA.
Single piece GP-style frame
As a superbike racer, Fischer wanted to ensure his production bike had exceptional handling. As such, he went to Gemini Technologies, who had built the frame for Harley-Davidson's VR1000 superbike. Since the VR1000 project had been shut down, the Fischer machine could be closely modeled on its design, which itself was inspired by 1990s-era GP machines.
The MRX frame is the world's only once-piece production bike frame, designed with a controlled degree of lateral flex in selected parts of the alloy to help the suspension deal with bumps when the bike is cranked over at high lean angles. Gemini designed both the frame and the swingarm.
Hyosung 650cc V-Twin
Korean manufacturer Hyosung seems an unlikely source for the engine; Fischer's stated intention was to produce a street sportsbike comparable with what Japan offers, but American-made and with superior quality and handling. As a relative newcomer to the western streetbike scene, Hyosung has had its share of teething issues in the quality stakes, getting itself a reputation not unlike what early Japanese bikes had in the USA before they went on to become the benchmark by which all automotive manufacturing would be judged. South Korean industry is improving in leaps and bounds across the board, but it would be foolish to say that Hyosung quality doesn't have a question mark over its head.
Hyosung is rumored to have produced the SV650 engine for Suzuki - certainly, the Korean company has done some manufacturing for the Japanese marques over the years, but they won't say exactly what. Either way, the GT650 engine is very similar to the older, pre-2003 SV650 motor – the bore and stroke are just about identical, both are DOCH 90-degree v-twins and both use twin 39mm Mikuni carburetors instead of fuel injection.
Lack of fuel injection on the MRX is a little disappointing - there's nothing in the Japanese midrange market that's not injected, so the carbed Fischer will feel a little old-school at the throttle and on startup. Still, the MRX seems able to pass emissions tests in the markets it's already approved for - including America, Canada, Indonesia and Australia (with Brazil, Russia and Europe in the pipeline) – so it's probably a smart way to keep the launch cost down. Fischer says an injected version is on the way – and he's also clear on the fact that there will be a 1000cc Hyosung V-Twin within a couple of years, too.
The 650cc engine makes around 80 horsepower at 9550rpm with ram air assistance, and if the Hyosung GT650 is anything to go by, it should be fairly friendly and accessible. The 650cc v-twin is a practical and fun engine configuration for roadriding, one that can reward precise riding without punishing mistakes too badly.
There's some suggestion that Fischer may release a supercharged version of the MRX down the track, which would boost power significantly - as well as being pretty much the only stock production sportsbike out there with forced induction. Now that would be very cool.
The suspension setup on the MRX has me scratching my head. Up front, it's the cheap and cheerful adjustable forks and conventionally mounted Brembo brakes used on the Hyosung GT650R. But then there's an Ohlins shock at the rear end - a unit so expensive and high-quality that you'd have to look to the up-spec models of leading edge Italian sportsbikes (think Ducati 1198S, or Aprilia RSV4 Factory) before you'd find another one on a stock bike.
That shock is going to be a great thing to have, and undoubtedly contributes to the Fischer's early reputation for impressive handling, but I can't help thinking it's an odd place to throw money at when you're using a Korean engine and forks.
The first Fischer production bike is going to live and die on its appearance – so luckily, it looks pretty natty. Designer Glynn Kerr was the main man for Yamaha in the late 1980s, and came up with the styling for the TDM850 – but we won't hold that against him.
Kerr, an avid scholar of motorcycle design, went for a sharp and angular look on the MRX, lightning bolts of plastic bursting out from the headlight and a tank that looks like a sharpened Benelli unit. There's hints of Honda's VFR and Hyosung's GT650R in the front end, more than a little of Triumph's old Daytona 650 in the side fairings – and a tail that's pretty unique, including a single seat unit that looks improbably large and well-padded in the photos, leading a single, upthrust undertail exhaust that actually looks pretty good for a stock unit.
It's certainly a striking design, beautifully integrated with the hard angles of the frame.
The MRX is already on sale in the United States, Canada and Indonesia, and it has just been ADR-approved for sale in Australia. Prices vary according to each market, but the US retail is $7999.
Fischer's attention to handling is very promising, and the MRX looks like a good friendly entry-level sportsbike. It will be interesting to see where this brand goes and we wish them all the best. More information at the Fischer Motorcycles website.