by Bill C. for webBikeWorld.com
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I've always carried a soft spot in my heart for Buell
Motorcycles, but I've never owned one.
The concept of modifying a classic Harley V-Twin engine
to power a modern Sportbike makes perfect sense to me -- a way to
theoretically expand the market beyond the traditional use of that
Also, rooting for the underdog is an American tradition,
and if Buell ain't an underdog, I don't know what is.
I'm partial to the type: motorcycles like Aprilia, Moto
Guzzi, MV Agusta, MuZ -- along with Buell -- are the rare gems for the
rest of us, the riders who want to be different in a country where 8 out
of 10 motorcycles are said to be cruisers.
But honestly, I'm surprised Buell is still around,
especially after reading this new book, written by two former Buell
associates who have been affiliated with the company since the
beginning. Erik Buell -- and his namesake company -- had many
close scrapes over the years, and knowing how hard it is to get a
motorcycle brand established today, it's actually pretty amazing that
Buell is still kicking.
The biggest question remains unanswered though -- what
in the world does Harley-Davidson get out of the relationship with
Buell? I'm surprised that the book doesn't address this.
Harley-Davidson has phenomenal marketing prowess, but my feeling is
they've blown it time and time again with the Buell connection.
There could have/should have been so much made of this
by now, after 25 years of Buell, and the brand remains on continuous
life support as far as I can tell.
For example, the local Harley/Buell dealers near my home
seem to have zero interest in actually selling anyone a Buell
motorcycle. In fact, it's been about 6 years by my count since one
of the biggest dealers around even featured a Buell on their showroom
Not much of this is addressed in 25 Years of Buell,
which I think is too bad, and may be an indication that the people who
wrote the book might just be a little too close to the Buell/HD family
to really tell it like it is. There is, however, a little too much
Buell hero worship in the first chapter, which bothered me some, but
overall, the book is an interesting read and, I think, it clears up some
of the myth that surrounds the brand.
One thing's for sure: Erik Buell is as passionate and
committed as anyone in the motorcycle industry, and after reading the
book, it's obvious to me that what success they've had so far has a lot
to do with the force of his personality.
The authors relate some interesting stories about the
start of the company, with anecdotes about Buell's racing career and how
it led to the creation of the company, almost by stringing together one
improbable project with the next.
Buell Motorcycles is nothing if not innovative, and I
didn't realize how advanced some of Erik Buell's early designs really
were, like the RR 1000 and RR 1200 "Battle Twin", originally built for
racing and which also has many land speed records from Bonneville.
Buell first entered my consciousness with the
fantastic-looking S1, which I think was way ahead of its day and to me
is still one of the best-looking Buells. The S2 Thunderbolt always
seemed rather clunky, but the more recent XB9R Firebolt, the XB9S
Lightning and the very new water-cooled 1125CR "21st Century Cafe Racer"
have been growing on me also.
By the way, I distinctly recall reading about Erik Buell
once saying that he'd never have a water-cooled engine in one of his
bikes -- which I thought was a dumb statement at the time, so I won't
hold him to it!
The book doesn't address the future of Buell, either
with fact or conjecture, which is also too bad. I'm not sure Buell
is headed, and the market for the "bare knuckle brawler" streetbike
style must be at the saturation point. Will we see "real" sport-tourers,
or how about some type of half-Harley/half-Buell futuristic-retro take
on, say, the V-Max?
Where they're going with the Ulysses is also beyond me;
of all the things to do, the adventure-touring concept just doesn't seem
to fit with the Buell image.
25 Years of Buell has some nice color photographs and a
short summary at the end covering the newer models. I learned a
lot about Buell history, but I still get the feeling that there's
probably more to tell than this particular pair of authors is letting
It will be interesting to see where the company goes, if
the bikes and the quality will improve and what Harley-Davidson will do
now that their sales have stalled and they -- hopefully -- wake up to
the fact that there's a gem of a company right there under their nose
that has the potential to be much more than a niche player in the
international motorcycle scene.
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