R.I.P. Buell Motorcycles - We'll Miss You
Friday, October 16, 2009
Once Buell engineers sorted the initial electronic gremlins, we fell in love with the 1125R sportbike.
October 15, 2009 will be remembered as a black day in the world of motorcycling. It’s almost unfathomable that after 26 years in business, American motorcycle manufacturer Buell
is closing its doors. If it occurred, say, ten years ago I could maybe understand. But now, when Buell’s at the top of its game? It’s utterly ridiculous.
Historically Buell Motorcycles have always gotten a bad rap. Usually it’s for their quirky attributes which have gone against the motorcycling status quo, and typically require a bit of seat time to understand. Heck, I even use to be one of those naysayer riders.
My first experience aboard a Buell was with the 2008 Buell SuperTT. After my first ride, I literally hated it. It was so different from every other Japanese and European sport motorcycle I had ridden and I just couldn’t figure it out. Sure it handled really well, but it felt lethargic—plus I couldn’t wheelie or stoppie it. After giving mentor and Motorcycle-USA boss man, Ken Hutchison an earful of how I despised the bike, he stopped me mid-sentence to say that I simply wasn’t riding it right. “Buell’s are different,” I recall him saying. “But once you figure out how to ride them they’re actually pretty fun.”
And wouldn’t you know Hutchy’s assessment was right on the money. I wasn’t riding it right. I quickly came to terms with how to best utilize its unique performance attributes. From then on I was that guy wheeling down the 405 freeway and pulling stoppies at every stop light. Eventually, when it was time hand over the keys back to Buell, I was more than just a bit bummed.
But with the introduction of its liquid-cooled Helicon engine platform as used in the Buell 1125R sportbike and Buell 1125CR Streetfighter, things suddenly changed. Buell had finally built a motorcycle that retained its eccentric character, yet at the same time offered a level of performance that was on par and, in some ways even better than its competition. Just look at the results of our 2010 Streetfighter Comparison
where the 1125CR actually bested both the Ducati Streetfighter and Aprilia Tuono 1000R. Now the folks from Ducati point their fingers and laugh everytime they see me. Also check out how the 1125R stacked up in our 2009 Daytona SportBike Comparison
Earlier this summer, we were invited to Buell’s factory in East Troy, Wisconsin. Although we didn’t know it at the time, this was literally an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness how Erik Buell’s dream grew from busting his knuckles inside a Wisconsin shed to its innovative East Troy factory. We also saw how its unique engineering philosophies move from a designers sketch pad, through the computer screen, and on to the finished product.
One of the things from that afternoon that really stands out in my mind is just how die-hard and passionate the entire Buell family was. From the guys hutched over their keyboards in the engineering department, to the crew in the testing department with their bullet proof safety glasses stress testing components, to the assembly line workers carefully fitting a box
Thanks Buell for making one of the best streetbikes we’ve ever ridden.
of kitted parts as this chunk of metal morphed into a motorcycle. They all shared one thing you could see it in their eyes: passion.
That’s why it’s so crazy to me that its parent company, Harley-Davidson jettisoned the pod so easily. Sure times are tough, and Harley’ key objective is its own survival, but at the same time it just doesn’t make any sense pulling the plug on a fresh and innovative division, especially when its performing at an all-time high. Obviously the decision making folks at Harley never spent time aboard a Buell Motorcycle, and that’s a shame.
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