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Goodbye Buell

2009-11-09 09:09
With the recent announcement that Harley-Davidson will discontinue the Buell product line, we take a look back at the incredible history of an individual and a company whose passion and vision produced some of the best-handling and innovative sports bikes of all time.

Buell’s story began in 1983 when Erik Buell, a privateer road racer, designed and built his RW750 race bike. The 750cc, two-stroke, square-four, rotary valve-engined machine was designed to compete in the former AMA F1 road racing class.

The first prototype RW750 hit the track for its debut that same summer in the AMA National at Pocono Speedway. Buell continued extensive testing and development work on the bike throughout the summer and into the fall. His success was measured during testing at Talladega, Alabama, where it was clocked at a top speed of 178 mph.

Development on the RW750 continued through 1984, and a production version was released in the fall. Just one RW750 was sold to the American Machinists Racing Team before the AMA announced that 1985 would be the last year of F1 racing, replaced by the Superbike class in 1986.


This news, which erased the market for the RW750, would have crushed lesser builders, but Buell viewed it merely as a setback. He went back to work, refocusing his energy towards creating the first world-class sportbike designed and assembled in the United States.

Combining his racing knowledge with his experience as a Harley-Davidson engineer, Buell created the RR1000. Powered by a Harley-Davidson XR1000 engine, the rigid and lightweight chassis incorporated an engine mounting design that used the engine as a fully stressed member of the frame and became a patented feature of many future Buell sport bikes.

A total of 50 RR1000 models were produced under the name of Buell Motor Company in 1987 and 1988.

After the RR1000, Buell’s motorcycles continued to evolve at a measured pace, using newer versions of Harley-Davidson-based engines as they emerged. In 1989, he introduced the RS1200, a two-seat version of the RR model for riders who demanded both world-class performance and two-up comfort.

These bikes were the first production street motorcycles to use inverted front forks, stainless steel braided lines and a six-piston front brake caliper.


As Buell motorcycles were refined, the company’s manufacturing capabilities expanded. By 1991, Buell Motor Company not only designed its own bodywork, it also produced it in its own composite and paint shop. The result was greater quality control and improved design flexibility.

In early 1993 Harley-Davidson became a minority partner in the company with a 49% stake, and its name was changed to Buell Motorcycle Company. By 2003, Harley-Davidson had acquired 100% of the company, and Erik Buell remained onboard as Chief Technical Officer and the guiding force in product development.

In 1994, Buell introduced the curvaceous S2 Thunderbolt model, which won rave reviews and is still known for its beautiful lines and fluid design. It was followed by the S1 Lightning motorcycle, a model that defined a new class of streetfighters featuring minimal bodywork, a racing styled seat, exposed frame and the centralised mass of the 1203cc engine, exhaust system and suspension.

The 74kW Thunderstorm engine was introduced into the Buell line-up in 1998 with the S1W White Lightning model, featuring a carbon fiber rear fender, bold colours and the new super-high output engine.

Sales continued to grow, with more than 5 000 Buell motorcycles sold for the 1998 model year. Other elements of Erik Buell’s dream were also being achieved in 1999, when the company dedicated a new 42 000-square foot Research and Development Center adjacent to its existing facility in East Troy.

Industry firsts

In 2003, the Firebolt XB9R represented a collection of industry firsts and forward thinking. The lightweight aluminium frame combined the functions of a traditional frame with a fuel tank, and the rest of the motorcycle incorporated Buell’s three primary design principles: low unsprung weight, mass centralisation, and chassis rigidity.

In his continuing quest to build the ultimate American sportbike, Erik challenged his team to create a new bike that connected directly with the rider, delivering intuitive handling and linking the rider’s mind with the road.

The 2008 model year saw the introduction of an all-new model set to break the conventions of the superbike category. The Buell 1125R is powered by the Helicon engine, an 1125cc DOHC liquid-cooled V-Twin rated at 146 crankshaft horsepower cradled in a Buell Intuitive Response Chassis.

Utilising the Trilogy of Tech principles and computer-modeled aerodynamics, the 1125R delivers the precise handling that has defined Buell for 25 years with a new level of engine performance.

The launch of the 1125R was followed in 2009 model year with the introduction of the stripped-down 1125CR. This modern interpretation of a café racer offers sportbike performance to the streetfighter category but with a modern interpretation of “café racer” styling and the power of the Buell Helicon 1125 liquid-cooled V-Twin engine.

Geared down to optimise acceleration the 1125CR offers excellent power-to-weight ratio and takes streetfighter performance to a new level.

Then on October 15th 2009 Buell motorcycles announced that it would be permanently discontinuing production of any new Buell motorcycles. A limited number of new Buell motorcycles remain available for sale through authorized dealerships, however, and Harley-Davidson has vowed that it will continue to provide replacement parts and service through dealerships and all warranty coverage will continue as normal for Buell motorcycles.



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