|Erik F. Buell|
April 2, 1950 |
|Occupation||Motorcycle racer, engineer, designer, executive|
|Known for||Founder, Buell Motorcycle Company and Erik Buell Racing|
|Awards||Motorcycle Hall of Fame (2002)
Motorcyclist Motorcyclist Of The Year (2011)
Erik F. Buell (born April 2, 1950, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) is the founder, former Chairman and Chief Technical Officer of the Buell Motorcycle Company, which eventually merged with Harley-Davidson Corp. Buell is a pioneer of modern race motorcycle technology. Buell is also the founder of Erik Buell Racing.
The early years
Buell was raised on a farm in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, and thus learned to work on machinery at a young age. In his teen years, Buell took up motorcycling. His first ride was an Italian-made Parilla 90cc moped. He attended the University of Pittsburgh.
Motorcycles and motorcycle racing
After his moped, Buell jumped right up to a 74ci basket-case Harley-Davidson. To quote: "To be exact, it was a '57 Panhead in a '52 frame with KHK front end. Red metal flake paint and those crazy two-piece ape hanger handlebars, which would come loose and swing back and forth. I'd shove wads of steel wool into the mufflers to quiet it down for the cops, but when I was really hauling, it would shoot these glowing balls of flame out the back. Man, that's cool stuff when you're a kid!"
Buell raced motocross before becoming interested in road racing in his early 20s. He became an avid part-time road racer and did his racing astride a Ducati in the AMA 'Superbike' class and a Yamaha TZ750 in 'Formula One', despite the aging race program at Yamaha.
After receiving his degree in engineering in 1979, Buell landed a job at Harley-Davidson after he flew himself to Milwaukee, WI to get an interview and "beat my way in the door," as Buell put it. While at Harley, he was involved with concept motorcycles, Porsche-designed "Nova" V-four program, and was responsible for considerable stability and refinements to the chassis design of the FXR series of cruisers, noted for their rubber-mounted engines.
While working for Harley-Davidson, Buell’s road racing hobby was slowed. Additionally, as Harley-Davidson went through some hard times in the early 1980s, he didn’t feel right racing a Japanese or Italian motorcycle.
Buell first heard of the small, privately held general-purpose engine maker Barton (based in Great Britain) in 1981 - he bought their limited-production racer, powered by a water-cooled 750 cc Square Four two-stroke engine. Unfortunately, the bike was very poorly manufactured, used such cheap materials and the engine was plagued with gremlins to the point of being unmanageable. However, with Buell's engineering background (and unwaning optimism), he felt that he could refine the weak points using his own designs and make the engine work for him. Slowly, as parts failed he re-engineered them to increase reliability, and in many cases saw performance gains with his modifications. The chassis was a different story, however - Buell deemed it a lost cause from the beginning and designed his own chassis from the ground up. Nonetheless, the engine would often have failures before even completing a race.
Buell first raced a prototype of his bike, still using the mostly stock Barton engine, in summer of 1982 at AMA National on the Pocono Speedway. He dubbed it the RW750 (RW standing for Road Warrior). During testing at Talladega, AL, the RW750 was clocked at a top speed of 178 mph (286 km/h). He raced in the 500 cc-dominated Formula One class (the Barton engine was designed prior to 1978 and was grandfathered into this class by AMA rules). He found some success at the local club levels despite the grossly overpowered, unrefined engine.
In 1982, Barton was shutting down and Buell was given the option to purchase the entire stock of spare engines and parts, all drawings and the rights to produce and sell the engine. Buell did so, but the shipment was delayed such that he missed the opportunity to make full use of this new equipment and knowledge for the upcoming 1983 racing season, which delayed the development of the engine somewhat.
With the stunted development, Buell's inquiry with his employer to gain engineering and financial support was declined due to continuing reliability problems with mostly stock Barton engine. It was at this point that Buell had to quit his job at Harley-Davidson (parting amicably) in order to devote more time to the development of his racing effort.
The Buell Motor Company
By late 1984, Yamaha TZs were scarce (Yamaha had ceased production of the TZ series) and the competing Hondas were selling for around $30,000. Buell offered his RW750s under the 'Buell Motor Company' marque for $15,900 to much lauding by the press. The American Machinist's Union Racing Team bought, tested and raced the first publicly sold RW750 (commonly known as 'RW750 number 2'), and gave it glowing marks.
Despite all of this, his timing couldn’t have been worse – the AMA announced in the spring of 1985 that the Superbike class would supplant Formula One as the premier road racing class for the 1986 racing season and the Formula One class would be discontinued, leaving Buell with no market for his creation.
Despite this staggering setback, Buell forged ahead and designed his first entry into the sportbike market, the RR1000. Using his connections at Harley-Davidson, he acquired a sizeable cache of unused XR1000 racing engines, the powerplant of a model he had ridden to a podium finish at the 1983 Road America Battle of the Twins National, so he had confidence in this engine's potential in the sport market. Around this powerhouse, he designed a stiff, extremely light chassis that incorporated the unconventional rubber-mounting system known as "the Uniplanar" that became a patented engineering trademark of Buell sport bikes. The wrap-around fairing design had lower aerodynamic drag than all but a small handful of even current 21st century sportbikes.
Buell's design incorporated the engine as a fully stressed member of the frame. Capping the engineering firsts in this design was Buell's use of a horizontally mounted suspension located beneath the motor utilizing a shock that operated in reverse of the conventional compression-rebound design. Fifty RR1000 models were produced during 1987-1988 before the supply of XR1000 engines was depleted.
Buell saw the newly developed 1203 cc Harley-Davidson Evolution engine being used in their 'Sportster' model line as solid base platform to further tune the performance and handling qualities of his bikes. The RR1200 model was introduced during 1988 with a redesigned chassis to incorporate a modified version of this very different engine design. Through 1989, 65 were produced for sale.
In 1989, Buell introduced the RS1200 model, a two-seat version of the RR1200 marketed to riders who demanded both world-class performance and desired (at least occasional) passenger capacity. 105 of these then-unusual models were produced through 1990.
In 1991, Buell incorporated a five-speed transmission mated to the 1203 cc engine. Buell responded to Harley's revised engine mounting points by further improving an already staggeringly innovative design that was the RS chassis. Stainless steel braided brake lines and a six-piston front brake caliper. Later that same year, Buell introduced a single-seat version of the RS1200 model, dubbed the RSS1200, it won enthusiastic approval of the industry press for its lean, clean lines. Combined production of RSS and RS models totalled 325 through 1993.
Back under Harley-Davidson
In 1987, Devin Battley smuggled Erik Buell onto a cruise ship for the Harley-Davidson annual dealer's meeting. Battley told Harley-Davidson then-CEO, Vaughn Beals, that Buell could give the company a performance image with no risk to Harley. They set up a table for Buell to speak with dealers and by cruise-end he had deposits and orders for 25 motorcycles. Attendees such as Bill Bartels, Don Tilley, Devin Battley and Frank Ulicki (all ex-racers) went on to become some of Buells most successful dealers.
In the 1990s, Buell reformed his production house as the 'Buell Motorcycle Company' in which Harley-Davidson invested a 51 percent interest from the company's onset. Harley-Davidson bought complete control of Buell Motorcycle in 2003, and distributed all Buell motorcycles through selected Harley-Davidson dealerships. Erik Buell remained responsible for the engineering and design of all Buell motorcycles.
Buell led the company to create some of the most innovative, usable sport bikes to date under the XB series of Buell Motorcycles. Using inventions like a hollow frame to house the fuel, a hollow swing arm to house the oil, and an underslung exhaust pipe, he was able to keep the center of gravity low for optimum handling. However, he was still reliant on Harley-Davidson and their supply of Sportster engines for use in his motorcycles until he finally developed the Buell 1125R and 1125CR using a Rotax engine he had a large part in developing.
On October 15, 2009, amid the economic crisis, Harley-Davidson announced that all production of Buell motorcycles would cease on October 30, 2009.
Erik Buell Racing
In November 2009, shortly after being dropped by Harley-Davidson, Buell launched Erik Buell Racing. Originally continuing by only producing race-only versions of the Buell 1125R, he is now rolling out his latest creation; now unrestricted by Harley-Davidson, a bored out, highly upgraded, and newly styled riff on the 1125R, the 1190RS. The 1190RS is receiving rave reviews in the race community, even though it is built street legal. EBR only plans to make 100 1190RS bikes, but is looking forward to ramping up production with other models in the future after he rebuilds his innovative motorcycle building empire. 
The very first (prototype) RW750 eventually found its fate as pieces in Erik's barn workshop, as is common for development machines. In 1998 a group of long-time Buell employees and supporters worked in secret to reassemble this bike using as many original pieces as they could find, hand crafting any missing pieces to bring it as close as possible to its 1983 racing condition. A new Buell 850 cc engine out of a D-sports racing car was used as the powerplant. The reborn bike was given to Erik Buell at the 1998 Race of Champions event, as a complete surprise to him. He was brought to tears and his knees made weak.
- "ERIK BUELL ESTABLISHES ERIK BUELL RACING". Buell Motorcycle Company. Retrieved 23 November 2009.
- Cycle World, November 1987, page 32
- 25 Years of Buell, Canfield & Gess, 2008, ISBN 978-1-884313-74-5, pages 42-44
- Erik Buell at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame
- Frank, Aaron. "2011 Motorcyclist of the Year | Erik Buell". MotorCyclist Magazine. 2011 MotorCyclist Online. Retrieved 23 August 2011.