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Buell Battle Twin

Bye-bye Buell

(from the Travels with Guido series, Motorcycle Trader mag #225, circa May 2009)

by Guy 'Guido' Allen

Saluting the passing of a brand, but let’s hope not an era…

Erik Buell doesn’t fit the mould of the corporate citizen. Get him talking and the ratbag motorcycle enthusiast soon bubbles to the surface. Okay, he’s a businessman, and has probably done okay out of motorcycles over the years. But he’s also a bit of a nutter who, you suspect, would be perfectly happy tinkering in a shed with a few mates, coming up with some new outrageous design.

I got the chance to interview him at length over a year ago, to mark the 25th anniversary of the first machine to carry the Buell brand and he happily admitted that he never expected to live 25 years, let alone be in business that long.

A keen and capable road racer, it was his attempts to come up with better track bikes which led him down the current path. He engineered all sorts of outrageous kit, including two-strokes, and more than once was foiled by a sudden change in race series rules that saw his massive investment (of time, in those days, more than money) go straight down the toilet.

His first real break as a freelance builder was a social encounter with some key personnel at then former employer Harley-Davidson. That little opening eventually led to a sometimes uneasy partnership with the American giant and, eventually, full ownership.

H-D, to its eternal credit, really got its hands dirty when it bought Buell ­ its first action was to clear up some serious and potentially very expensive warranty issues before moving on to new models.

Historically, the brand has always been in danger of being filed under the heading of quirky in folk’s minds.

Many people’s first sighting of the marque was the outrageous and now very valuable Battletwin (pictured), while the machines both technically and stylistically have tended to travel a slightly different road from the mainstream.

I’ve ridden pretty much the entire range from the RR 1200 Battletwin on, and for me the pick of the pre-Rotax litter was the humble Cyclone. It was a genuinely enjoyable ride from a bike with no great pretensions.

Some models have been memorable for other reasons. For example the X1 was the first test machine on which I’d been berated by a law-enforcement officer who was impatiently fingering a gun that was bigger than my bike. It was Utah, it was a lovely day, and a few of us had been taking some mighty liberties with the local road rules. Officer Bloggs wanted to shoot someone or something, but narrowly decided against it.

The real achilles heel for the brand, over much of its life, has been the over-taxed air-cooled powerplants which sometimes struggled to make use of a very lively chassis. That was comprehensively solved with the recent adoption of the modern 1125 twin, which is a genuine rocket.

To me, the Buell line-up had just entered the rarified atmosphere of serious performance motorcycles that owe no apology to any other brand. So why now, of all bloody times, does it have to face the axe?

It’s hard to imagine Harley-Davidson taking the decision lightly and it’s also very easy, from this relatively safe distance, to grossly underestimate just how deep and traumatic the recent financial crash in Buell’s home market has really been.

Erik Buell has come full circle - for the time being at least he’s again an employee of H-D. My one meeting with him suggests that is something which is not going to sit easily with the man ­ I wouldn’t be at all surprised to eventually see him dust himself off and head in a different direction.

In a parting statement to his customer base, Buell said, “May you ride with pride into the future. And may your roads ahead be as adventuresome and rewarding as mine have been for the last 26 years.”

Bye-bye, Buell, for now…

(You can find the complete and uncut four-part Buell interview at out YouTube channel.)

 

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