A Buell Sportbike for the Rest of Us?

Erik Buell left—or, more properly—was kicked out of Harley-Davidson in 2009. A non-compete agreement kept out of making streetbikes for several months, but he came back with the 1190RS when he was able. But, since he only made 100 of them, and they cost forty grand, you didn’t get one and I didn’t either. But, based on an announcement today—and securing some financing from GE capital and a partnership with Indian motorcycle giant Hero MotoCorp, that may be changing.

Continue reading “A Buell Sportbike for the Rest of Us?”

I think I know what I want

2009 Buell 1125R Arctic White
2009 Buell 1125R, Arctic White

I’ve pretty much decided what bike I want for a used 2nd bike. That’s it right over there on the left.

I want the 2009 Buell 1125R, in Arctic White, with the blue screen and wheels. I don’t want the 2010, with ugly “R” on the intake cowlings and the blue stuff blackened.

I want that bike in that color.

I’ve ridden it, and it has fantastic handling.  You’d think the steep rake would make it twitchy, but it isn’t.

It’s a vibey, growly twin that weighs 450lbs wet, and, in stock configuration, puts 130 HP and about 75 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheel, according to Sport Rider. It’d be a big change from my FJR, that’s for sure.

It also has really comfy ergos for me–in sportbike terms, at any rate, and would be great little commuter, especially on the winding roads through Bonsall that I ride twice a day.

The only possible problem I can see is that, looking at Cycle Trader today, there is exactly one available.  In the entire US. And it’s 3,000 miles away in Florida. So, there is the slight possibility that finding exactly this bike, in decent shape, may have some degree of difficulty attached to it. But I remain stupidly optimistic that this obstacle can be overcome.

At the moment, it’s not really an obstacle at all, since I wouldn’t be able to buy so much as a creme-filled donught until I pay of my income tax bill for this year. But, perhaps in late summer…

By the way, I’ve been perusing Craigslist, Oodle, and Cycle Trader a lot over the past week or so.  Here’s an observation for prospective motorcycle sellers. Just because you had a custom paint job consisting of electric blue and gold skulls and half-naked ladies on the fairing, and then chromed the swingarm and all exposed engine parts doesn’t mean that your seven year old CBR1000RR is worth $8,000. Seriously. Trust me on that.

Magpul Arms the 1125R?

Magpul Buell 1125R Ronin
Magpul Buell 1125R Ronin

Magpul Industries is best known for firearms like the Magpul Masada ACR, an infantry battle rifle–which is also becoming available in a civilian semi-auto version–firearms accessories, and the like.  But apparently, their design team has other interests as well.

At the SHOT Show, in Las vegas today,  Magpul unveiled the “Ronin”,  their aftermarket treatment of the Buell 1125R.  Apparently, Magpul is looking to producing a Ronin kit to convert the plain, vanilla, street version of the 1125R into a Ronin model.  So, if you have an 1125R, in the very near future, it looks like you might just be able to turn it into one of these, if the mood strikes you.

By the way, those two gun-barrel looking things poking out front are not integrated Magpul-desgigned submachine guns.  They’re just the high-intensity halogen headlights.

Yeah, I know.  I was disappointed, too.

Buell 1190RR Breaks Cover

Erik Buell Racing has a facebook page with pics of the the new 1190RR being prepped for shipment to a racer in Germany.  It’s a nice looking bike.

Buell Racing 1190RR Buell Racing 1190RR Buell Racing 1190RR Buell Racing 1190RR

Erik Buell can’t build streetbikes until February 2011, according to his non-compete clause with Harley-Davidson, so you won’t see one of these screaming up the street any time soon.  But, clearly, there are things going on at EBR that might betoken some future streetbike model.  And I’m sure that there are a number of people who’d like to speak to Eric Buell about opportunities as soon as they are legally able.

What I find really interesting here is that motorcycle didn’t just materialize out of whole cloth.  I mean, all du respect to Eric Buell as a motorcycling genius or whatever, but I find it hard to believe that the 1190RR’s motor just materialized out of thin air between the time Harley dumped Buell and now.  It hasn’t even been a year yet. So, it seems to me that this was a concept that had to have been on the drawing board prior to the Buell shutdown.

Harley Marketing to the Perv Community.
Harley Marketing to the Perv Community.

Jebus Cripes, that decision still doesn’t make much sense to me.  Imagine what the response would have been to an American sportbike in the same performance class as a Ducati 1198 or Aprilia RSV4.  For a company that became a textbook business school marketing case study for the way they sold the Harley “lifestyle” to the baby boomers, they are slack-jawed morons when it comes to marketing to the younger biking community. I mean, just look at this Harley ad.

That’s your baby-boomer wet-dream right there.  Old men getting married to under-18 girls.  Great image to put in your advertising, MoCo.  Classy.

Not that anybody believes a 17 year-old girl would f*ck that hairy pervert.

But, that’s Harley-Davidson for you.  They are so focused in on the baby-boomers that they just don’t seem to have a clue about how to reach out to anyone younger.  They can build all then trikes they want, to keep their geriatric customer base riding along for a few more short years, but without learning how to hook up to younger riders, they are going to face trouble in another 10 years or so.

And they already had a brand in Buell that they could have built into a sportbike–and maybe a racing–powerhouse…and they just threw it away.

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Free Erik? Done.

As of this afternoon, Harley Davidson announced that Erik Buell has left the MoCo, and is opening a race shop.  His new venture, Erik Buell Racing LLC, will specialize in creating race-use only 1125r motorcycles under a lciense from Harley-Davidson.

As such, he will no longer be an employee of Harley-Davidson, and will once again be directly involved in the motorcycle racing world.

The fascinating question is whether or not this is just a stop-gap venture to take up his time until February 2011, when his no-compete contract with H-D expires, and he is free to join up with another motorcycle company to begin building bikes for the rest of us again.

The full press release from Harley-Davidson is below the fold.

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Continue reading “Free Erik? Done.”

Buell: Sadness, Anger and Rumors

For a motorcycle brand with such a relatively small group of owners, Buell Motorcycles evoke fierce loyalty.  So, H-D’s decision to kill the brand hasn’t been well received.

As an expression of that displeasure, Hell For Leather Magazine is offering special T-shirts, for both men and women.

"Free Eric Buell" T-Shirt
"Free Eric Buell" T-Shirt

That’s the anger.  Now comes the sadness.  Hell For Leather also has this picture, taken of a dumpster outside Buell’s East Troy factory.

Not all of the baby turtles make it to the ocean.
Not all of the baby turtles make it to the ocean.

And now, finally, we come to the rumors.

I got a call this evening from a fellow who related a rumor that, just prior to the decision to eliminate Buell Motorcycles, Harley-Davidson had gotten an offer–or, at least, the proposal to make an offer–from Bombardier (the parent company of Victory Motorcycles and Can-Am Spyders) to purchase the Buell Division from H-D.

Now, nobody else I know has mentioned this, but I did find a mention of this rumor, or, rather, a similar one, at Motorcycle Daily:

There are of course rumors about Erik Buell traveling to Canada to meet with Bombardier (makers of the Can-Am Spyder). The font of this rumor, a guy posting on a chopper forum, claims a reliable source, but his credibility is undermined, as he lists his hometown as “Bonertown” in his profile.

So, I can definitely confirm that there is a rumor about Buell and Bombardier, for all the good that does you.  Unfortunately, that’s all I can confirm about Bombardier.  Unless Chopper-Boy from Bonertown has really good sources, it’s probably just an internet rumor, so you shouldn’t get your hopes up about Erik Buell applying for Landed Immigrant status in Montreal.

I can say this, however:  I do know that there are a couple of people outside Milwaukee who are very interested in talking to Erik Buell about…ummm…pursuing new challenges.  As soon as his 15-month non-compete agreement with H-D expires, of course.

And, for right now, that’s all I have to say about that.

UPDATE: What was I thinking?  Victory’s parent company is Polaris, not Bombardier.

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Grasping at Straws?

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The announcement of Buell’s shut-down by Harley-Davidson is still spreading ripples through the motorcycle world.  But, closer to Buell’s home, city and county officials are looking into trying to save the Buell manufacturing facility–and the local jobs it supported–in Walworth County.

If Erik Buell is interested and able to participate in a new venture, the Walworth County group will explore further steps, including trying to talk with Harley and seeking potential investors, Burkhardt said.

“We’ve had very preliminary contact from an investment group out of the Chicago area and also out of the Minneapolis area,” he said.

They only face two hurdles.  First, no one at the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance has spoken to Erik Buell, so they have no idea if he’s even interested or available in working out such a deal.  Second, harley-Davidson doesn’t seem interested in having these sorts of discussion at all.  They just want to kill Buell.

Bob Klein, Harley’s director of corporate communications, reiterated that Harley is “discontinuing the Buell product line rather than selling the business because of how deeply integrated Buell is into our business systems and distribution network.”

That sounds…plausible.  But I don’t think it’s the whole truth. Indeed, it’s not even the same story that HD was spinning a few days ago.  Then, the decision to close Buell down was based on the very positive tax implications a shut-down would have, vice trying to sell the division.

And, while I certainly don’t want to assign impure motives to anyone at HD, there is a flavor of schadenfreude about the way the MoCo is handling this.  Maybe it’s my imagination, but I can’t escape the sense that there’s some secret glee in Milwaukee over getting rid of Buell.

But, whether its the tax code, or sheer viciousness, the Walworth County effort doesn’t look like one that’s destined for success at the moment.

If. Erik Buell is interested and able to participate in a new venture, the Walworth County group will explore further steps, including trying to talk with Harley and seeking potential investors, Burkhardt said.

“We’ve had very preliminary contact from an investment group out of the Chicago area and also out of the Minneapolis area,” he said.

Harley Davidson Kills Buell, To Sell MV Agusta

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I wish I could say I was surprised this morning to finally see the news made public that Harley-Davidson was going to sell MV Agusta, and shut down Buell’s operations.  But, I wasn’t.

Let’s address the MV Agusta deal first.  I never really understood exactly what the MoCo thought it was getting when it purchased MV and Cagiva.  Turns out I’m not alone in that, since apparently nobody at Harley-Davidson did either.  Cagiva was a financial basket case, and MV–though it had a glorious racing past and venerable reputation–had been reduced to a boutique maker of a small number of motorcycles.

And once HD had finished crowing about buying it, they proceeded to do…nothing.  No press releases.  No earth-shattering changes.  They just let it sort of sit there.  They owned it, but once they did, they didn’t seem to know what to do with it.  So now, they’re selling it at what is probably going to be a deeper discount than they purchased it for, so it seems like it was just a multi-million-dollar bath for Milwaukee.

Oh, well, it’ll make a nice write-off against tax, I’m sure.

As for Buell, I’ve already gotten into some detail in the post linked above as to why the MoCo had completely bungled the management of Buell.

A brief tour of BadWeb, the Buell biker forum, today shows that the Buellers are no more receptive to hearing bad news about the company–nor any more prone to think about it realistically–than they were last month when I wrote that my sources indicated to me that Buell was probably going to be shut down.

It’s full of fantasies about some sort of demonstration to make HD reverse its decision.  There also seem to be a number of analysts who write that this is an insane decision for the MoCo, because losing Buell will destroy Harley.

That’s just fantasy.  Quite apart from the fact that Harley is doing a fine job of destroying itself by confining itself to an aging customer base, the fact is that Harley killed Buell a long time ago through their mismanagement of the brand.  Killing Buell is a symptom of HD’s problem, not the cause of it.

The company says they are doing this to concentrate on their brand, by which I assume they mean continuing to market even more aggresively to their shrinking, aging customer base.  As one industry wag put it to to me today, “How many more 52 year-olds looking for their first bike can they find?”

As far as Buell contributing much to harley financially, well, that’s just absurd.

In 2008, HD’s annual report states that they sold $313.8m in general merch, making up 5.6% of corporate revenues. Buell Motorcycles, on the other hand, made $123.2m in revenues, or 2.2% of corporate revenues. According to the company 10k statement for 2008, Buell accounted for 4,000 of HD’s 222,200 motorcycle registrations. Of the 686 HD dealerships in 2008, more than half of them don’t even sell Buells.

In other words, Buell accounted for 0.2% of HD motorcycle sales, and the MoCo made twice as much money selling orange dog scarves and rhinestone belts for girls than from the sale of Buell motorcycles.

So, the idea that keeping Buell motorcycles will make up for…well…anything at Harley Davidson is so at variance with the actual facts as to qualify as sheer fantasy. Let’s not pretend that Buell has either the user base or financial performance to rank as a serious part of Harley Davidson.

I guess it does show, though, that some people personalize their motorcycle brand very deeply.

I guess my take-away for those people is that sometimes, when people write negative things about your favorite motorcycle brand, it’s not because they hate it.  Sometimes, they write it because it’s true.

Just something to think about.

In 2008, HD’s annual report states that they sold $313.8m in general merch, making up 5.6% of corporate revenues. Buell Motorcycles, on the other hand, made $123.2m in revenues, or 2.2% of corporate revenues. According to the company 10k statement for 2008, Buell accounted for 4,000 of HD’s 222,200 motorcycle registrations. Of the 686 HD dealerships in 2008, more than half of them don’t even sell Buells.

So, the idea that Buell motorcycles will make up for…well…anything at Harley Davidson is so at variance with the actual facts as to qualify as sheer fantasy. Let’s not pretend that Buell has either the user base or financial performance to rank as a serious part of Harley Davidson.

Buell’s Future No Longer Uncertain

Last month, I wrote an article claiming that Buell’s future was uncertain, as a signifigant number of Harley-Davidson execs were leading a charge to eliminate the brand from the MoCo’s line-up.

Writing that story made me very unpopular in the Buell world for a few days.

Today, it became public knowledge that Buell is, indeed, on the chopping block.  Harley Davidson is discontinuing the brand and shutting down Buell’s operations.

It’s a sad day, I think, to see a company that had so much promise destroyed by the squandering of the opportunities it presented.

Reading Between the Lines

Just before I left for vacation, I reported that an informed source had told me that the board members and top executives at Harley-Davidson were considering whether or not to keep Buell Motorcycles as part of the Harley-Davidson corporation.  Naturally, I became the most hated man in Buell World for a day or two.  Court Canfield even dropped in to tell me what an ass I am.

Now, I haven’t had a chance to catch up with my source since I got back from Alaska, but I did notice this story in Friday’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.  And when I did, I also noticed this line near the bottom of the story:

Erik Buell said he didn’t renew his employment contract with Harley-Davidson, although he isn’t planning on retiring.

Probably means nothing.  No doubt there are any number of sound reasons why Erik Buell didn’t renew his employment contract with the MoCo.  I am curious, though, as to what they might be.

Buell’s Future Uncertain?

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Since Kieth Wandell took over from Jim Ziemer as the CEO of Harley-Davidson, analyst expectections have been that Wandell, an outsider bought in as CEO from Milwaukee-based automotive supplier Johnson Controls, would be a strong, take-charge leader who is well-suited to address the MoCo’s current challenges. One of those challenges may be Erik Buell, and Buell Motorcycles division.  A confidential source with high-level contacts inside Harley-Davidson informs me that a number of H-D executives will be pushing to have the company divest itself of Buell Motorcycles, and that a decision to sell or shut down Buell may come in the near future.

The word is that both Buell and Harley-Davidson have found the relationship unsatisfactory for a number of reasons, including the company’s refusal to allow Buell to outsource anything but Evolution V-Twins for several years, and Erik Buell’s strained personal relations with a number of MoCo executives. With a company outsider who has no particular vested interest taking over the helm as CEO, and devastatingly bad sales results due to the current recession, some Harley executives believe that this would be the perfect time to kill the Buell division.  If so, it would be a sad close to an overall sad chapter at Harley-Davidson.

In my view, Harley’s stewardship of Buell Motorcycles has been a classic case of a missed opportunity. The acquisition of Buell was a great opportunity for the MoCo to develop a line of race-bred sportbikes that could have made Harley a serious contender in that market.  But, Harley-Davidson blew it.

The company’s refusal to allow Buell to use any engine but the air-cooled, V-Twin, Sportster-derived Evolution engine effectively throttled Buell from the very beginning.  Whatever advantages may have accrued from implementing the Buell “trilogy of tech” in a sporting motorcycle were largely negated by the use of the underpowered Evolution powerplant.  Harley seems not to have understood that creating a technically sophisticated sportbike that would get its lunch eaten by any 600cc sportbike produced by the Big Four was nothing but a recipe for failure.

Ironically, elements of the Buell “trilogy of tech”, especially mass centralization and low unsprung weight have shown up in competing sportbikes.  For instance, the 2010 BMW S1000RR utilizes an under-body muffler arrangement very similar to Buell’s.  So, clearly, the problem isn’t Buell’s technology, but rather the use to which it was put, prior to the release of the 1125R in 2008.

Harley also alienated its dealers by forcing them to accept consignments of Buell motorcycles that they didn’t want to sell, and, in many cases, knew they couldn’t sell.  Not only were they being required to sell a sportbike that almost no one wanted–as Buell’s 2% market share of sportbike sales indicates–the MoCo never adequately invested in dealer training, in either the sales or service departments.

This is not to say that Erik Buell has been blameless either.  He is reputed to be abrasive and difficult to work with by many H-D executives.  This has resulted in bad feelings among executives that has made them less likely to give Mr. Buell’s opinions about the direction of Buell Motorcycles any serious consideration.

Moreover, Buell’s  marketing and public relations have been marked by avoidable mistakes.  For instance, the press reveal of the 2008 1125R–the only bike with Buell makes with a non-Sportster powerplant–was a disaster.  Buell used pre-production bikes with faulty fuel management and suspension issues for the demonstrations given to the international motorcycling press.  As a result, the general impression given by the media was of a mediocre bike with poor fueling, wallowy suspension, and quality control issues.   Rather than waiting until the company had ironed out those issues satisfactorily, Buell went ahead with the reveal, which resulted in doing more harm than good to the bike’s image.  Most recently, Buell’s callous dismissal of the Blast model for the 2010 model year, replete with disparaging comments about the bike, alienated many observers–not only in the press, but among Buell’s customer base as well.

If the anti-Buell Harley execs get their way, this long litany of failure will come to an end by pushing Buell out the door.

2009 Streetfighter Comparo

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Motorcycle USA has their comparison of 2009 streetfighter motorcycles online.  In this comparo, they put the Ducati Streetfighter, Buell 1125CR, and the Aprilia Tuono 1000R head to head, both on the track, and on the street.

You’d probably think that the Ducati Streetfighter would be a shoo-in to win this comparo, but surprisingly, they though it was too track-oriented to be a good daily ride.  They liked the Tuono, but thought it was just a tad too light in the torque/acceleration department.  The Buell, on the other hand, had a significant horsepower deficit.  When all the pluses and minuses were added up, Motorcycle USA concluded:

Never in a million years did I think the 1125CR could best the Ducati. But it did. And it isn’t because it’s the fastest or prettiest – because it’s not. Not even close. It’s top dog because it delivers the most important intangible sensation when riding: Fun. It handles so perfectly that you feel like the bike is an extension of one’s being. Its ergonomics are well thought out and while its engine isn’t the fastest, it still has character and delivers all the right sensations, albeit at a tad slower speed. In fact, our only real complaints are some very minor styling and fit-and-finish issues. So, if it’s the best handling, most fun, easiest-to-use Streetfighter that you’re looking for, look no further. Say hello to the 2009 Buell 1125CR.

It really is interesting how often the Buell 1125R comes out on top in these comparison tests.