Erik Buell Unplugged and Uncut

Erik Buell doesn’t get mad, he gets up and goes back to work.

Cycle World

Cycle World

As usual, whenever there's big controversy and strong opinion, the Truth lies somewhere in the middle. DMG roadracing started off in 2009 with enough rancor and confusion to last the season, and things only got less civilized when the debate turned to Buell and rider Danny Eslick's title aboard the 1125R (pictured above in one of his victorious moments last year). In all the media hoopla and side-taking (mostly one side), it seemed like the one party notably absent from the debate was Erik Buell himself.

I'm not taking sides because I like to think I'm smart enough to know when I'm ignorant, which is most of the time. But now that the smoke has cleared, it seemed like an excellent time to get Erik Buell's opinion on everything that's gone on recently with the demise of the company that bore his name, the controversy over his race team and all the rest of life's rich pageant. As you can imagine, he's got lots to say about all of this, so our in-depth, brutally candid conversation will be presented in three parts over the next few weeks. Hang on to your hat and bring a calculator...

Part One: Racing

CW: What's your take on all the wailing and teeth-gnashing from all the people who didn't think you should be allowed in Daytona Sportbike? Obviously you had a big displacement advantage, but it didn't wind up looking so obvious on the track most of the time. To me, the fact that some 600s were able to beat your bike most of the time also highlighted what a huge advantage factory bikes have over the rest of the field. Then there was the freak-out when you were allowed into Superbike. Did people think you were going to jump in and immediately beat Mladin or Yamaha? Were people looking for a convenient excuse to pull out of racing after years of mediocre results, a floundering series and a sudden deficit of funds?

Erik Buell:

You probably don't have enough time to hear how I feel on last year's racing. But here's a snapshot from a whole movie... a long snapshot, but it's a loooong movie.

DMG/AMA Pro Racing made a few tweaks to the Superbike class, but left it mostly alone. They simply tightened up on limiting how much money the factories could spend and punished a couple of factory teams who were caught cheating. The factory teams screamed about how awful they were.

Next, DMG/AMA Pro Racing set up the new Daytona Sportbike class to be a formula where they would mix multiple brands of sportbikes as opposed to full on race-replica superbikes. The plan was to bring in as many brands as possible, like what they do in GrandAm, where Mustangs race against BMW's and Hondas, etc. No way was there to be displacement parity or weight parity, just performance parity.

All would be controlled by allowing manufacturers to submit a TIF for possible technical changes they wanted, and during the season these TIF items would be taken away and/or weight added as needed to make all manufacturers competitive. Seemed to have worked in GrandAm, so why not? More brands, more riders, more hope for sponsors, closer races. What could be wrong with that? Aprilias joined the field, as did Buell, Triumph, KTM...

But the Japanese-manufacturer race representatives were even more furious about this. They wanted to stay with a spec class for 600s, just like Superbike. It fits what they sell, and no one else makes 600s except for them, so they had the perfect racket.

And there were more people happy to scream and howl. If you were one of the insiders who could get the trick factory stuff, you could always be assured of finishing near the top. Now, this magic formula for lordship was threatened. The serfs had pitchforks and were storming the Los Angeles importer castles.

Danny Eslick won at Fontana. Horrors! Hadn't the "landed gentry" of racing made the determination he was not one of the anointed and would no longer get the trick stuff? So where to spend money if not on trick parts? Well, spend it on PR to try to destroy the uprising. Then more surprise finishes by privateers. A direct quote from one of the factory team managers was "What are these guys with the small trailers doing on the grid ahead of my guys?' What indeed? Maybe we were finally measuring talent not wallet?

But the bad press continued. Incredible races were going on, decided by miraculous dives and passes. Six brands in the top 10 was common in DSB. Ducati, Suzuki and Yamaha were in a real battle in Superbike. Adjustments were made in DSB, the 600s and the Mille were allowed to be lighter, the Mille was given a Superbike airbox and better bodywork. The Buells had weight added, TIF allowances removed. Wins were by tenths or hundredths of seconds. But if you read about it in many places, the races were a sham, not worth seeing, a mockery. The AMA had been bought out by Buell.

What utter BS. The industry was busy destroying itself over egos, while spectators were robbed of some of the greatest races ever—in the middle of a hideous recession. At the end, the DSB championship was decided in the last race of the year by a couple of points, and could have been a Suzuki, a Yamaha or a Buell. Danny won on consistency as well as huge talent. Our bike was not a dominant force; the rules were set to make the bikes equal.

But if our bike had a bigger engine, how could it not be unfair? Well, the journalists sold their readers a pile of ignorance when they talked about power-to-weight advantages. Yes we had some power-to-weight, which showed on straights, but our power was restricted a lot, and you need to remember rider weight in the equation. So it was far less than people claimed.

Secondly, we ran heavier, which on identical 600-type tires was really a big issue. How much time on a race track are you at full power compared to how much time you are at the traction limit of the tire? All the time you are at the traction limit of the tires—accelerating, cornering, braking—we were at a disadvantage. Third, we had more inertia than the 600s, which makes the bike harder to turn, especially, once again, on 600-spec tires. Fourth, we were told to run bodywork that was not very aerodynamic to hold down top speed to less than the fast 600s. We were very artificially constrained with power, weight and aero, while the 600s were at the ragged edge on power but were on perfect tires. It made for great racing.

CW: Makes sense to me especially after watching a few of those races. On paper, your bike has a big torque advantage at the exits, but it didn't always appear that way on the track. Tires, huh?

EB: Yep. The tires would only accept so much input before they would let go, so we couldn't use the power until the bikes were straightened up. Danny was able to deal to a significant extent with the tires going away due to the extra weight of our bikes because of his Supermoto/flattrack experience, while Barney and others kept getting tossed on the ground. Rain was a great equalizer as the tires didn't get cooked, and we had four Buells in the top 10 at Road America when it rained, even though our bikes were well down on peak back-straight speed to the Hondas, Yamahas and Aprilias.

We never would have won without Danny. He had just the right skills to battle with the weight and tire penalty we had on braking and cornering, and to keep the bike off the ground. Suzuki had him hired by October!

Our Superbike version showed what a minimally restricted 1125 could do at New Jersey, running solidly in the AMA Pro Racing Superbike front pack even though it was down on power. To anyone who wanted to tell the real story, it was there and as clear as could be. But no, instead they said our Superbike was a cheater. No matter that anyone could buy one, that it had less displacement, smaller valves, less valve timing than the vaunted 1198cc 1098R. No, since it was a Buell it was cheating. No matter that we built them out of 1125Rs exactly as DMG/AMA Pro Racing requested, and no matter that it was down on power, had the same tires and the same weight as everyone else, ran a stock front brake, etc. No, we were not cheating in any way, nor did we have any unfair advantage in the series. But we were a problem for the establishment.

And to top it all off, all three Buell riders have been signed by those same factories to ride their bikes next year. They knew we weren't cheating, that we had solid bikes that allowed the best "small trailer" riders like Cory and Taylor to beat their guys; they just convinced or paid their shills to say that we were . If our bikes had such an advantage, why did they let their riders go and hire ours? I mean those guys could only win on cheating bikes, right?

Okay, I'm done for the moment.

CW: I'm sometimes amazed at how resistant people are to change. Poor Mat Mladin's crew can't change their shock so fast anymore! Ah, join the club.... Some of the media did seem to pile on you pretty hard.

EB: Hey, I'm sure this is all too long to publish, and probably will just make advertisers mad anyhow. But you know I speak the truth, and that it is a shame virtually no one in the press did. I am so pissed at Kevin Cameron's article on this topic, I feel like pulling the foreword I wrote for his latest book. For Christ's sake, Kevin had credibility with me until he wrote that we had 180 hp and the Japanese 600's had 105. Alzheimer's or what?

Okay, now I am on a roll again... I won't get into engine inertia effects on turning, accelerating and braking, or any of a myriad of more exotic issues that make up actual motorcycle competition, but here is something reasonable for a layperson.

Here's the math: (390 lbs. + 180 for the rider with gear on + 24 lbs. fuel at start of race for Buell)/145 hp = 4.09, vs. (365 + 180 + 24)/140 hp= 4.20 for the Aprilia with the new airbox, vs. (360 + 180 + 24)/128 hp = 4.40 for the Japanese. This is the advantage of power-to-weight at full throttle: about 7% over the 600, and 4.5% over the Aprilia.

Now, the instrumentation we have showed that a top rider only has full throttle applied between 10% and 20% of the time on the track. So let's say we have a 2-minute-lap-time track with full throttle in the middle of this range: 20% of 120 seconds is 18 seconds. Now let's suppose that 5% of that time is near top speed where the aerodynamic advantages of the 600 come into play and make things equal.

So, 15% of the time we have an acceleration advantage. During 18 seconds a lap you can see an acceleration advantage. Plenty of time for a redneck to holler out on the TV show, "Dayum, look at the power of that Hurley-Dayvudson!," or some equally edifying treatise. So we are ahead of the 600s by a percentage of 18 seconds x 7%, or 1.2 seconds, and the Aprilia by about 0.9 seconds. That makes sense. See! Unfair, unfair!

But wait, there's weight. We are at a disadvantage of (594-564)/564, or 5%, to the 600s, and (594-569)/569, or 4% (vs. Aprilia), everywhere that the throttle is not on full. And that is the other 80% of the track. So for 96 seconds we are at a disadvantage of 5% to the 600s and 4% to the Aprilias. That equals 96 x .05, or 4.8 seconds!= Hmmm, 4.8 advantage vs. 1.2 advantage puts us at a 3.6 second disadvantage to the 600, and a 2.9 second disadvantage to the Aprilia.

Okay, the reality is we don't run at a full fuel load for the whole race, and there are sections of the track where neither motor is at full throttle nor tires at full use. And some tracks may be at 25% full throttle, although we've never seen that much anywhere, and as little as 10% on some tracks, with top riders. And on some tracks maybe the aero advantage doesn't kick in anywhere. And some of the math not included in here makes a difference—the advantage of the ZTL in unsprung weight helped, the tractability of the Twin made it easier for Danny to control wheelspin, although the inertia hurt in corner transitions, etc., etc. And maybe sometimes the Japanese had a little less power. And of course how do you factor in a rider like Danny and how he could hold our bike on the ragged edge lap after lap?

But the reality is, what you saw on the track absolutely substantiates that power-to-weight alone is not the winning factor, and is why my math is much closer to reality than what some of the either uneducated or malicious techno-journalists wrote. And it also tells why a performance on-the-track control formula with active intervention during the season is the only way to make competition close. No rules group could possibly do all the math to create a rule book. Racing motorcycles are not simple. They are a wildly complex exercise in physics.

The only guy who really wrote honestly about the class and our bike was Alan Cathcart, in Cycle News of all places. He didn't do detailed math, but actually rode the bikes and wrote of the reality of performance in lap times with bikes of this configuration. He must have submitted it so close to the deadline that they didn't read it.

Okay, I guess I wasn't done... but now I am. Aren't you sorry you asked?!

Our own Mark Cernicky takes Corey West's 1125RR for a joyride in Joisey. Not so bad...

It wasn't as easy as Danny Eslick sometimes made it look, according to Erik Buell.

In the end, Eslick won the Daytona SportBike title by five points over Josh Herrin's Yamaha R6.

Buell vs. Japanese 600 made for some tight racing: Eslick battles Jamie Hacking.

Taylor Knapp had a best finish of sixth in American Superbike on his 1125RR.

The 1125RR purportedly made 171 horsepower and weighed 40 pounds less than the 1125R.

Strong like Buell. The Superbike spec 1125RR stirred up a perfect storm of controversy.

Erik Buell and Crew Chief Dave McGrath.

Danny Eslick doing the voodoo the Buell did do so well to win the Daytona Sportbike Championship.