Exclusive: The Demise of Buell Motorcycles

Cycle World gets the inside story on the closure of America's sportbike maker and rides the Barracuda 2 superbike before it goes to the crusher!


Eric Buell

It is safe to say everybody was shocked when the press release went out on October 15, 2009, announcing that Harley-Davidsonhad decided to close down Buell Motorcycles. But nobody looked more shocked than Erik Buell himself in the video address posted that same day on the Buell website. I got the release just after 6 a.m. PDT and minutes later was on the phone with H-D/Buell PR man Paul James, who at that moment was driving to Florida to race his James Gang/Hoban BrothersBuell 1125R in Moto GT1 at Daytona. As any good PR person would, he reinforced the points made in the press release, the ones stating that Buell would not be sold because it was too enmeshed in the H-D brand, that the company was focusing on its core business of making cruisers, and that when the board looked at dollars invested in Buell versus those invested in Harley-Davidson, the return on the traditional product was simply better.

But a lot of questions remained. Which is why we contacted Steve Anderson. Anderson has a history with Cycle World dating back to 1982, when he carried the Technical Editor and then Executive Editor titles before becoming Editor-in-Chief of Cycle magazine up until its shutdown in 1991. Afterward, he returned again as a CWcontributor. Eventually, Anderson's engineering background (his MIT thesis project was a roadracing motorcycle...) and depth of experience in the two-wheel world landed him a job at Buell Motorcycles. In 2005, he became one of two Platform Directors, reporting directly to Erik, and led the XBRR project along with several others.

Anderson's last day at Buell was December 18, 2009, and now he's on our masthead once again, telling the story of the "Demise of Buell Motorcycle Company" in the May issue of Cycle World. It's an incredible read with a perspective and depth you won't find anywhere else. From the early days in 1993 as Erik contemplated his contract with Harley-Davidson to the 150-horsepower turbo XB12 "Diablo" prototype to the stillborn "Griffin" motocrosser to the first launch of the not-ready-for-primetime 1125R, Anderson deeply examines forces that brought Buell Motorcycles to its end.

If that weren't enough, Road Test Editor Don Canet managed to get a ride on the Barracuda 2, Buell's "next" superbike. As you will see, styling had come a long way, and significant engineering and tuning strides had also been made. For the full story, pick up the May issue of Cycle World on newsstands now, or download a $4.99 digital copy atwww.zinio.com/cycleworld.