Exclusive Interview: Erik Buell is Back in Business

This time, Erik Buell is doing it his way

By Alan Cathcart, Photography by Tom Riles

Q: Given that Harley-Davidson retains the rights to all Buell intellectual property, how are you able to sell motorcycles under the Erik Buell Racing name?
A: One thing that I did get from them, which I think was a great move, was the ability to license and use the Buell name and sell derivative Buell racebikes until December 21, 2010. It was a good marketing move for them, because it kept the Buell brand alive and saved it from collapsing while they had a lot of inventory in the dealer network to sell off. Harley won't build any more Buells, but it still has to dispose of inventory and keep the value up in the short term. Allowing us to keep racing under the EBR flag was a very inexpensive way to help their dealers and keep good PR coming about Buell motorcycles. Right now we're at 10 full-time and two part-time employees, almost all from the old Buell group. We offer four basic models, ranging from $7500 track-day bikes to the $44,900 1190RR superbike. We won't be able to sell complete Buell motorcycles after 2010, but I can continue to supply parts because I have all the tooling needed to make the race parts. Someone can bring us an 1125R and we can build an RR from it.

Q: What is the status of your relationship with the Harley-Davidson Motor Company? A: The separation was reasonably amicable. I did have a contract that said I couldn't get back into the motorcycle industry until February 2011, but that's basically fallen by the wayside and I'm pretty much free to do my own thing now. Buell is finished and gone, and it's not like I'm going to compete with H-D, so why should they keep me out of the industry?

Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: I want to get back into the streetbike business, manufacturing innovative sportbikes. Only this time, I don't want to be restricted in what I deliver to the customer. If I have investors or enter into a partnership with another company-which I guess is inevitable-it'll have to be somebody who very much understands the sportbike market and the customers I want to address.

Q: How would that differ from last time? Do you feel Harley-Davidson management failed to give you the necessary support to build the bikes the market demanded?
A: Look at the B2 sportbike that was scheduled to debut in 2011. That would have finally brought to market a motorcycle I built as a prototype way back in 1988. That would've been 23 years between concept and production! Sure, it was a radical bike, but all the way Harley management resisted. "We don't want to do a hyperbike," they said. "We don't want to go head-to-head with the Japanese." The whole situation at H-D got pretty frustrating. I'd throw out concepts, but the bottom line was that they made the decisions as to what got built. I'm convinced we'd have been much more successful had we come out with a genuine superbike like the B2 years ago.

Q: Have you discussed working for Bombardier, possibly designing and building motorcycles under their Can-Am brand?
A: I can't talk about that specifically. But I will say it's a great company. Bombardier and its Rotax division are both very innovative companies.

Q: Has Erik Buell Racing had any discussions with Bombardier about using the Rotax 1125R engine in a future streetbike?
A: We've discussed buying engines from them in the future if we move ahead. I like the engine very much, and it's been great for us in terms of racing. It's extremely durable. You can put thousands of racing miles on them at Superbike level, and they still look like new. Rotax really knows how to build motors.

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