Racing has always been core to anything Erik Buell is involved in, and some of my favorite work assignments involved racing Buells.
Erik Buell has been a constant in my motojournalism career since literally the beginning. My first official assignment for Motorcyclist was the Buell XB12 press launch in August 2003. Then-editor Mitch Boehm cancelled his trip at the last minute and, since I lived only an hour from Wisconsin's Road America where the launch took place, I got the call. Donning borrowed Motorcyclist leathers to rip around my home track on a brand-new American-made sportbike followed by a private interview with famous motorcycle designer Erik Buell? Stuff of dreams for this hungry freelance moto-obsessive. A forever bond between the Buell brand and me was forged.
The Buell thread has stitched continuously through my career since then. Partly due to proximity with his adopted home of East Troy, Wisconsin (my "Midwest Desk" in Milwaukee is just 45 minutes away), not to mention friendships formed riding and racing with many of his staff, I usually get the nod whenever Buell business needs attending. Looking back, even I'm surprised by how many Buells I've twisted the throttle on—from early XBs to the first Rotax-powered, liquid-cooled 1125R (I attended that launch at Laguna Seca in 2007, and I recall a typically intense "discussion" with Mr. Buell over the lack of a steering damper, or "Band-Aid," as he insisted), to my brave Buell Ulysses long-termer that opened my eyes to adventure touring, to the fearsome, air-cooled Buell "tribute" project bike we built in 2011, and so many more.
Racing has always been core to anything Erik Buell is involved in, and some of my favorite work assignments involved racing Buells, like competing in the Moto-ST endurance racing series with former Buell Motorcycles communications manager Paul James and current Erik Buell Racing crew chief Mike Kirkpatrick. Another highlight was testing the brutal 1125RR superbike Danny Eslick deployed to win the controversial 2009 AMA Pro Daytona SportBike championship.
Hard work and high controversy—that's been the story for most of Erik Buell's 40-plus-year career in the motorcycle industry. His history is punctuated by spectacular failures and even more spectacular comebacks. Just one month after winning that AMA championship—a goal of Erik's since he raced AMA Superbike himself in the early '70s—parent company Harley-Davidson announced its devastating decision to "discontinue" Buell Motorcycles. Buell seemingly lost everything he toiled for since building that first RW750 "Road Warrior" 26 years earlier, even the right to use his eponymous company name. When I met with him on the day of the Buell Motorcycles factory liquidation sale he was equal parts devastated and hopeful—a normal and not-at-all-contradictory state for him.
When I met with him two years later—once again at Road America—where I was honored to be the first journalist in the world to ride the 1190RS, the first motorcycle from newly formed Erik Buell Racing, Buell was ecstatic. When I visited the EBR offices (still located in that same factory building in East Troy) a few weeks later to present him with our 2011 Motorcyclist of the Year award, he hooted and hollered and made maybe the happiest face I have ever seen on a human being. Of course he was back in the game and better than ever. The lower the low preceding it, the higher the high that follows—that's just how Erik Buell operates.
Visiting that factory yet again to prepare this month's feature story, I'm not even a little bit surprised to see more than 120 employees—many who have been working alongside Erik Buell for decades now—hustling on a remarkable number of exciting projects for both EBR and its Indian partner, Hero MotoCorp, as well as gearing up for this season's World Superbike Championship debut. My affection extends way beyond home-state pride. Erik Buell is one of the most accomplished and complicated agents the motorcycle industry has ever seen, and I look forward to riding many more of his bikes and continuing to share his stories in this magazine.