Historic Motorcycle Brands
Buell Motorcycles is an American motorcycle manufacturer, founded in 1983 by ex-Harley-Davidson engineer Erik Buell, who designed the Buell RW750, to race in the AMA Formula One motorcycle road racing championship. When that class ended, he turned his hand to race-inspired, road-going motorcycles.
1984 Buell RW750 – Old Moto Dude
The Buell RW750 was a development of the Barton Formula One racing motorcycle. Buell bought the parts and tooling from the failed UK-based Barton concern and developed the Road Warrior RW 750 for his own use and for sale to private entrants. The engine was a liquid-cooled, two-stroke, square-four that was based on the Suzuki RG500.
Erik moved into high-performance road bikes after the AMA discontinued the Formula One class.
The RR 1000 Battletwin was a street sports bike using a modified Road Warrior chassis and a Harley-Davidson XR1000 engine. Buell invented an Isoplanar engine mounting system to allow the heavy, vibration-prone engine to be used as a structural member of the frame, without transmitting the engine vibrations to the frame.
Buell RR1000 Battletwin – Mike Schinkel
In 1987 Rockville Harley-Davidson in Maryland became the world’s first Buell dealership.
Variations on the RR 1000 Battletwin include the RR 1200 Battletwin (1988–1990), the RS 1200 Westwind (1989), the RS 1200/5 Westwind (1990–1992) and the RSS 1200 Westwind (1991).
In 1993, Harley-Davidson offered to purchase 49 percent of Buell and Erik Buell took the deal, apparently against strong advice from his lawyers.
1999 Buell S3 Thunderbolt – Wikkensei
The S2 Thunderbolt (1994–1995) was a pillion machine with Road Warrior-based chassis and a Harley-Davidson Sportster engine. The S2T Thunderbolt (1995–1996) was a touring version, with saddlebags. The S2 was very expensive to develop, so it was fortunate that 1399 units were sold in the first year, greatly exceeding the 300 units Erik Buell had projected.
The S1 Lightning (1996–1998) was a more ‘naked’ sports bike than the S3 Thunderbolt and M2 Cyclone that it was marketed alongside and the production on this model was stopped at 5000 after only three years.
A variant was the 1998 S1W White Lightning that came with a larger tank and ‘Thunderstorm’ cylinder heads that gave an extra 10hp.
In 1998, Harley-Davidson bought a majority stake in the Buell Motorcycle Company and it became a subsidiary.
Buell S1 White Lightning – Stealth FX
The X1 Lightning models (1999–2002) were successors to the S1 Lightning line, boasting Thunderstorm heads, fuel injection, larger fuel tanks and different body designs. The X1 had a distinctive aluminium tail section.
The S3 Thunderbolt sport-touring model was produced from 1997 until 2003, with its 1203cc air-cooled, V-twin engine mounted as a stressed member in a tubular frame. Its 1997 output of 91hp went to 101hp after 1998, thanks to revised cam profiles and new-Thunderstorm cylinder heads.
The early bikes used a rectangular section steel rear swing-arm, WP Suspension front forks and rear shock, a Keihin 40mm CV carburettor and a Performance Machine six-piston front brake calliper.
In 1999, a cast aluminium rear swing-arm was introduced, along with Showa front suspension forks and rear shock. A new six-piston front brake calliper came from Nissin and fuel injection replaced the carbie.
2000 Buell M2 Cyclone – Nosferatu
The S3 had a half faring and the S3T model added lower fairing extensions, taller handlebars and hard saddlebags that came in two different volume capacities.
The M2 Cyclone was produced from 1997 until 2003. It sat between the basic S1 Lightning and the more comfortable, but heavier, S3 Thunderbolt. The M2 Cyclone had a bigger seat than the S1 Lightning and was lighter and faster than the S3 Thunderbolt. The M2 had a chrome-moly tubular frame, the 1203cc engine and five-speed transmission.
Although the progressive Buell model developments since 1993 made it look like all was well between Harley-Davidson and Buell, there was much irritation in both camps.
Harley-Davidson forced Buell to follow the rigid product planning and distribution process beginning in the 1990s, with the philosophy that Buell was the ‘starter’ brand and customers would eventually trade up to a Harley.
Most early Buell motorcycles used XR1000 Sportster engines and then the underdone, basic 1200 Sportster engine. In 1995, the engines were upgraded with Buell-engineered, high-performance parts and further upgraded in 1998.
The 2001, liquid-cooled, overhead-camshaft, Harley-Davidson V-Rod engine was originally an Erik Buell project, designed in 1998 to power a Buell fully-faired AMA Superbike. However, Harley-Davidson decided that it wanted this modern engine to power a Harley sport-cruiser and compete with European and Japanese ‘cruiser’ bikes, so Harley-Davidson took over development from Buell.
Harley-Davidson’s antiquated pushrod-engine technology gave its engineers little background for producing such an engine and so the company paid Porsche Engineering to produce a street-legal production version, which became successful in several Harley-Davidson models.
However, the resulting powerplant was considered: “Too big, too heavy, too expensive and too late,” for Buell.
Buell Blast – Zensmile
Another Harley-Davidson project foisted onto Buell was the ill-fated ‘Blast’ single-cylinder bike that was originally powered by a half-Sportster 883cc engine. The 492cc engine ended up 80 percent over budget and hopelessly uncompetitive.
The idea behind it was that it would serve as a training bike in Harley-Davidson’s ‘Rider’s Edge’, new rider instruction/riding schools. Graduate riders would then buy a Harley-Davidson from the same dealership. (You can’t make up this stuff!)
Buell became a wholly owned subsidiary of Harley-Davidson in 2003, but couldn’t use the OHC engine, so were technologically inferior to European and Japanese sports bikes.
The 2003 Buell XB was powered by the ancient Sportster powertrain and, even worse, it was designed by Harley with minimum input from Buell. A turbocharger was to be sourced from Aerocharger to help pump the XB horsepower to 150hp, but the supplier deal was abandoned and Harley-Davidson decided to engineer one in house. That was an expensive failure.
Despite all that It was a popular bike, but too expensive.
Buell had introduced the XB frame in the 2002 Firebolt XB9R sports bike.The Firebolt XB12R was introduced in 2004 and the Buell Ulysses XB12X debuted in July 2005.
Buell XB models were notable for incorporating the industry’s first Zero Torsional Load (ZTL) perimeter floating front disc brake system, that put the brake disc on the rim of the wheel, rather than the hub.
In July 2007, Buell announced the 1125R, a sports bike that departed from Buell’s history of using Harley-Davidson Sportster based middle weight powertrains and tapping into the XBRR racing bike experience.
The Buell-developed, Rotax Helicon 72-degree, V-twin engine had four-valves-per-cylinder, dual-overhead-camshaft design, with liquid-cooling and displacement of 1125cc. Output was 146hp, with 105-113Nm of torque from 3000rpm to 10,500rpm.
2007 Buell 1125R
This powerplant was much more suited to a Buell bike than the old pushrod engine, but the decision to move from the old air-cooled twin can’t have gone down well at Harley-Davidson.
When Harley-Davidson hired CEO Keith Wandell in May 2009, he immediately questioned why Harley even owned Buell, asking, reportedly, “Why would anyone even want to ride a sports bike?”. (Wandell was no ‘bikie’, but he was smart businessman.) He concluded, quite rightly in the US context, that sports bikes encountered high competition and produced low profits, while cruisers had high returns.
Buell’s sales built gradually, reaching 15,000 in 2008. However, the effects of the GFC hit and in early 2009, Harley-Davidson-Buell was in deep financial trouble.
2007 Buell XB9R – Tanceymae
On Thursday, October 15, 2009, Harley-Davidson Inc announced the end of production of Buell Motorcycles, in order to focus more on the Harley-Davidson brand.
Selling Buell was not considered an option, as Harley didn’t want their Harley dealerships to sell an outside brand, and Harley didn’t feel Buell had much value without its dealer network.
The last Buell motorcycle produced through Harley-Davidson was in October 30, 2009, bringing the number manufactured to 136,923.
One month later, Erik Buell announced the launch of Erik Buell Racing: an independent company, run by Erik Buell that initially produced race-only versions of the 1125R model. It subsequently offered an updated 1190RS model for street or track and produced further improved, dual-purpose, 1190RX and 1190SX models.
Buell advanced its 1190 platform significantly under the Erik Buell Racing tenure. Engine development resulted in the EV-V2, 1190cc, 72-degree, V-twin that produced 185hp at 10,600rpm and 138Nm of torque at 8200 rpm.
In February 2021, Buell announced they intend to use the super bike platforms developed from 2011 to 2020 to produce a model line of up to 10 models by 2024, including the Hammerhead 1190RX, 1190SX Carbon Fiber (sic), Super Touring 1190 and 1190HCR.