Talk about "doing your own thing," or "walking the walk," and whether you know it or not, you are talking about Erik Buell.
I had the privilege — and indeed it was — of meeting Mr. Buell at the 2007 Toronto bike show, and found him to be an engaging, entertaining, and brilliant guy to chat with. Yeah, I was way out of my depth …
We ended up talking about racing and vintage racing, more than about his company (which was the reason I met him in the first place), and to my surprise he showed up the next day in the VRRA booth, hanging out and talking with people and looking at the old race bikes, relieved to be out of the celebrity spotlight he’d been in all weekend.
In basic terms, he’s just a nice guy who likes motorcycles.
The fact that he can analyze what they’re doing, decide what he doesn’t like about them, figure out solutions, and then actually build the bloody things to meet his own specifications — well, that takes enthusiasm to an entirely different level.
A new book from Whitehorse Press titled 25 Years Of Buell chronicles the history of Buell as a company. Written by a couple of former employees who clearly have remained close to Buell even after leaving, it’s an excellent history of the company, although you have to make allowances for a lot of friendly cheer-leading. Also, it’s kind of a crap book in a few technical ways … crummy indexing, glossing over model problems, and stuff like that.
Still, it’s a decent encyclopedic-type reference, with all models listed and speced-out and so forth, and lots of great photos and personal anecdotes, but the fascinating bit, to me, were the stories of the incredible stress, strain, and grief that Buell (the person and the company) went through to get to where they are now without imploding. I can’t imagine the stress that Mr. Buell has lived through.
Honestly, you couldn’t make up stuff like authors Court Canfield and Dave Gess relate. The narrow shaves, the fights for money, the problems sourcing materials …
My favourite story was about the headlight for the S1 model. This lamp was obtained from Bosch, looked perfect, the front of the bike was designed around it … and then none were available when production started. "Sorry, we make these once a year, only Ducati Monsters and obsolete BMWs use them."
Panic! Calls to Ducati and BMW sourced a few lamps, Ducati found a few even in Italy, then BMW came through big-time with a special treat to their local dealer, with a $10,000 order for lights from the existing accessory stock!
You’ve got to love the jutzpah of calling your competition to source parts … and you’ve equally got to admire the competition for coming through.
Personally, I’ve always admired Erik Buell’s technical thinking, although when I’ve ridden his bikes I’ve liked them but almost always been let down by niggling mechanical problems … and it’s not just me, you’ll find stories like this in incredible numbers. People like the concept, they like riding the bikes, but the irritation value has been high.
However, the latest series of bikes (the Ulysses is a good example) have showcased huge improvements (I’d happily own a Ulysses, first Buell I’d say that of), are worlds better, and the newest model, the 1125R, promises to be superb (I hate to say that I had to turn down an offer to ride the bugger at a world launch in Munich next week … but family stuff comes first. Dammit).
Back to the stress thing … when I met Buell last year he told me that the black and blue colour scheme of the then-new 1125R was chosen by him in remembrance of all the battles he’d gone through to get the bike built!
By and large, I’d say the book is a good read. Check out Whitehorse Press (www.WhitehorsePress.com) for sales info, or your local bookstore quoting ISBN 978-1-884313-74-5.