Harley-Davidson has officially pulled the plug on Buell, ending operations for the only major American manufacturer of sportbikes. Erik Buell worked in R&D at Harley-Davidson many moons ago, then left to develop his own bikes. Eventually Harley-Davidson purchased a majority stake in Buell which is how we arrived at today’s announcement.
This isn’t a complete shock if you’ve seen Harley-Davidson’s financials; they are hurting and decided they need to focus on their core products. They will also sell MV Agusta just 16 months after buying it for $109 million (MV Agusta is an Italian manufacturer that makes some damn fine but expensive sportbikes). Visions of expanding their European distribution through MV Agusta will go unrealized.
Personally I have mixed feelings about Buell. Erik certainly came up with some truly innovative features and designs, but the relationship with Harley-Davidson produced some weird bikes. Stuffing a big ol’ heavy Harley pushrod engine into a little Lightning or Firebolt chassis and trying to call it “sporty” never seemed like a good idea to me. And when they built their all-out sportbike, the 1125R, they used the competent Austrian-built Rotax Helicon engine but put it inside a chassis that was polarizing (we’re talking about its looks) to say the least. Although Buell has a loyal following, their appeal wasn’t as wide as it needed to be.