Here’s one we didn’t see coming: Buell Motorcycles is returning to business, and the company says it currently has motorcycles in production. And, Erik Buell isn’t actually involved with the company anymore. And, Buell Motorcycles says it’s planning to build an adventure bike, soon.
It’s probably the most unexpected moto-news we’ve heard in a very long time, based on the long, drawn-out demise of the last company bearing the Buell name. But, given the brand’s amazing resilience, maybe this news shouldn’t be surprising at all. It’s not the first comeback for Buell.
Who/What is Buell?
Most experienced riders are familiar with the Buell name and brand; if you just got here, we’ll do a quick rundown of the company history. Skip to the next section, otherwise, for the real news.
Once upon a time there was a man named Erik Buell, who worked for Harley-Davidson in the 1980s, particularly on the company’s racing projects. He also tinkered with his own design ideas and company, and during the 1990s, Buell Motorcycles became a subsidiary of Harley-Davidson. The idea was that Buell would build performance-oriented machines using a combination of innovative engineering techniques (Buell’s designs focused on mass centralization, in particular), as well as Harley-Davidson technology.
Opinions on the results were mixed. Some of the resulting machines became cult bikes. The Buell Ulysses kinda-sorta ADV tourer was particularly well-loved by its owners. The XB-series naked bikes weren’t as light or powerful as their Japanese/Euro equivalents, but they brought a certain bare-knuckle flair to the streetfighter scene that has sadly long vanished.
Buell Motorcycles’ main problem was that it used Harley-Davidson engine tech, mostly re-worked Sportster designs. They had lots of torque, but low horsepower, and they were heavy. Many owners complained of poor build quality as well.
In 2009, Harley-Davidson shut down the Buell subsidiary. Erik Buell bounced back to found Erik Buell Racing (EBR) later that year. While Buell Motorcycles mostly built street-biased streetfighters around Harley engines, EBR built sportbikes and track-friendly naked bikes around Rotax engines. EBR continued to use Erik Buell’s innovative chassis ideas. Unfortunately, the company was financially unstable. A deal with Indian manufacturer Hero didn’t help (in fact, some say it made things worse), and EBR folded in 2015. Following the bankruptcy, there were months of confusion around the company’s assets, and multiple auctions.
When the dust settled, Bill Melvin bought up what was left of EBR. Now, he’s bringing the company back.
Bill Melvin bought up EBR’s assets in 2018, but at the time, there didn’t seem to be much future for the company. If you visited the webpage, you could see EBR was still making some of the sporty 1190-series machines, but it all seemed very limited-production, and you never actually heard of anyone buying one. However, Melvin said that “We are going to keep the iconic brand in production with specialized and performance builds. The approach is to keep it boutique and high performance-driven, ala Bugatti, Koenigsegg, or Lotus.” Now, it seems the company is poised to do just that.
Working behind the scenes, Melvin acquired the rights to the old Buell Motorcycles brand in early 2020. About a year later, on February 18, 2021, Buell Motorcycles posted a press release to its website. Here’s how it starts:
Buell Motorcycles is back in production in America. The new Buell® Motorcycles will launch 10 performance models by the 2024 model year. The exciting models will be representative of the superbike performance and handling expected of the legendary Buell brand.
Buell is back in production? There are 10 new performance models coming, with “superbike performance and handling“? Sure, Melvin had said he was going to keep EBR going, but nobody saw this coming.
With the news of Buell’s return to production, the next big question is: Is Erik Buell returning? Melvin told Revzilla the answer is no. Looks like he’s going to continue his work with Fuell and other projects (see Baldy’s interview with him here).
What’s the plan?
So what’s next? Bold plans, indeed, including bikes of all sizes and types. The Buell press release says:
Buell Motorcycle upcoming models will include variants for dirt, dual-sport, touring, and cruisers while expanding the line up to include medium and small displacement motors. Buell is also in the initial exploration phases for a high-performance Electric model and is open to collaboration ideas with other companies. The models currently in production are built by hand in Grand Rapids, Michigan and based on the high-performance 1190 platform, known for the innovation of Fuel in Frame, Perimeter Brake Rotor, exceptional handling, and high horsepower.
Electric motorcycles? Dirt bikes? Dual-sport, cruisers, touring? Ten new models by 2024? What madness is this?!!
Buell has already started its move into the world of off-road. In the presser, Melvin says “We have already launched a dirt bike with Cipala Racing that won an AMA Championship.” This was an 1190-series hillclimb machine, which you can see in action below—read more about it here. Hillclimb is one of the more obscure motorcycle racing disciplines, and COVID-19 probably kept attention away, which is why most people just didn’t notice.
As for the adventure bike Buell is working on the website has scant details, although it does seem to be related to the hillclimb bike. As per the write-up on the hillclimb bike, “In addition, the 1190 HCR platform is in development for offroad Baja Race and Baja Adventure bikes. The 1190Baja will be released in the near future for sale to performance dirt riders and racers.” There’s a 3D rendering of an ADV machine on the Buell page, and the tagline “Enjoy the 185horsepower 1190 Super Touring combining Buell performance, offroad adventure, and a bold design.” It’s supposed to be released in 2023, but the webpage suggests the touring accessories will be available in 2021, and they’ll fit on the 1190SX.
There are lots more questions to be answered. Who’s building the small-displacement engines that Melvin says Buell will use? Will those motorcycles be affordable, or will even the smaller machines be boutique bikes? How do we know this isn’t just another abortive reboot for the company, following in a long string of such failed endeavours? After all, 10 new bikes in three years is a big commitment, and some people are going to wonder if this is just a setup for a pump-and-dump.
No doubt more juicy details are coming in the near future. Expect some of those questions t0 be answered very soon, as the press release says Buell will be present at Daytona Bike Week 2021, and at the J&P Cycles Destination Daytona Mega Store. Stay tuned!