27 Years of Buell Motorcycles

03/04/2013 @ 10:29 am, by Jensen Beeler22 COMMENTS


If the American motorcycle brand was still in business, this year would have been the Buell Motorcycle Company’s 30th birthday. Treated more like a line on the cash flow sheet to its parent company Harley-Davidson than a true self-supporting motorcycle brand, Buell motorcycles suffered from not being “Harley enough” for the Bar & Shield devout, and conversely wasn’t adopted by the non-believers because of its extensive compromises with the Milwaukee brand.

Still, in its 27 years, Buell Motorcycles managed to build a cult following of riders, though the numbers in its ranks were never enough to make the brand truly profitable. With Harley-Davidson facing dire straights during the recent economic depression, the company circled the wagons around its core assets, and closed the doors to Buell Motorcycles in the process.

The ethos of the brand continues with Erik Buell Racing though, which soon after its creation released the EBR 1190RS superbike — a race-ready motorcycle that isn’t too dissimilar from the Buell 1125R sport bike. We still don’t know what the future holds for Erik Buell’s new company, though a bevy of models are on his company’s product road map. We think if you polled a few former Buell owners, they would want to see this poster (full-size after the jump) updated.


Click Here for a Printable High-Resolution PDF Version

  • Buellbafett

    For many years, i wanted (at the time) a tube frame Buell. Loved the unique approach to a sporting-type bike. But alas, they were too big/tall for short-leggeds like me. But then the XBs emerged. I’ve had many happy years with my ’03 XB9 Lightning. Often though, Buells were derided by riders on other brands. Never understood that.

  • Damo

    I loved the old lightnings, never got a chance to grab one for the right price. Talk about a low maintenance, jump on and ride bike.

  • RJJR

    I believe the best is yet to come for Buell

  • proudAmerican

    Buellbafett—My personal reason for deriding Buells is mostly because of the H.D. engine. I rode a friend’s Lightning up our favorite mountain road (about 50 miles of twisties), one which my CBR and VFR see often. The Buell handled great, but the brakes were sub-par, and the engine was just, well, agricultural. The gearbox was long-throw, hard shifting, and unrefined. And the bodywork on Buells has always been cheaply manufactured (edges are rough to the touch), and slab-sided, looking like the R&D department spent a whole 7 minutes on bodywork design (not including the translucent airbox covers–beautiful).

    But, I think Eric did everything with Buell that he could financially accomplish. His underneath exhaust is now the norm on sportbikes. The difference being that Buell’s underneath exhaust looked like a $25 Midas muffler from a 1984 Chevy Chevette.

    I hope Eric can finally build a quality sportbike, one with a powerband, and fit & finish that can rival the Japanese and European offerings. His 1190 is beautiful, but I would never buy a $40,000 bike from a manufacturer whose longevity is an unknown. Not when I can buy a Ducati, BMW, or Aprilia for many, many thousands less, and receive a bike with fantastic build quality, and a lengthy powerband of astounding thrust.

    If EBR can build a sportbike that truly competes with the Japanese and European rivals, and costs about the same, then I’ll give it a serious look. But I’ll never gamble $40,000 on his product. The risk of getting burned is just too high.

  • Have they ever built a bike that was genuinely comparable to what comes out of Japan and Italy… serious question?

    US motorcycle builders have always been crippled by the insistence that they use Harley-Davidson-based engine designs. The basis of the current engines being derived from a 1919 design for a farming tool, a motorized plow, which itself was derived from World War I era radial engines. That design was outmoded by the 1950s as a performance focused motorcycle power plant.

    There really is no way to build a modern sport bike around that archaic design, and have it be genuinely competitive with purpose built engines. When will a US company build an original sport bike racing engine to put in an American race bred motorcycle designed by Americans? I have little hope that it will ever happen in my lifetime.

  • GAC

    The trouble with most of the riding public is this infatuation with racing. A japanese clone (not really changed since the CB750) or what ever european stylists tell us what is cool, really misses the point of riding and enjoying. Racing is not motorcycling. Race bikes only share fairing shapes and paint jobs. They are not one bit close to whatever is seen on the showroom floor. But thats a waste of breath.
    Most Buell riders want a bike they can ride…and ride. Not to be ridden wound out. You dont need to ride wound out and if you do, your living a personal dream. I was trying to talk to a Buell rider who was complaining of arm pump. Now either he heard this catchy phrase from some written or broadcasted source or he was doing some sort of X-treme new age exercise. Arm pump on a bike designed with so much torque there is no reason to overshift shift gears it’s puzzling. My wife does just fine with no “arm pump.
    Between our 2 Buells, his and hers, we have about 14,000 miles of canyon roads. Fun. Yeah I can rail a corner and dream too. But virtually no maintenence. Keep fresh skins and Amsoil in them and ride. The Buell is a wonderful durable quick bike. But the magazine driven masses have taken over. Riding for the sake of riding is gone.
    Riding and listening to your particular motor soundtrack… enjoying effortless cornering… and the slight personal improvements that make the bike do what you want to do without derailing what the designer intended is long gone. Erik sold alot of Buells to a fragment of riders who like them and who now have to shop in Germany where they are popular enough to generate a large aftermarket. Yeah, Germany…
    H-D’s lack of looking past handle bar tassels and chinese made american apperal, trend following sheep and the media Killed Buell for the sake of the new regurgitated model lines from abroad that have to sell.
    I’m not knocking other bikes, just the wanna be’s who took over motorcycling. And I do know they drive the marketing machine… but for a 5th generation american motorcylist, the Buell was as good as it gets for an american sportbike. Do we really need anything else? Thats a personal choice, and that I understand.
    I wear wranglers, eat cheeseburgers and love blondes. Maybe it would be different if I was a well read, bullshitting wine, cheese and sushi guy.
    Enjoy your bike and be safe. its all about fun. SO HAVE FUN!
    Not Achaic, well proven.

  • Jeram Mallis

    27 or 30 years??????

    Math says 30

  • 1983 to 2010. Math says 27 years.

  • abe

    I bought an 1125R at the fire sale in ’09. It was an awesome (in the actual definition of the word meaning great and terrible at the same time) machine. It got stolen and I wept, then last winter I picked up an ’07 XB12STT for a price I could not pass up. Here’s a little review I wrote in December for my internet friends:

    Journalists 5 or 6 years ago hated the transmission. Complaints made it sound like a gravel-grinder attached to a Weider grip-exercising machine… heavy pull, clunky shifting, “and don’t even think about clutchless shifts.” I did test-ride the bike before purchase and Iwas goosing it in 2nd and 3rd gear, trying to get it to pop out, which it didn’t. The last few weeks I read so much vitriol I started to wonder if I hadn’t paid enough attention to the tranny feel, and maybe it sucked and I just hadn’t noticed on the test-ride around the block or on my one 40 mile ride home. Once I got it out and rode it for a while I can say nope, it’s fine. Better than fine; quite nice actually. Clutch pull is light and smooth, shifts are positive and easy, and clutchless upshifts are as easy as on anything else I can think of.

    I also read a lot of criticism of the Harley engine, and I can sort of see why, from certain perspectives. At idle, it’s more like a cartoon of an engine than what I am accustomed to being an actual engine in a proper, functioning motorcycle. It kind of chuffs and wheezes and farts and seems to be barely able to keep itself running with what feels like an enormous off-balance flywheel lumping around like tennis shoes in a dryer. At idle I am most reminded of a bucket-muffled hit-and miss engine circa 1910 or so. It smooths out almost magically once the revs rise, but the vibration never really goes all the way away, it’s just that the contrast is so stark that at a certain speed it suddenly feels glass smooth in comparison. After a few minutes of steady cruising it became apparent that it has more vibes than, say, Honda’s 20 years older V4 in my 1987 VFR, but they are fairly low frequency and didn’t make me uncomfortable. I needed to replace the cheap little plastic bar-end mount point for the right hand handguard, so I ended up replacing both sides with sweet little black bar end weights with a machined clip point for the handguards. Bar vibration was seriously reduced… now I feel the footpeg vibes more, whereas on my first ride home I definitely noticed buzzy handlebars.

    The other journalistic complaint about the engine centered around power per liter comparisons. “Antique Harley engine makes less power per cc than anyone else’s offering.” I can see their point… At 103 claimed horsepower the XB12 is almost spec-sheet equivalent to my 1987 VFR700 with a claimed 100 hp. Both bikes are claiming engine output, so rear wheel on pavement should be 80-85 horsies, depending on how optimistic the manufacturers are with their crank-measuring dynos, what internet info sources are accurate, and how much power is lost to the chain or belt. As we all know horsepower numbers don’t tell the whole story, kind of like megapixels or bra sizes. The 20+ year old 700cc VFR claims 42 foot-pounds of torque, while the 100 year old brass and iron lump powering the Buell claims an 84 foot-pound peak, with the bulk of it spread across much more of the (much shorter) rev range. The Buell feels quicker on the gas, but it also runs out of revs faster and needs a shift sooner. The VFR claims a dry weight of 436 lbs, only 36 pounds heavier than the (claimed) Buell. I just looked up the specs for the 1987 VFR700 and I was a little surprised at the claimed dry weight… the Buell carries it’s weight so much better that I was assuming the VFR must be almost 500 lbs.

    I’ll need some more seat time to really finalize an opinion, but for now it’s sufficient to say that the Buell engine is entertaining, responsive, and more than fast enough to ruin my life if mishandled. It’s been cold out, so I don’t know if engine heat is going to be an issue, but the fan kicks on early and often. I don’t have gas mileage numbers yet, but claimed specs are impressive. The Buell has hydraulic lifters, so there is no valve train maintenance other than oil changes. The drive belt feels fantastic. Not only is it rated for the life of the vehicle, without adjustment or maintenance, but it just plain feels great. There is no snatch or slop, the throttle twist and engine noise is translated directly into pavement thrust without hesitation. So it’s a weird V-twin with a single crank pin that has it’s design roots somewhere in Leonardo DaVinci’s sketchbooks and every other modern 1000-1200cc engines makes at least 1.5x the power… but does so while returning half the fuel efficiency. So, really, what’s the complaint?
    Power output / displacement is really only a desirable criteria on a bike that’s competing in a displacement-limited race class… otherwise, if weight, reliability, miles per gallon, and power delivery and feel are acceptable, who cares what the actual displacement is?

  • Yup, I totally agree, a modern Buell is the performance equivalent of a 20-year-old stock Honda with a little over half the displacement.

    Still, if you’ll try to keep up with that 20-year-old Honda for any length of time with that new Buell, my money says it overheats, blows its oil seals, and you have to call a tow truck to get it home.

  • abe

    A modern Buell, like the 1125R? It’s a very fast high performance motorcycle by any metric.

    Why do you claim my VFR is stock? It’s not – it’s got a Racetech gold valve front end, a Wilber’s shock, and a jet kit with twin Supertrapps. I could run a faster pace on the track on the Buell than a VFR – any VFR, not just a 26 year old VFR700, whose torque output it nearly doubles. The XB12 is a fantastic handling, lightweight, mass centralized platform with more than enough motor for the task at hand. 100 hp and 80 ft/lbs of torque in a 400 lb motorcycle, with upright ergos, all day comfort, great gas mileage, very little maintenance, and an enviable reliability record, and you don’t like it because you say it’s going to overheat? What are you basing that on? Do you even ride motorcycles?

  • proudAmerican

    GAC says: “The trouble with most of the riding public is this infatuation with racing. A japanese clone (not really changed since the CB750) or what ever european stylists tell us what is cool, really misses the point of riding and enjoying.”

    It’s a bit offensive and presumptuous to tell other people they are enjoying their motorcycles wrongly, compared to Buell owners. And did you really just say Japanese race clones haven’t really changed since the CB750? Really?

    I’d say my liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, aluminum framed, 430 lbs CBR1000RR that puts 161hp to the back tire is just a bit more advanced than its CB750 grandfather.

  • GAC

    161 hp, ok you win.
    See what I mean?

  • proudAmerican

    GAC–I instruct advanced riding techniques on a racetrack environment. Do you have some phobia or bias against horsepower and scalpel-sharp-handling motorcycles? Just because it’s not your hobby, doesn’t mean those of us who enjoy high-horsepower sport motorcycles are somehow inferior to you.

    Get off your high horse.

  • Dave tweed

    I have owned an XB (harley engine) and a CR (rotax)which I currently ride I love the Buell platform I have owned many many other machines through the years. Buell is not the fastest but are the funnest motorcycles I have ever owned. The XB tranny may have been a little clunky not to bad but it was 3rd gear all day long I don’t track my bikes BTW from 8-80mph no problem the torque was insane on that machine. The CR well thats a different animal with a pipe and a tune I am near 139hp to the tire at 405 lbs I think, the big Vtwin and steeper gearing makes this bike SO MUCH fun it is not comparable with any other machine I have owned. I have not owned but 2 racr ready machines but found them to buzzy and not very linear in the power delivery to enjoy on the street plus they are not super comfortable as I am a bit portly. The CR has 1″ lowered pegs and up bars and I can easily handle a 400 mile day. We will have the 2nd annual Buell ADK Rally in Lake George NY in May come on up show off your Buell!!!!!!!

  • Dave tweed

    Hey AARON I’ll take some of that action you go ahead grab a cbr600 or r6 hell mate you can even get a new one why waste time on something 20 years old, if thats your bag and lets have some fun. I am willing to bet real money the 1125 CR will leave you open mouthed I promise it will.

  • I accept your challenge Dave, but to make it fair I’m going to have to be on KTM 125, riding naked, without a helmet… backwards. :)

    By the way congratulations on finding a video where a Buell actually wins a race, no doubt you spent days with that Google search. I feel bad telling you that the other riders in that race were paid directly by Erik to let the poor Harley win, blowing that years entire R&D money on the fix, hoping it would help sales… it didn’t work. LOL

  • Dave tweed

    Alas your lucky as NJ is not ready for me naked in public yet but a 125 will not do for me for obvious reasons:)
    pockets at dawn!!!!!!

  • Dave tweed


    Here is a video of us riding the bike in front of the camera is an 848 duc but the rest are Buells I had the xb back then. Guys these really are very fun machines and while I enjoy many other makes and brands and styles of bikes once I got on the Buell it was all over

  • Norm G.

    re: “The trouble with most of the riding public is this infatuation with racing.”

    wait, this is a problem…?

  • Keith

    meh, in the real world the average sportbike is crap…unlike the buell’s. See kids in the REAL world (not you fantasy track day wannbe riders) torque is what matters. I’ve long wanted a buell over most any cbr, gsx, zx…but everyone is so proud they over price them.
    I ride in the real world on roads that make your wimp race tracks look straight.

  • Arward Cecil

    The Buell’s I’ve ridden (’04 XB9, ’08 XB12, a couple others over the years) have been fun bikes, yes, but refinement and style also matter to me when deciding to drop 10k or more on a purchase.
    And I’m sorry, refinement is something Buell’s always sorely and blareingly lacked. There are also a Japanese and European brand or two that I feel the same about.
    There are certainly a few people that’ve been persuaded solely by the consistent negative reviews in those darn pesky magazines, but there are far more people that have had actual exposure to the bikes and decided to take their money elsewhere.
    I have a lot of respect for Erik Buell and what he TRIED to accomplish while under the HD thumb. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do now that he has the freedom he should have had from the beginning.