Buell: The Sportier Side of Harley-Davidson

Even outside of Henderson, American motorcycle companies have included more than just Harley-Davidson. And we’re not talking about Indian, either. In addition, even before Harley tried branching out into new segments, there was one American bikemaker that offered not just sports bikes, but innovative entry-level ones, too. That company was Buell. And although it’s still around today, its story is a rocky one.

Buell’s and Harley-Davidson’s shared history

The Buell Motorcycle Company’s history actually starts with Harley-Davidson, Motorcycle News explains. Specifically, with racer and Harley-Davidson engineer Erik Buell.

The first Buell-designed bike was the 1983 RW750, Ultimate Motorcycling reports, but it was a strictly racing bike. And while it managed to hit 178 mph in testing, the AMA canceled the class it was meant to compete in. So, Erik Buell turned his attention to road bikes.

And by 1987, the first bike built under the Buell Motorcycle Company name, the RR1000, was released to the public. Further strengthening the Harley-Davidson connection, the RR1000 and its successor, the RR1200, were both powered by Harley V-twin engines. In fact, almost all of Erik Buell’s production bikes used Harley-Davidson engines. However, in Buell models, the engine was a low-mounted stressed member, with special rubber mounts to limit vibrations.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Buell helped introduce a number of important technologies to the motorcycle world. The touring-oriented 1991 RS1200, for example, was the first production bike to have upside-down forks and stainless-steel brake lines. Motorcycles like this are what prompted Harley-Davidson to purchase a majority stake in Buell in 1993, and buy the company outright in 2003, Motorcyclist reports.

Unfortunately, the Great Recession prompted Harley-Davidson to close Buell’s doors in 2009. The company briefly reformed in 2011, renaming itself ‘Erik Buell Racing.’ However, by 2015, EBR had once more gone into receivership, despite partnering with one of India’s biggest motorcycle manufacturers.

However, between the RS1200 and receivership, Buell managed to produce a number of well-received motorcycles.

Notable Buell models

Black-and-silver Buell Lightning with green helmet on a city street
Buell Lightning | Matthew Skwarczek

Perhaps the most innovative of Buell’s models is the XB series, HotCars reports. The first XB, the 2003 Firebolt, introduced an aluminum frame that partially doubled as a fuel tank. In addition, the XB models came with a disc rotor mounted on the outside, rather than the inside of the wheel. Doing so meant the wheel spokes could be thinner, reducing wheel weight. This also meant the suspension performed better, due to lower unsprung weight.

Buell’s XB series also includes the 2005-2009 Ulysses touring bike, which Cycle World reports has a number of useful features. For example, the 1203cc V-twin has hydraulic lifters—no need to check the valves every few thousand miles. It also has a belt final drive, which requires even less maintenance than BMW’s shaft drive. Even the swingarm pulls double-duty as an oil reservoir. Plus, the bike handles like a proper sports bike. And with 103 hp powering 465 lbs, Motorcyclist reports, it had enough power to make passing a breeze.

Black 2001 Buell Blast
2001 Buell Blast | Cycle Trader

Buell also developed what is arguably one of the most beginner-friendly bikes to use a Harley-Davidson engine: the Blast. Technically, the 2003-2009 Buell Blast’s engine was directly from a Harley. However, the bike’s 492cc single-cylinder engine was based on the contemporary Sportster’s, albeit without the second cylinder.

Weighing in at 360 pounds, the Blast was fairly light, Motorcyclist reports; excellent for newer riders. This also meant the 30-hp engine was more than adequate. And to ease maintenance worries, the bike had hydraulic lifters and belt drive, just like the Ulysses. It didn’t have fuel injection, but it did come with an automatic choke.

Getting one today

Buell’s last bike before the company was first shuttered was the 2007 1125R, which was also the first non-Harley-Davidson-powered Buell. Unfortunately, it had some quality issues, Cycle World reports, and wasn’t quite as spry as its Ducati equivalent.

But after Buell reformed as EBR, its first product was the 1125R’s successor, the 1190RX. Which, Roadshow reports, was significantly better in terms of handling and refinement. And, with a new 185-hp water-cooled 1190cc V-twin, more powerful, too. Unfortunately, before it could make much of an impact, EBR was forced to close down. Again.


Is Harley-Davidson Working on a Self-Balancing Motorcycle?

However, EBR is now open once more, The Drive reports, producing the 1190RX as well as the streetfighter-style 1190SX and Black Lightning. And just like the Buell XBs before them, they have the outboard brake rotor and use their aluminum frames as fuel tanks. Only a few bikes are produced each year—but it means Buell’s legacy is still going.

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