Racing fuels Buell’s comeback as maker of sport bikes

22 Apr 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Racing fuels Buell’s comeback as maker of sport bikes
Buell 1190RS

Racing fuels Buell’s comeback as maker of sport bikes

The motorcycle that Erik Buell has bet his future on is making its debut Friday at a racetrack in Ohio.

It’s one of 100 bikes that Buell, founder of Buell Motorcycle Co. and Erik Buell Racing, will build this year in East Troy.

The 1190RS sells for $40,000. It’s a limited-production street bike that the company plans to race professionally.

The first races, to be held this weekend in Lexington, Ohio, represent the latest chapter in a 28-year story.

Founded in a barn in Mukwonago, Buell Motorcycle Co. was owned by Harley-Davidson Inc. for more than a decade until Harley dropped the brand in 2009.

Erik Buell then went on to start Erik Buell Racing, a small company focused on high-performance sport bikes.

In the motorcycle industry, Buell has always been an underdog. Although Harley supported the company financially, Buell’s operating budget was minuscule compared with foreign competitors Ducati, Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki.

If the company had doubled its sales, it still would have been only a blip compared with Harley’s sales, Erik Buell said Tuesday.

Now, the 59-year-old entrepreneur is gradually rebuilding the company that bears his name and that has about 25 employees, compared with nearly 200 a few years ago.

And he’s counting on racing to fuel the business and sell motorcycles to customers seeking lean, fast machines akin to Porsche and Ferrari sports cars.

Racing is my marketing effort, Buell said. For my customers, there’s no amount of advertising that will replace the credibility of a good performance at the racetrack.

Buell has been racing and selling a slightly smaller bike, the 1125R, developed when Harley-Davidson owned the company.

The new model is more powerful and closer to what Buell says he always envisioned.

Erik always believed he had the engineering and technological prowess to take on foreign competition, Aaron Frank, with Motorcyclist magazine, wrote in a recent review of the 1190RS.

Now liberated from Harley and operating independently as Erik Buell Racing, he’s ready to prove this once and for all, Frank wrote, adding that the 1190RS is a brilliant machine, no caveats or qualifications required.

Buell says he has to build at least 100 of the 1190RS bikes this year to qualify the model in the street legal racing classification in pro racing circles.

With lights and mirrors, the bikes can be licensed and ridden on the road.

We want to sell more next year, Buell said, adding that he has set up a small assembly line in East Troy in one of the three buildings that Buell Motorcycle Co. once occupied.

Buell 1190RS

His timing could be good, given that a Buell 1125R won the coveted American Motorcycle Association sport bike championship in 2009, the first pro championship for an American motorcycle manufacturer since 1986.

I think there’s a real need for an American sport bike company, Buell said, noting that Italian and Japanese manufacturers have dominated the category.

His plan is to build on success at the racetrack and the accolades that follow.

From an engineering standpoint, we have achieved what I wanted. Now we just have to work on the marketing, sales and distribution. It’s tough to do with a small staff and a very complicated product, said Buell, who is seeking a sales and marketing director for his company.

The bikes are part of a retail category that was decimated in the recession when mostly younger riders could no longer get bank loans or afford the insurance for high-performance motorcycles.

A lot of the guys who were hard-core sport bike riders are looking at other things now, said Rob Strauss, owner of Rob’s Performance Motorsports, a Honda motorcycle dealership in Johnson Creek.

Sport bikes that once sold for under $6,000 now cost closer to $10,000, putting them out of reach of some buyers.

Where I used to have 30 or 40 sport bikes on the showroom floor, now I have one or two to represent the lineup, Strauss said.

Even out of the recession, Buell recognizes that most people won’t spend $40,000 for a bike – no matter how special it is. Eventually, he plans to build less expensive motorcycles as well.

I know how to do that, but I have to walk before I can run . . . or maybe it’s run before I can walk, he said. Either way, it’s just going to take us a little while to get there.

2014. Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved.

Buell 1190RS

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