The first motorcycle Erik Buell designed and built under his company name ‘Pittsburgh Performance Products,’ was the RW750 in 1983. This 750cc, two-stroke, “square-four,” rotary valve racing machine was designed specifically to compete in the AMA Formula One road racing class. The first prototype RW750 hit the track for its debut that same summer in the AMA National at Pocono Speedway.
Buell continued extensive testing and development work on the bike throughout the summer and into the fall. His success was measured during testing at Talladega, Alabama, where it was clocked at a top speed of 178 mph.
Development on the RW750 continued through 1984, and a production version was released in the fall. Just one RW750 was sold to the American Machinists Racing Team before the AMA announced that 1985 would be the last year of Formula One racing. Superbike would now occupy the premier race class in 1986, effectively eliminating any market for the RW750.
Crushing news as that may have been to lesser builders, Erik viewed the rule change simply as a setback. He went back to work, refocusing his dream and this time aiming squarely at the goal of creating the first world-class sportbike designed and assembled in the USA. Tapping his knowledge of what works on the racetrack and his experience as a Harley-Davidson engineer, Erik designed his first entry into the sportbike market, the RR1000. Powered by the Harley-Davidson XR1000 engine, the rigid and lightweight chassis incorporated a rubber-mounting design which became a patented engineering feature of Buell sport bikes.
Buell motorcycles also utilized the engine as a fully stressed member of the frame, and the use of a rear suspension mounted beneath the motor with a shock operating in reverse of conventional compression-rebound practice, capped off the first ever all-American sportbike. A total of 50 RR1000 models were produced under the name of Buell Motor Company during the 1987-88 season depleting the remaining XR1000 engines.
Erik saw the new 1203cc Harley-Davidson Evolution engine as an opportunity to continue tuning the performance and handling qualities of his bikes. With this in mind, he began redesigning the chassis to accommodate the 1203. The resulting RR1200 model was introduced during 1988, and 65 were produced for sale through 1989.
CHANGING FACE … The Sculpting of Buell
Streamlining and bodywork had been Erik’s particular talent and passion long before the RR series. His motorcycles continued to change at a measured pace through the years. In 1989, he introduced the RS1200, a two-seat version of the RR model for riders who demanded both world-class performance and two-up comfort. A total of 105 of these unique models were produced through 1990.
Five-speed transmissions were a new feature of the 1203cc engine in 1991. Buell responded to revised engine mounting points with further design improvements to the RS chassis. These bikes were the first production street motorcycles to use “upside-down” (inverted) front forks, stainless steel braided lines and a six-piston front brake caliper.
As Buell motorcycles were refined, the company’s manufacturing capabilities were expanded. In 1991, Buell Motor Company not only designed bodywork, but also produced it in a new composite and paint shop. The result was greater quality control and improved design flexibility.
A single-seat version of the RS1200 was introduced late in the 1991 model year. Dubbed the RSS1200, it won enthusiastic approval of the motorcycle press for its lean, clean lines. A total of 40 units were built between March and August 1991. Combined production of RSS and RS models totaled 325 through 1993.
In early 1993, Harley-Davidson, Inc. became a minority partner in Erik’s company, acquiring 49 percent. The company name was then changed to Buell Motorcycle Company.
In 1994, Buell introduced the curvaceous S2 Thunderbolt model. The motorcycle won rave reviews from the motorcycle press and is still known for its beautiful lines and fluid design. A sport-touring version, the S2T, was added to the lineup in 1995. The new model was given Rider Magazine’s Top Innovation award. Together, the two models combined for total sales in excess of 1,000 units.
The next year brought the introduction of the all-new 1996 S1 Lightning motorcycle. The original “street fighter,” the S1 Lightning defined a whole new class of “hooligan” motorcycles. Featuring minimal bodywork, a racing styled seat, exposed frame and the centralized mass of the 1203cc engine, exhaust system and suspension, the model was named “Hooligan Bike of the Year” by Cycle World Magazine.
A redesign of the Thunderbolt motorcycle was also introduced in 1996 as the S3 Thunderbolt and the S3T Thunderbolt. The models continued the design evolution of sport touring motorcycles. Together with the S1 Lightning, the S3 and S3T combined for sales in excess of 2,000 units.
In 1997, the M2 Cyclone model was introduced to the Buell line and the motorcycle industry had a new “Standard” class leader. With a more relaxed seating configuration and wider seat, the Cyclone helped push Buell motorcycle sales above the 3,000 unit mark.
The new 101-hp Thunderstorm engine heads were introduced into the Buell line-up in 1998 as part of the powerplant for the new S1W White Lightning model. Similar in styling to the S1 Lightning, the new bike featured a carbon fiber rear fender, bold colors and the super-high output engine. The S1W was named “Best Standard” by Cycle World Magazine. The Thunderbolt models also received the engine with Thunderstorm heads to round out an impressive offering for 1998. Sales continued to grow, with more than 5,000 motorcycles sold for the 1998 model year.
A complete redesign of the Lightning and Cyclone models was in store for 1999. New body, frame, suspension, larger and more comfortable seats and bold new color offerings marked the entrance of the Lightning X1 and Cyclone M2. The S3 and S3T Thunderbolt also received a refined seat and dramatic new color and sport touring options. Dynamic Digital Fuel Injection (DDFI) became another high-tech standard feature on the Lightning and Thunderbolt as well. The redesign, refinements and injection of new technology contributed to total sales of approximately 8,000 units worldwide for 1999.
Other elements of the Erik Buell dream were also being achieved in 1999, when Buell officially dedicated its new 42,000-square foot Research and Development Center adjacent to its existing facility in East Troy, Wisconsin.
By now, Erik and his team of dreamers/engineers were on track to achieve Buell’s initial dream to build a great American sportbike. Along the way, new dreams and desires were developed including the notion of building a truly invigorating entry-level motorcycle. Enter the Buell Blast motorcycle for model year 2000.
Powered by an all new 492cc air-cooled, single-cylinder engine, the Blast model featured an automatic fuel enrichner system for easy starting, reduced-effort clutch, molded-in color body panels and a choice between two seat heights. Together the elements helped to make the Buell Blast one of the most versatile and eye catching motorcycles to enter the market in a long while. So much so in fact, it was honored with countless awards including Cycle World’s ten best list and Motorcyclist’s Motorcycle of the Year list. Along with the returning X1, M2, S3 and S3T, Buell motorcycle sales increased to just over 10,000.
Model year 2001 followed on the success of 2000, with a returning line-up of forward thinking motorcycles, highlighted by innovative updates including the molded Surlyn color body panels first found aboard the Blast motorcycle and continued efforts towards improved durability. The motorcycle again captured the imagination of many enthusiasts, and outpaced sales from the previous year.
FACING FORWARD … The Sculpture Takes New Shape
The 2001 model year Buell motorcycles continued to carry the dreams of Erik and company, but a new dream was being cast behind the scenes in East Troy. In his continuing quest to build the ultimate American sportbike, Erik challenged his team to create the perfect motorcycle. A bike which connects directly with the rider, becomes one with your body and delivers what Erik refers to as intuitive handling… a motorcycle which represents a direct connection between your brain and the road.
The result was a motorcycle, which only could be produced by the minds and hands of the people at Buell. In 2003, the Firebolt XB9R represented a collection of industry firsts and forward thinking which set the collective motorcycle industry on its ear. A multifunctional and extremely lightweight all aluminum frame combined the functions of a traditional frame with a fuel tank integrated into the frame itself.
The 2003 Buell XB9S Lightning was created with the Buell philosophy of design in mind: low unsprung weight, mass centralization, and chassis rigidity. The model was crafted with premium components, and has minimalist styling/visually exposed technology, agility, and handling.
Buell offered sportbike riders a wallop of American muscle with the 2004 Buell Firebolt XB12R, a model that mated the intuitive handling and innovative technology of the original Firebolt XB9R with a torque-monster engine — a 1203cc air/fan and oil-cooled V-Twin rated at 103 peak horsepower and 84 ft. lbs. of tire-twisting torque.
For 2005, Buell added a new motorcycle to the streetfighter category it dominates: the Buell Lightning CityX XB9SX (pronounced “Lightning City Cross”), a motorcycle bred to rule the mean streets. The Lightning CityX gives the Buell Lightning platform a tough new profile and offers performance that’s especially suited to urban riding – a combination of agile handling and muscular mid-range power.
The Ulysses XB12X was introduced in the 2006 model year as an adventure sportbike with long-travel suspension and aggressive tires designed to offer outstanding performance on paved and unpaved roads. With a dry weight of just 425 pounds and the broad powerband of the 103-hp Buell Thunderstorm 1203 V-Twin engine, the Ulysses displays outstanding power-to-weight ratio and sporting performance on tight-and-twisty back roads that often lead to unpaved roads.
Buell racing came full circle with the introduction of the Buell XBRR in January 2006, a limited-edition production racing motorcycle based on the Firebolt XB12R, but modified at the factory for closed course competition. A spiritual successor to Buell’s first motorcycle, the 1983 RW750, the XBRR provided privateer racing with a professional-level, race-ready, production-based platform.
The 2008 model year saw the introduction of an all-new model set to break the convention of the superbike category. The Buell 1125R is powered by the Helicon engine, an 1125cc DOHC liquid-cooled V-Twin rated at 146 crankshaft horsepower cradled in a Buell Intuitive Response Chassis. Utilizing the Buell Trilogy of Tech principles and computer-modeled aerodynamics, the 1125R is designed to deliver the precise handling that defined Buell for 25 years with a new level of engine performance.
The new 1125CR joined three XB Lightning models in the Buell Street line-up for 2009 as Erik Buell’s 21st century interpretation of the classic café racer, and a new motorcycle that defied convention and expanded the streetfigher category in the direction of superbike performance.
Bruce Rossmeyer’s Daytona Racing/RMR/GEICO Powersports rider Danny Eslick made history on Sept. 6, 2009 by clinching the 2009 AMA Pro Road Racing Daytona SportBike championship at New Jersey Motorsports Park, his own and Buell Motorcycle Company’s first professional AMA road racing championship.
On October 15th of 2009 Harley-Davidson announced that they would discontinue the Buell Motorcycle line. Buell motorcycle production ended on October 30th, 2009. The limited number of 2010 Buell motorcycles produced went on fire sale and they sold out very quickly. The last Buell built went to the Barber Motorsport Museum.
The Buell Motorcycle Company that was founded in 1983 by Erik Buell, produced more than 135,000 motorcycles over a 26 years period.