25 Years of Buell

By Ken Aiken - the Gear Guy on

Not long after this book was released by Whitehorse Press it became a classic. Harley-Davidson announced the discontinuation of the Buell line on October 15, 2009. The last motorcycle rolled off the production line on October 30th. Erik Buell has gone on to a new chapter in his history–Buell Racing—so it appears the story isn’t quite finished. – Ken Aiken

25 Years of Buell
by Court Canfield and Dave Gess
Whitehorse Press, Center Conway, NH
ISBN 978-1-884313-74-5
127 pages, 8.75 x 10.25 inches, gloss paper, color photos

Once upon a time there were over 200 American motorcycle marquees; then there was one. In recent years several of these earlier brands were resurrected only to falter and fail while a handful of new ones were created. Buell is one of the later.
In 1993 Buell motorcycles made headlines when Harley-Davidson purchased 49% of the firm and the new company unleashed the S2 Thunderbolt. The Blast became big news in 2000 when it was released as an entry-level motorcycle for beginners. 2003 saw the introduction of the XB design with fuel in the frame (instead of a tank), oil-in-the-swingarm (instead of the engine sump), and a perimeter brake with an inside-out caliper. In 2006 it was the XB12X Ulysses, a dual-sport, long-distance hauler that received rave reviews; this year it’s the 1125R with the new V-2 Helicon engine. Behind each and every one of these models lies a wealth of engineering innovations that were often developed and tested under almost Rube Goldberg conditions. The story behind their development is a splendid example of American ingenuity, entrepreneurial doggedness, and just plain surprises.
This business didn’t begin with those 1993 headlines and those seeking instant fame would do well to read 25 Years of Buell. The innovations that mark these motorcycles didn’t just happen and success wasn’t achieved by simply having innovative ideas. It’s a story about grasping opportunities, stretched purse strings, hard work and just a little bit of luck. This book is the first comprehensive look at the birth and young life of an American motorcycle company.
Erik Buell is an entrepreneur, a craftsman, and an engineer who is best known for the motorcycle that bears his name. While the man is not the motorcycle, the motorcycle is definitely the man. Therefore, some of the short insider stories regarding particular “situations” in the development of these motorcycles become an insight into the man behind them. Why the first injection-plastic part made especially for Buell motorcycles had to be created and the Tach Kit development for the M2 Cyclone are two good examples. The short story about “Mr. Cash” and the longer one regarding the 1987 Harley-Davidson Winter Dealer Cruise illustrate how opportunities were grasped, even though that of the Buell bicycle came knocking on the door. These are stories that almost any struggling entrepreneur can relate to. Gearheads will be more interested in the Buell Trilogy of Technology–unsprung weight; mass centralization; and chassis rigidity—and that of Engineering Analysis. These accounts manage to emphasize the importance of Erik Buell’s vision and engineering design ideas without glorification or becoming mired in technical details. Such restraint on the part of the authors is to be commended.
Both authors have played roles in the development of Buell as a successful company. Court Canfield started the Buell Owners Group in 1990 and worked as an employee in customer service and media relations in the late 1990s. Dave Gess became involved as the company’s PR agent in the mid1980s and returned as an employee a decade later in the purchasing department. Both were volunteers before becoming employees and their personal involvement in the company makes this an insiders’ account of the first quarter century of the Erik Buell’s motorcycle business.
The story flows nicely and keeps me engaged. The authors have not succumbed to techno jargon or delving into arcane engineering features, yet still managed to convey the innovative designs incorporated into these motorcycles. Yellow sidebars – some of these “sidebars” are full double page layouts – cover technical, production, and performance details. Photos document the history of the marquee, but many would stand on their own as motorcycle art. All the diverse elements are arranged in a pleasing format and printed on glossy paper. This is an example of how authorship and editorial layout can come together to produce a fine book.

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