Buell is back, and this time the company plans to produce a full line of motorcycles — not just sport bikes, but also adventure-touring and off-road motorcycles.
The new Buell company promises to launch 10 new models by 2024. Three models will be on display to the public for the first time at the J&P Cycles Destination Daytona Superstore during Daytona Bike Week next month, said Buell CEO Bill Melvin.
The new Buell website currently shows three models, plus a Buell-based 1190HCR hillclimb race bike that Logan Cipala used to win the AMA Pro Hillclimb championship in the abbreviated 2020 season. The 1190RX Hammerhead sport bike and the 1190SX, with a more upright riding position, will both look familiar to anyone who saw the motorcycles produced by Erik Buell Racing, the previous iteration of the company when the man whose name is on the tank was still in charge. But the third model is even more significant: the 1190 Super Touring adventure bike. While it won't be on the market until 2023, it's no coincidence this new entry in the adventure-touring segment was announced just a few days before Harley-Davidson plans to unveil its Pan America adventure-touring motorcycle.
Much has been carried over from the previous Buells, including the aluminum frames that carry fuel inside them, the perimeter front brake rotor and the liquid-cooled, 72-degree V-twin engines. But CEO Melvin said there is a lot more to come from the company, not just 185-horsepower street bikes.
Melvin said by the time the promised 10 models are introduced, there will be four different engines in production, including a small off-road motorcycle. It will be the most diverse lineup under the Buell name in the company's history.
It was Melvin's family's company that purchased the assets of EBR in 2016 and continued selling parts and building a small number of motorcycles for sale. Operations moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the company now has a 120,000-square-foot facility for production. The Buell brand was acquired last year.
To get more details on the new iteration of Buell, we snagged a quick interview with CEO Melvin.
Lance Oliver: Motorcycle sales in the United States have been stagnant for a decade and Buell has failed to overcome the competition before. Starting a new motorcycle company in the current environment looks challenging, to say the least.
Bill Melvin: We're up for the challenge. We will have high-end bikes that will have a price that matches the performance and will also be unique and exciting and fill sections that other American companies don't. And then we're also working on more affordable platforms.
The Buell brand has a great following globally. In the past, it had been restricted. Now, it's going to be growing into a competitive sport bike company, and not just with bikes on the road. It's going to have off-road, as well. We believe the technology, the innovation and the excitement that comes from this brand is an area in the American motorcycle market that needs to be filled and filled well.
LO: Clearly nobody gets into the motorcycle business unless there's an element of personal passion involved. What's your motorcycle history?
BM: I grew up riding bikes, starting when I was four. When everyone was having dinner, I was riding a dirt bike around the house for hours. Couldn't get me off it. Grew up the son of — I like to call him a motorcycle maniac — who has owned, collected, raced and ridden every motorcycle basically in the world. I grew up fortunate to have a large assortment to ride, to learn about, to understand.
I was always intrigued by the 1920s, when all these motorcycle companies had their own innovations. You'd see that one company did something and it didn't work. And another company did something and it did work. And some companies stuck with a game plan and made it work that way. There's a mixture of all those things that makes a business successful. We have a long history of running successful businesses. We have a long history of making smart decisions. And that's what we're putting to work here with Buell.
LO: Since you're obviously informed by history, what do you take away from Buell's history, including the years it was owned by Harley-Davidson?
BM: When you look at what was done, sometimes it was done before the market was ready for it. Sometimes you need the broad view of what actually works in the market to put it into a business plan to make it profitable. And not be restricted by a parent company that says, "Do this." That's not going to happen any more. This is a stand-alone brand and it's going to be grown that way.
LO: But just to be clear, Erik Buell is not involved in this iteration of Buell Motorcycles, correct?
BM: He's not. I love Erik, he's a great person. I'm excited for him and he's creating some very cool stuff right now and I'm happy for what he's doing.
LO: Some people were surprised that even a large corporation like Harley-Davidson would try to compete in the difficult adventure-touring class, but it must be even harder for a small startup to build a competitive ADV bike.
BM: The Super Touring bike is super exciting. It's got some really distinct features I think it's going to be exciting for people to see. It's mean, it's tough, it's a mega-fast bike. This is a bike that can go head to head with a Ducati Multistrada.
LO: The Multistrada is a very sophisticated motorcycle, with unique features like adaptive cruise control. Can a small startup company compete in areas like rider aid electronics?
BM: We are working on advancing our rider aids but this is more a rider's bike. So it doesn't have all the features that are more for a middle-level rider. These are more for advanced riders.
LO: What do you think about the Harley-Davidson Pan America we're going to see Monday?
BM: How many horsepower is that bike? Our Super Touring version will have 185 horsepower. We'd love to do some shootouts. Fast is fun. Fast is fun on a Buell and our bikes are fast.
LO: Finally, what do you ride?
BM: A Buell!
LO: OK, but which one is your favorite?
BM: My favorite is the SX, which has been updated with a much more comfortable riding position. It's easy to ride, it's super fast but it's controllable. Our Super Touring bike is part of that platform. It's manageable, but if you know how and you want to, you can keep up with any bike out there.
I do have an XB9, which is a very easy bike to jump on for tooling around.
I like to ride off-road. Really, one of the most fun ones is something that we're working on. I rode it all last summer and it was awesome. It's something smaller, it's a ball. The timing on that is out a little bit, but it's great. Super fun. That's the one I smiled and laughed the most on last summer.