Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An Open Letter to Erik Buell

I bought my first Buell in 1998. A beautiful pearl white S1W with the reactor purple frame and wheels. I loved how the wide gas tank tapered down to a narrow waist and a tiny saddle. It looked like a cobra, and handled like a mongoose on Red Bull. I loved the thundering sound, and how it vibrated at the stop lights. I learned to love its twitchy responsiveness. When my brand-new bike decided to blow the top off its oil reservoir and leak all over the place, I forgave it. Buell was the outsider, the underdog. I was a part of something that would be one of the greatest motorcycle companies ever.

When the XB series came out, I sang its rapturous praises like a faithful acolyte. Fuel in the frame! Oil in the swingarm! Genius! Buell has to be the best-engineered bike ever! Nevermind that they still used the same basic motor as the old '98 S1W. Buell had to be on a roll, now. I remained one of the faithful.

I got my current mount, a 2008 1125R, and felt that Buell had truly made it right. I've put up with the stumbling at low RPM, the occasionally balky ECM and air intake solenoid, the false neutral between fifth and sixth gear. It was still the best bike Buell ever built. I was envious to hear how the 2009 1125R's motor was smoother and more compliant. For 2010 Buell gave us an oil level sight glass and an optional fairing, and released the 1125RR race-only bike into the wilds of the AMA.

Uhmm... Yay?

And then there's BoB.

The Book of Buell is the new Buell manifesto. The little red book for The Bueller Nation.

Prepare for the cultural revolution.

People are already quoting from the Book of Buell as if it were gospel. Allow me to appoint myself Grand Inquisitor of the Faith.

The Book of Buell says "Sitting is not a sport. ... Before you buy a Buell, take a moment to think about what you really want to do on it."

I'll tell you what we want to do on it. We want to win. We don't want to be competitive. We want to crush our enemies, see them flee before us and let the lamentation of their women be our lullabies. Be ruthless in your engineering, Buell. We want our weapons.

The Book of Buell includes some heresy. Quoting "Our competition employes thousands, and that's not even counting the robots. Buell is 200 people building motorcycles by hand in East Troy, Wisconsin." Sorry. We're not going to buy that anymore. We don't care if there are bigger kids on the playground. If you want respect, hit harder than the bigger kids. I'm confident Buell can do it. Be ruthless.

I like the new logo. I see where you're going with that silver and black shield. The BoB says it's "shorthand for 'I don't care what you think.' " "A Buell won't make you any friends," and "we don't engineer motorcycles for acceptance. We engineer them for performance. And we engineer them without mercy." If you want Buell to be the Raiders of motorcycling, make sure it's the Raiders of the late 70's and early 80's, not the hapless collection of felons who now wear the silver and black. Just win, baby. On the road and on the racetrack.

So there we are. You set the standard, and we're going to hold you to it. Never again will I buy another Buell because of sentiment, or to support the struggling underdog. I'm not buying a Buell unless it's the absolute best sportbike I can get. I want the precision of a scalpel and the force of a sledgehammer. I want to win. To quote from the Book of Buell, "And while racing and sportbikes have always been important at Buell, they are now officially the only thing that matters."

We want to win. The Bueller Nation and our privateers want to win. It's the only thing that matters. Give us our weapons, Mr. Buell. And engineer them without mercy.
Shawn Higbee, our favorite privateer

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bye, bye, Blast

They did it. They killed the Blast. And unlike South Park’s Kenny, I don’t think we’ll see a magical resurrection in the next episode.

The news started on the bulletin boards. The first poster described what he’d seen his newly arrived September issue of CycleWorld. Then it spread to Twitter. A link to a twitpic photo showing the horror- a mangled, twisted Buell Blast, crushed into a cube. But, the ad said “it makes a killer ottoman.”

I wonder how the many Blast owners who shelled out good money for their Buells feel about that. An ottoman.

I never owned one, and you probably don’t either. That’s the problem. But the Blast was there for those who wanted to get into motorcycling, but weren’t ready for a Firebolt or a Lightning. We thought it would always be there. I always thought it might be the foundation for a neat little off-roader, a mini-Uly. Or an electric bike.

Any marketer will tell you it’s easier to retain a customer than to convert one. Someone who starts out with a Ninja 250 is likely to remain a Kawasaki rider for life. The rider who learns on a Honda Rebel in a Motorcycle Safety Foundation class stands a good chance of going on to buy Hondas. The Blast was a gateway drug for Buells.

So what now?

Erik Buell has spoken. There is no appeal. The Blast is gone. We move forward, right? That’s progress, isn’t it?

I wonder what will happen to those Riders Edge classes. They won’t be riding around on the Blast anymore.

What will happen to the small but hopeful crop of niche companies who were going to create new bikes based on the Blast? Companies like Mac Motorcycles who were showing us what could have been with the Blast. What of those Blast owners who customized their little single-cylinder rides with much love and pride? Will they move up to Firebolts or 1125Rs?

Above, the Mac Motorcycles Spud. Below a Blast customized by Hellcat Customs

And if, as that ad says, racing and sportbikes “are now officially the only thing that matters,” what does that mean for the Ulysses?

I’m trying to stay positive about this. I’m trying to hold to the hope that this will mean better Buells in my future. Maybe next year I’ll be able to trade in my 1125R for a street-legal RR like the one that Taylor Knapp debuted at Mid-Ohio.

I’m holding out hope that Gixxer riders will look in awe as I ride my next Buell down the twisty side of Mount Palomar.

But I keep coming back to the image of that poor Blast. Crushed. Crumpled like the draft of a bad resignation letter, tossed aside to start something new.

It deserved better.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Final Scramble Before our Higbee Benefit Ride

Right as of this writing, we've got about 20 Buell riders registered to ride on Saturday to support our favorite Buell privateer racer, Shawn Higbee.

Jerry just shot over photos of items he and Kathleen are donating to the auction. I'm posting them below so they're on the 'net and can be linked to from our Meetup calendar page.