How Buell Became Part of Harley Davidson

The Buell Motorcycle Company is an American motorcycle manufacturer that is based in East Troy, Wisconsin. It was founded by Erik Buell, who was once employed by the Harley Davidson Company as an engineer. The Buell Motorcycle Company is the only significant manufacturer of sporting motorcycles in the United States.

Eric F. Buell was born in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1950. He was raised on a farm, learning to work on machinery at a young age. As a teen-ager, Buell took up motorcycling. His first bike was an Italian-made Parilla 90cc moped, his second a 74ci basket-case Harley Davidson. He began racing motorcross and also became interested in road racing in his early 20's.

Buell was also employed as a motorcycle mechanic during the day, while taking classes in engineering at the University of Pittsburgh at night. He received his engineering degree in 1979 and soon began working for Harley Davidson in Milwaukee. This is where he began designing concept motorcycles and was involved with the Porsche-designed "Nova" V-four program. He was also responsible for a lot of the improvement in stability made to the chassis design of the FXR series of cruisers.

Buell's loyalty to the Harley Davidson Company prevented him from racing Japanese or Italian made motorcycles in the 1980'2. This led to his purchase of a bike produced by a company in Great Britain. The Barton Company produced a limited production racer that was powered by a water-cooled 750cc Square Four two-stoke engine. The bike however, was poorly made and Buell began using his engineering talents and own designs to remake it as the parts failed.

Buell raced this prototype bike, which was still using the mostly-stock Barton engine, in 1982 at AMA National on the Pocono Speedway. He called this bike the RW750 with the RW standing for Road Warrior. During testing the RW750 reached speeds of up to 178 miles per hour.

When the Barton Company shut down in 1982, Buell purchased the entire stock of spare engines and parts, all drawings and the rights to produce and sell the engine. The shipment was delayed causing him to miss out on the opportunity of using this equipment for the 1983-racing season. The lack of reliability of the Barton engine also caused Harley Davidson to decline giving engineering and financial support to Buell when he asked. He then left the company to devote more time to his racing effort. Luckily the split was amicable.

Buell offered his RW750s for sale in 1984 with much success. The American Machinist's Union Racing Team bought, tested and raced the first publicly sold RW750. Unfortunately by the spring of 1985 the AMA announced that the Formula One class was being discontinued for the 1986 season leaving no market for Buell's machine.

Buell continued to design and improve his bikes with great success, all the time studying Harley Davidson's concepts and maintaining a close relationship with the company. This success and partnership benefited both companies and in the 1990's Harley Davidson invested a 51 percent interest in the newly reformed Buell Motorcycle Company. By 2003 Harley Davidson bought complete control of Buell Motorcycle Company, and currently distributes their bikes through select Harley Davidson dealerships. Eric Buell is still responsible for the engineering and design of Buell motorcycles.