Sunday, October 25, 2009
IronWorks Commentary....Bye Bye Buell; Harley riders watch your back
The discarding of Buell by Harley Davidson has lead to more than a few discussions around the ol’ IronWorks clubhouse. Love Buell or hate Buell, the company’s demise is a blow to the motorcycling industry. No one wants to see one of its own go down for the count and not get back up. Though the quality control in the early years was iffy at best, I’ve admired how far they come in bringing a better product to market, though not perfect. At one point in Buell‘s history, nearly all of its bikes were recalled. That‘s a hard shot to the jaw. But Buell stood fast and followed through with the commitment to make better bikes. We had the chance to see the new engineering efforts up close about three years ago when Buell hosted a test ride at Welch Village. (Unfortunately, it was a wash out and the company lawyers wouldn’t allow test rides in the rain.) Though Buell’s were never to my taste aesthetically, and I believed them to be far too small for my stature, I found its Ulysses model eye catching, and a bike that had a lot of potential to push the company forward. And, with popular press, I think it did. Buell, as a bike builder, brought a lot of ingenuity to the table with it gas-in-frame design, mass centralization and all of that. But what really hamstrung Buell, and we all know this, was its use of the Harley Sportster engine. We all questioned how Buell could charge $10,000 for a sport bike that essentially had a 1950s era power plant when the same money could buy a Japanese liter bike that would simply smoke a Buell any which way on any given day. I think Buell saw that as a problem and eventually turned its eyes to Rotax to develop the mill that wound up going into the 1125R and 1125CR. When these bikes were brought to market, some were happy that America had finally delivered a home grown sport bike worthy of being called a “sport bike”. But again some would argue that these two models were still ugly, overpriced, and over matched by other manufacturers. No matter, it was another step forward. Clearly, Buell was trying to step out of Harley’s big shadow. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late. And it didn’t help that Harley Davidson treated Buell as the red headed step child. As the economy hit hard, Buell had to idle its plant late this summer. And, as many are aware, Harley pulled the plug on Buell two weeks ago. Honestly, I find this act to smack of treachery on the part of the Motor company. There probably will be efforts to revive Buell, and in fact those rumors have already started to circulate. But the problem is that Harley has destroyed the Buell name, and with it any legacy that may remain. I’ve seen ads on the internet for the remaining new on-the-show-room-floor Buells selling for thousands less than the asking price of just a few weeks ago. These are no doubt great deals, but they came at a high cost for Buell owners who will never be able to sell their bikes second hand any where near a reasonable asking price. The bottom has dropped out for them, and for this Harley should be looked upon with disdain. Yes, times are tough and business is business, but this was heartless. It has left a cadre of riders who will never buy another Harley product and will do all that they can to vilify the company name. At a time when Harley should be attracting younger riders, it has slammed shut a window of opportunity. Short sighted as bad economic times do not last forever. If Harley’s profit margin stays in decline, I’d hate to see what’s in store for the faithful that blindly buy its products year after year. Harley likes to tout that faith in its marketing, but it may only flow to benefit one entity; the one housed at Juniper Avenue in Milwaukee.