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What, no bailout?!

October 19, 2009 - Rob Weaver
What’s the opposite of too big to fail? Too small to survive.

That appears to be the fate of Buell Motorcycle Co., which owner Harley-Davidson Inc. last week announced would close. The only American sportbike manufacturer will cease production Oct. 30. No bailout, no buyout, no government takeover.

Buell was founded in 1983 by former H-D employee. His earlier models involved stuffing an H-D Evolution engine into a sportbike-like frame. It was an intriguing idea, made more interesting when Buell (the designer) crafted innovative models which used the twin-spar aluminum frame as a gas tank and rear swingarm as an oil reservoir. A low-slung, underbelly muffler also helped the goal of mass centralization, although I’m not certain the rim-mounted brakes assisted turn-in.

Then came the 1125 series of recent years, with V-Twin power plants all their own. This year, Buell (the motorcycle) won the  AMA Pro Daytona SportBike championship. A promising result, until a recession and relatively low sales sunk the brand.

Sure, cyclists are well served by Italian, German, British and Japanese sportbike makers. And who knows? Maybe development of electric-powered sportbikes like the ones which lapped Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last summer will return sportbike production to our shores (check out

But the passing of boutique-size Buell still will leave a big void in the domestic motorcycle market.


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