AC: What was Buell's performance as a company in 2008-09, in the year before the shutdown?
We were making in the region of 8000-10,000 bikes a year - I think the most we ever did in one year was 12,000. But, by 2009 we'd hit a number of things that didn't make it look good for us. I'm not allowed to talk about the financials, but the sportbike industry had got into a bad situation, and us with it. I don't know the exact percentages, but they dropped significantly.
AC: What were the terms of your separation from Harley-Davidson? Here we are in the old Buell factory, from which you're able to base Erik Buell Racing for at least the time being, so it must have been relatively amicable. What conditions were imposed on you?
EB: I think it was indeed reasonably amicable, especially as I did have a contract that said that I couldn't get back into the motorcycle industry for a period of time after severance. It would've been until February 2011, but that's actually kind of fallen by the wayside, so I'm free to do my own thing. It was a clause dating back to my original agreement with Harley that was still in place. They basically said that the original agreement was in case I went off to Honda while they were still running Buell, so if it's all finished and Buell is gone, why should we keep him out of the industry? So they released me from it, and I could go and work for Honda now, but I'm not going to. I'd have worked for Mr. Honda-san in a heartbeat, though! He was a true visionary who understood motorcycles.
Beyond that it's quite typical, stuff like any intellectual property remains with Harley, which is the same for anybody leaving a company. I have no access to the Buell name after the end of this year. One thing that I did get from them, which I think was a great move, was the ability to license and use the Buell name and sell derivative race bikes as Buells until December 21, 2010. Their idea being that I was going to invest significantly in this, I'm going to buy parts for these off them, and it was a good marketing thing for them, because it kept their Buell brand alive and saved it from collapsing while they had a lot of inventory in the dealer network that they needed to sell off. Harley isn't going to build any more Buells, but it still has the legacy of the brand to take care of, to dispose of inventory, and keep the value up in the short term. So allowing Erik Buell Racing to do something with racing that helped their dealers and kept some good PR coming about Buell, was a very inexpensive way to do that for them, especially as we'd just come off the back of winning an AMA National championship with Danny Eslick in 2009.
AC: So now that you're free to choose, what do you want to do next?
This small fleet of 1125Rs...
This small fleet of 1125Rs awaits conversion to track-day or AMA competition racebikes.
I really want to continue building bikes, and I want to get back into the streetbike business, manufacturing innovative sportbikes. I know I'm going to have to start out small, just like before, but I think we produced a tremendous number of innovations over the years at Buell, and I want to be able to do that again. I don't want to be restricted in what I deliver to the customer, so if I do have investors or have a partnership with another company, which I guess is inevitable if I'm going to make this happen, then it'll have to be somebody who very much understands the sportbike market and the customers we want to address, in terms of what we want to do. I'll have to be very careful to make sure the package will work for everybody. I still have to make the bike I want to make, my ultimate Buell dream bike that sits on the wall over my desk as a concept drawing! There's so many different ideas to put into metal, and so many different motorcycles still to make that I hope and believe there are customers out there for. The huge number of concepts and projects that we started out developing at Buell that were all cancelled when Harley shut us down, these were all about innovation.