The Buell Firebolt XB9R discussed in our article dated July 13, 2001 showcases Erik Buell’s engineering genius. Buell, as many of you know, began building bikes in his garage many years ago, utilizing the Harley-Davidson Sportster engine. With such a huge, relatively underpowered engine, Buell nevertheless designed a light weight, solid handling machine that gradually gained power as the years passed.
After Harley Davidson bought into the company, and eventually took 100% ownership, Erik Buell finally had the financial resources to create new designs, and even an all-new engine. So, what type of engine did Erik Buell build? An air-cooled, two-valve-per-cylinder, push-rod, 45-degree, v-twin. What? An old-school motor! What was he thinking?
Buell probably just hit a home run. The Firebolt engine is light weight and puts out nearly 70 foot pounds of torque. It is also a simple and relatively unique (for a modern engine) design that forms part of a 385 pound package potentially eligible for racing against 600cc, four-cylinder machines (or so Erik Buell hopes). Erik Buell describes his design philosophy as one of “purity and simplicity” — reducing the number of parts and having one part do more than one job where possible.
His swingarm doubles as an oil tank, for instance, while his rather conventional looking frame spars double as a gas tank. With belt drive, and a single, rim-mounted front disc brake, Erik Buell has built a machine that, in one sense, has zero competition. There is nothing else like it.
This is precisely the path a small-volume manufacturer should follow. It is not only smart, it is almost essential (look at what happened to Triumph when it abandoned its three-cylinder format to take on the Japanese with a four-cylinder, 600cc sportbike). Erik Buell knows what he is doing, and he is a man to watch now that he has Harley’s money behind him.