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A Tour of Erik Buell’s Barn

On a beautiful spring day not long ago, I was near Mukwonago, Wisconsin, on a tiny old abandoned farm. On the property is the small shed where a racer and former Harley-Davidson engineer named Erik Buell started the company known today as the Buell Motorcycle Company. The shed, also known as “the barn” (even though it’s next to an actual barn) has been recently restored by Harley-Davidson’s heritage people to the condition it was in during the 1980s, when Buell was developing his RW750 and RR1000 roadracers. As recently as a couple years ago, Buell had not been in the building for many years and it was literally falling apart, filled with debris and deteriorating parts and relics.

Erik Buell himself was on hand to give the assembled journalists a tour of the facility, which is really just a three-car garage with a little extra workspace. Three plywood workstands held three interesting bikes.

The first was the RW750. Developed by a very young Erik Buell in the early ’80s, the RW used a tube-steel chassis (of Erik’s design) and the fearsome Barton two-stroke Four. More prone to seizures than an epileptic at a Pink Floyd concert, the Barton made 163 hp and could push the lightweight racer to 178 mph. One was sold (to the International Association of Machinists racing team, if you can believe it, and that’s the bike on display), but in 1985 the AMA killed the Formula One class the bike was designed for. This prompted Buell to start building streetbikes with Harley-Davidson powerplants.

Closest to the door was a prototype of the VR1000 roadracer Buell whipped up for Harley-Davidson’s management in 1989. Close examination reveals a fuel-in-frame chassis, split radiators, and of course, a four-valve, liquid-cooled V-Twin. H-D went with a more conventional design, but Buell kept the idea for both the motor and chassis alive, which led to…

…the big black bike on the next bench, a prototype of the Harley-Davidson V-Rod. It was ridden around Europe by Porsche’s testers, while camouflaged in matte-black Suzuki sportbike bodywork. Initially, the motor was going to be co-developed for Buell and Harley-Davidson, but Harley’s management changed their minds and only wanted the one motor. At over 200 pounds, it was too heavy for Buell, so he focused attention on air-cooled designs and the entry-level bike Harley was clamoring for, the Blast.

It was an informative and interesting half-hour I spent in that little barn, not just for a Buell fan, but for anybody interested in the narrative of how a young roadracer and engineer from Pittsburgh followed his dream and created a motorcycle company from scratch. If you’d like to see the visit in its entirety, head to my blog and check out the video I shot. Enjoy!