Bye Bye Buell

October 20, 2009

All Posts, News

Harley-Davidson announced last Thursday that profits were down 84 percent. Then on top of that the world’s principal manufacturer of traditional motorcycles also announced it intended to get stronger by eliminating its Buell brand. “We’re going to be able to grow the company more quickly,” Harley Chief Executive Officer Keith Wandell explained, “by investing in the power of the Harley Davidson brand.”

Obviously, Wandell is stupid. Everybody knows it is not his job to grow Harley-Davidson. It is his job to save Harley-Davidson. And, it is hard to see how he is going to do that by eliminating Buell.

All of Harley’s management seems to be increasingly divorced from reality. Reality is, the company has only been successful because it has been riding a particular demographic boom.

Harley’s V-Twin motorcycles are integral to the identity of a dwindling and mostly aging sub-culture. Harleys are intentionally anti-modern. They are symbolic possessions at least as much as they are mechanical devices. People who spend $25,000 on a bike they only ride 1000 miles a year are buying symbols, not motorcycles. People who buy “authentic Harley-Davidson apparel” are buying symbols, too.


The problem is that Harleys symbolize a lot of things that mostly only old people still think. Things like: “Death before dishonor;” “My country right or wrong;” “Kill them all and let God sort it out;” “Don’t Bogart that roach;” “Give me weed, whites and wine and show me a line;” “Fuck the police;” and “Buy American.” Hardly anybody under forty talks like that. Nobody under forty except maybe your nephew or your son gives a damn about John Wayne, Steve McQueen, Peter Fonda, or The Wall. And, not even your son listens to “Head Out On the Highway” or “Roll Me Away.” Not even your wife cares what kind of bike Bruce Springsteen rides.

Nobody likes aging but there is a difference between aging well and aging poorly. All that long list of platitudes and personalities and old songs in the paragraph above is what Harley means when it talks about “brand.” When you see a Harley you are supposed to think “Born To Run.” And, just like Bob Seeger and Bruce Springsteen Harley is growing old. The problem is, Harley is not aging well. When a 24-year-old see a Harley he thinks AARP.

Even the Huffington Post can see Harley is terminal. The Huffington Post! In an online article posted Tuesday in the Post, automotive writer Steve Parker compares Harleys to Hummers:

“Hummer, which became an iconic brand in just a few years, has been sold to a Chinese industrial manufacturing company. Now H-D, which is for many a Hummer-like example of housing bubble-fueled consumer product overkill, seems in danger of going down a similar road,” Parker predicts.

“Harley-Davidsons, like Hummers, are overpriced, overweight and overwrought. Buyers who wanted a Harley would accept nothing less, though, similar to Hummer buyers, and with fast and easy cash pouring through the economy starting in the 1980s and continuing through the end of 2008, the bikes sold in record numbers.”

Alternative Future

The steps Harley must take to avoid becoming a Chinese company like Hummer seem obvious. In the first place Harley needs to sell vehicles, motorcycles or not, to the Department of Defense and to American police departments. Cops are bad enough. There is no excuse for an American cop to ride a foreign bike.

And the second thing, the most important thing, Harley needs to do is start selling motorcycles to young American men; to men who will still be buying motorcycles 30 years from now.

What is wrong with these kids and their crazy rap and their lack of respect for forty years ago does not matter. Whether young American men are as bold and anti-authoritarian and mechanically inclined as they were back in the golden yesterday is beside the point. Like it or not, most young American men don’t have a 60s or a 70s or an 80s soundtrack playing in their heads and they don’t have $15,000 to spend on a motorcycle.

Until last week those young men had a choice. They could buy a Kawasaki Ninja for about $9800 or they could buy a Buell Lightening for about a $1000 less. Or they could buy a Sportster. The Buell can run with the Kawasaki. The Sportster cannot.

If you were 24-years-old and just back from Iraq which bike would you buy? Apparently, Harley-Davidson does not care enough to even ask that question anymore.

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80 Responses to “Bye Bye Buell”

  1. DocB Says:

    Ya can’t keep a good man down for long. Lookie here what I found

  2. fayettenamhoe Says:

    i remmember. harley ment more, than the scares upon ones face, the bugs bettween the teeth, and dealer was a drug, fuck them, replacing [parts nitemare}

  3. pb68slab Says:

    I remember when H-D bought out the majority interest in Buell. Erik Buell had a good thing going. When Harleys took off with the YUPs and RUBs , Sportsters were selling like hotcakes and Buell wasn’t getting engines on time. Word was that Erik Buell was gonna go to Rotax motors. But then came the deal and Harley took over Buell. And cranked up production beyond demand. Then , dealers HAD to buy and sell so many Buells per model year. The entry level , single cylinder Buell Blast , was a good idea , but cost way too much compared to entry-level Jap bikes. Just like the V-Rod , ya can’t force someone to buy a bike they don’t want.

  4. YYZ Skinhead Says:


    It ought to be “Veterans Appreciation Discount” all year round. That would be very American of HD.

    YYZ Skinhead

  5. fayettenamhoe Says:

    harley davidson forgets about the sons and daughters, 2 wheels even three, the little children start off in jump seats looking out the window wanting to be free of the cages and boundaries, that have been laid out in front of them, its no joke , two wheels are faster than walking, it is a joke when two wheels, even a bicycle are hard to fix, hardley davison is now an overly complicated piece of hard to dijest mechanical nitemare on the side of the road, reliability used to be in the hands of the rider, harley forgot its root of compatibility for all, not fast? we don’t care, harley davidsons used to be user freindly. now its an over complicated chrome nitemare, we don’t need no computers thinking for our machines, they scare the children who like to tinker, a part here and a part there that was a harley, now they pay for the joke they created

  6. BuellRider Says:


    Just wanted to say that I enjoyed reading your blog. I stumbled upon it from a google search about Sons of Anarchy. I have to admit that I watch the show, but your posts had me laughing my ass off. I didn’t realize how hokey the show was.
    Anyway, I just wanted to say that I agree with you that closing Buell doesn’t seem like a smart idea. I ride a Buell lightning, and absolutely love it. A few things about it really appeal to me. #1 it handles like a dream – I ride 365 days a year (I’m lucky enough to live in Hawaii where every day is a perfect riding day) and riding it has never become boring. #2 I liked the fact that it was American made. I guess I’m old fashioned, but I wanted to ride an American bike. Until Buell came along, that pretty much meant riding a Harley, but I’m more of a sport bike kinda guy. Glad I got one before they got the axe.

    Another really cool thing about Buells is the sense of community among the riders and the people who built them. I have read posts on the Buell forums about riders who actually got a helping hand from Erik Buell himself at different Buell sponsored rides or events. I liked that the man at the top of the company is a rider himself, and not afraid to turn a wrench. It’s not a MC by any stretch of the imagination, but I still felt like I belonged to a small group of people who shared a common thread.

    When the announcement that HD was shutting down Buell came, I took a wild guess at what Erik Buell’s email address would be and sent an email offering my condolences on the closure of Buell. I had no idea if he would get it, and if he did, I really didn’t think he would have the time or inclination to respond. Much to my amazement, he did. In the midst of all that must have been going on around him, he took the time to respond to a random customer, and not a boilerplate prewritten auto response, but a genuine response.

    I’ve had my Buell about a year and a half, and with proper care, I figure I can keep it running well for years to come. Hopefully long enough for Erik Buell to start over. When he does, I’ll trade in my Lightning. Until then. . .

  7. fayettenam hoe Says:

    good luck

  8. fayettenam hoe Says:

    if you ride Harley you on your own, get down, pick up the pieces and move on, they out to kill the freedoms, and you stand in line, who next? there is no trust

  9. farrider Says:

    All this conversation and not much talk about what it is like to ride a Buell; I own one, and have ridden a few different models, and have enjoyed the hell out of riding these bikes so much that this announcement hit me with a hammer forged of incredulity. I’ve ridden a variety of H-Ds over the years- some evos, some fatheads and a hot-rodded pan that I just cannot seem to sell. I love to ride a Harley, I just do. A factory Harley is a road-borne tractor, it’s a freight-train, it’s an iron horse, it is a thunderous contraption and more. Along those lines, to ride a Buell is similar but a little different in some cool ways: it’s like saddling a lion and then having someone shove an electric rod up it’s ass- you really have to hang on! I grew up skiing and I smile so much it hurts as I push the nimblness of these bikes through the motions…you can turn so incredibly tight in the canyons and on the two-laner twisties- a rush and furthr. Coming from H-Ds, I was amazed at how you can cork these things at speed- I bought one in Sebastapol to ride back to Seattle, rode about a hundred miles or so up the 1. While putting some gas in it I was giddily wondering what the fuck just happened…I turned around and rode back to Sebastapol just to do that stretch again and once more norhtwise. As for what makes a Harley a Harley and a Buell a Buell, I say it’s the motor- two cylinders from a bi-plane, American made. The motor is where the gasoline explodes that makes the thing go: I think of my Buell as a Harley motor in a light-weight sportbike frame, one that puts the riders feet under the rider’s weight, allowing for a a level of balance that makes sense when you’re dragging a knee instead of floor-boards. To me, Harley killing Buell is like Harley killing a cousin for fucking their daughter…just so they can replace the cousin with a son. You watch, there will be Buell clones called Harley’s after they allow enough time for brand familiarity to dim. The concepts of Eric Buell put into motorcycle form work to well to discard; notice there was no attempt to sell. Ride good, all you likewisers……….

  10. sled tramp Says:

    And wear your profile “A’s”….

  11. Rebel Says:

    Dear Damon,

    I am pretty sure that 25 cents and a dd-214 gets you 25 cents off a Harley.


  12. Damon Says:

    And, just like a Magic 8-Ball, we ask the question and the great Motor Company in the sky answers us. This is what Harley davidson are doing to sell motorcycles to young American men returning from active duty:

    Harley-Davidson Motor Company
    is declaring November “Military Appreciation Month” to thank active & retired military personnel. If this includes you, we’d like to spotlight you on our Facebook page. Please post a photo here (w/your Harley if you have one), and in the caption tell us if you’re active or veteran, branch of service, wher…e you’ve served, how long you served, & in 15 words or less tell us what Harley-Davidson means to you.

    I’m wondering, do HD offer discounts to servicemen and women? I’m hoping that this facebook survey is designed to help them decide on an appropriate discount package for veterans and active servicemen – and not just serve as slogans for a new jingoistic advertising campaign. Damn, there I am being cynical again.

  13. Damon Says:

    Noted. Thanks.

  14. fayettenam, hoe Says:

    a shovel and a mop, build that bike with leftover parts,—— let the curse throw you into that pavement

  15. Damon Says:

    MSRP for a brand spanking new 96″ 6-speed Dyna is $11,999. Due to that, and the aftermath of the ‘MSRP trade-in’ for Sportsters, there’s gonna be a glut of very cheap used bikes cluttering up the dealerships…I don’t know a lot about marketing, and I know less about managing an international manufacturing company, but I can’t help thinking that if Buells were selling themselves and spinning a profit, they might have made a different decision. I could be wrong.

    So, when was Harley actually in touch with what many believe to be it’s ‘core market’? Again, I’m no expert, but why would you want to spend money to attract people who already tattoo the company logo on their bodies? Maybe it’s just me, but that sounds like a group that could be accurately labelled ‘a dedicated group of repeat customers’. I remember back in the 70s, Easyriders publisehd a blank page with words to the effect that the page had been booked by HD who had cancelled at the last moment because they didn’t want to be associated with the type of person who read Easyriders.

    Allow me to digress. Remember George’s words from all them years ago? “They ain’t scared o’ you. They scared o’ what you represent.” Harley Harley Davidson’s core market has never been the 1%ers – but it sure do love what 1%ers represent. Harley Davidson’s core market is people who prefer their freedom packaged, to be taken out on weekends for poker runs with their local HOG. They even get to wear a patch on their back, of sorts.

    Which is another neat segue. In 26 years HOG has attracted over a million members, many of whom are actually aware that they are members. If you counted every member of every Harley-riding 1% club around the world, I’m wondering which would be the most profitable demographic. Keep in mind that HD make big bucks from servicing and parts, too. They don’t want you fucking with one of their bikes – and don’t touch ’em with that grease under your nails, you’ll mark the paintwork.

    Vaughn Beals, Keith Wandell and even ol’ Willie G. never did one fucking thing to get me to buy one of their bikes, except manufacture them. They’ve done a lot of things over the years that a more fragile personality may have construed as rejection. Lou Kimzey, Spider and Miraculous Mutha convinced me at age 12 that I needed a Harley. They got a lot of help from Hunter Thompson, Dennis Hopper and the Gimme Shelter movie that I watched through the chainlink fence at the drive-in.

    The first time I rode my first Harley in 1979, I thought I had died and gone to Heaven. It was everything I’d expected, it was a hell of a lot more fun to ride than the Z1000 that I’d just traded in…I’ve owned Jap bikes since, and enjoyed the hell out of them; but they didn’t make me feel the way that FXEF did.

    HD isn’t going to do a damn thing to sell motorcycles to young men, American, Canadian, English or Australian, returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan. You know who is? The same people who’ve been selling the majority of their production for at least the last 40 years. We are. the kind of guys that read this page. The embarrassing mad uncles that HD dangle as a benchmark – “You may not be an outlaw, and goodness know you should probably stay well away from them, but buying one of these will take you that one step closer”

    Even if the MoCo went belly up tomorrow (and you just know that ain’t gonna happen – hey, maybe the Tuetels would be interested), we’d still be picking through mountains of spare parts and spare bikes for a few years to come yet.

    It’s a love-hate relationship, and they abuse us cruelly…but we are the ones who sell Harley Davidsons to men who need to create a new set of mental images.

  16. Huero Says:

    HD was a symbol which contributed to Americans riding a bike and that symbol has aged with its original riders. Middle-class, blue-collared Americans were the target audience and were the backbone to Harley’s fame and they can no longer afford the hefty $30K price tag that goes with the symbol. Thanks for the memories, Harley-Davidson! “Ride a motorcycle, not a bandwagon…Ride Triumph!!!

  17. YYZ Skinhead Says:


    Watch a documentary called Roger and Me if you haven’t already. It shows what happens when American big business gives up on its workers to outsource. When GM left Flint, MI the town literally fell apart. All those Americans who had worked for GM were suddenly left with no work. Of course, the canned workers could’t afford to buy anything, so the economy of the city went down the shithole. Michael Moore tried to interview Roger Smith, the CEO, and was chased away from Smith whenever it seemed he might corner Smith for an interview.

    The worst part of that movie is the conscienceless county pig. He threw all those impoverished people out of their houses. If you’ve never seen a black Nazi, watch this swine dumping innocent black AND white people out on the street–at Christmastime, no less. I am black and ashamed that this black trash cunt has my skin color. I hope he gets serious payback. One good thing came out of it, at least: Michael Moore paid all those victims’ rent for a year.

    This same thing can easily happen in York and probably will if HD pulls out of there.

    YYZ Skinhead

  18. John Cokos Says:

    Isn’t HD moving their operation from York PA to S. Carolina or one of those shitkicker states for the lower wage structure ? lived in that area for two years and if HD leaves York. it will be a kick in the haed for all those loyal worker. HD has been there since year one. Some Mexican temp will probably be makeing your $25,000 Harley for 7 or 8 bucks an hour. Enough reason right there to dump HD.

  19. fayettenam hoe Says:

    it is to mutch for most

  20. fayettenam hoe Says:

    buy youre own tools, build you’r own bike, let them laugh all day, ugly is better than no clue. the prettiest color is flat black, go out and ride and feel that red white and blued on, crawl it home, eventually the pain goes away, with love to the last one’s left, inside that mind,

  21. fayettenam hoe Says:

    it never was easy, when the rest of the world laughs at you, pick out a real friend, find out how long you will be alone, H.D. kills Buell, no more road rashes,

  22. fayettenam hoe Says:

    my apolodies to any one i offended, riding a motorcycle is not allways painfull, its me that kills the joy, it is my only friend, i trust no one, two wheels and my soul inbetween my legs –it leads to madness, H.D. dealer ships never were kool, not in my town, they wanted to take a fool for a ride, no fix, 15G’s won’t buy no soul

  23. DirtyBruin Says:

    Vacuus Cura: Indeed; part of the reason I didn’t buy a Harley is that I didn’t want to be mistaken for a RUB. And partly that – knowing a little biker history – I don’t think I’ve “earned” one, if that makes any sense.

  24. Grumbler Says:

    Speaking of Carmel Valley, my parents were the managing leasees of the Carmel Valley Inn (changed to Bernardus Lodge) at the northeast jct of Carmel Valley Rd/Laureles Grade. Pierre Salinger’s brother, George, was the bartender there. Carmel Valley also had a m/c shop that made the Classified Sportster which was styled like a Vincent. Running Iron Restaurant & Saloon issa popular biker stop. I was a passenger in a 4-seat private plane with Allison Parks (1966 POTY), her muscular SO, and a lezbo during a short 15min flight from the airport in town in late ’60s. Man, I had a woody like a baseball bat during that flight. ;^)

  25. sled tramp Says:

    Ha!.I worked carpentry all through Carmel Valley,Gilroy and Watsonville in the late eighties and early nineties when Piledriving and Bridgework was slow.I know Tassajara Road well.I remember smoking a doob and trying to set up my curves one evening. You’re not exaggerating those drop offs…

  26. Grumbler Says:

    And, from personal experience, never combine magic mushroom with a drive over Tassajara Road — it’s a winding 14 mile long dirt road with sheer drop-offs and a steep, narrow descent from Jamestown (east of Carmel Valley). Yeah, the stench at that zen center forced us to beat a hasty retreat back over that fuckin’ Tassajara Road. Never took that shiat nor that road again. The four of us were AFU.

  27. sled tramp Says:

    My two cents….never combine a trike and peyote chili.
    Just trust me on this………really…..

  28. Grumbler Says:

    The Piaggio MP3 has three wheels with two in front, and leans in turns unlike a conventional trike or the Can-Am Spyder. However, it retails for almost $9,000 (500cc version). The front-end is rather heavy though.

    Then there’s the ACE Cycle-Car which is a three-wheeler with a Harley-Davidson motor btw the two front tires. It’s ex$pen$ive.

  29. Rebel Says:

    Dear Fayettenam Hoe,

    Ok. True story. Last time I bought a new motorcycle I pissed off the sales manager so much that as I was about to sign the papers –I paid cash, in somebody else’s name– that he took the paperwork away and he told me he wouldn’t sell me the bike. I changed his mind.



  1. Popular People » Blog Archive » Bye Bye Buell | the Aging Rebel - November 20, 2009

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