Been holding this story for a few days, waiting for the final order of corporate execution to be signed by a Wisconsin bankruptcy judge tomorrow dismembering Erik Buell’s three decade long engineering legacy. But people who were at the private bankruptcy auction thursday are starting to talk, and what they’re saying doesn’t bode well for Buell motorcycles latest iteration, Erik Buell Racing (EBR), with the high bidder being a liquidator who carves companies into little scraps of the most profitable size. So I’m going with this story, and hope to hell tomorrow that bankruptcy court will make me look like an absolute bumbling idiot of a motojournalist by keeping EBR alive.

Bit o’ history… Erik Buell is a rider, racer, and engineer outa Pittsburg who went to work for Harley back in the bad old AMF days. He coulda just hung around a few decades like they seem to do at HOG(NYSE) and collect his pension, but instead Erik fixed a lot of the truly horrible Harley products of that era, especially in the handling department. Then he quit and went racing, building a competitive racing bike by wrapping a breakthrough frame and chassis around a 750 cc. Yamaha two stroke motor. Then the AMA changed their rules and made Erik’s racing bike obsolete, so he took his innovative chassis design and wrapped it around a Sportster motor. The result was an instant hit that drew a growing cult following, with racebike handling and a torquey motor that made gearshifting largely optional. That cult and it’s most committed (and committable) members became the “elves”, and they ultimately subverted Harley into backing and then buying Buell. Fast forward to 2009 and while the Buell operation has been profitable, HOG(NYSE) has a new CEO who doesn’t even know how to ride a motorcycle and the economy and Harley sales are stalling. Wanting to look like he was indeed a CEO and “doing something”, said new CEO orders the Buell operation shut down and liquidated.

But Erik Buell and the elves are no quitters, and soon were reconstituting Buell under the name Erik Buell Racing, given that HOG(NYSE) owned the rights to Erik’s own name thanks to their corporate greed. The newest Buell model, the watercooled 1125 that put near 150 horses into a bike the size and weight of a 500, was re and reverse engineered into version 2.0 with a full 1190 cc. motor with even more power and traction control with over a dozen settings. Come 2014 and EBR had a dealer network and bikes in said dealers showrooms. But raising the $$$ to do all that required some deals with the devil- the government blessed sale of green cards in return for a half million dollar investment under the dubious “EB-5” program for a start, and then a consulting contract with Indian motorcycle maker Hero.

Then Hero refused to pay their bills and forced EBR to file for bankruptcy. fortunately Buell fanatic Bruce Belfer was high bidder for EBR and he set the wheels in motion to build and sell bikes again. Just before that deal was made, Hero made a side deal to buy the “intellectual property” that they claimed was developed for them. Apparently Hero’s definition of “intellectual property” was an overly broad one, with them looting EBR of so much hardware that “white knight” Belfer’s financers backed out of the deal. That deal killer forced a repeat auction last thursday, with Belfer reputedly outbid by liquidator Liquid Assets. Liquid Assets is just that, a liquidator, and they don’t sell anything until they’ve filleted it into little bits that will never make motorcycles or widgits or whatever again, scattering the thousands of drawings, software, tooling, and parts that go into making a Buell about the world, or failing sale, to the landfill.

Buell deserves better… Bankruptcy court, please make me look like a fool!

 

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