In today’s post I’m going to tell you a story. It’s not a story that involves a SOLIDWORKS tip per se. However, it’s a story about the design process. It’s a story about a guy who loves to go fast on motorcycles. It’s a story about resilience, determination and innovation.
Motorcycles have been in my blood since I was a child. From the time I was strong enough to hold on, my dad would ride me around on the back of his Harley. My dad has ridden every year since he was 15 and I’ve done the same so far. You can’t explain a passion for motorcycles. It has to be experienced.
In 2004, I was really gaining interest in entering the technology field. A motorcycle came out that year that has held my attention like a child ever since. One day, I walked into my local dealership and a bike caught my eye that I had never seen before. The front brake was on backwards and it had a wheelbase that would make a scooter look long. In place of a tube frame it had a gorgeous exposed arc down the middle which looked as if the bike was held together with the stroke of a calligraphy pen. It was belt driven and had a massive V-Twin tucked up underneath. It was stunning, and it was completely different from anything I had seen. I lifted the tag and it said, “2004 Buell Firebolt XB12R.” I went home that day with every piece of literature they had on Buell Motorcycles.
As I researched the bike, I discovered the theory behind the Zero Torsional Load braking system, the fuel-in-frame design, and mass centralization philosophy. I learned about low unsprung mass with super-light wheels, static tensioners and a motor used as a stressed member of the chassis. I found a bike that piqued my curiosity for engineering. It is without a doubt that the design elements of this bike helped me decide to become an engineer. As I explored this bike and its path to existence however, I found something more. I found an inspiration that has stuck with me all these years since.
– Rewind to the early ’80s –
Erik Buell had discovered that he loved to go fast on a motorcycle. He had recently purchased a new race bike, although the quality was not of the highest. As parts broke, he redesigned them and ended up building a whole new chassis for the bike. He raced his one-off bike until news came that the square four, 750cc motor which powered his bike, would be discontinued along with the manufacturer itself. Buell bought the rights and the remaining supply of engines and, with that, he was in the business of racing. He left his job at Harley Davidson to develop his race program, which he did with success. After selling his first bike, a major setback struck when the AMA announced that the class he had designed his bike for would be discontinued for the following racing season. The bike he poured his efforts into could no longer be used in competition. This left him with a product and no market to sell it to.
Not to be dissuaded by the situation, Erik started over. Through his connections at Harley Davidson, he acquired a handful of left over 1000cc V-Twin engines. He redesigned his bike around this new power plant and continued forward producing several models. After a few years and a few refinements, Harley Davidson became interested, which led to them acquiring half ownership in Buell Motorcycle Company. Harley Davidson would purchase full control some number of years down the road. Over the next 25 years, Buell Motorcycles refined and innovated motorcycle design. In 2009, it seemed the brand was finally gaining momentum with a win in the AMA Daytona Sport Bike Championship under their belt. Just a short time later came a day I won’t forget. I sat misty-eyed watching an emotional Erik Buell announcing that Buell Motorcycles was being closed apparently due to the economic downturn. If it were most, they would have called it a good run.
A good run however, as it seems to Erik, has nothing to do with closing up shop and going home. With Buell, a good run is with one knee down and the back tire just holding on by a thread. And so it was with Erik Buell Racing. Erik restarted his efforts under a new brand and in 2011, I came by an announcement that EBR had plans of creating another street bike. Better. Faster. More nimble than anything they had made before. It was a limited run but plans were in the works for full production. A return to a full line of bikes seemed promising with performance not yet seen from a Buell. Two street models have since been released with specs that rival the best. A true, world class superbike had been built in America. Reviewers have been astonished, and track records have been broken. Despite massive setbacks, Buell had somehow come back stronger from every hit.
It is near this point in history that my perspective of Buell Motorcycles and Erik Buell Racing changed. As many of you know, I spent a couple weeks with EBR working on some SOLIDWORKS modeling. I discovered that Buell was far more than what Erik had started. Buell was a family. I discovered that they had risen to exceed their previous selves time and again because their passion to innovate never dies. I discovered a massively talented group of people who love each other and love what they do…people who would lend me, a perfect stranger, their car and their bike…people who invited me into their homes and into their shops.
And so, I was crushed yesterday (as I write this) to find an announcement that EBR was not able to secure the funding it was relying on to continue production. They would be closing their doors once again.
To say I am heartbroken for them is an understatement. I wrote this article, however, not to share heartbreak. I wrote this article to encourage us all to be as inspired by the story of Erik Buell Racing as I am. I wrote this to encourage us to be the kind of designers and the kind of people who stop at nothing to innovate. To be the kind of people who work as a team and as a family to reach new heights. To be the kind of people who, when it seems like they’re beat, come back stronger than they started. To be determined and resilient and, as Erik would say, “fiercely independent.”
SOLIDWORKS and Dassault Systemes have always valued this kind of persistent, creative spirit. We don’t all build world class motorcycles, but we can all wake each day knowing that we can create something better than we ever have regardless of the circumstances. Erik and his amazing team have proven that innovation is not always smooth sailing. The road to the greatest sport motorcycle America has ever produced was filled with many washouts and potholes.
History leads me to believe that we haven’t seen the last of Erik and my friends at EBR. In the mean time, I hope that we can all share a lesson from them and press on with more zeal than ever before. After all, you may discover new innovations and a wide-eyed kid may uncover a passion for a future of design in the details of your work.
P.S. I did finally get my Buell one day. I’ve since put nearly 30,000 miles on my 2004 Buell Firebolt XB12R and it puts a smile on my face every time I throw my leg over.