In the late 70s, Erik Buell worked his way through school by taking a part-time job at a local motorcycle dealership. He had considerable knowledge of the workings of motorcycles and quickly advanced from trainee mechanic to service manager. During this time Buell also began racing motorcycles at the amateur level. After graduation, Buell went to work as a chassis engineer for Harley-Davidson.
In 1978, Erik Buell recorded the fastest newcomer qualifying time for the Daytona 200 motorcycle race. Four years later he left Harley-Davidson to pursue his dream of designing his own race bike. In 1983, he did just that when he designed and built the RW750 motorcycle specifically to compete in the AMA Formula One road racing class.
Buell tested the RW750 motorcycle throughout 1983 and clocked a top speed of 178 mph during testing at Talladega, Alabama. The first production of the Buell RW750 was released in the fall of 1984.
The following year, the American Machinists Racing Team announced that 1985 would be the last year for Formula One racing. Buell's type of motorcycle would be eliminated from the racing circuit. If he wanted to continue in racing, he would have to go back to the drawing board and begin his design from scratch.
Buell began working on building a world-class sportsbike, powered by the Harley-Davidson XR1000 engine. A total of fifty Buell RR1000 motorcycles were produced during 1987-88. In 1988 the Harley-Davidson XR1000 engines were discontinued and Buell had to further re-engineer his design.
The resulting RR1200 model was introduced in 1988. This model used the new 1203cc Harley-Davidson Evolution engine. Sixty-five Buell RR1200 motorcycles were produced for sale through 1989.
During this time, Buell also introduced the RS1200, a two-seat version of the RR1200 model. Over 100 of these unique models were produced through 1990.
The 1990s produced revolutionary designs to Buell motorcycles. The company expanded production facilities and added a new composite and paint shop, which led to greater flexibility and control over the manufacturing process.
In 1991, Buell introduced a single-seat version of the RS1200. The Thunderbolt S2 was introduced in 1994 under partnership with Harley-Davidson. A sport-touring version, the S2T, was added to the Buell line-up in 1995.
A new line of street bikes were introduced in 1996, including the Lightning S1 motorcycle which was voted "Hooligan Bike of the Year" by Cycle World Magazine. Other innovations included two new designs of the Thunderbolt motorcycle; the Thunderbolt S3 and the Thunderbolt S3T.
Buell introduced the Cyclone M2 touring bike in 1997 and developed the Thunderstorm engine in 1998.
In 1999, Buell rolled out completely redesigned models of the Lighting and Cyclone motorcycles. Both bikes had new body styles, frame, suspension, larger and more comfortable seats, and bold colors.
At the end of 1999, Buell's new designs and engineering innovations pushed sales to more than 8,000 motorcycles in one year.
Buell has always maintained a close relationship with Harley-Davidson. In February 1994, Harley-Davidson purchased 49 percent of Erik Buell's company and the new Buell Motorcycle Company was born.
Four years later, Harley-Davidson purchased another 49 percent; leaving Erik with a 2 percent share and a long term employment contract. The Buell Motorcycle Company is now a subsidiary of Harley-Davidson, Inc.