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Is an American Sportbike Really Possible?

Reactions were mixed when Erik Buell Racing announced entering receivership as a consequence of their impossibility to deal with the financial requirements needed to carry on with production and development of new bikes.
From sadness and frustration to indifference and even relief, people reacted in various ways to the news. However, the blunt reality is that so far the jobs of the 126 workers EBR employed are more or less dust in the wind, and the operations are kind of stuck.

An attorney was designated to run the company and search for investors willing to buy EBR in its current state, so while under receivership, there's still a chance to make things work... in a way.

Hero or Polaris rumored to step in

The biggest two names rumored to be hunting for EBR are Hero and Polaris. Indian giant Hero already holds almost half the company and might be willing to make a move to get the rest under its umbrella.

Such a move would bring EBR intellectual property on Hero's turf and the Indian motorcycle manufacturer could thus benefit from all the knowledge accumulated at EBR so far. In fact, this was one of the two goals which led to Hero investing in Erik Buell Racing in the first place, with the other being the possibility to associate the Hero name with EBR's and thus gain traction in the Western markets.

If Erik Buell was not that happy to let go of a majority stake in his company while it was solvable, he now has no choice, and if Hero wants to make a move, now is the right time. Moreover, the price could also be better under such circumstances.

Is Polaris planning to add a sportbike alongside Victory and Indian?

Polaris is doubtlessly the option (read hope) many Americans favor for gaining control over Erik Buell Racing. Polaris is doing very well, by itself and with the other brands it owns. Victory is steadily establishing a firmer foothold in the modern cruiser segment while the revived Indian Motorcycle is slowly making in-roads in Harley territory.

Far from being a real threat for Harley so far, it is impossible to deny the enthusiasm Indian's revival was welcomed with. Many riders who were on the verge of getting a new cruiser and almost had H-D's name on the check changed their minds and went Indian.

Polaris has done a great job with these two motorcycle brands and is also on an expansion spree, after acquiring riding gear manufacturer Klim, the e-bike business from Brammo, and other companies during the last year and a half. If Polaris wanted, getting EBR would be extremely easy, given their financial strength. The big issue is whether Polaris believes an American sportbike is a feasible project or not.

Is a successful American sport bike even possible?

With the risk of having Buell and EBR fans getting mad at me, I believe that, with the "recipes" used up until now, it is impossible that such an endeavor becomes successful. And here are some reasons why.

For starters, the sportbike niche is dwindling. Don't fool yourselves with the good sales of several bikes, such as the S1000RR, R1, or other. And I said dwindling, not dying. However, with the stricter licensing regulations and the ever-present effects of the economic crisis, one has to be employed and earn decent money to afford buying a new superbike.

This rules out young customers right from the start, because they are not allowed to ride an 180-200 hp bike, and they cannot afford getting one. By the time they earn enough and have secured whatever living they see fit, many of them might no longer be interested in track days and riding a 200hp crotch rocket to work.

Price tags are another issue, and a very important one, too. Buell used to deliver top-notch performance, but at prices often north of 40k. Dollars or Euros, this tends to become a matter of lesser importance when you decide to pull the trigger on a bike selling for about what you make a year.

With the last 5 years or so not being exactly happy as far as world finances go, getting very expensive bikes was left to a few rich fellows, most of them above the middle-class condition. A matter of luxury, if you want. It goes without saying, one of the attributes of luxury is that not everyone can afford luxury products, right?

Were Buells really THAT genius?

Exultation is a natural feeling and we're usually okay with this, but a question has to be asked. If Buells have been such revolutionary bikes like many fans say they were, why in heaven's name weren't they also highly-popular around the world?

I am not trying to be disrespectful, but the question is a legitimate one. Something WAS wrong about these bikes, their marketing, dealership, reliability, or price. Or more of these.

The fact is that Buells sort of belong to an era that's gone. Take a look at what the R1 or the S1000RR offer in terms of performance and on-board technology. If you want to be a sport bike, then be a sport bike, the game has its own rules.

No matter how much you happen to enjoy your X1 Lightning, you getting that bike years ago and loving it for what it does and how it does is not helping EBR carry on.

If someone dreams of building an American Superbike, they should be paying attention to zie Germans or to the Japanese houses. Sorry to say it, but the old "heritage, classic" BS is not working in the world of cutting-edge racers.

Half of the new bikes sold in the US are Harleys, and this tells pretty much all there is to be said about the market. These folks will not buy a sport bike, because they don't need and don't want it. Some might want to get the bike we’re talking about because it is American, but this is like bringing spoons to a knife fight. The "made in America" tag doesn't do anything against the high-performance race-derived technologies to be found in other sportbikes. And it won't make it cheaper, either.

Whoever will be stepping in for EBR, if anybody, must understand that in order to battle the rest of the superbikes for a chunk of the market, EBRs must offer something, in a way different, in a way common for the segment.

It's rather hard, if not even downright impossible to come up with something to blow the others out of the water, therefore other directions must be explored.

So far, we have seen that the new RX and SX bikes were not selling too well. One could rightfully say that if people really wanted to get such a machine, they'd have gotten it when it surfaced, give or take a couple of months to sell the old bike and get funded for the new one. And this happens with EBR cutting the prices by some 20 percent, too.

Something WAS wrong with EBR's approach to doing business. Unfortunately, I don't know what it was, or else I'd offer my knowledge to make the company float again.

Instead, I am pretty sure that THIS kind of American superbike can no longer be possible. I sincerely hope that whoever buys EBR understands this and makes a change.
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