Friday, February 11, 2011

Notable engineer countdown - 10 who left their mark on motorcycling

Before the modern motorcycle could take shape, it first took shape in the minds of engineers and designers. Picking the ten most deserving for this list is a task guaranteed to infuriate some readers, but these guys championed ideas and influenced whole categories and markets.

In position #10, Erik Buell – engineering iconoclast

"More cheese, Gromit?" Wisconson's Erik Buell does his best imitation of another noted cheesehead. This was at Daytona in 2006, when the star-crossed XBRR took 'modifying the cases' to extremes. Rules are made for stretching.
Although Harley-Davidson’s air-cooled, pushrod V-twin motors are not an obvious choice as powerplants, Erik Buell’s determination to produce a mass-market American sport bike was admirable and he’s proven to be an extremely creative engineer. His use of shock absorber springs that operate in tension, frames that carry fuel and swingarms that carry oil, and rim-mounted brake discs are just a few of the inventions that may, some day, be found on other brands of motorcycle. 

After Buell was, almost literally, thrown out into the cold by Harley-Davidson, he set up a small shop and went back to his roots, selling and servicing production race bikes. He plans to release a new streetbike, the EBR 1190RS, soon.


  1. Erik was also the first person outside Honda to appreciate mass centralisation, which might have made one of your top 10 innovations. Until the Honda CX500(!) conventional wisdom had been to keep the weight low on a motorcycle, but as the great, late UK journalist John Robinson explained "it's easier to control a hammer if you hold the head rather than the handle" - with the CX500 Honda got mass between a rider's knees rather than down by his feet.

    The also gave the telescopic fork a new lease of life - it's easy-ish to lock the front brakes on my bevel 900SS because its low CofG pushes the front along: move the weight up and the forks push the front tyre into the ground to give more grip and braking. Shame really, because I always wanted James Parker's RADD (or Bimota's Tesi) to be the future

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