Bye, Bye Buell





Earlier this year I took the Riders Edge course at my local Harley-Davidson dealer with the hopes of learning to ride, getting my license and buying my very first motorcycle. Of course, I struggled like everyone else on what motorcycle I wanted to purchase and went through the struggles of whether to buy new or used, to go sport bike or cruiser and even how powerful is too powerful? The one thing that I knew as a novice in the motorcycle world was that I absolutely loved Harley's and couldn't stop dreaming about the day that a XR1200 sat in my garage.

Then I looked at the price tag. Instantly I knew that dream was pretty far off unless I wanted to go under the knife of a loan. But with monthly payments still funneling into my student loan, being any more in debt isn't up my alley. So I resigned myself to dreaming but signed up for the Rider's Edge course through Harley anyway. After all, I knew I wanted to ride a Harley someday so why not learn now? And who's better to teach you how to ride one than Harley-Davison itself?

The day of my first class I strolled into the dealership with my gear in hand, ready to take on the challenge of learning to ride and was dealt another heavy blow to my Harley- Davidson dream. Not only was the bill for the bike bigger than my budget, the actual bike was bigger than I had imagined. And suddenly I understood the meaning of the "1200." I suddenly knew that the price was not the only thing keeping me from buying my dream Harley as my first bike, my lack of experience and the level of skill required to ride such a beauty just wouldn't match.

I looked around the showroom hoping to find an alternative. If I couldn't handle the XR1200 right out of the gate, there had to be another Harley-Davidson that could substitute for my first ride. All I was met with was the Iron 883. With just as hefty of a price tag, the 883 was still menacingly big for a first time rider like me.

Now, before you start to think to yourself that I'm some pansy who's too scared for their own good, let's also take into my account that my lack of inexperience also comes with being a 120 lb. female who leans more towards the negatives in pant sizes than the double digits. In other words, I'm not muscular or big by any means. So, yes, whether it makes me a pansy or not, I'd rather get my bearings on motorcycles on something that I can handle.

When the time to ride actually came about, I was relieved to find out that the class would be taking place on 550 Buell Blasts. I'm gutsy enough to not want to try and learn on the little 250 Rebels that the MSR courses typically use and a 550 seemed perfect. Plus the size of the Buell Blast was small enough to not make my insides turn in dread but big enough to not look like a toy.

Throughout the class I found the bike to be a perfect size for me. Sure I had the normal mishaps of a first time rider, but I felt rather comfortable. With a 550, I could see being able to learn safely on the mean streets of the real world without getting bored after the first two months.

But we all know how the relationship between Erik Buell and Harley-Davidson ended. Not well. I was surprised to see that Harley was still using Buell's bikes in their training courses. But then again, what other motorcycle that they sell would they use? Nothing else in the Harley-Davidson showroom is suitable for a first time rider to learn on unless they don't mind the possibility of dropping their new $8,000 bike. I know I'm not.

And there in lies Harley-Davidson's new dilemma. While they are committed to teaching new riders how to safely and skillfully ride in their courses, there's a gap between graduation day and when they buy their first Harley-Davidson. Most riders that take the Rider's Edge course tend to purchase their first bike elsewhere and Harley-Davidson looses them as a customer. Without the smaller products of Buell, Harley-Davidson has lost the new owner market.

At least they had until now. In order to fill the gap (and possibly purge the Rider's Edge course of the Buell name) it seems as though another option is appearing. Frank White, the CEO of ATK Motorcycles, has paired up with S&T, the Korean manufacturer of Hyosung motorcycles, to make a smaller and more affordable motorcycle for Harley- Davidson dealers. ATK now supplies a 250 and a 650cc model to some Harley-Davidson dealerships, which are perfect for novice riders and the low speed maneuvering requirements of the Rider's Edge course. White is hoping that the bikes will, "Get new and younger riders to go into Harley-Davidson dealerships." He believes that, "Over time, these new riders will develop the aspiration for a traditional Harley-Davidson."

With the ATK coming in a perfect 650cc and the options of white, black and orange, I'd have to say that I'm on board. Plus the price tag is as low as $4,295 as opposed to the 883's $7,999 and the ATK GT 250 has a fairly light weight of just 375 lbs. I'm already looking up the nearest Harley-Davidson dealership that's got them in stock.

While Harley-Davidson has yet to officially approve of the partnership, many dealers follow White's logic and support the venture. To make it even better, ATK will start to receive the parts for their bikes straight from S&T to assemble them in Utah. With the assembly a little closer to home, ATK will be able to modify the models slightly to improve their suspension, brakes, fuel maps and even come up with some more unique graphics for the bikes.

With Buell gone and a gap to fill, Harley-Davidson's biggest battle will be with its die hard Harley fans who rue the day that anything other than a pure Harley-Davidson is parked in the showroom. But for people like me who now have a license but a smaller wallet and a smaller physique, the addition of the ATK to the Harley-Davidson family will be perfect for novice riders who want to buy something in the Davidson family and fully intend to work our way up to the bigger stuff... say a XR1200? And if Harley- Davidson doesn't want to pair up with ATK, they might want to look into manufacturing their own lower priced and lower cc motorcycles cause their current demographic of Harley-Davidson riders aren't going to be around forever.

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