Gibsonia native gets a gearhead’s pulse racing
Erik Buell grew up in Gibsonia and attended the University of Pittsburgh, where he proved to be a whiz at engineering.
Buell, now of Wisconsin, also had a penchant for riding motorcycles fast through Oakland. He used those skills to create his own bespoke motorcycle race team in the 1980s. Years later, Buell transferred that experience and created a line of street bikes that rode on his cleverly engineered chassis using time-proven Harley-Davidson power plants.
The formula has been so successful that the Steel City native invited dozens of media representatives from around the world to a launch of his newest model — a funky, futuristic little rocket known as the 1125 Cafe Racer — in Berlin over the weekend.
Few motorcyclists, let alone motorcycling writers, would pass up a chance to eat schnitzel and ride fast motorcycles in Europe for a weekend, so I jumped a plane for Germany.
Buell, who still exudes a Pittsburgher’s down-to-Earth charm, arranged for us to test his latest contraption at a racetrack and mapped out a 200-mile trek through the former East Germany.
Like a David Hasselhoff music video, this was strange, Teutonic territory, with our motorcycles speeding through deserted villages that looked like sets from Brughel paintings and skirting the border with Poland.
The crowning stint of our journey involved a high-speed run along the vaunted autobahn, which to us gearheads is something akin to playing quarterback for the Steelers — on Super Bowl Sunday.
The autobahn is one of the few roads where speed limits are self imposed, which is Christmas and the Fourth of July combined for serious speed freaks.
Buell’s crew pointed our motorcycles to this pristine slab of asphalt and let us loose. To be sure, it was a mind-altering experience, whizzing between 18-wheelers at 140 mph, but I have to admit, for all its legend and lore, the autobahn was a bit of a letdown. The road was no better or wider than the Parkway East.
The only real difference was that drivers used their turn signals and stayed off their cell phones. And they actually acknowledged driving etiquette and merged with care.
Erik Buell likely will sell a ton of his motorcycles to his native Pittsburghers, and good on him. If we’d only learn to drive like the Germans, he’d likely sell even more.