Honda, Yamaha, Ducati, and Suzuki. These are the names that dominate the sport motorcycle industry. In the 80’s an upstart out of the American Heartland—Buell Motorcycles—challenged the status quo. Ex-racer turned engineer Erik Buell kept pushing his company’s bikes to be faster and more powerful. Buell bikes challenged the big companies. And they started winning races. Harley Davidson took note of the small, innovative sport bike company. A deal was struck for Harley to acquire Buell. It seemed like Cinderella was on her way to the ball with the financial backing to truly challenge the industry giants. But all of a sudden the economy tanked and what seemed like a sweet deal went south. Just weeks after Danny Eslick’s Buell 1125 won the AMA Sport bike Championship in Daytona, Harley pulled the plug and closed the doors on this company. Over 200 workers in hard-hit Easy Troy, Wisconsin joined millions of Americans at the unemployment counter.
“It’s a very emotional time for me,” said Erik Buell at the time “as I have to announce that we will no longer be building Buell motorcycles.”
“I was shocked, the town was devastated,” says East Troy Village President Bill Loesch. “Buell was the biggest employer in our town.”
“It was my dream job. When the company went down, it was like a family member had died,” says Jason Hayes, a father of three who worked on the assembly line and was out of work for months.
Buell Motorcycles could have been just another American-dream-gone-bust story. But Erik Buell wasn’t about to go down without a fight. Rather than ride into the sunset, Buell is going all out with a new company: EBR Motorcycles. He’s now in the midst of one last wild gamble to come back from the brink. And Erik Buell is doing it the only way he knows how: on the racetrack. He is putting every last cent he has into a racing team. But this is about more than ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday.’ A championship season gets Buell the credibility he needs to return to the top and attract investors to keep the company afloat. Anything short of that and Erik Buell might have to close up shop forever.
Everything is on the line for a group of natural born risk takers. Laid off workers are hoping to get their jobs back. “I may have lost my job, but I believe in Buell so much that if I were independently wealthy, I’d work there for free,” said Nikki Neu who used to work as a machinist on the Buell assembly line.
As our story unfolds Erik Buell is consulting to make ends meet and keep the factory running as his company preps for the upcoming race season. And he’s trying to sell the boardroom suits on the value of Made in America. “I’m really disappointed in the financial community. It doesn’t seem like any of the big money in America wants to invest in manufacturing. But we just have to keep winning and prove we’re here to stay,” says Buell.
This groundbreaking film spans 5 years and tells the story of the rise of a company from three points of view: inside the EBR factory; inside the homes of former Buell employees in Easy Troy, Wisconsin; and down in the pits of the racetrack. This film will showcase the innovativeness and tenacity of the American spirit—either in victory or in defeat.