The road to hell is paved with dead motorcycle companies, and littered with others that despite charismatic leadership, fine product, mergers, venture capital infusions, bankruptcies and other forms of financial (rather than mechanical) engineering, have ended up in the ditch. Some have been saved, some reborn, but when it comes to Erik Buell Racing, all of the above have contributed to a long, wild ride towards a destination and an outcome still unknown.
Back in August, we brought you an exclusive face to face interview with Bruce Belfer, a smart, strong- willed Jersey Shore businessman/ engineer and motorcycle enthusiast who, shockingly, scooped up Erik Buell Racing’s assets at auction for $2.25 million, including machinery, tooling, trademarks, inventory, and I.P. His goal was to get the EBR house in order and quickly resume operations. Complicating the transaction was the participation of Hero MotoCorp, EBR’s original backer, who paid $2.8 million for Buell’s consulting business and certain other property. Turns out that the ‘other’ may not have been so ‘certain.’
At the time of the offer, Belfer posted on an EBR 1190 Owners Group’s Facebook page, “Yes. EBR lives. It reopens. It goes on. Thank you all for keeping the faith. More good news to follow…”
Since then, there has been little news of any sort, and much speculation. And now due to problems that stem from eleventh hour claims to assets that arose after the auction, but before the closing, Erik Buell Racing’s manufacturing assets will go back on the auction block in early December.
Belfer was recently quoted in the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, stating, “In a nutshell, our right to close ended September 30. Hero’s right to claim against inventory ended October 6. No financing could be secured with an uncertain balance sheet.”
Both parties are understandably tight-lipped on details, but it appears that there was a major gap between what Belfer and his financiers assumed they were buying, and what Hero felt they were entitled to take with them, and not enough visibility to nail things down before the clock ran out.
I spoke to Bruce again this week, and he was guarded, but unbowed. “The object remains to preserve and protect what’s left of EBR, so that we can restart production, get our employees back to work, and begin the healing of our dealer and customer relations.”
To do that, he will have to be the winning bidder on December 10th, and this time close the deal. Polaris and other companies were rumored bidders the first time around, but Belfer was the only guy who showed up on the Walworth County (Wisconsin) Circuit courthouse steps in July. “I am not certain if it will be just me against the liquidator this time around, or if anyone else will show up at auction,”
Bruce told me, “but rest assured, I’m going after it.”
I sensed that maintaining decorum through this ordeal has been occasionally challenging. Choosing his words carefully, Belfer says, “There are always roadblocks when doing a deal, it can be stressful to everyone involved, but this one… let’s just say it has been enormously and unnecessarily frustrating.”
Frustrating, yes, but not without some enlightenment that drives Belfer even harder towards his goal. “Over the last five months, I learned just how deep the love for EBR is. We’re being cheered on by dealers, riders, fans and the love for a unique motorcycle brand. You can’t buy that love, it’s been earned by Erik and his team.”
Despite all the love in the room, winning the second auction may be the easiest part of his quest. The dealer network, while generally supportive, will need some caressing. Dan Notte, Managing Member of Metuchen, New Jersey, multi-line dealer Cross Country Powersports, told me “What always made EBR distinct was Erik’s unique approach to the design of his homegrown sportbike. Unfortunately, as a dealer, we were not made aware of EBR’s demise until it was announced to the public, nor were any customers made aware. As far as our future with EBR, that will be determined if or when the new company is restarted.”
Sounding eerily like a BSA dealer circa 1973, Notte added “there are enough NOS bikes in dealer inventory to part out and keep customers machines on the road for some time to come.”
EBR had over 130 workers at its peak, and a few remain to keep the embers of this once-bustling and innovative company glowing. And Belfer couldn’t be more appreciative of this. “I’ve been paying the core remaining eight or nine guys in East Troy out of my pocket since July. These fine people are innocent bystanders of this mess, they are the soul of the company, and I just don’t know how much more they can take.”
By now, some might think that Belfer has been smoking the drapes. He’s as confident a man as I’ve ever met, but why would he take another shot at such a quixotic, long shot endeavor? He was animated and blunt. “Not everyone is built like me. I’m not going to quit. I will secure my vision for an American motorcycle manufacturer, and I want it to be built on a revived EBR. I’m doing it for the riders, the dealers, and most of all Erik and the employees of this great company.”
We talked about how an EBR 1190RS, with American road racer Mark Miller aboard, was competing at this very moment at the Macau Grand Prix under the Team Splitlath banner, and how much racing heritage exists in the EBR brand. ‘That’s what I’m saying. Think about what Erik means to the motorcycle world, the odds he has overcome.’
He then added what might very well be emblazoned on a plaque at EBR headquarters someday, “There are three certainties in life. Death, taxes and Erik Buell and Bruce Belfer never quitting anything.”