Turning onto my street to go home, a bouncing beam of light flickers from one mirror to the other. An instant later my peripheral vision picks up a motorcycle to my side. Not just any motorcycle, but a Honda ST1300 Police edition issued to one of LA's finest. From the way he is on my six I'm preparing to hand over some papers-but not this time. Said officer then pulls alongside with a most perplexed look on his face, as though he has just discovered some mythical creature. It is clear he isn't looking at me at all. I extend a friendly wave, which wakes him from his daze-he nods his head, waves back and rides away. I can't say I blame him for being puzzled. The Buell 1125R is anything but ordinary. But then again, neither is Erik Buell.
The 1125R is a motorcycle 20 years in the making. Buell had dreams of building a liquid-cooled motorcycle bearing his name since Reagan was in office, but for one reason or another those dreams never came to fruition. In fact the Harley-Davidson V-Rod project was originally going to be a shared engine design with Buell, but as development for that engine progressed Buell was given less and less say in the outcome. Reluctant to give up on his dream, he approached Harley-Davidson again to build a platform using a liquid-cooled engine. H-D, being low on resources from the V-Rod project, granted permission to contract another engine maker. Not wanting to go with Porsche (who helped with the V-Rod) again, Buell struck a deal with Rotax and the rest, as they say, is history.
You can read about the technical details of both the engine and chassis in The Geek's first-ride report from the intro at Laguna Seca ("Liquid Fire," Nov. '07) last year. In his story he also notes how the journalists rode preproduction models with some glitches and quirks that were promised to be worked out in the final versions. The problems were so inconsistent that a thorough track review would have to wait until we got a production model. We waited for almost a year after the intro to receive our press unit with the claimed revisions and fixes. As usual, we lived with the bike for quite some time, commuting with it, noting its street prowess and most importantly, stretching its legs at the track. Does the new bike deliver as promised? Read on.
At the intro heat was a large problem. Coolant temperatures reached as high as 230 degrees on some bikes, and many riders complained that the heat was burning their feet. We've even heard similar complaints on production bikes, and our test bike was no different. We noticed that on a normal Los Angeles summer day cruising along at moderate speed, engine heat radiates onto the frame and through the right footpeg. It's definitely noticeable through riding boots, but it isn't enough to aggravate (or downright burn) as it did at the intro. The 1125R seems to be sensitive to ambient temperatures, however, and our test bike would tend to run in the 200-degree range on warmer days. While moving (and on cooler days) we've seen coolant temperature drop as much as 30 degrees. Interestingly enough, fuel venting is rather nonexistent-it gets dumped back on the frame. Combine that with the engine heat that's largely absorbed by the frame, and the resulting vapors play funny tricks with your mind when stopped at a light. Besides the obvious health concerns, one can only wonder what effect this has on the fuel stored inside the frame and the resulting power loss.
Another issue encountered at the intro was poor fueling under 4000 revolutions. Unfortunately our test bike exhibited the same sputtering fuel problems as the bikes at the intro. Even when warm the Helicon engine didn't like spinning at such slow speeds. Often it would cut, sputter and lunge unless the revs picked up. Buell is working on a revised engine map as you read this, which should be available to dealers shortly.
Get the tachometer past the 4 mark and the engine starts to smooth out. Get it roaring past the 5 mark and suddenly the huge 61mm throttle bodies open wide and ingest everything in their path. They probably would have sucked me in if the airbox wasn't in the way. That's definitely a highlight of this bike. It's a docile and rather comfortable creature when you want it to be, but it can also come alive at the twist of the wrist and take you for a ride. Buells are known for their flat torque curves, and the design team wanted to keep that tradition alive with the 1125R. Now the Helicon torque curve feels much like that of the Thunderstorm engines, only higher in the rpm range.
On The Track
Normally when we receive a new test bike we like to put on some street miles before we take it to the track. That way we can see its street manners and how they compare with the racetrack. This time around our pal Carry Andrew and the gang at Hypercycle (www.hypercycle.com) invited us to one of their well-run track days at the tight and twisty (and bumpy) Streets of Willow Springs racetrack. Seeing as how we took delivery of the bike less than a week prior to our track day, we'd have to reverse our normal SOP and look at how the bike's racetrack manners performed on the street. Immediately it was clear that the factory suspension settings were off the mark. Turn-in was slow, and once leaned over, constant input on the bars was required to keep the bike on its side. Trailbraking was nearly impossible, as the bike would stand up almost violently on the brakes. A testament to the strong ZTL brakes on the Buell, to say the least.
To fix this we dropped the fork tubes approximately 10mm until they were flush with the triple clamp. That effectively raised the front of the motorcycle and made it less resistant under turn-in. With the addition of slightly more preload in the rear shock, the 1125R took much less effort to turn in, held its line without constant bar inputs and exited the corners without running wide under power. A dramatic improvement, though overall steering still felt slow and heavy compared with the likes of the Ducati 1098. The compromise was that the fork had little free sag left to play with. Fine for our testers, as yours truly is (shockingly) the giant of the staff at 5 feet 8 and 150 pounds soaking wet, but depending on your weight and suspension preferences, that might be a problem.
A moment ago we mentioned the ZTL brakes. Another Buell trademark, the latest edition of the rim-mounted brake disc and six-piston caliper provided very potent braking power. Initial bite is strong, but it lacks feel if you're trying to modulate that power-as in a trailbraking situation or when braking very aggressively. It's difficult to discern where you are in relation to the braking power curve.
We were pleasantly surprised with the Helicon engine on the track. The Streets of Willow course doesn't require high horsepower; instead, bikes with torque benefit from being able to squirt out of corners quicker. This is where the 1125R shone. It was able to dart from turn to turn with its massive torque, though the widely spaced gearing left the bike between gears occasionally. Speaking of gears, we're glad to see a sixth ratio on a Buell, though rowing through the cogs is very un-Rotax-like. Clicking from one gear to the next feels more Harley than Rotax, and there's noticeable throttle lag when shifting without the clutch. In one instance, as I entered the front straight and started applying throttle, the bike completely lost power. With my hand still twisting the grip, suddenly all systems came alive again and rocketed me down the straight. Fortunately this happened as the bike was completely vertical. Pity those who experience this phenomenon while leaned over-a launch into orbit awaits. Banging down through the gears, the vacuum-assisted slipper clutch helps reduce wheel hop, but skip multiple gears at once and one starts to wish for a true ramp-style slipper unit.
Last, for the department of odd motorcycle quirks, the bulbous front fairing actually impedes upper-body positioning for riders of the "new school" (like me) who like to get the upper body down and out. When transitioning from side to side my helmet would smack the fairing on multiple occasions. For "old-schoolers" who keep their upper body in line, this shouldn't be a concern. Stay in a tuck, however, and it works as advertised and surrounds the rider in a cocoon of still air.
In The Real World
With its street rubber back on, we ventured out to the hills outside Los Angeles to see if the oddities from the track would show themselves on the street. The suspension changes we made at the track turned out to be almost spot-on for the street, though we decided to ramp up the rear preload one click for good measure. At our spirited pace, turn-in required just one initial input and the 1125R held its line throughout. That said, at the racetrack and on the street the bike likes to be muscled from side to side.
Because engine speeds in street riding aren't as high as they are on the track, we did notice a few niggles. The unstable fueling under 4000 rpm made itself evident on some of the tighter corners of our ride, gurgling and sputtering until the revs picked up. El Jefe pointed out that the flat torque curve of the Buell feels strong up to about 7000 rpm, then tapers off. The drawback of spinning the engine this high is vibration. Despite its three counterbalancers, both The Geek and The Boss felt the buzzing from the bars at anything over 5000 rpm. Not enough to distract from the riding but enough to note its presence. Also, our bike felt like it had a heavy flywheel, as backing out of the throttle produced little to no engine braking. Needless to say, that's a little unsettling when entering a corner hot and in desperate need to scrub some speed. We noticed this on the bikes at the intro as well. Despite these little nuances the motor ripped when given a chance to stretch its legs.
We took a Ducati 1098 and KTM Superduke R along for the ride, and the 1125R held its own among this company-though it never felt as refined as the Ducati or as agile as the KTM. Just as on the track, front brakes are strong but don't offer much feedback. The rear brake, in typical Buell style, feels completely wooden, with the only indication that it's working being the locked rear tire when you stomp it hard enough.
The X Factor
There's no question that the 1125R styling is controversial, to say the least. Its odd shapes and round contours (not to mention that huge front end) are sure to polarize the buying public, most of which have been longing for a liquid-cooled engine in a Buell for quite some time-but surely never expected it to look like this. Aesthetics aside, the more we rode it the more it started to grow on us. It provides excellent torque, handles much better than expected, and has strong brakes and a comfortable seating position for both the track and street. Granted, there are still some things Erik Buell and his team need to sort out (OK, a lot of things), but perfection takes time. For now, Erik and his team should be glad that this bike-a project 20 years in the making, mind you-even exists. And who says dreams never come true?
|'08 BUELL 1125R|
|+||Responds well to suspension adjustments|
|+||Finally has sixth gear|
|-||Fueling still needs to be sorted|
|-||Engine heat is brutal on a warm day|
|-||Not exactly the prettiest bike around|
|Definitely the best Buell we've ridden|
|SUGGESTED SUSPENSION SETTINGS|
|FRONT||Spring preload: 12 turns out from|
|full stiff; rebound damping: 3 turns|
|out from full stiff; compression|
|damping: 2 turns out from full stiff;|
|ride height: set fork tubes flush with|
|REAR||Spring preload: position 5 from full|
|soft; rebound damping: 4 turns out|
|from full stiff; compression damping:|
|20 clicks out from full stiff|
'08 Buell 1125R
MSRP: $11, 995
Type: Liquid-cooled, 72-deg., 4-stroke V-twin, DOHC, 4 valves/cyl.
Bore x stroke: 103.0 x 67.5mm
Compression ratio: 12.3:1
Induction: Magneti Marelli EFI, dual 61mm single-valve throttle bodies, 1 injector/cyl.
Front suspension: 47mm Showa inverted cartridge fork, 4.72 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Single Showa shock absorber, 5.0 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front wheel: 3.50 x 17 in.; cast alloy
Rear wheel: 5.5 x 17 in.; cast alloy
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Corsa III
Rear tire: 180/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Corsa III
Rake/trail: 21 deg./3.3 in. (84mm)
Wheelbase: 54.6 in. (1387mm)
Seat height: 30.50 in. (775mm)
Fuel capacity: 5.6 gal. (21.20L)
Weight: 474 lb. (215kg) wet; 440 lb. (200kg) dry
Instruments: Digital speedometer, odometer/tripmeter, temperature gauge, clock, analog tachometer; warning lights for oil pressure, fuel level, ambient temperature, coolant temperature, fuel reserve, trip fuel, average and instantaneous fuel consumption, neutral, high beam, turn signals
Roll-ons: 60-80 mph/3.15 sec.; 80-100 mph/3.27 sec.
Quarter-mile:** 10.45 sec. @ 133.9 mph
Top speed: 162.0 mph
Fuel consumption: 24-30 mpg, 27.1 mpg average
I wonder if the design team at Buell watched one of those makeover TV shows while designing this bike. If you've seen these programs, they always tell the subject to wear black if they have any perceived flaws they want to hide. Makes you wonder why the 1125R only comes in black, doesn't it? Looking at the 1125R it's clear that Buell didn't consult with Pininfarina when designing that, um, "interesting" front end.
Looks aside, I was anxious to see how different the production versions would be from the ones Trevitt and I rode at the intro (I was at a different magazine at the time). Overall I was impressed. It goes, it stops and it turns just like a bike should. Sure, the gearbox is a bit clunky, the engine heat can be hard to bear at times, and the cooling fans sound like a steam cleaner long after the bike is turned off, but there's something about cheering for the underdog that keeps me rooting for Team USA.Even if it is ugly.
Since the 1125R's press introduction last year at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, I've been waiting patiently to see how the production version of the bike would turn out. The wait-almost 10 months-was worth it, as our test unit is substantially better than the preproduction models we rode at the intro. For me, the 1125R was a pleasant surprise on both the street and track. The chassis responds well to adjustments, and with those adjustments steering is neutral and quick-a combination unattainable on the XB models. The engine is way more user-friendly than the air-cooled mill, as well as more powerful, with the end result a much nicer overall package that works well over a wider range of uses. While I was hoping for even more refinement from both the chassis and the Rotax powerplant, the new Buell is a huge step in the right direction. The Firebolt models have always been frustrating for me to ride because they promise so much performance yet don't deliver on that promise. The 1125R does, making it less frustrating-and a lot more fun-to ride.
Now that Buell finally has an engine worthy of its innovative design features, the 1125R is a good step closer to realizing at least some of the performance potential promised by the theoretical aspects of its inventive engineering. There were still bugs that needed to be worked out, however, resulting in the long delay before we were finally able to obtain a test unit; and then the Buell still required some careful suspension dial-in before shedding most of the handling quirks that have chafed us since day one of the XB series. But once everything was worked out, the 1125R surprised me with its amiable character that can untangle a canyon road or charge through a racetrack lap a lot quicker than you think. The engine's flat torque curve will appeal to a broader range of riding-skill levels, requiring less shifting (although that's a good thing; the transmission was pretty subpar, with notchy shift action and a decidedly clunky feel), and the handling is agile enough without being so sharp as to cut you if you make a mistake.
For me, however, the ultraflat torque curve can be a bit uninspiring on top after a while in a chassis like this, and the overall steering effort is still higher than with nearly every other sportbike I can think of. While I'm sure the Buell will appeal to a good number of riders' tastes (well, all styling aspects aside . . . ), there are still numerous warts that give me pause at forking out nearly $12K.