Every year we attend a handful of new-bike intros around the world. At these introductions, representatives of the hosting company brief members of the press on the new bike: the highlights of the new model, why those features were implemented and what they mean for performance. Following the briefing, journalists enjoy a day or two riding and evaluating the new bike. Usually, the whole scenario is fairly predictable: Feature A makes part B lighter than it would be otherwise, allowing an increase in revs by C rpm, for example, and it's easy to notice those features when riding the bike. Simple rules to follow. Buell intros are different. But that shouldn't be a surprise, as any of the company's representatives will tell you the whole company is different. Erik Buell essentially makes his own rules. And for 2007, he's completely rewritten the rule book.
After years of insisting that an air-cooled, pushrod 45-degree V-twin is the best engine for the company's sportbikes (er...sportfighters), Buell has unveiled the new 1125R, which features a liquid-cooled, DOHC engine. Why the sudden about-face? Part of the answer lies with customers' expectations: As sportbikes are endowed with ever-increasing power and performance, riders desire even more, and it's likely that the Sportster-derived air-cooled mill finally can't deliver the performance that potential buyers want. The other part of the answer also lies with the customer: While the company has a strong following (especially overseas), Buell hopes to grow it's customer base by attracting riders away from Japanese and European brands. Will it work? That, of course, is the $11,995 question.
The accompanying engine and chassis sidebars go into more detail about the 1125R, but essentially the bike's chassis is very similar to the Firebolt, and housed in that chassis is an all-new engine designed and manufactured by Rotax. Aside from the obvious benefit of more (and more consistent) power, there are other, subtler advantages gained from the switch. Noise and emissions standards are easier met with liquid cooling. The new engine-dubbed the Helicon after the sacred mountain in Greek mythology-is much more compact than the Harley-Davidson-based Thunderstorm motor, improving weight distribution as well as allowing for a longer swingarm. And without the old engine's inherent shaking, there is no need for huge, heavy flywheels nor the elaborate Uniplanar mounting system to reduce vibration.
The all-new Helicon engine was designed by BRP-Rotax in Austria (the same company responsible for the Aprilia Mille line of V-twins), with significant input from Buell engineers. The engines are manufactured and assembled in Austria and delivered complete to Buell's Wisconsin facility. The displacement of 1125cc was chosen to "meet a customer experience specification" rather than fit in a racing category. Stroke is incidentally the same as that of the Mille engine, while the bore is 6mm greater. Compared with the Ducati 1098, the Helicon engine has a 1mm-smaller bore and a slightly longer stroke.
Yes, the switch to liquid cooling does add some weight and complexity, but that is offset by other benefits enough that the 1125R's claimed dry weight is 375 pounds, 20 pounds less than the XB12R. Perhaps more importantly, the company claims real dry weight-that is to say, wet minus fuel, is 421 pounds, just three pounds heavier than we measured our Ducati 1098 at. While claimed peak torque is down slightly from the Firebolt, the new engine has a claimed 146 horsepower, a whopping 43 more than the XB12R. And while the XB motors ran out of breath rather suddenly at 7000 rpm, the new mill runs to 10,500 rpm.
The new bike was introduced to journalists at Laguna Seca, with a one-day street ride followed by a day lapping the spectacular USGP track. The street ride consisted of a 200-mile loop taking in the Pacific Coast Highway, some freeway and various ranch roads through the rolling hills around Monterey.