In many ways the 1125R is a familiar mount, as the airbox cover, seat, tailsection and clip-ons all look to be Firebolt parts. The ergos are similar, although the seat doesn't feel as sloped up at the rear, and the pegs are quite a bit lower, making the day's ride a notch more comfortable. The fairing and dash are decidedly different from the 'bolt, giving the new bike a completely different style and look from the cockpit. The fairing is much more bulbous and extended, and while the windscreen is no higher, the R has slightly better wind protection than the XB. As well, the dash is updated to a digital speedo and LCD panel for a much fresher look.
While portions of the cockpit may be familiar, the gauge cluster is all new with an easy-to-read analog tachometer and LCD digital speedo. The setup also includes a shift light, lap tiemr, and fuel economy info.
The exhaust note and much of the engine's mechanical sounds are very similar to those of the Aprilia Mille and Tuono, although other aspects of the engine are familiar Buell. As advertised, the pneumatically assisted clutch (now with hydraulic actuation rather than cable) is light-effort when the engine is running. The gearbox shifts smoother than any previous Buell, but is still a bit clunky and agricultural-sounding, especially when compared with an Aprilia or the Ducati 1098's low-effort tranny.
Over the first few tourist-infested miles of PCH, the 1125's engine feels plenty steamy at lower speeds and revs and has little vibration. Power builds quite proportionate with rpm, indicating a flat torque curve that is friendly and fun at a moderate pace. The transmission ratios are widely spaced, with the exception of the fifth-sixth interval, which is quite narrow. First gear gives plenty of pep for leaving a stop, sixth has the engine spinning leisurely on the freeway and a couple of downshifts are necessary for getting by traffic in a hurry.
The Buell's suspension is sportingly firm but quite plush over smaller bumps and roadway markers, and the upgraded ZTL front brake provides plenty of stopping power with a light pull; as before, however, feedback could be better. Steering is somewhat heavy, but thankfully the long-running XB characteristic of requiring a steady force on the inside clip-on to hold a line is largely absent on the 1125. Flipping the new bike from side to side is much easier as a result, and it definitely requires less concentration to ride quickly. Once off the highway and onto a more deserted twisty road where things got more spirited, some faults became apparent. While vibration is not a problem at lower speeds, the footpegs especially shake increasingly with rpm, and above 80 mph in top gear it becomes a distraction. Interestingly, while the XBs have their footrests mounted directly to the frame, the 1125R's are attached to the engine.
My bike overheated quickly on the run up the mountainside-well into the 230-degree range and illuminating the warning light-and it took several miles of idling along before the temperature returned to something normal. The ambient temperature was close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit inland, and every time I started hammering on the engine, the coolant temperature would shoot up. And that heat poured onto my legs and feet, making the ride very uncomfortable as well.
Upon our return to the track, I informed the Buell techs that the bike had overheated. I was told that the bikes were pilot production models and a fix was in the works for production bikes. This would be a common theme over the course of the two days, with every detail that journalists questioned met with a similar answer. For example, the bikes ran rough below 3000 rpm, protesting under acceleration in the higher gears. Other riders mentioned that to Buell reps, and all the bikes were remapped that evening before our track day. Likewise, the 1125's engine braking was somewhat inconsistent, with the bike not losing any speed at some rpm when the throttle was closed; this too would be constantly adjusted over the course of the intro.