Street Fighter. Café Racer. Sport Custom. Whatever you want to call it, the recipe for hooliganism on two wheels has pretty much stayed the same: start with a sportbike, rip off the front end and slap on some lights, ditch the low-slung clip-ons for a set of handlebars, move the pegs lower and basically personalize to the point where the final product is an abomination of what it started life as. In this world less is more and function doesn't always follow form. And that's cool.
The streetfighter craze started as an underground movement from talented individuals not content with leaving good enough alone. The need for personalization and customization of performance oriented motorcycles is what drove them, and the results spanned the gamut; some were simple, others simply breathtaking. An underlying factor was that despite one's need for customization, these definitely were not cruisers.
It Was Bound To Happen
So it was only a matter of time before the custom sportbike scene went mainstream, and two manufacturers to really latch on to the movement have been Buell and Ducati, with the 1125CR and appropriately named Streetfighter, respectively. Following the debut of the controversial 1125R sportbike from Buell, Erik and team decided to create more of a stir with the 1125CR, or Café Racer. Drawing inspiration (though not much else) from British café racer motorcycles from the 1960's, Buell followed the formula above by taking an 1125R, ditching the now infamously bulbous front bodywork and replacing it with a simple flyscreen and headlight. To keep with the theme, the clip-on bars on the sportbike were nixed in favor of handlebars. These aren't your usual handlebars, however. No, these are bent and angled down and forward from the triple clamp in true café racer style according to Erik Buell. The resulting bar position angle is very similar to that of the 1125R sportbike. Cool looking? Maybe. Comfortable? Not so much. That's why we had our test bike fitted with the optional raised handlebars, resulting in much higher comfort.
Other than the tweaks to the front of the motorcycle the 1125CR is not much changed from its fully faired sibling. Forward motivation comes by way of the 1125cc 72-degree Helicon V-twin engine from Rotax in Austria that put out 132.5 horsepower and 75.5 pound feet of torque on our Superflo dyno. Braking duties are handled by the Zero Torsional Load perimeter-mounted rotor clamped by an eight-piston caliper, while Showa components front and rear handle bumps and keep the rubber on the road. In a slightly different fashion, Ducati's Streetfighter takes its influence from the venerable 1098 superbike of year's past, yet it isn't just the same machine stripped to its core. The Streetfighter is in fact a whole new motorcycle. Powered by the same 1099cc powerplant from the 1098 (not the 1198 from the current superbike), the engine receives the vacuural casting treatment as the rest of the superbike engines, resulting in less cavitation and a slight weight reduction. On our dyno it just edged the Buell with 2.6 more horses (135.1) and is practically level in the torque department (74.1). It's cradled by a completely redesigned frame with minimal bodywork with a front headlight design inspired by, of all things, the number plate from the 1098R. The myriad of changes continues: wheelbase is increased through a longer swingarm compared to the 1098 and front suspension geometry is revised for more rake with the goal of increasing stability. Styling-wise, the tail section of the bodywork has actually been shortened slightly to better accommodate the dimensions from the revised front end.
Instrument cluster readings...
Instrument cluster readings were difficult to see with the LCD tachometer. This was also made more difficult by the streamlined switchgear controls that were anything but intuitive. Mirrors were surprisingly decent, however.
Great torque in powerband
Engine is lackluster in upper rpm
Form over function throughout
Suggested Suspension Settings
||Spring preload: 2 lines showing; rebound damping: 10 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping: 1.25 turns out from full stiff
||Spring preload: 15mm thread showing; rebound damping: 8 turns out from full stiff; compression damping: 2.5 turns out from full stiff
The cockpit of our 1125CR...
The cockpit of our 1125CR testbike included the optional handlebar kit which provides a more comfortable ride compared to the standard clubman bars. The analog tachometer is easy to read, though the digital displays took a little more effort-especially the gear position indicator.
Brakes lack feel
It sure won't win any beauty contests
Suggested Suspension Settings
||Spring preload: 14mm showing; rebound damping: 3.25 turns out from full stiff; compression damping: 3 turns out from full stiff
||Spring preload: position 5 from full soft; rebound damping: 4 turns out from full stiff; compression damping: 20 clicks out from full stiff
|Real World Romping
Slightly hesitant during initial...
Slightly hesitant during initial turn-in, the Streetfighter is quite a capable canyon carver once leaned over. Some testers still complained about the exhaust heat shield/heel guard protruding too far out and inhibiting natural foot movement during left turns.
More detailed rundowns of each bike can be found in our first ride pieces, the Buell in the January issue ("Retro Cool", Jan. '09) and the Ducati in the July issue ("Turning The Page", Jul. '09). And while the specs look impressive, what we really want to know is which machine will deliver the goods in a real-world environment. To do this we gathered the usual band of misfits. Steve "Hollywood" Mikolas and Jim "Lucky Charms" O'Connor also accompanied Trizzle and El Jefe for thorough floggings of each machine. Going into this comparison all of the testers thought it would be a runaway victory for the Ducati given its superbike heritage. Little did we know the matchup would be a lot closer than any of us expected. For starters, ergonomically the 1125CR is very neutral-no part of the rider triangle is disproportionately out of place. Even with the original clubman bars. The Ducati, however, seems to miss the mark. Saddle position is tall with an odd, downward bend of the handlebar that creates an awkward riding position. To add insult to injury, if you're a male, the tall rise from the fuel tank combined with the downward slope of the saddle means one needs to be especially careful of the, um, "nether region" while riding to avoid speech volume increasing by one octave unexpectedly.
The 1125cc, 72-degree Helicon...
The 1125cc, 72-degree Helicon V-twin engine in the 1125CR remains unchanged from that in the 1125R sportbike, which includes the tremendous heat that radiates from the right foot peg.
No, the Streetfighter is not...
No, the Streetfighter is not powered by a surplus of 1098 engines the company had laying around after the introduction of the 1198. These new engines benefit from the company's Vacuural casting process which allows for more precise and consistent casting while also shedding a few grams.
Both machines are rather docile creatures during normal operation cruising in and around town, with ample torque from either engine to squirt through most any situation. Not too surprising is that both V-twins don't like to be spinning slowly, though the Ducati is especially unhappy below 4000 rpm. To add to its misery, once warm, stoplight to stoplight jaunts wreck havoc on the dry clutch and smooth launches are nearly impossible as the clutch tends to grab. Of course, its tall gearing only exacerbates that sluggish feel down low. Because of this tall gearing we hardly found a need to use sixth gear. Highway cruising at 80 mph in sixth gear had the 1099cc mill spinning at that dreaded 4000 mark. In a way, the engine just seems bored spinning that slow. Further, despite its side-mounted exhaust, some testers noticed excessive under-seat exhaust heat after moderate commuting stints in city traffic.
In contrast to the tall gearing on the Ducati, the Buell is geared even shorter than its 1125R stablemate and that's immediately noticeable after 3000 rpm as the CR leaps out of the gate at the twist of the wrist. We were all pleasantly surprised at just how much grunt the Rotax engine put out, but it seems that the clunky gearbox woes still remain. This is made more apparent when compared with the Italian bike's buttery smooth shifting. Transmission issues aside, with the Buell's shorter gearing, sixth gear roll-on times favor the 1125CR. As our impromptu roll-on test showed, starting in sixth gear at 60 mph, the Ducati was severely hampered by its tall gearing and that allowed the Buell to pull away. By the time the Streetfighter was in its sweet spot (above 5000 rpm) it was already too late-the 1125 had already gapped its Italian counterpart. And this is where our preconceived notions about the Buell being the underdog were beginning to be proved wrong.
Change of Heart
A simple flyscreen and angled...
A simple flyscreen and angled headlight replace the bulbous front end of the 1125R to create the Café Racer, though the humongous side-mount radiator ducts still remain. Braking system is the same as the R model as well except caliper color is now red instead of black. Either way, the brakes still lack feel through the lever.
So maybe straight line speed isn't what these bikes were meant for. As both are born from companies with racing in their blood, it's only natural for both to be in their element in the twisty bits. Again, here's an area where we were certain the Ducati would trounce the Buell. In the canyons some testers had problems adapting to the seating position of the Streetfighter, the awkwardness making for a loss of confidence. Those who could adapt to the seating position found it resistant during initial turn-in-the longer wheelbase and increased rake surely not helping here. This hurt side-to-side mobility, but once leaned over the fully adjustable Showa components absorb road imperfections with ease and provide a compliant ride, though leaning a bit on the firm side. Bringing the action to a halt are a pair of 330mm discs paired with monoblock Brembo four-pot calipers that were so powerful we wondered whether one of the local train lines were missing some stoppers. One-finger braking was more than sufficient in all but the most aggressive braking situations.
To increase stability, the...
To increase stability, the Ducati has a more relaxed rake angle. Headlight assembly is oddly inspired by the number plate design of the 1098R, while the ram-air inlets were redesigned to accommodate the new headlight. This results in a five percent horsepower deficit compared to the fully-faired 1098. Braking power on our test bike was of Herculean proportions.
If there's one thing about Buells we've come to expect by now, it's razor sharp handling. With just a 21 degree rake and 3.3 inches of trail, the 1125 is the exact opposite in the handling department from the Ducati. It falls into turns with ease and is surprisingly nimble from side to side. Showa components damp road imperfections on the Buell as well and we couldn't find any faults with its damping abilities. We've written about the trademark Buell ZTL perimeter brake many times before-while an innovative idea, performance advantages are nil-and like Buells of yore, the binders on our test bike lacked initial bite and feel at the lever. Between these and the scary-strong Ducati brakes, our testers were at a loss to choose a winner. Another 1125R trait we noticed on our test bike was excessive heat stemming from what seems to be the right footrest. So much so that at times we'd need to take our feet off the peg to cool off. Again, an issue we've written about before.
Burgers or Pasta?
Both of these bikes are polarizing. That's the point. Even among our testers, deciding a winner wasn't an easy choice and the pondering lingered on for days. We were all pleasantly surprised at just how well the Buell performed, and at the same time the Ducati was put on a pedestal a bit prematurely, despite its $3000 higher price tag. If it was strictly a numbers game, the 1125CR would be the winner-our subjective scores indicate as much. But motorcycle ownership is about more than just function over form; there's an element of lust as well-and frankly, despite surpassing all of our performance expectations, it's hard to lust after the Buell if it were in our garage.
||$11,999/$12,214 (as tested)
||Liquid-cooled, 72-degree 4-stroke, DOHC V-twin
||Liquid-cooled, 90-degree 4-stroke, DOHC L-twin
|Bore x stroke
||103.0 x 67.5mm
||104.0 x 64.7mm
||Marelli EFI, dual 61mm single valve throttle bodies, one injector/cyl.
||Marelli EFI, single-valve oval throttle bodies equivalent to 60.0mm dia. Single injector/cyl.
||47mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.72 in. travel
||43mm inverted cartridge fork, 5.0 in. travel
||Single shock absorber, 5.0 in. travel
||Single shock absorber, 5.0 in. travel
||120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Corsa III
||120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Corsa III
||180/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Corsa III
||190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Corsa III
||21.0 deg./3.3 in. (84mm)
||25.6 deg./4.5 in. (114mm)
||54.6 in. (1387mm)
||58.1 in. (1475mm)
||458 lb. wet (208 kg); 426 lb. dry (193 kg) dry
||427 lb. wet (194 kg); 400 lb. dry (182 kg)
||38 to 40 mpg, 38.8 mpg avg.
||35 to 43 mpg, 39.4 mpg avg.
I certainly considered the Buell 1125CR an underdog when going up against the Ducati Streetfighter, but once I threw a leg over both motorcycles, the test got interesting.
Reversing all my preconceptions, the Buell was a real "blast", no pun intended, to ride. The power was substantial, feeling more torquey than the Ducati most of the time. Where the Ducati had twitchy steering and instant-on braking, the Buell felt natural in the corners and the brake feel was very good. So, in a sense, the Buell won the test for me. Except for one critical area, I just can't get into the looks of the thing.
While a bystander during the test liked the looks, I simply could not find an angle that made me happy. Sorry Eric, I really did try. So, the question becomes, would I buy a motorcycle I thought was ugly? The answer is no. I need to be able to look at a motorcycle and find something esthetically pleasing about it, no matter how small. And no matter how I tried, I just couldn't do that with the Buell.
Strumento da tortura, or "torture rack" according to my Italian friend. That's probably how I can best sum up the Streetfighter. I've never gotten along with the liquid-cooled Monster line (love the air-cooled ones, though!), and despite Ducati changing the name to Streetfighter, I still can't come to terms with it. I honestly think if it had real handlebars that rise up a couple inches my opinion would change. Of course, they'd first have to do something about the exhaust shield because it's still an annoying hindrance whenever I'm positioning my foot for a left turn.
The Buell isn't all roses either-but at least it feels like a motorcycle to me and handles like one as well. Sure the thing looks better when you're blindfolded, but I actually don't mind the looks that much. It beats the Ducati in all the performance aspects I care about and costs a nice chunk less. That's enough to sway my opinion.