It is a well-documented fact that Europeans have an obsession with nakedness. With its new-for-2009 Buell 1125CR, the company reveals that Americans also know a thing or two about stripping.
Sportbikes are now so damn good you’d think manufacturers couldn’t find a better base from which to build a naked model. Still, some insist on complicating things and engineer naked bikes from scratch. Fine. Others, however, can’t leave a good thing alone and, with the idea of “maximizing-power-output-at-mid-revs,” end up neutering the sportbike they started with.
No such shenanigans at Buell where the factory’s new-for-2009 1125CR is essentially a stripped-down 1125R. Aside from replacing the upper fairing with a distinctive new headlight/flyscreen assembly, Buell extended the swingarm a few millimetres, shortened gearing by adding four teeth to the rear sprocket and installed a low-mount handlebar. Et voilà! Instant naked!
The concept might seem overly simplistic, but pause for a second and think of what Buell ends up with here. By wisely leaving the 146-hp V-Twin alone and by, also wisely, keeping the fully adjustable suspension, the American manufacturer now offers one of the highest-spec nakeds on the market. Good luck finding anything more powerful or trackworthy in the V-Twin-powered naked segment. KTM’s insolent Super Duke R and Ducati’s mighty Monster S4R S, both pushing about 130 hp, and both considerably more expensive, are for now the CR’s closest competition. Not bad for a simple concept.
As a proud American factory, Buell traditionally launches its new models somewhere in the US. But the European potential of the new Buell 1125CR pushed a brake on tradition and it was ultimately decided that Berlin, Germany would this time serve as the location for the world intro. Actually, the 1125CR is so well-positioned in its class that no one should be surprised to see it sell in greater numbers over in Europe than in its home market.
Despite being a track-focused motorcycle, the Buell 1125R has made a smooth transition into naked road bike status. Actually, the new 1125CR is arguably the better motorcycle, at least in everyday use where its more relaxed, upright riding position is a definite plus. In this regard, Buell offers two choices. In stock trim, the CR is equipped with a low-mount handlebar that mimics clip-ons—very cool and great for track rides, but this setup offers a sportbike degree of comfort. As an option, there’s a higher, more traditional flat handlebar. Although final pricing for that option had not yet been established at the September press launch, the whole kit (handlebar, longer brake hose and throttle cable) should sell for about $200, which is pretty reasonable.
Suggestion to the Powers That Be at Buell: how about making this choice a no-cost factory option, much like a high or low seat? I chose to keep the bike stock for the track session of the launch event, but rode on the street with the higher optional handlebar installed, which ended up being the ideal setup for each environment.
While the backroads we spent most of our time on weren’t the twistiest I’ve ever seen, they were still pleasantly scenic. Germany, like many European countries, has its very own feel. Everything looks and even smells a certain way. Most of the houses you see from the road are modest but inviting, while the roads are clean and well-maintained. The general feeling is one of order and peace. Well, until you hit the autobahn that is. But more on that later …
In an environment where the idea is to simply ride and enjoy the view, the Buell 1125CR does surprisingly well, considering its sporty origins. Though the seat does not offer all-day comfort, it’s okay. The suspension might be on the firm side, but it’s certainly not harsh. Opt for the flat, higher handlebar however and the CR is as good a street ride as anything else in the class. The riding position, again with the optional handlebar, is compact yet not cramped with a sporty feel to it. Exactly the kind sportriders like when they get tired of low bars.
Wind protection, while obviously minimal, is still quite acceptable: the mini-fairing does a decent job despite its size and those strange lateral air scoops keep the wind charge off the rider’s knees.
When Rotax set out to develop the 1125R’s V-Twin, the direction given by Buell was to make power delivery accessible everywhere in the rev range, even if that meant losing a few ponies at higher revs. Buell’s theory was that a wide regular spread of power—as opposed to a stronger but higher and narrower rev range—greatly expands rideability, which ultimately leads to quicker lap times. Essentially, the best thing Buell did with the 1125CR was to leave power delivery alone. The result on the street is good, strong power and torque available in literally all situations. Full throttle acceleration is the kind that effortlessly sends the front wheel skyward in first and sometimes even second gear. It’s not a Hayabusa-like pull, but there’s easily enough go to make an experienced, demanding rider grin. Although vibration does accompany high revs, as is the case with the 1125R, the Buell 1125CR V-Twin is so generous at low- and mid-rpm that big-time tach-ups are necessary only for the occasional adrenaline rush.
Also good but not great is the character of the 1125cc Rotax-built V-Twin. Its sound and vibration are unmistakably V-Twin, but without the KTM’s raw animal quality or the booming drone of the Ducati. The sound and feel isn’t unpleasant by any means, but it’s missing a certain uniqueness that divides V-Twins into “normal” and magical” groups.
This being said, credit Buell for sorting out the heat and injection gremlins dogging the early 1125R units. At no time during this event did the CR produce abnormal heat, nor did its fueling system misbehave. While not exceptional, clutch and transmission both work well.
What separates the Buell 1125 CR from most nakeds on the market is that it’s based on a machine built to go very efficiently around a racetrack, the 1125R. As that base wasn’t diluted during the process of transforming the sportbike into the new Café Racer, the naked version is in every way as trackworthy as the original model. Which basically means it will kick ass on a roadrace course. I was very impressed how easy the CR was to ride around an unfamiliar track, and how quickly it could be ridden fast. The small local track outside Berlin chosen for the CR introduction is especially tight and technical.
That the CR was easily brought to a fast rhythm at this venue says a lot about the new model’s agility and its precision. Turn-in is extremely quick, lines are chosen and kept with pinpoint accuracy and suspension action is brilliant. The CR’s handling was basically very hard to fault on this particular track. What about the nitpicky stuff? Well, you could argue that the stock tires, although high-end Pirelli Diablo Corsa IIIs, were relatively easy to get sliding. (Or is it that the CR made it so easy to go so fast?) Also, Buell’s unique ZTR2 single front disc, though plenty powerful, doesn’t provide quite the fine feel of the latest twin-disc setups. Finally, a steering damper might be the ticket if you intend to ride real fast on bumpy track or roads.
Wind exposure could be a problem on a faster, more open course, but it wasn’t in Berlin, where the hosting track didn’t allow for high speeds—unlike the autobahn. In theory, the launch itinerary hadn’t called for much time on public thoroughfares, but I missed an exit … five or six, actually. Oh, what the hell, I was told I made it almost to Poland before I backed off the throttle, but at least I now know that the Buell’s digital instrumentation will register a bit more than 250 kmh. Not bad at all for an unfaired bike.
How interesting is it to see Buell evolve these days? What was just a few short years ago, a company that limited itself to the production of fun but somewhat eccentric motorcycles is now going head-to-head with the world’s best, and doing surprisingly well! The reality is that you won’t find a V-Twin powered naked in the current market that can outperform the new 1125CR in a straight line or turn quicker lap times.
– Bertrand Gahel