The only new model presented by Buell for 2008, the 1125R may well be the most important bike in the company’s history as it finally brings Buell into the modern era of liquid-cooling and state-of-the-art engine design.
Even though market diversity has “forced” Buell to offer a relatively wide range of models, the manufacturer admits it is, first and foremost, a sportbike company. However, one big problem prevented Buell from being all it could be and to build the kind of sportbikes it really wanted—an engine problem. While the company’s hot-rodded, Sportster-derived, air-cooled 1200cc V-Twin has till now done a very decent job of powering Buell’s whole range, it has limited pure sportbike design.
Enter the all-new BRP-Rotax-built Helicon V-Twin.
“Making the 1125R was a obviously a huge undertaking for us,” says Buell founder, chairman, and chief technical advisor Erik Buell, “but the hard part for me was waiting.
“I built that bike 19 years ago! Fuel in the frame, split radiator, everything. But we had to convince Harley-Davidson we knew what we were doing before earning the right to build the 1125R.”
Since building a new engine from scratch wasn’t possible for Buell, world-renowned Austrian company BRP-Rotax was hired to do much of the development work. However, Erik Buell, qualifies BRP-Rotax’s involvement with the 1125R project. “This is a Buell motor,” he says. “From general architecture down to small technical details, we were very much involved.”
The end product is an 1125cc, 72 degree V-Twin producing a claimed 146 hp at 9,800 rpm and 82 ft/lbs. torque at 8,000 rpm. It is a dry sump design with integrated oil reservoir and fed by a pair of enormous 61mm throttle bodies.
At first glance the new 1125 seems like an XB12R Firebolt powered by the new motor and dressed up in an XB-RR racer-inspired fairing. But, the reality is, it’s all new. Frame, steering geometry and suspension, among other components, are all unique to the 1125R.
“There are many visual and technical features linking the 1125R to our XBs, and they’re all voluntary,” says Mr. Buell. “Although it is an all-new bike, it was important for the 1125R to still be a Buell and feature all the engineering solutions we developed over the years and used on our XBs. It’s all technology in which we deeply believe.”
At the Laguna Seca Raceway where Buell staged its press introduction in August, I was surprised to discover a very decent street bike in the 1125R. Designed with a compact, sporty, but tolerable riding position, the bike’s torquey motor is complemented by a smooth six-speed transmission and a light clutch. Quick, precise steering, and firm, yet not harsh, suspension bolster the ride quality while excellent wind protection from the wide front fairing and one of the best seats you’ll find on any sportbike are all features that make the 1125R not quite comfortable but, at the very least, tolerable on the street. However, the somewhat buzzy engine can put your hands to sleep if revs are kept high enough for extended periods.
On the track, no more excuses could be made because of the Harley engine. This one had to measure up to Ducati 1098s and Aprilia RSV1000Rs, which represent the Buell’s closest competition. In the closed circuit environment, the 1125R proved to be an extremely capable track bike. A phenomenal handler, it also proved amazingly easy to ride on an unknown track. For some reason though, the claimed 146 horses seem a bit shy, a fact that may be related to the wide spread of power. Good, usable torque is pleasantly available from relatively low in the rev range, and it just keeps growing into a powerful, though not spectacular, push as revs climb toward the 10,500 rpm redline.
Buell insists the claimed power is very real and confidently awaits independent dyno tests. The bottom line is, the 1125R’s power is exceptionally usable, a quality that enables the rider to get on the gas earlier and earlier at corner exits.
At 170 kilos (374 lbs.) not only is the 1125R very light, it’s also very flickable. It demonstrates none of the resistance to turn exhibited by some sport Twins because of the high rotational inertia of their engines. The result is a bike that may not be quite as agile as a 600, but is considerably lighter and easier to throw around a race track than current litre bikes. Not to mention much less intimidating. Braking is strong and predictable although not exceptionally powerful.
What’s special about the 1125R is that it transforms Buell. What was once a company known for somewhat eccentric bikes powered by, of all things, hot-rodded Harley motors, is now a manufacturer competing with some of the most prestigious brands, against some of the most exotic bikes. And this may be one of the rare areas where the 1125R misses the mark a little bit. It has the engine, it has the chassis and it even has enough unique technology to compete head-to-head with the aforementioned Ducati and Aprilia models, both world-renowned exotics. But the 1125R doesn’t quite look exotic. Interesting, different and even audacious, yes, but not exotic. For its slight lack of sex appeal, there is a compensating factor: priced under $13,000 MSRP, it’s almost a steal compared to the Euro Twins.
Well, well. A high performance, state-of-the-art Buell that’s also affordable? Somebody please pinch me.
By Bertrand Gahel