2008 Buell 1125R First Ride

Less than a year has gone by since the introduction of the 2007 Buell models was held at the blast furnace otherwise known as Buttonwillow Raceway in Bakersfield, California. One of the highlights of that event was an eye-opening ride aboard the fire-breathing Buell XBRR race bike. As the preconceived notions of what the XBRR would feel like were melted out of my mind, it was impossible not to ask the question: Why doesn’t Buell build a bike like this for the street? At the time all I could get were cynical smiles out of Buell’s press people. Obviously they knew something I didn’t, because on the eve of the company’s 25th anniversary, an all-new liquid-cooled sportbike bearing Buell nomenclature has arrived. It’s called the 2008 Buell 1125R.

Our first impression of the newest Buell included both street and track time under near-perfect conditions in Carmel Valley. On day one it was put to task on a leisurely tour of traffic-jammed Highway 1 past Big Sur before heading up the notorious canyon road known as Nacimiento-Ferguson then returning to Laguna Seca for the last leg of a grueling 200-mile hooligan-style street ride. The next day was spent pounding laps on the 2.2-mile Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca circuit to see how well it performs on the track. Pirelli Diablo Corsa IIIs, the spec tire for the FIM World Supersport class, are standard equipment on the 1125R and a few sets of these DOT-approved buns provided the traction we needed during both street and track testing.

The 1125R is being billed as a rider’s bike, a streetbike for all intents and purposes. Throughout the technical presentation it was pounded into our heads that from the moment the project began four years ago, the needs of the rider come first and that it was ‘built from the rider down’ to be a fun, comfortable and easy-to-ride motorcycle, The 1125R also offers an affordable entry into the exclusive Performance Twin club, which has been dominated by Italian machinery for so long. At the time the 1125R project began, the Ducati 999 was the hottest Twin around, so the Buell set its sights specifically on that bike and they are confident they have the old Duc covered in terms of outright performance on the track and even more so on the street. Although the triple-nine was the benchmark, the 1125R is no clone. It’s a Buell through and through.

2008 Buell 1125R First Ride

Attempting to supplant the Italian dominance of the Performance Twin category, Erik Buell is aiming big with his 1125R design, but did he hit the mark?

From the moment I climbed aboard this black stallion it was clearly a showcase of the design elements which give Buell motorcycles its identity. The riding position is very neutral and the reach to the bars isn’t much of a stretch, although the grips are spaced out pretty wide and give the bike a similar feel to its Firebolt sibling. The seat is a comfortable place to do work from and, since the pegs are not too low, it did not cause my knees to ache at any point during two days of hard riding. Since it has a relatively low 30.5-inch seat height, it is easy for shorter riders to touch the ground. I can tell you that the bike feels smaller than it looks. Its midsection is fairly thin, the faux-tank region doesn’t interfere with the rider movements but the front bodywork is imposing when you are looking through it from the saddle. It certainly provides plenty of aerodynamically-correct wind protection for the rider, but the front fairing is humungous and takes a while to get used to. In the head-on images it evokes visions of a Cold War-era F-4 Phantom, with its two big air scoops and unique nose.

Tucked behind the windscreen you get a clear view of its slick-looking instrument panel, positioned directly in the center of the cockpit. An analog tach features an LCD display below it which includes a digital speedometer, dual trip meters, lap timer with splits, outside air temp, motor temp, clock, a low fuel light in lieu of a gas gauge and the usual idiot lights. It also serves as the Onboard Diagnostic Instrument System (ODIS). This particularly useful bit of technology is an excellent tool for race technicians, although the bike isn’t intended to be a racing platform. The aesthetic elements are once again going to be the first thing that polarizes opinions about the bike. The next will be the performance characteristics of its big 1125cc DOHC 72-degree V-Twin powerplant.

The beast wakes from its slumber with a growling, whirling, gear-driven melody of mechanical noises and vibrations that is pure Buell. The compact layout offered by the acute vee-angle allows the motor, which serves as a stressed member of the frame, to produce a healthy amount of vibration. No less than three counter balancers, two to reduce the rotating imbalance and a single balancer to reduce the rocking couple, were necessary to keep it from feeling exactly like the air-cooled Buells at idle. I still don’t know what rocking couple means exactly, but I am certain it doesn’t refer to Ozzy and Sharon, and the fact is the bike still vibrates enough that there’s no mistaking it’s an American Twin.

The Buell 1125R’s front fairing provides ample wind protection for the rider, with its broad design reminding out test rider of an F-4 Phantom.

The steep slope of the cylinders has a number of benefits that are key elements to the Helicon engine design. It affords a direct line of sight from the gargantuan 61mm DDFI throttle bodies down the intake tract for an unobstructed shot at the valves and combustion chamber, while also being as compact as possible. Inside the Rotax-built motor are a number of innovative technical features, starting with the chain-driven intake cams that in turn control the exhaust cams through a gear drive with a subsequently more compact head design than a traditional DOHC set-up. The valves are actuated by Formula 1-inspired ‘finger followers’ which ‘convert camshaft rotational motion into linear motion for the valves.’ Rotax claims the design offers a number of performance advantages including less friction, faster revs, and effectively eliminates valve float. This simplifies the maintenance program by eliminating the need for shim buckets and extends valve adjustment intervals to 20,000 kilometers or 12,500 miles. The Helicon mill features a Hydraulic Vacuum Assisted (HVA) back-torque limiting slipper clutch which takes advantage of the presence of vacuum sourced from tiny ports strategically located on the intake manifolds to actuate the clutch under deceleration. This is one of the few similarities between the Rotax-built Helicon and Mille motors. Check out the Buell 1125R First Look article if you want to get the gamut of the technical details so we can get on with the riding impression.

Pull in the adjustable clutch lever with vacuum-assist action and you’ll appreciate another of the creative Rotax design elements. Click the 6-speed transmission into first gear with an equally light dab of the adjustable shift lever (which can also be rotated to accommodate GP-style shifting) and the 1125R is raring to go. First gear is a little tall but not too bad, so it accelerates off the line just fine. There’s a load of low-rpm grunt which allows the bike to accelerate hard enough that the front end will loft without effort in first or second gears. Crack open the throttle further and the eco-friendly exhaust emits a muted burble from the low-slung dual stainless steel muffler orifices which grows to a low decibel purr at higher rpm. The intake howl really provides personality as it overwhelms the exhaust note when the butterflies are past half open. It’s important to note that this system meets California emission requirements without the need of a catalytic converter, so it’s not only fast but it sounds good and is environmentally friendly.

The 72-degree V-Twin powering the 2008 Buell 1125R is built by Rotax and features innovative designs like chain-driven intake cams that in turn control the exhaust cams through a gear drive.

At the presentation it was reported that the 1125cc displacement was chosen specifically for its ability to produce the wide, flat torque curve Buell was looking for. A large 103mm bore affords plenty of room for the quartet of tiny valves, 41.3mm intake and 35mm exhaust, to combine with a short 67.5mm stroke which allows the bike to rev into the double digits. The allure of the two-cylinder power delivery has always been at the heart of Buell and the 1125R is the company’s low-cost, low-maintenance alternative to the more exclusive and expensive European sportbikes. After just a few minutes of the street ride there was no doubt the motor has what it takes to be a contender in the sporting Twin class. However, after a lap of Laguna, the notion that it can challenge a superbike was put into question. Although it is plenty fast, it doesn’t feel like it accelerates at the rate of an open-classer, but it is in the ballpark versus the Twins. The previous week was spent at the track testing the Ducati 1098S and Aprilia RSV1000R Mille for two consecutive days, so seat-of-the-pants performance comparisons were fairly easy to make. I believe the Buell 1125R power delivery is somewhere between these two thoroughbreds and that should be plenty chutzpah for the mortals among us.

Make no mistake, the 1125R hauls ass. It doesn’t feel like it’s strung out, has a wide enough spread of power that it’s not bouncing off the rev-limiter all the time and, most importantly, it is very easy to ride fast. Buell’s sportbike is a legitimate high-performance Twin with decent power available everywhere, which compliments the IRC (Intuitive Response Chassis) perfectly.

At the track the bike feels as razor sharp as any Buell we’ve sampled. Although the big 47mm fully-adjustable inverted fork and similarly adjustable single direct action Showa rear shock suspension combination was a bit taut for the rough canyon roads, the bike soaked up all I could toss its way without being a real pain in the ass. At the track the plush suspension settings were generally very good, even though the technicians were working with some of the faster riders to come up with more optimal spring rates for the track before they go into production. It didn’t seem to effect me, since the bikes I burned laps on remained composed all afternoon and only drug hard parts consistently in Turn 6, which is a deep dip through a left hander heading up to the Corkscrew. Otherwise my track impression was rather glowing.

Our street route included a tight and twisty single lane mountain road more suited for a dual-sport or a Super TT than a sportbike like the 1125R, but no one was complaining. If the suspension were any softer on the street I would have been casing the exhaust and scraping the pegs because the road ride was all about barging too hot into blind corners, braking hard, tossing the bike around, pointing it where it needed to go and pulling the trigger in synchronized pandemonium. The road was devoid of cops and was a great place to get a feel for the bike’s agility in a seemingly endless thrill ride of 180-degree and tighter turns, big dips and steep rises. On a track you will never get miles of back-to-back switchbacks to exploit the handling of a bike like this, nor will you have sand and gravel taxing traction at every apex, but we got our fill of both. Manhandling the bike in this environment taught me a lot about its nature on the street.

The Buell 1125R wails. The new design should put up a spirited fight with its Italian competitors in our opinion.

Generally there was only room to grab one or two gears between turns (if we were lucky) but it was enough to become a fan of the power-assist clutch. The tranny is every bit as good too. It’s very precise, even with my toes dragging, weeds whacking my arms and legs and insects splatting the visor with gravel flying around everywhere causing more distractions than I really needed during a test ride on a road this nasty.

Connecting corners is great fun, especially when the brakes are up to the challenge. On the street the brakes worked really well but they weren’t as spectacular as I had imagined considering the potential of the Zero Torsional Load (ZTL2) design. Fortunately we got to burn up some brake pads at the track to make sure it wasn’t because we were going too slow to get a good feel for its prowess. On the track the braking power was more than capable of hauling the bike down from triple-digit speeds and the slipper clutch helps to smooth it all out. Trail braking into Turn 2 in particular didn’t seem too hairy, so it’s difficult to complain about a lack of feel at the speeds I was rocking. Considering that the 1125R was built from the rider down it doesn’t really come as a shock that the 375mm front brake and 8-piston caliper brake is a very easy-to-use combination. However, for my taste this set-up doesn’t seem to be on par with the traditional dual-disc, radial-mount Brembo units sampled on its Italian rivals in terms of initial feel and overall power – but it works just fine. Plus, it looks more intriguing and will always be a topic of conversation for folks who have never seen it before. Thankfully the fear of the fuzz or an abrupt end to a fun ride didn’t slow us down any more than the ever present gravel, animals and military check points because riding a bike hard will always bring its true personality to light.

And speaking of light, the 1125R offers up enough feel from the front end that it’s difficult to lose touch on the street unless you hit gravel or experience brain fade between bends. Though it wags its head under acceleration on bumpy roads, the chassis design is good enough that it recovers quickly despite the lack of a steering damper. Though Erik Buell has never been a fan of dampers on his bikes, it would be nice if this burly beast had one for peace of mind if nothing else, considering its aggressive 21-degree of rake, 84mm of trail and stubby 54.6 inch wheelbase. Since the rear axle is in a fixed position and not adjustable these numbers are always consistent and on that note, it allows a couple of basic Buell design principles to be utilized. The 1125R continues to incorporate a low-maintenance belt drive rather than a chain, reducing weight and decreasing cost of ownership – with the belt unit claimed to last longer. Also, since the axle is always in the same position, the rear brake caliper is bolted directly to the inside of the swingarm, which makes for relatively simple tire swaps. The lack of a carrier helps to reduce unsprung weight by 1.5 lbs.

The street portion of a press intro is often less intense than the track, but the tight and twisty roads upon which we sampled the 2008 Buell 1125R delivered their fill of challenges and excitement.

There are some things that are not too cool about this Buell though. The first and most uncomfortable of these being the heat directed to the rider’s right leg during street riding. While it’s not unbearable, it’s definitely not cool. Similar to the heat emanating off an underseat exhaust system, it is annoying at low speed and, although it goes away a bit when the bike is in motion, you can always feel the heat. The rear header wraps around the right side of the motor, so it makes sense that this could be the culprit. On the track the heat is whisked away more efficiently, so apparently the faster you go the more fun it is to ride. Fair enough. We all like to go fast. Throughout the afternoon of mobbing full tilt the 1125R averaged 34mpg, which combined with the 5.6 gallon fuel capacity, equates to about 190 miles of canyon-carving fun at redline before it needs gas. That’s a respectable range for a sportbike, but the 1125R still utilizes a confounded old-school gas cap design which is not connected to the bike. It may be nitpicking, but that’s why we get paid the big bucks.

Even though the bike is not slated to do battle in your favorite Superbike series, it still has a racing pedigree. Although the styling is questionable there is no denying its functionality. At speed on the street or the track, the 1125R provides excellent protection from the elements and in full tuck it is the type of hiding place a rider needs at 150-plus mph. By utilizing a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) virtual simulator to aid in the bike’s very distinctive slippery design, a perfectly positioned ram-air intake location below the bottom fork clamp and six-bulb dual headlights was discovered. Typically the boost-effect of ram-air is never factored in to the claimed horsepower output but we can assume another five, or so ponies might be squeezed out of it at full tilt boogie. But let’s get back to the bodywork.

Overhead the 1125R looks curvy, like a Coca-Cola bottle, as the lines taper back to the distinctive Buell tail section. The solo seat cowl conceals the passenger seat and it can be removed without any tools. LED blinkers are integrated in the mirrors so there’s nothing protruding from the cowling and breaking up the flow. The convex design of the bodywork panels, which cover the side-mounted radiators, is a matter of form following function once again. These curved covers serve as a form of crash protector featuring a replacement cost under $100, with the actual radiator mounts attached to the frame by an aluminum ‘leaf-spring’ that further absorbs impact during a spill. This system was tested a few times during the intro and the theory passed with flying colors in both a street crash and a slow low-side at Laguna’s Turn 11. The fact that crashing a Buell is easier on the pocketbook than most other bikes did not go unaddressed. A collaborative effort between Buell and Sentry Insurance helps to keep rates low for Buell owners because repair costs are generally not as outlandish as the traditional repli-racers can be. Add into the mix JD Powers & Associates rate Buell motorcycles as having the lowest initial cost of ownership rating in the industry. This demonstrates that Buell continues to go the extra mile to show they deserve respect from American buyers.

The Zero Torsional Load braking system includes stainless steel lines along with the 8-piston caliper and imposing 375mm totor.

Earning respect is something that doesn’t come easy in this industry for any manufacturer. A company can have its bike’s reputation tainted by a scathing review from the media and just as easily be put on a pedestal by those same scribes. After being immersed in the world of Buell for 48 hours I came away feeling that the 1125R has the potential to make as many friends as enemies. Some people will not embrace the appearance, while others will appreciate its functionality. Though the performance exceeds any street-legal bike Buell has produced, it is not going to deliver the insane performance numbers of a Superbike. So the people who pass on it because it won’t do a 9-second quarter mile will never get to experience its supremely balanced chassis while carving-up a favorite canyon road. What the 1125R ultimately does for Buell is prove to everyone that the company is more progressive than we imagined and not content to rest on its air-cooled laurels while the opposition hogs the limelight.

Erik Buell wanted to build a sportbike for the masses with a powerful yet easy to ride motor, a state of the art chassis and a riding position which doesn’t compromise the needs of the sport rider for commuter comfort. In many ways the 2008 Buell 1125R has achieved a delicate balance between being what everyone wants it to be and being a Buell. Once the bike hits showroom floors and riders take advantage of the opportunity to test ride it at the track as part of an Inside Pass trackday, we’ll all find out if the public will embrace it. Until then we’ll just go ahead and start planning Sport Twin Shootout III, so we can see exactly how the obnoxious

American-made progeny of the XBRR stacks up against Italy’s pretentious high-maintenance Twins.