2009 Buell 1125CR First Ride

Quirky, odd, unusual, silly. These are some of the words typically uttered by motorcyclists who have ridden a Buell Motorcycle. In fact, I’ve even muttered those adjectives after a ride on one of its sometimes eccentric and often peculiar motorcycles. Nevertheless, after riding the all-new 1125CR, those terms are about as accurate as Richard Nixon’s interpretation of the Watergate Scandal.

That’s right, Buell, the sole big-time producer of American-made sport motorcycles, has released a new mondo-power streetfighter, destined to become the new King of the Block. Part street brawler, part apex carver, the 1125CR is Buell’s contemporary vision of a cafe racer.

Don’t be fooled by those four numbers before the C and the R that represent its engine nomenclature. Although it shares the same liquid-cooled 1125cc Helicon engine that’s in the 1125R sportbike, this is in fact a new machine. With a rigid aluminum chassis, high-end, 3-way adjustable Showa suspension on both ends, and a brick-sized 8-piston front brake caliper, this is a sport motorcycle designed for the rider that doesn’t want to have to choose between the street and racetrack; because it can, and will, do both.

Without a doubt, the single factor that’s going to draw riders to this machine is its wild styling. Buell terms it sinister and wicked, but to me, it’s exactly what I’ve imagined my motorbike to look like if I was riding through the fiery gates in my after-life. Air scoops on either side look like they were copied off a MiG engineer’s notebook, while at any angle the bike’s profile appears as intense as your cage-fighting friend who’s as likely to throw a head-butt as he is to shake someone’s hand. Looking at the bike up close proves Buell’s level of fit and finish has been significantly improved upon and is now comparable to other motorcycles within its class.

2009 Buell 1125CR First Ride

The Helicon 1125cc engine is extremely compact and benefits from three internal counter-balancers that keep vibes down.

Putting the bike in motion is an 1125cc V-Twin (built by renowned Austrian engine manufacturer Rotax to Buell specifications), that sports all the features a high-performance engine requires; liquid-cooling and 8-valve, DOHC architecture utilizing a Formula One-derived “finger follower” valve actuation system claimed to reduce friction and allow for faster valve open-and-closing time.

Internally the two pistons are separated by a narrow angle of 72-degrees and slide within a 103 x 67.50mm bore/stroke. Fuel-injection feeds two 61mm throttle bodies and the gas/air mixture is pummeled to a respectable 12.3:1 ratio inside the engine. Three internal counter-balancers help mitigate vibration generated by reciprocating inertia, while a dry sump engine oil lubrication system helps keep mechanical losses to a minimum.

Power is transferred to the rear wheel via a six-speed transmission that employs a Hydraulic Vacuum Assist (HVA) Slipper-Action clutch. A completely maintenance-free belt final drive complements the set-up. At first, a non-chain final drive seems quirky, but benefits like its absence of greasy-messiness and the fact that it never requires maintenance or adjustment quickly become apparent. Another plus is due to the constant tension on the final drive belt. There’s never any kind of slack in the drivetrain, which in turn provides a smooth, direct acceleration response.

Harnessing all 146 horsepower is a thick aluminum frame that uses the engine as a stressed member. An equally beefy cast-aluminum swingarm mounts to a pivot point within the engine case. A 3-way adjustable (spring preload, compression, and rebound) Showa monoshock connects the swingarm and a forward pivot point on the engine case, while an equally adjustable inverted Showa 47mm fork handles front suspension duties.

Buell’s proprietary ZTL2 front brake system works well on the track, but on the streets it feels vague.

Complementing the sturdy chassis is an equally heavy-duty 375mm front brake rotor and large 8-piston caliper. The rotor itself mounts directly to the wheel, while the caliper uses four-individual brake pads. Buell terms its setup, ZTL2 (Zero Torsion Load) technology, and it’s designed to disperse energy loads more efficiently and is claimed to be lighter than conventional dual rotor/caliper applications. Out back a 240mm conventional rear braking disc is clamped down by a double-piston caliper that’s integrated into the inner surface of the swingarm, thus eliminating the extra weight of an external caliper carrier piece.

To experience the 1125CR in its element, we were fortunate enough to travel all the way to Berlin, Germany where we got a chance to ride America’s newest creation on the racetrack, as well as the not-so-mean-anymore streets of the former Eastern Bloc.

Swing your leg over the new 1125CR, and you’ll be surprised by how small it feels between your legs. Pick it up off the side stand and you notice that its 375-pound claimed dry weight feels low and centered. Reach forward to the thick clubman-style handlebars, and your torso is pitched forward, close to the front wheel. An equally aggressive set of high-mounted footpegs push your knees into the carved recess of the matte-black frame and pseudo fuel tank. Worry not though. If you’re not feeling the cafe racer vibe, Buell offers an upright handlebar accessory option which takes a good deal of pressure off your wrists and literally transform’s the 1125CR’s cockpit into that of a true streetfighter, making extended time in the saddle far more comfortable.

Despite its appearance and the gas cap sitting atop its pseudo fuel cell, that Buell-logo emblazed thing-a-ma-bobber isn’t actually for fuel. Instead the 1125CR utilizes Buell’s fuel in the frame system, while the traditionally-located fuel tank actually houses a ram-air equipped 12-liter pressurized airbox.

Beull took riders to Spreewaldring Motodrom for some tire-shredding fun aboard its newest track weapon.

Turn the key, thumb the starter button and the big V-Twin comes to life without hesitation. At idle, there’s no mistaking this bike from anything coming out of Japan. There is still a fair amount of engine vibration, but unlike other air-cooled Buell motorcycles, you don’t feel like it’s going to rattle itself apart. The sound bellowing out of the low-slung exhaust is just the right amount to draw some wanted attention, yet even at wide-open throttle its tune doesn’t reach annoying levels. 

Accelerating from pitlane at the recently erected Spreewaldring Motodrom reveals a generally well-mannered, rev-happy engine. Below 4000 rpm the engine feels a bit snatchy, like it’s running lean; but as soon as that 4k threshold is surpassed, the engine comes online, building rpm’s voraciously– akin to our favorite Italian performance Twin. Power wheelies in the first two gears are pretty much mandatory and can even be mustered in third with a bit of finesse. This type of foolish enjoyment is made possible by the dead-flat torque spread throughout its 10,500 rpm rev range. Winding out the engine to redline exposes a visceral acceleration experience that can become addictive. Yet the engine is also fit to be short-shifted through its plump mid-range. And despite what your senses lead you to believe, around the track, the key to going fast is to just grab another gear and ride the wave of asphalt-grabbing torque.

As previously mentioned, below 4000 rpm the carburetion seems to be a bit off, which compromises low-speed throttle response, but get the engine zinging past that mark and jetting feels spot-on. In fact, the combination of the well-sorted fuel mapping and direct response from the belt final drive make accelerating feel almost instantaneous at speed.

Hooligan fun on the 1125CR is best served on one wheel.

Navigating Spreewaldring’s 1.7-mile track puts a real emphasis on a motorcycle’s ability to change directions quickly. And similar to other Buell motorcycles we’ve tested in the past, the 1125CR requires very little input to get it pointed in the right path. Better yet, its cat-like agility doesn’t sacrifice its stability at speed– even without a steering damper. Even a top speed 156-mph blast (GPS confirmed) on Germany’s infamous Autobahn barely did anything to upset the chassis. Impressive.

Although the surface at our new favorite German racetrack was about as smooth as my neighborhood bowling alley, the 1125R’s chassis delivers loads of feel through the control surfaces. In fact there was so much feedback delivered through Pirelli’s racetrack-spec Corsa III rubber that not only was it possible, but highly desirable to spin-up the rear tire through one of Spreewaldring’s fast right-hand third gear sweepers. Another plus was the wide range of adjustment available from the suspension. In the morning we began the day with a softer suspension setting, but as track temperatures increased and we started picking up the pace, the bike began to move around a bit too much. And while it was quite entertaining riding around in that fashion it was also a bit sketchy. Regaining its composure, however, was as simple as dialing in additional preload and compression. It’s that simple.

When it comes time to scrub-off speed, the CR is up for the challenge. There’s quite a bit of engine braking to help slow things down and the vacuum-actuated slipper action clutch works flawlessly, completely eliminating rear wheel chatter. When you initially touch the brake lever, there isn’t a whole lot of braking bite or feel, but pull a little deeper and soon you’re rewarded with progressive amounts of rear wheel in the air power and a surprising level of feel. On the street the brakes feel vague as you don’t have a lot of opportunity to grab the necessary amount of lever for them to work. But on the track it’s a different story. You can trail-brake really deep through corner apex with the brake lever gently pulsating back and forth–feeding you information about the delicate relationship between rubber and asphalt. Again, Buell’s wise OE tire choice really allows the rider to extort a high-level of performance from this bike as it sits bone stock.

While its rigid chassis lends itself well on a smooth, fast racetrack, on the often bumpy, cobblestone-laden roadways the entire bike – especially the rear end, feels way too stiff.

Riding through Germany’s beautiful autumn countryside revealed perhaps the only real flaw in the 1125CR’s relatively impregnable armor. While its rigid chassis lends itself well on a smooth, fast racetrack, on the often bumpy, cobblestone-laden roadways the entire bike–especially the rear end feels way too stiff. Even removing most of the preload from the rear shock did next to nothing to reduce harshness. On the contrary, the bike’s seat is one of the most comfortable I’ve ever sampled on a sportbike, but due to the rough riding rear suspension its advantages are almost canceled out.

In spite of using a shorter final drive (compared to the 1125R), cruising down the road at 62 mph reads only 4000 rpm in top gear. At or below that engine speed the cockpit gets a little buzzy, but above that magic rpm mark things smooth out pretty quick. Looking down at the sharp Italian-made Magneti Marelli instrument display provides you with an assortment of data headlined by the easy-to-read swept analog tachometer. Directly below there’s a small multi-function LCD display that includes a bevy of electronics: an integrated shift light, digital speedo, odometer, dual trip meters, lap timer (records up to 99 lap times), ambient air temperature, coolant temperature, gear indicator, average and instant fuel consumption, miles to next service display, low fuel (plus miles traveled on reserve), high beam, neutral, turn signals, and clock. Also standard is a four-digit pin enabled security system with an integrated ignition immobilizer.

A bevy of Buell 1125CRs were fueled and ready for all the abuse we could muster.

Two buttons on the upper-right control all of the functions, and toggling through them is pretty much a no-brainer. For the most part, the instruments are easy to read at a glance, however, we wish the gear indicator, clock, and trip meter were larger as they weren’t as easy to read when in motion.

You’d assume that since the 1125CR lacks a traditional fairing or windscreen that wind buffeting at speed would be bothersome, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. On the racetrack, I didn’t even notice that it lacked a traditional fairing. Even when we did our top speed Autobahn run, I was able to mold my body to the bike and duck behind the miniscule fly-screen in such that a way that I didn’t feel like was going to get peeled off the bike.

So is the new 1125CR for me? Would you find one parked in my garage? Absolutely. While there are still some peculiar traits like the 1980s-sourced handlebar switchgear and the front brakes that you have to mash on to get the brake feel your after, overall the 1125CR is a complete package whose faults are few and far between. The 1125CR is finally an example of a well-made American motorcycle that can finally compete with the best coming out of England, Italy, or even Japan.