2008 Buell 1125R Sportbike Test Drive: Long Overdue American Power
October 1, 2009 12:00 AM
It took 25 years for Buell to build a water-cooled production motorcycle. So for sportbike enthusiasts looking for an American product in the segment, the radical new 1125R is long overdue.
Harley-Davidson (Buell’s parent company) was stretched thin for engine-building resources, so it tapped Rotax to develop the powerplant. The Austrian manufacturer also supplies engines for Aprilia and BMW bikes (plus BRP’s sweet new Can-Am Spyder ), but its powerplant for Buella 72-degree DOHC V-twingets its 1125cc displacement independent of racing’s homologation rules. The result is an honest 146 hp with five or six more ponies available when the ram-air system kicks in.
The engine’s dry sump lubrication necessitated a conventional oil reservoiras opposed to Buell’s typical swingarm-based solution. But the other Buell trademarks are all there, from perimeter brakes to an underslung exhaust and fuel tank-in-frame construction. A pneumatically operated slipper clutch smoothes out aggressive downshifts while reducing clutch lever effort, and a 6-speed straight-cut-gear transmission features a sliding dog design, which enables low-effort shifts with positive feel.
The 375-pound 1125R feels capable and focused on the road, with ergonomics that are comfortable enough for long-distance rides. While not quite as razor-sharp as the Ducati 1098, the 1125R does boast plenty of usable power, as meaty low-end torque builds steadily and produces a nice kick around 8000 rpm before peaking at 10,500 rpm. Graphs of horsepower and torque curves look like an acutely tilted “L,” reflecting the linearity of the powerplant’s output.
We could feel engine pulse vibrations in the handlebars at around 5000 rpm and on the footpegs just a few clicks laternot surprising from such a large, highly-tuned V-twin. Neither was an aggressive exhaust note.
The 8-piston front brakes provide strong stopping power, but lack the initial bite and feedback of a traditional radial system. Though turn-in requires a bit of handlebar leverage, the 1125R feels precise and stable during cornering. Damping felt a bit firm, and we experienced some fork dive during hard stops on our pre-production test bike, but Buell engineers told us that spring rates were being revised before the bike hits production.
We also felt considerable engine heat during our 100-degrees-plus F ride and heard some whining from the rear brakesand got the same reassurances from Buell.
Though the frame’s tall proportions provide a strong visual reminder of this bike’s relationship to past Buells, its ambitiously sporting demeanor transports the 1125R to the next level. With aggressive pricing $11,995, Buell finally offers a serious contender in the ultra high-performance market. Though only available in black, the 1125R should have no problem satisfying the speed-hungry sportbike set. Basem Wasef
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