We look back at the bike that just could have saved Buell a decade ago: if only it wasn’t too little, too late…
Considering that the Buell 1125CR was pretty much identical to the preceding 1125R, both machines felt pretty different when ridden back-to-back…
Launched at the Spreewaldring circuit near Berlin in 2008, the CR just didn’t feel like the R that was launched the year previously at Laguna Seca. The Buell 1125R really dared to be different and was the ‘original’ stab at a water-cooled machine from the creative mind of Erik Buell.
Sadly, the R just had a few too many flaws to find fault with: excessive heat spilled onto riders’ right foot on the road-ride, brake disks warped, engines cut out, suspension was wayward – making one bike SO different from the other. This was a launch too far for the small factory – and too early – and it hurt. Thankfully an updated launch later in 2007 in Spain addressed most of the issues and these updated 1125Rs were also on hand in Germany the following year, but the CR – or ‘Café Racer’ – was the bike people were there to ride.
This was a bike that came from Erik Buell playing around in the clay-room of the Buell design studio. Back at the launch he said: “I grew up watching the café racer guys back in the day. It was a real awesome time back then. You had the guys with Norvins and Tritons, all dressed in black leather. These guys raced against each other and their bikes were ‘the real deal’, these things were something evil and sinister looking: something that people couldn’t master or tame. It’s more than a streetfighter, it’s a café racer. That’s what I wanted with the 1125CR. I didn’t want a bike ‘dumbed-down’ from a sportsbike, something that’s down on power from the original: I wanted something true to the spirit of these machines. That’s the reason the 1125CR was born and why we kept it with the full 146bhp.”
Yes, this wasn’t a neutered naked, Erik gave the CR the same ‘full-fat’ V-twin, Rotax derived 1125cc liquid-cooled motor that the R had. As mentioned, this motor showed promise on launch with the R-version, but power delivery could be a tad ‘lurchy’ at low and mid-revs. The reason (according to Buell technicians) was that there was an embarrassing communication error with the Austrians at Rotax and something got lost in translation between metric and imperial measurements, hence the issues with the motor.
Not so with the CR. Two things made the CR motor a different and more attractive prospect entirely. First is the gearing. With an 8.5% reduction from the R’s transmission things were much peppier down below – think of this as an 1125R on Viagra. Sure the gearing’s not got the ‘length’ of the R, but it sure gets up there quicker, and isn’t that what we blokes want in the real world?
This motor also had the vital ‘spark and fuel’ calibration changes. A new 12.5 degree angle for the injectors meant a finer spray, cleaner combustion and improved torque. Married to the lower gearing, this thing would punch out of corners, meaning that you’d soon get the thing singing in the sweet spot of 6-10,000rpm. It all added up to the fact that this CR didn’t feel remotely like the bike, which was the donor of most of its constituent parts.
The launch track certainly showed how good the handling was. Spreewaldring is a small, tight little circuit with no real straights to give you a rest on so the bike was constantly on its side, or being flicked from one to the other. Suspension-wise, traditionally the R was very susceptible to poor set-up, but the base setting resulted in a bike that – allied to the aggressive low bars – could be thrown on its side with abandon. At the start of the lap, there’s a fast left-right chicane and it was noticeable as the sessions wore on just how quickly the CR changes direction and all without a shudder from the suspension. On the road the set-up was a tad firm,
But what about those quirky ZTL2 rim-mounted brakes: on a traditional sportsbike, you could scrub a little speed off in the turn with a dab of brake, with the Buell that behaviour was rewarded with the bike trying to stand itself up in the turn. Call it character, but just keep it in mind. Braking power was still mightily adequate and did the job well enough.
Saddling the 1125R with that ugly ‘fat 916’ top fairing was always a travesty and with the CR that was all forgotten. The lithe back-end was now married to an aggressive, minimalist cowling with a scowling headlight cluster, behind which sat those unattractive orange-glow clocks, this time armed with a gear position indicator over the R. The HUGE side-pods, which made the front-end of the R even more bulbous actually worked in the naked CR’s favour, making the bike seem more hunched, like a sprinter in the starting blocks.
Buell produced a number of official after-market parts as did other companies, including carbon huggers, fenders, new brake levers and rear-sets. A set of high-rise bars was available to try on the launch, but many parts never materialised following Buell’s sad demise (well, with Harley-Davidson anyways) which came after the economic crash, on October 15th 2009.
That’s what’s so sad – Buell had finally got it right. With a different paint job and a loud can (the original was damn ugly) it could have been the basis of a very cool bike indeed… Erik Buell and his team finally gave us a water-cooled Buell worth shouting about, only for things to go belly-up within 12 months and that’s the real shame.
So, what about today? Well, the Buell 1125CR was sold at £7995 in the UK in 2008 and today they’re as rare as hen’s poop. If you can find one, then around £4000 can back you this rarity, heading up to £6000 for very low mile models.