Buell 1125R Road Test

Buell 1125R Road Test

Remember Buell?

This was a company formed by ex-Harley-Davidson engineer Erik Buell back in 1983.

His former employer bought 49% of his company a decade later, before Buell became a wholly-owned ‘part and parcel’ of H-D in 2003.

It seemed a shrewd move on Harley’s part. After all, the likeable former racer had been finding race-replica or sportsbike homes for its V-twins for years: the likes of the Thunderbolt and Lightning (don’t say it…) the Cyclone and later Firebolt and later XB9 Lightning…  So, it was a real ‘alternative’ to the traditional cruisers which Harley-Davidson churned out, but still different and still very American. It seemed a perfect ‘fit’.

Things changed around 2005 when work began on a new range of machines: these would be in conjunction with Rotax, who would work with Buell on the liquid-cooled V-twin motors and be ready for launch in 2007.

Or would they be?

Buell 1125R LaunchSome big names, including Jeremy McWilliams and Niall Mackenzie were allegedly involved in developing the bike, but something seemed a little wrong when the launch went ahead at the scary and challenging Laguna Seca circuit in California during August 2007.

Now, that track is scary enough – ask Alex Hoffman, Akira Yanagawa, Aaron Slight, Mick Doohan, Kevin Magee and Bubba Shobert to name but a few. As any bike race fan knows, Laguna rises and falls through the Monterey hills, and similarly it seemed that the gathered journalists’ time with the 1125R on the launch rose and fell also. Issues included:

  • Hot air being directed from the engine onto riders’ right foot at low RPM.
  • A clutch problem
  • A wire melted by its position near an exhaust pipe so it quit while out on the road ride
  • A warped brake disc
  • Duff battery leading to one journalist’s bike to cut out just as they barrelled into the Corkscrew…

Essentially the Buell 1125R was both a new beginning and an extension of what had gone before for the American marque.

New was the powerful, liquid-cooled motor and then there was an extension of what had gone before, such as fuel-in-frame, ZTL rim-mounted disc, under-slung exhaust and mass centralization. People often dismissed such ‘Buell quirks’, but they did work and still do today. And remember, Buell were doing under-slung exhausts way before the Japs whacked ‘em on their GSX-Rs and Fireblades…

Riding the 1125R gave a good first impression, thanks to that new motor. There was a beautifully broad spread of power from the 72-degree liquid-cooled motor and around a track like Laguna it helped you, as your gear selection didn’t have to be spot-on.

Buell 1125RBuell claimed 146bhp at around 10,000rpm at the crank, but many figured the 1125R would be pushing out around 120-130 on the dyno. Peak power wasn’t what this bike was about, because it was so tractable and flexible that from top gear and 2500 revs it would lurch, and maybe complain a little, but still pull you back up towards the redline in no time at all…

The liquid-cooled motor behaved well out on the road and on the track. Sure, it wasn’t silky smooth – it vibrated, coughed, farted and lurched a little at 4000revs, especially on a constant throttle at that RPM – but you could play and leave it in one gear if you liked, simply riding that wave of instant urge. The gearbox was much better than on previous Buells, but it was still a little away from what you were used to on a Japanese sports bike from a decade or so ago. But it was much lighter and precise than the air-cooled XB series…

The brakes too, were superb. The-then new eight-pot Zero Torsion fixed caliper meant less weight than a conventional dual-disc system and it worked very well, hauling the whole 170 kilo machine up very nicely indeed. The only black mark journalists found was when some sort of warping to the 375mm front disc led to judder and brake fade at the lever on one of the test bikes.

Suspension was where things got a little murky for some riders: it seemed the bike would only really behave well if set-up pretty stiff, as if for the track, anything other and the thing would see-saw from front to back…so-much-so that it would be hard to hold a tight line in corners…

What about the normal stuff? The instrument cluster was pretty good, with a digital speedo, nestled in a clear tacho, although the idiot lights weren’t too visible in the strong Californian sunlight. The mirrors worked OK – they were large enough and well-positioned, even if they vibrated a little when you were working the engine hard.

Buell 1125CR LaunchOK, so the looks: it was love or loathe, but the bike did eventually grow on people. One thing the Americans missed a trick with were colour schemes: it was black or nothing. What were they thinking?

Buell were keen to stress at the Laguna launch that these machines were pre-production bikes, with some details needing updating, but there was also talk of a ‘bad batch’ of fork springs leading to the handling issues. More rumours abounded around the motor – which sometimes wouldn’t behave – and that (on the whole) Buell knew the bike wasn’t ready but had to go ahead with the launch as the track and event was booked…

With sportsbikes of the time in the noughties getting smaller and more uncomfortable, the Buell was a real breath of fresh air. Sure it was and is still small, but there was plenty of comfort to be had from the ergonomics and that bulbous fairing did a good job of protecting you from the elements. Both levers were also span adjustable, while the footpegs were also adjustable.

Thankfully, the bike itself would evolve… so that – by the time the naked (and more attractive) 1125CR café racer version was launched – a very relieved Erik Buell would listen to journalists tell him this model was spot-bollock-on… This came about after a long series of fuel-injection modifications. By the time the CR was launched it was well-received and the R was finally all it should have originally been…

But it was all a bit too late, it seemed. Post economic crash, on October 15th 2009, Harley-Davidson announced the ‘discontinuation of the Buell product line’ as part of its overall strategy. Their last Buell was produced just 15 days later, making the overall Buell production run 136,923.

What a shame. The 1125R should have given both die-hard Buell fans the next level of machine they were looking for while giving those looking for something different something… well, ‘different!’ The bike (at launch) was priced at £8495 and was therefore some £500 more than a UJM GSX-R750 of the time. Today… well, you can pick up a piece of history for around £3000+. OK, so you’re not going to have the support of a big network, but you’ll have something rare and special and – perhaps – something that is appreciating. Just get a few of the final-drive belts in your garage… They snap.

And what about Erik himself? Well, in late 2009 he launched Erik Buell Racing or EBR Motorcycles and he’s still building his own bikes in his own way… more power to him, CB-NET says…