Both Buell and Harley Davidson are determined to see Buellophobia become a thing of the past. Buell wants to see it go for the obvious reason that they want to be a serious contender in the sportbike market, and Harley Davidson wants to see it go because they want to sell more Buells. No matter how you look at it, Buell needed a bike that would get the attention of both the motorcycling community and moto-journalists, while (whether they admit it or not) also distancing themselves a tad bit more from the Sportster motor stigma.
Enter the 1125R and the press introduction for the bike that was held on the street around beautiful Monterey, CA. and at the intimidating but hugely entertaining Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. What follows is the story of how Buell, striving to build a better mousetrap so to speak, has hit, if not quite a grand slam, a definite home-run with the new 1125R.
I wake up bright and early and head to breakfast. We were told that Erik Buell was supposed to be there that morning but some airline (who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty) stranded him in Las Vegas. Instead of whipping them up a new and more efficient way to move people around the country (involving a lower center of gravity and less unsprung weight), he jumped in a rental car and started driving straight to Monterey, CA. I think he arrived around mid-day as he did make it to dinner that evening even though he looked really tired.
After breakfast we moved into the next room where there were two 1125R\'s; one whole one and one with little cut-outs in strategic places. Also in this room were about 5 very excited Buell reps, 3 equally excited BRP/Rotax reps, and 1 Pirelli rep, that while not quite as visibly excited, did grin once in a while. Turns out that he was just the subdued type and he actually was very excited.
First lets tackle the name of the motor. It turns out that Erik Buell is a big fan of mythology, specifically Greek Mythology. Helicon is the name of the mountain where the Hippocrene spring, the source of poetic inspiration, flowed. If you can\'t figure out the ties between the Hippocrene spring and the new Helicon motor, nothing I can say will help you.
Buell approached Harley Davidson about helping to build a liquid cooled no holds barred liter class motor, but Harley had too many irons in the fire and instead gave Buell the go ahead to outsource the design. Where does one go when one needs a V-twin sportbike motor designed from the ground up? Why, you talk to BRP/Rotax of course. The Austrian company has probably built a wider range of motors for various types of travel than any other company. Not sure if their motors are reliable? Ask an Aprilia owner. Better yet, ask the tens of thousands of pilots that trust their lives to Rotax when they go flying.
BRP/Rotax worked with Buell to build the 1125R motor, not to the specifications of a racing organization, but to the specifications of what a street rider needed in the real world. To that end (and staying true to Buell\'s Trilogy of Tech philosophy) the motor was built as a compact 72-degree DOHC V-twin. This motor puts out (according to Buell) 146hp @ (10,500rpm in their press release) (9800rpm in their spec chart) and 82ft/lbs of torque at 8000rpm in the spec chart. The aluminum frame is being built here in the USA (the XB frames were built originally in Italy) and it holds 5.6 gallons of fuel.
Buell stuck with using a belt built by Goodyear as it was lighter and less messy than a chain and has no drive-train lash at all.
The swingarm on the 1125R does not hold the oil as it does on the XB series. Buell was able to design a dry sump oiling system with integral oil storage which eliminates the need for long external oil lines.
The front brake system is called ZTL2 which basically means that this is the second iteration of Buell\'s ZTL (Zero Torsional Load) braking system. It does come with an 8 piston caliper squeezing a 375mm rotor. The rear brake is a 2 piston caliper gripping a 240mm rotor. The interesting thing about the rear set-up is the caliper is mounted directly to the swingarm thereby weighing 1.5 pounds less than a typical rear brake design.
One of the coolest things on the bike is the HVA (Hydraulic Vacuum Assist) slipper action clutch. Basically what this does is this; it uses hydraulics to activate the clutch, and vacuum to not only reduce the clutch effort but act as a slipper clutch as well. Suffice it to say, it works really, really well.
Last bit of tech; the transmission. Buell has built a 6 speed transmission to go on this bike. Their goal was to build a transmission that would have a "snick-snick" feel (I swear to God that those were the exact words used at the tech briefing). I can attest to the "snickability" (my word) of this transmission. The only time I used the clutch was for down-shifting and at a stop. Clutchless upshifts are seamless and smooth at almost any rpm. The best part is that every bike I rode both on the street and on the track shifted exactly the same; smooth as butter.
Finally we get released from the tech overload (note: excited people really like talking about what is exciting them) and we make a dash back to the rooms to get our gear. Then it\'s on the bus to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to pick up the bikes for the street riding portion of the press launch.
While we are on this bus ride let\'s talk about the styling. Seeing the 1125R in pictures does not do the bike justice. Is the bike pretty? No. An MV Agusta F4 is pretty, the 1125R has a look that I would call purposeful. The front fairing looks super wide at a head-on angle. The side pods, while not looking very integrated with the lines of the bike, serve a twofold purpose. First they serve as the air scoops to direct air over the radiator. The second function is that because of where they are located they cause a high pressure area at the front of the bike. This area is located between the front forks and solved the issue of where to put the ram air scoop. If you were to get down and look between the fork tubes you would see a oddly shaped inlet which is where the high pressure air goes at speed to give the motor a few extra ponies.
Buell designed the bike to have what they call Quiet Zone cockpit aerodynamics using CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics). The front fairing design gives you a nice quiet place to work in. Riding the 1125R on the street really drove this home. I am 6\' 0" tall and up until about 85mph there was no turbulence at all. Above that speed some turbulence did start buffeting my helmet a little, but by tucking in a tiny bit I was able to get everything all quiet again.
After we rode around this one corner for like a million times so the photographer could get some pictures, we headed out into the CA. countryside to start our 196 mile loop.
Our route took us down a few curvy roads that were a lot of things but smooth was not one of them. The first thing that really struck me was how stable the bike was leaned over in a curve. The 1125R exhibited almost no desire to move, get twitchy, or track off line even over the tar snakes and pavement irregularities that hang out in corners.
The bike also impressed me with how easily it transitioned from side to side. It actually felt more like an SV650 than a liter class sportbike. Very light and responsive. I\'ve gotta tell ya; I like the way this Buell handles. Now you are probably saying "everybody likes the way Buells handle", but in this case you would be wrong. I have never been a fan of the way the short wheelbase XB chassis handles. I always felt that the bike had a mind of it\'s own and would rather be anywhere but where I had it. I know, I know, I\'m weird as this is the selling point of the XBs, but there you have it.
Need to do a little trail braking in that curve? Go right ahead. This is something that one would never do (at least willingly) on the short wheelbase Buells as they tend to stand straight up if you even breathe on the front brake lever in a corner. Not so the 1125R. It was the picture of composure. Trust me, I tried this out (cause I meant to..yeah that\'s it) and no muss no fuss the bike stayed on line and all was right with the world.
One thing that I have disliked about Buells for a long time are the switches. The 1125R\'s switches are exactly the same as the rest of the Buell line-up. Half the time I couldn\'t tell if I turned on the turn signals or not without looking down at the dash. Harley makes some of the nicest feeling switches so I would expect Buell to be able to produce better ones than they do. Apparently the LEGO factory was low bidder on the switches back in the early 90\'s. Please Mr. Buell, fix the switch and switch-housing problem.
After a very good lunch at a restaurant in Big Sur that overlooked the coastline (Northern California is beautiful!) I ended up riding all by my little lonesome, which gave me a chance to really concentrate on how the 1125R interacts with the rider. I don\'t ride a sportbike everyday, mainly because of a car accident that makes the riding position untenable after a short amount of time. The 1125R though wasn\'t bad at all. Buell moved the pegs down some from the XB peg position for a better seat-to-peg relationship. This would have cut down on cornering clearance so they also moved them in a little as well to provide a 50-degree lean angle before hard parts start touching down. I thought at first that they might have moved them in too far, but after a few miles of riding they didn\'t bother me at all.
The seat-to-handlebar relationship is also much better than on the Firebolts and Buell calls it an "athletic" riding position. The seat is comfortable, yes my butt hurt after 150 miles but this is probably due more to my own tolerance than the bikes fault. I asked other riders what they thought of the seat and they all said it was comfortable, so we\'ll go with that.
After 196 miles neither my back nor my neck hurt at all (well anymore than usual) which I found to be quite possibly the biggest selling point for this bike. You can have the fastest, prettiest, best handling bike in the world but if it is uncomfortable you won\'t want to ride it very much. This is a bike that I could live with as an only bike (my wife might be unhappy about that though).
Buell took great pains in telling us that these were basically proof of concept (pre-production) bikes and did have some flaws that would be worked out before production. One of those flaws raised it\'s ugly head early on for me. The fuel injection system was acting up on the bike I picked out of the line-up first (I really know how to pick them). The bike was stalling at idle and then having problems restarting. Luckily, this happened during the aforementioned photo time so I rode back up to the pit area and picked out another bike.
The fuel injection problem was mostly centered around a burbling hesitation when the motor was under 4000 rpm. It was not horrible but it was noticeable. One of the BRP/Rotax guys was getting live updates on a test that Buell was running back in Milwaukee while we were at the track on Tuesday. He had one bike that he was constantly downloading new and different F.I. map settings that he was getting from the test in Milwaukee. This kind of dedication and attention to getting it right gives me hope that they will get it fixed before production.
My second bike was much better in 2 distinct areas; It stayed running and the rear brake didn\'t sound like a foghorn when you applied it. Half the bikes there, it seemed, had a noisy rear brake. The second bike I picked out didn\'t have this issue (the first one did) so I can\'t comment on whether or not it went away after being used for awhile. As an interesting little aside here; the bike I ended up riding all day had some of the best rear brakes I have ever felt. Powerful, progressive, and effective, which is not the Buell norm. Oddly enough, talking with everyone else, I was apparently the only one to experience this as they all said the rear brakes felt like typical Buell rear brakes; two pieces of wood squeezing the rotor.
How a company that makes rear brakes with no feel can make some of the nicest front brakes in the industry is beyond me but Buell manages to pull it off. The ZTL2 front brake felt great on the street, offering up superb stopping power with plenty of feedback to the lever. This is 2 finger stopping at its best. If you think that a sportbike needs two front rotors and calipers to stop; riding this bike with Buell\'s radical braking system will change your mind in an instant.
Up and at \'em nice and early (stupid body clock set to EST) and back on the bus to Laguna Seca. Breakfast at the track with the obligatory track meeting while we ate. We are reminded yet again that Buell only has a finite supply of the 1125Rs at the moment. They have told us this like 3 times now and they always leave the rest of the thought unspoken, which makes the consequences of wadding-up one of their bikes both more oblique and more ominous at the same time.
So I\'m sitting there eating and I notice that there is a piece of paper filled out with 3 groups and the names of the journalists assigned to each group. Let\'s see...... I\'m in group B ( A, B, C, were how the groups were labeled) ....cool..... I\'ll go out with the second group on the track.....nice. As I\'m pondering this another piece of paper gets laid out on top of that one. Let\'s see what this one says (I\'m getting good at reading upside down).....this paper has a bunch of small writing on it but before I can get to that part I notice the handwriting at the top of the page......."fastest group will go out second".....fastest group will go......I\'M IN THE SECOND GROUP! Now I didn\'t know whether to be flattered that they thought I\'d be one of the fastest people out there or scared to death of looking like an idiot when I get lapped by some REALLY fast guy. Well I needn\'t have worried as they decided to run the group rotation as C, A, B, which meant that A was the fastest group. Phew! Thank God! I mean, I might actually have had to ride my best the entire time. No one needs that kind of pressure.
For the first 15 minute session I basically followed Paul James (part time racer, full time Buell honcho) around the track to learn where the correct lines were. After our 15 minutes on the track, we were back in the pits and another group was heading out to ride. What did I learn about the bike on that first session? Not much except 1) the exhaust note is pretty flat and 2) I have never ridden a bike that the difference in acceleration between 3/4 throttle and full throttle was so pronounced. I mean with most bikes you get a little more thrust, but the Buell just takes off like you hit a shot of nitrous. Very cool. Oh and the intakes (right under your chin) at full throttle sound like they are trying to suck you and any unsuspecting birds into the motor. It is an intoxicating sound to say the least.
Laguna Seca overall is great fun with only a few odd-ball corners thrown in to keep you on your toes. Turns 2 and 9 were the worst. The corkscrew is just plain fun (albeit a scary kind of fun) and even the tight turn 11 wasn\'t so bad.
Back out for group B\'s second session and now it\'s time to play. By the second lap the knee is down around turns 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10 and even 11 (sometimes). Bike\'s feeling good, very stable, rides good over the bumps with just a little wiggle coming out of the corners hard on the gas. Any bike that will let a non-racer go out and start sliding a knee around after just a few sighting laps on a new track, is put together well and will make you look like a hero on the occasional track day. About halfway through session number 2, I decide (in my infinite stupidity) that I am no longer going to back off the throttle before turn one, no sir, I\'m going to accelerate over and through turn one like the racers do. Now understand that turn one is the blind ,over a hill, left turn at the end of the short front straight. I was crossing under the sign there at about 100 - 110mph-ish while rolling off the throttle after accelerating off of turn 11. This time I was taking no prisoners! Warp Speed Scotty!
I learned a very important lesson at that point. Things (like braking markers for example) come at you more quickly at 130mph-ish than they do at 100mph-ish. Much more quickly. This is where I found out just how well the ZTL2 brakes and the pneumatic slipper clutch really work. I\'ll spare you the gory details (no I didn\'t crash) of my completely ham-fisted down-shifting technique while braking for all I was worth, and just tell you that the bike performed like a champ. It was willing and I was able to settle it in to turn 2 (which is when I dragged my left toe) without any shenanigans or drama. Definitely an eye opening experience and one that I decided not to repeat the rest of the day.
We were basically hot-lapping the bikes for the entire time at Laguna Seca. As soon as one group came into the pits the next group was hopping on and heading back out again. All during this time I experienced not an ounce of brake fade. The brakes (front) felt firm and powerful for the entire day of track thrashing. The rear brakes felt like, well, the old 2 blocks of wood. Some of the really fast guys out there (basically racers that happen to write for a magazine) were saying that the bike had some issues with feedback from the front end when really pushed hard. I had the bike pushing pretty hard and I felt none of that. Also, Jeremy McWilliams was out there (he helped Buell with R&D and suspension set-up during the creation of the 1125R) and he did not seem to be having any problems at all with the front end feedback (yes he was riding a bone stock bike just like the rest of us - just much, MUCH faster). This tells me that unless you competitively race you probably will have no issues with the front end once you set it up to your liking.
A lack of a steering dampener had some of us thinking that there would be some issues with head shake. Erick Buell disagreed and said that the chassis would handle it. You know what? He was basically right. Basically right, because there were some spots in the track where the acceleration and the bumps in the track did cause the front end to dance slightly more than I felt comfortable with. The bike never did anything untoward and this might be something that had I been familiar with the bike and the track wouldn\'t have bothered me at all. I never had an issue with it the entire first day on the street, so again unless you race competitively you probably won\'t need to worry about a steering dampener.
Pirelli puts their new Corsa III\'s on the 1125R as the OEM tire and a better OEM tire would be hard to come by in my opinion. All during day one (the street portion) the tires handled the irregularities in the road surface with aplomb. Some of the roads on the route were semi loose gravel and the Pirellis never missed a step. On the track the tires temped up fast and provided laudable levels of stickiness. The tires were starting to get really shagged out by mid-day but that was after hours of non-stop flogging. Pirelli markets this tire as a street tire that you can do track days with and I would say that was an accurate description and not just marketing hype.
All good things must come to an end and my time in Monterey was no exception. The 1125R is not a hardcore track weapon but it was never meant to be. Buell\'s target audience with this bike is the street rider that does occasional track days. Buell has hit a home run for this target audience; a comfortable bike that won\'t embarrass you on Sunday mornings and will make you look like a hero at the track. What more could you want?
Thanks to Shift Racing for the jacket, leathers, gloves, and jeans, Arai for the Profile helmet, and Alpinestars for the boots (they\'ll match nicely once the red 2wf.com lettering gets put on the leathers and helmet).