Buell 1125R review110a

by Paul Berglund

When Editor Pearman asked if I wanted to road test a 2008 Buell 1125R, I jumped at the opportunity. Like many red-blooded Americans, I was very interested to see what the all-new 1125 cc motor was like. Buell motorcycles have fascinated me for a while now. They seem to have some unique ideas on how a bike should be built and function. But all the “outside the box” engineering wrapped around a Sportster motor would leave me scratching my head, not itching to ride one. Like many others, I was curious what they could do if they had their own motor, not a hand-me-down from a cruiser. Buell made a deal with BRP-Rotax to build this 1125cc 72° V-twin. It’s packed with very un-Sportster-like technology, liquid cooling, fuel injection, four valves-per-cylinder and dual overhead cams. Ditch the quaint push rods. It retains its Buell heritage with its fuel in-frame, belt final drive and perimeter front brake. Claimed dry weight is 375 pounds. Gas tank holds a real-world friendly 5.6 gallons. The transmission has six gears and the clutch is a hydraulic slipper- style. In theory, if you downshift and don’t match the rpms, the clutch will slip and prevent the rear wheel from skidding. If you are tech-savvy or a motorhead, you’ll find the technical specification page of the brochure to be a good read. It lists several compelling reasons for you to want to ride this bike. List price is $11,995.

We picked up the 1125R at Donahue Harley Davidson / Buell in Sauk Rapids. I had only seen photos and to be honest I was expecting to see one homely bike. I don’t know who picked the photos that Buell sends out to promote this bike, but they didn’t do a very good job. I was surprised by how nice the 1125R looks. The closer I got, the more impressed I was. The bike as a whole really works for me and individual parts show a very high degree of style and finish. Even the shift and rear brake levers are adjustable. It passes the walk-around test with flying colors.

Styling and build quality look to be as good as the competition. Was this Pinocchio a real boy or is its heart made of wood? I couldn’t wait to ride it. I’m the low man on the totem pole here at MMM®, so it was Editor Pearman who was putting his gear on while the dealer gave us a briefing on the bike. I was crouching down next to the bike, mesmerized by the under-slung muffler. It’s huge. It has an organic shape; sort of a cross between a cast iron stove and a bagpipe. It fills the underside of the bike like a Milk Dud in a molar. My second surprise of the day came when the dealer fired up that Rotax-built V-twin motor.

The exhaust is nearly silent, but the sounds coming from the motor made me take a quick step back. Imagine a threshing machine that runs on hand grenades. While Sportsters and Harleys in general tend to sound “agricultural,” this motor sounds menacing, like it’s very serious about making horsepower. I had to wait three days to find out.

review110bWhen it was my turn to ride this bad boy, I suited up and headed for the twisty part of the map. While I was droning down the freeway to get to the good roads, I was happy to find my first impression of finish and quality were all there in the ride. The adjustable suspension was set spot-on for me. The ergonomics, while full-on sport bike, are on the humane side. Everything seemed like it was in the right place and was doing a very good job. Except the mirrors.

While those around you will appreciate the bright LED turn signals built into the leading side of the mirrors, the rider will only see his or her elbows. The compact dash is full of things to distract you from your lack of rearward vision. Along with the analog tach and digital speedometer you get a shift light, clock, lap timer, coolant temperature, air temperature, reserve fuel miles, average and instantaneous fuel consumption read outs. You can swap through the various functions with a button on the side of the instrument cluster. Fuel mileage is great for a Toyota Camry. For a motorcycle it’s poor. I averaged around 33 miles from each gallon of premium. When I got to the country and could put that big motor to use, I found out why. One of my favorite cartoon characters is the Tasmanian Devil. Picture that guy in a tuxedo. That’s how I came to think of the Buell 1125R. This thing corners with the best of manners, but when you twist the throttle the acceleration is linear and brutal. The six-speed transmission is smooth-shifting and the right gear is just a click away. At freeway speeds, all is calm. The Buell lopes along at around 4,500 rpm. From 5,000 rpm on, it’s the Tasmanian Devil we all know and love. Torque hovers around 80 foot-pounds from 4,500 to the 10,500 rpm redline. The horsepower rating goes from 60 to 146 over the same range. This thing is both fast and furious. You will reach the top of the tach very quickly. Up there, you can feel every one of those 146 horses. 10,000 rpm could be described as harsh, but you won’t have time to worry about the snarling commotion coming from the motor. You will (hopefully) be fully-focused on the road that’s being devoured by Taz.

If you like your power delivered in a more electric motor fashion, you may call this a flaw. I call it personality. I’ve never heard the internal combustion process sound so visceral. The Buell 1125R does not sip gas with its pinkie out. It bites off chucks of high test with its bear trap jaws, smashes the fuel-air mixture to a violent 12.3:1 compression ratio, then explodes it to rocket you down the road. Bang for your buck in its most literal sense. Couple this with the finely-tuned frame and running gear and you get big fun on those winding back roads, or most any road for that matter. You won’t get that kind of sensation from a Camry. Of course, your mileage may vary.

To answer my own question, yes this little Pinocchio is a real boy. The men and women at Buell have done a very good job building a serious sport bike; one that can hold its own parked next to the upscale competition and, more importantly, run with them on the open road. Other than the sadly botched mirrors, I have only two nit-picks. I would have liked lighter steering. While we were testing the 1125R, we had a KTM 950 Supermoto along for comparison. That V-twin powered bike has steering so light, it’s like it’s telepathic. Similar steering on the Buell would have improved the fun. Second, the 1125R’s dash seems smart enough to find Sarah Conner on its own. I would have liked it to tell me what gear I’m in. I’m old and forgetful and take comfort in such things.

If you’re intrigued by this new stepchild to the Harley Davidson fortune, just remember form follows function here. If your form doesn’t function well in the sport bike crouch, you should look at one of the other Buell models. I’m a little giddy picturing that motor spread throughout the line. I don’t know if they plan on building an 1125 Ulysses, but we should all plan on buying one if they do.

by Sev Pearman

Despite what people think, it is not all glory and umbrella girls here at MMM. For each hour of road time, there are 20-30 hours of office hell. But every once in a while, the roads are dry, the calendar is clear and the motorcycle is perfect. The Buell 1125R is one such bike.

For the first time ever, a Buell street bike is not powered by a Sportster-derived engine. The Buell 1125R utilizes an 8-valve V-twin built by Rotax to Buell specs and it is a gem. The 1,125cc, 72º twin features dual overhead cams, employs three counter-balancers to squelch vibration and is the first Buell to be liquid-cooled. Bore and stroke are 103.3 mm and 67.5 mm respectively. The 12.3:1 compression ratio calls for premium fuel.

review110cThe big bore/short stroke architecture makes this engine a revver. Twist the throttle and the light flywheel motor instantly claws toward its snarling 10,500 rpm ceiling. Power output (claimed) is a stonky 146 bhp at 9,800 rpm and 82 foot-pounds of torque at 8,000 rpm. For you bolt-spotters who test drive by spec sheet, be sure to look at power-to-weight ratio. At 421 pounds with fluids (no fuel) the Buell 1125R weighs one pound less than a “wet-weight” Ducati 1098 without fuel. I don’t care if you can name one or two bikes that are three grams lighter or make marginally more power. This is the fastest, most-powerful bike Buell has ever built. Proof? Shawn Higbee rode a stock 1125R to a 5th place finish in this year’s Daytona 200 on March 6th.

In profile, the 1125R looks like a bison leaning into the wind. I didn’t mind the styling, but I am usually off base in the fashion department. There are few photos of me in street clothes for good reason. You may not like the looks of the 1125R but you owe it to yourself to test one. Like Berglund, once you open the throttle, you may say, “Damn the styling! Full speed ahead!”

I liked how the super-sport mission of the 1125R determines its form. The twin side radiators are a function of keeping the motor forward and wheelbase short. The muffler is squeezed under the motor, out of the way to centralize mass and increase cornering clearance. The fairing shape is determined by aerodynamics first, and stylists second. In short, this bike was built to go.

Attention to detail is Grade-A. The fairing stays are delicate and skeletal. Clutch, brake and both foot levers are adjustable. The inside of the fairing is nicely finished. Our tester was a butch, visual feast of blacks, grays, charcoal, the gun-blue frame, polished alloy and a sprinkling of bright bits. While some may prefer the lines of Italian design, no one does paint and finishes like the mighty H-D.

The fairing may be big, but it works. A quiet bubble exists; even at excessive speeds. Even when you raise your torso to set up for a turn, you are not blown off the diminutive tail of the 1125R. In addition, Buell worked with the insurance mafia to build a fairing that won’t break the bank in a tip-over. This makes for friendlier repairs and cheaper insurance costs. This is the best-functioning fairing on any sport bike I have ever ridden. Period.

Bars are forward-mounted clip-ons. While not race bike brutal, they are what they are. Instruments are mounted in a single magnesium pod. A sweep tach crowns an LCD panel that displays speed, two trip meters, lap timer, gear indicator and a Tetris® game, for all I know. Berglund never found the gear indicator and I never looked. I was too busy balancing the indicated speed against remaining fuel. All 1125Rs come with an integral security system, standard. One gripe: while the tach was always readable, the LCD panel is easily washed out by direct sunlight.

Lighting is excellent. Twin oblong headlights in the fairing each run three bulbs, giving the bike an Alien mug. High beams punch further. A passing trigger switch is always a good thing. “I had to pass the casino bus, Your Honor. My bike has this special switch, see?”

review110dThe 1125R holds 5.3 gallons of premium in its frame spars. Fill-ups are painless, fast and clean. I didn’t spill one drop of our favorite condiment, despite our many and frequent fill-ups. Seems our friends at Rotax have a bit of a drinking problem. I never saw anything higher than 33 mpg. I thought one of the benefits of fuel injection was increased fuel efficiency. Get out of town, find a good road and to hell with the mileage. All sins of consumption will be forgiven once you whack the throttle. Roar past the speed limit, tuck behind the quiet fairing, and revel in the mechanical music made by the induction, the motor and exhaust. Squeeze the clutch, upshift and hear the next verse. Can this really meet EPA noise regs? Buell tamed the Rotax motor enough to quell the worst vibes, but not so much as to completely neuter the bike. When underway, you know you are astride a fire-breathing, angry V-twin, but without any worry of grenading cases or jettisoning parts.

Class: this is what a motorcycle is supposed to sound and feel like. Suspension is top shelf Showa. The fork is a 47mm, fully-adjustable inverted unit. The shock is also fully adjustable. Despite a 60-pound weight difference, neither Paul nor I touched the suspension, both of us being reasonably happy with the stock settings. Neither Publisher Wanchena nor I were able to drag any parts, despite our combined quarter-ton mass. As with the Ulysses (MMM #81), Buell includes excellent, easy-to-understand suspension set-up charts in the owner’s manual. Well done, Buell!

I never thought one whit about the seat, even after a couple runs of more than 150 miles. Therefore, the seat receives high marks. There is the perception among some internet haters that the Buell 1125R is “boutique bike;” weird, hard to service, requiring expensive and hard-to-obtain parts. Buell addressed these fears and incorporated hundreds of details to quash such nonsense. Valve adjustment is a healthy 12,400 miles. That is four seasons for the average rider. Valve shims can be changed without having to remove the camshafts and re-time the engine. The shims are the same sizes used in the Harley-Davidson V-Rod, so your local Harley dealer should already have them in stock.

During engine design, the angle of the V was chosen for intake performance and to facilitate service. The engine can pivot forward in its mounts for more detailed valve train work. Close your web browser, tune out your friends and ride this bike. If you don’t return sweaty, eyes bulging and out of breath, may we direct you to one of our stately trike conversions, sir. The Buell 1125R is the real deal and ready to take on all comers. I haven’t enjoyed a bike this much in many, many years. Absolutely glorious! MMM® would like to thank Allen Wilson and Donahue Harley-Davidson/Buell in Sauk Rapids for their cooperation with this review. They can be reached at 320.251.6980 or in the inter-tubes at www.donahuehd.com

Wife’s First Reaction®: “It looks like a tuxedo!”

Power slide: • Best. Buell. Ever. • Rotax motor delivers perfect blend of power, refinement and character. • Excellent, functional fairing is insurance-friendly to repair. • Adjustable foot levers.

High side: • New motor gulps fuel. • LCD speedo washes out in sun. • Ergos tight for the “ample” rider.

By the numbers Rider: Editor Pearman 5’-10”/260 lbs/32” (height/weight/inseam) Fuel consumption: 33-mpg avg. Selected Competition: Aprilia RSV-1000, Ducati 1198, KTM 1190 RC-8, Moto-Guzzi Breva 1200 Sport, Triumph Speed Triple.


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