Buell aimed to make the 1125R a lethal track weapon.
SSB Headed To Laguna Seca To Find Out.2008 Buell 1125RFinally, Buell has given us a proper motor to match a great chassis. The archaic air-cooled tractor engine that has haunted the potentially ass-kicking XB12R was ditched as the first line of business in building the new 1125R Superbike. Although it seems like a conflict of interest to source a motor from outside its own walls (the majority owner of Buell stock is Harley-Davidson), it was high time that something was done about the chronic problem plaguing Buell's sportbike line.
Many of us were pretty excited for the launch of 2004's XB12R Firebolt, and early spy shots indicated wicked potential. The notion of an American sportbike that could run with the Japanese big dogs was certainly appealing, but despite the Firebolt's quick and precise handling it only took a quick twist and a slow rev of the lumpy 1200cc engine to determine that the shaking beast should best stay on the porch.
Though versions of the same motor have appeared in a handful of decent Buell bikes, the common complaint was its lack of revs, clunky gearbox and general clumsiness. Despite what some clever marketing folk and enthusiasts have referred to as "character," we simply have used the term "suckiness" (for lack of a more all-encompassing adjective) to describe the poor engine performance.
Late last year, rumors of sourcing an all-new liquid-cooled motor from Austrian firm Rotax started picking up steam, and once again an optimistic excitement began brewing throughout the bike world. Had Buell finally found the missing piece to its "perfect bike" puzzle? Our first taste came on a road ride in Northern California.
The Pacific Coast Highway is famous for offering one of the most scenic seaside rides on Earth, yet notorious for attracting the worst and most easily distracted drivers on the planet as well. Needless to say, many of our miles were simply frustrating as we tested the bikes with an entirely new approach-10 miles per hour under the posted speed limit. During these painful minutes the motor's low end had plenty of time to express itself, but there was little to separate it from the older Harley engine.
It wasn't until the road opened up and the throttle was put on the stop that the new Rotax motor was able to show what goods lay under the hood.
If you imagine a highly tuned XB12R with a silky smooth gearbox you'll be headed in the right direction. Somehow the new motor has kept the somewhat quirky slow-revving characteristics of the older engine, while improving its pitfalls (namely the lack of top-end and clunky gearbox).
Who ever thought clutchless shifts on a Buell would be a reality? Now they are, and left feet across the globe will be thanking Rotax for the improvement.
But Buell didn't just phone Rotax and request a fiery new motor; instead, there was a working development process between the two firms. Buell's Engineering Director, Tony Stefanelli, explained, "Both Buell and Rotax had a common goal of creating a "sport" engine, and this reduced any design tension."
The end result of the collaboration was the 1125cc 72-degree V-twin Helicon engine. Although the claims of 146 crank horsepower might be slightly optimistic, there is plenty of usable torque to short shift through endless miles of wheelies or hammer out of corners with the confidence that loads of V-twin torque offers (82 pound-feet to be exact-that's more than any of the inline-four-cylinder literbikes currently have on tap).
The engine's fierce name comes courtesy of ancient Greek mythology. Helicon was believed to be a sacred mountain that the gods would visit for inspiration, and in this case the ballsy new engine prompted the design team to build the rest of the new chassis around it for the ultimate sportbike.
Previous Buells demand constant use of the clutch to get the gears engaged, but that's all changed now with the new engine. It's even got a unique slipper-style clutch that functions off the natural manifold vacuum-at closed throttle the vacuum is high and creates pressure on the outside of the clutch, which reduces clutch load. At higher revs the vacuum is lower and reduces the amount of pressure (and slip). Following our road test we hit Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to really see what the 1125R has to offer, and quickly learned that the slipper clutch worked well and helped minimize rear lock-up several times after selecting a gear too low during heavy braking.
The side-mounted radiators add to the bike's somewhat odd styling, but also apparently aid in crash protection. Several bikes went down on both the road and track, and despite their seemingly vulnerable positioning the radiators came away without a scratch. In fact, they absorbed much of the impact while there was minimal destruction elsewhere other than mild plastic rash.
Once some of the pre-production bugs are ironed out Buell should have quite a competent road and trackday bike for those looking for something unique (and American). Though it had some fueling quirks on the road, what V-twin doesn't? Most Italian twins seem to have a mind of their own anyway, and this American version also likes its independence.
Some serious backroad scratching showed that the 1125R is capable of serious battle, but just how bloody will it get? The 1125R isn't going to ace the likes of a Ducati 1098 around the circuit, but it should stick with it on the road just fine. It could be quite the killer with some aftermarket mods and suspension set-up. The 1125R is a huge step forward for Buell and American motorcycles.
Uncorking Laguna Seca
I couldn't wait to spin through the world-famous Corkscrew. After spending countless hours killing it on Playstation's MotoGP II I was ready-or so I thought. The lead up to it is a flat-out blind hill climb, and just as the curbing appears it's time to bury the brakes and get ready to slam it left and over the cliff-and it literally feels like you've just ridden off the edge of the Earth.
Needless to say it's one of the most exciting corners anywhere, and I was literally howling inside my helmet as I went over it and down the chute. Luckily I had MotoGP star Jeremy McWilliams to lead me through, but I still found it hard to trust there was going to be road beneath me. With each lap I was convinced that the asphalt gremlins had yanked away the road on the other side of the curbing, but to get it right you must ignore instinct and take the plunge.