Today, courtesy of Latus Motors in Gladstone, OR, I took Buell's latest offering, the 1125R, out for a test ride. I was helped by Dave Atkinson, a longtime local industry pro, who has recently joined their sales staff.
Some background: my regular rides are a 1996 Yamaha Virago, a 2002 Moto Guzzi V11 Sport Scura and a 2005 Triumph Rocket III. When I arrived at the dealership, I was riding the Moto Guzzi, for a reason. I wanted to make a direct comparison between it and the Buell. The Buell drew me like a magnet at the 2007 Seattle Motorcycle Show. I drooled over it then; I wondered if it would be better than the XB12R I had test ridden two years prior. I nearly bought the 1200, as I'm mildly infatuated with compact V-Twins. I rejected it on the grounds that the mirrors shook too much to be of any value. It was deceptively fast and mirrors would come in handy if I were to use even half the machine's potential.
The 1125R demo model had less than 1,000 miles on the clock and yet when I pulled in the clutch and dropped into first, the operation was silent and smooth. This proved to be the case through all the gears. I had heard that the engine manufacturer, Austria's BRP Rotax, had revised the engine and transmission for Buell as part of their next generation power plants. I don't know what they did, but I have yet to experience a gearbox as well behaved right out of the showroom. I have a 29" inseam, so the seat height meant the bike felt a little tall to me as I manoeuvered it through the throngs present at the Rider Appreciation event that Latus was holding that day. (Boy, did they luck out with the weather !).
The first few miles were in traffic. The riding position is only moderately aggressive, so commuting would be feasible. I personally doubt I would actually make it into work this side of a two hour session in the twisties somewhere on the way, but it'd be worth a try. By contrast, my Guzzi's steering is overly damped and the fuel injection can be a little rough depending on weather and the gas in the tank, so low speed traffic work is frankly a chore. The Buell had some very slight hesitancy in the lower rev range even when warm, but much less than the Italian; you had to look hard for it and try to make it happen by holding the throttle right on the cusp of drive and overrun. The fuel system wasn't playing; it was eminently ridable and it knew it.
After a short detour, we returned to Hwy 224 and took the road out through Carver as far as Barton. This being one of the better sets of curves in proximity to Gladstone, it was the ideal place to test the machine, even when compelled to stay well inside its limits. As luck would have it, the road was fairly clear in both directions and a glimpse of the 1125R's handling potential was possible. The suspension was, in my judgment, right in the middle, neither too hard nor too soft; the rubber seemed glued to the road while the bike stayed nimble and astoundingly neutral. The experience was devoid of surprises, the way it should be. Uneven road surfaces, channels, rilles and bumps never lent an unwelcome drift or blip to the direction of travel. There was no sensation of dropping into the turn, much less any of running wide. Obedience and ease of handling were remarkable. A spin a couple years back on a Suzuki SV1000 came to mind with the difference being that the Buell has character where the Suzi had almost none, despite its more than adequate performance.
Six gears allow the rider to dial in exactly the right cog for any situation, but the even torque curve made actual gear selection less critical. The bike pulls smoothly up from a wide range of speeds to its sweet spot. Eventually, of course, you will find a gear too tall for the job in hand. Fifth and sixth are there to help get you into the 130mph plus range. Regrettably, it was not feasible to run that test on the road in question. Suffice it to say that the corners came up mighty quick when the box was worked through the first four ratios.
Brakes were breathtakingly effective. Again 'devoid of surprises' is the phrase that comes to mind, but if you are used to average stopping power, hang on ! Both ends are perfectly progressive and with a judicious squeeze to the front right lever, the sense of control and rapid loss of speed is a true joy. It would be interesting to find out if this exemplary behavior maintained through some real punishment. I have to think that the radical design of the perimeter disk brake rotor is making the biggest contribution here, but the specs also call out an 8-pot caliper derived from the race version. The only more civilized brake I've come across would be that on the BMW K1200S. Ignoring ABS for the sake of comparison, the Buell's is every bit as effective; so much so, that it behooves the newcomer to do a couple dummy slowdowns before using the front brake in earnest.
The instrument cluster nestled behind the 'angry bee' style fairing has an orange backlit background. Despite my continuing bias toward analog instruments, I was able to read my speed quickly as the LCD characters are tall enough for all but the legally blind. Rev counter is still analog and redlines at 10,500 RPM. I found the other information such as odo-, trip- and thermometer a little too crowded for my liking, although the overall display area is fairly large. If you are a data freak, all is well; there are plenty of buttons to push and things to read, but the kind of riding the 1125R encourages will demand more time spent reading the road as it warps out of shape at the onslaught of the bolide. The short stroke, seriously oversquare motor gets you where you need to be 'right now'. Paying attention and making the most of the excellent running gear feedback will keep you out of the bushes and on the blacktop.
Not once did I notice any unpleasant vibration. The motor gives just the right amount of audible and tactile feedback without any shaking or numbing of the hands, fingers or feet.
The fairing, including the lower panels which form the air ducts to the radiator, is unconventional in shape but does its job extremely well. Without a hint of head bobble or buffeting, there was nothing to distract from my speedy, yet unhurried progress down the road. The story has it that Erik Buell spent a lot of time with a large lump of modeling clay, a sharp knife and airflow modeling software to arrive at the final design. Initial impressions say that work paid off.
A half hour in the seat does not a comfort analysis make. In shape and to the touch, the saddle looks and feels like that on many another sport bike. Although firm, I climbed off thinking I could easily spend a 300-400 mile day in it. Perhaps one day, I will.
I'm not the type for snap financial decisions, but I was close as I've come in quite a while to telling Dave 'Oh, yeah !' when he asked me if I'd buy one. The bike I rode was flagged as a demo unit, but if I were in the market for a V-Twin based sportbike, I wouldn't hesitate long before going for the Buell. Three balance shafts in the motor make sure its mirrors work just fine. Not that it matters. Last I looked, there was nothing to see in them anyway...
For inquiries about the Buell XBR1125, call or visit Latus Motors Harley Davidson at 870 E. Berkeley Street, Gladstone OR 97027. Tel: 503-542-7576 / 800 446-2525.
Learn to ride safe. Latus Motors conducts Rider's Edge new and experienced rider motorcycle training courses during the season. For more information about these courses, call Bill Spencer, Rider's Edge Coordinator on 503 708-9251.