2009 Buell 1125R Daytona SportBike Review

2009 Buell 1125R Daytona SportBike Review

story by Kevin Duke, Photograph by Brian J. Nelson, Created Jul. 27, 2009
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Buell recently stole headlines with the announcement of a specially modified 1125R joining AMA Pro Racingís American Superbike class. The 1125RR is a purpose-built racebike (not legal for the street), and its introduction has created waves in the Superbike paddock for the bikeís mid-year arrival and for not meeting the usual homologation requirements.

But the armchair crew chiefs arenít taking into account that the RR racebike isnít much changed from the modestly powerful 121-horse R streetbike, itself deemed legal for AMA Proís Daytona SportBike class racing against four-cylinder 600s.

And thatís where current events converge with this story, as we recently had the opportunity to sample a race-prepped Buell 1125R in the same configuration as used by Danny Eslick to win five Daytona SportBike races thus far this season. The main difference between ĎSlickís Rossmeyer GEICO Powersports RMR bike and the 1125RR is with the engine internals.

We hitch a ride on a bike that has won five AMA Pro Daytona SportBike races this season.

Now, some of you may take issue with Daytona Motorsports Groupís rulebook that allows an 1125cc bike to race against 599cc Japanese four-cylinder bikes, and this is indeed a controversial decision. Hereís some comparative specs to ponder.

  Buell 1125R Yamaha YZF-R6
MSRP $12,499 $9,990
HP (stock) 121.1 hp at 9700 rpm 100.0 at 13,400 rpm
Torque (stock) 68.7 ft-lbs at 7800 rpm 41.0 ft-lbs at 10,900 rpm
Wet weight (stock) 431 lbs 414 lbs
Min. weight (race) 380 lbs 360 lbs
Complete DSB racer $25,000 (w/Buell parts) $30,000 (from Graves Motorsports)

In stock configuration, the Buellís engine is 88% larger than a 600, so itís no surprise to see it produce bigger power numbers, and this is especially evident in its 40% stronger torque peak. To address this disparity, DMG has given the 1125R a 20-lb weight handicap. Itís easy to see why some might quibble with DMGís rules, but the effect on track has been one of relative parity. Eslickís wins at some tracks have been counter-weighted by mediocre finishes at other types of track layouts. DMGís goal was to provide close competition, and in that they have succeeded.

The wide nose fairing of the RMR 1125R provides more wind protection than typical racebikes.
This picture reveals the extended swingarm that comes as part of Buellís chain-drive conversion kit.

Buell founder and leader, Erik Buell, is an avid racing enthusiast, and in the 1125R he finally has a potent race-worthy machine. Entering the Daytona SportBike class was the first step, followed by the recent announcement of the hot-rodded version called the 1125RR which will be entered in the American Superbike class for the remainder of the season with rider Taylor Knapp. Knapp raced to 12th and 10th places during the recent Superbike races at Mid-Ohio.

Although the 1125R was developed for street riding, itís also quite capable on the track, as we found out in our Oddball Literbike Shootout. While its 72-degree V-Twin motor wonít run with a Ducati 1098/1198, its robust spread of power makes it easy to maximize acceleration. A stiff aluminum-beam chassis ably handles racetrack-level loads.

The 1125Rís transformation to Daytona SportBike racer is actually quite mild except for one major item. The streetbike uses a belt to drive the rear wheel, which is a clean and efficient power-transfer system, but this presents problems on the track by complicating gearing changes required to suit each track. Buell has met this challenge by providing a chain-conversion kit swingarm. Itís pricey ($1,779), but it includes quick-change equipment for the wheel, footpegs, brackets and billet swingarm ends with a massive 2.5 inches of adjustment range to juggle the bikeís wheelbase.

On the other end of the complicated scale are minimal changes to the engine. The parts arenít cheap but they are few: a high-perf stainless-steel exhaust ($1,799) and programmable ECU ($775). The former seems expensive, but the latter is reasonably priced considering a rider can tweak it to adjust air bleed per rpm for dialing in the amount compression braking. These two additions are all it takes to coax out competitive power.

Buell XB12R On Track

Buell Motorcycles had its entire 2009 model-year lineup on hand at Road America for journalists to sample. Having never ridden the XB12R on a racetrack, I decided to see how it performed.

Powered by a thoroughly massaged Harley-Davidson Sportster engine, there are a lot of sportbike aficionados who donít give the XB line much respect. While itís true that 90 or so horses at the back wheel wonít grab headlines these days, thereís ample torque on tap to tractor its way out of corners without much regard for which of the five gears in the transmission are used.

The air-cooled XB12R may run out of steam at a high-speed circuit like Road America, but thereís no denying the bikeís capabilities in the corners.

Still, with two-valve cylinder heads and a long-stroke design, the hot-rodded Harley motor feels a little breathless on a high-speed circuit such as Road America. Maximum thrust is gained by keeping the big shaking lump inside a relatively short powerband. A clunky gearbox that doesnít like clutchless upshifts is an impediment to clipping tenths of a second off your lap times.

But where the XB excels beyond expectations is in the corners. Steering is remarkably precise, more than you might imagine, and mid-corner stability is greater than the bikeís steep rake and short wheelbase might indicate. Obedient cornering skills are the bikeís best asset, and thereís plenty of ground clearance to exploit the grip from the Pirelli Diablo Corsa 3 tires. Oddly, while the rear tire got hot, the front tire only got warm at RA.

A new addition to the 2009 model-year XBs is an 8-piston front brake caliper that replaces the former 6-piston clamper. It rewards with excellent power that is a significant upgrade over the previously used caliper.

As it turns out, my time aboard the XB12R was just a prelude to me joining the AMA Pro Racing schedule at Road America a few days later. I was offered a ride on the XB12R of the James Gang/Hoban Brothers Racing team to contest  the AMA Pro SunTrust Moto-GT race in the Moto-GT2 class. Although a little out of my league, it was a Godfather-ish offer I couldnít refuse.

Duke leads his eventual race teammate, Sport Riderís Troy Siahaan, around Road America in preparation for their Moto-GT race a few days later.

Check back in a few weeks to find out how an old and crusty motojournalist fared racing against riders who actually pound out laps for a living. I promise there will be some measure of entertainment value!

Buell offers three directions to go in terms of suspension. The Showa fork can be fitted with 25mm race-kit internals, said to be quite effective, or can be replaced by Showaís Big Piston Fork ($1,950). A matching Showa race shock lists for $1,000. However, the 1125R we rode was outfitted with top-shelf Ohlins equipment front and rear, the same as used by Eslick and Richie Morris Racing teammate Michael Barnes.

Race bodywork includes a full fairing rather than the stocker's abbreviated unit. We think it nicely disguises the protuberances of the bike's side-mounted radiators.The myriad adjustments available in a quality suspension gives the ability to set up the bike for a variety of track conditions, but thereís more to achieving an optimum configuration. The 1125R has a very steep 21-degree rake which contributes to its agility on the street, but high-speed racing requires elevated levels of stability. So, along with the lengthened wheelbase from the kit swingarm, Buell sells steering head inserts ($233) that extend the rake 0.5 or 1.0 degree; Eslick uses the 0.5-degree set.

The 1125R racebike differs from the streetbike visually by the addition of a full fairing for better aerodynamics and to facilitate the necessary inclusion of a catch pan. The fairing also has the side benefit of improving the appearance of the 1125R, smoothing over the engine area for a cleaner look.

Ride It!

There sitting in the Road America pits is a race-prepped Buell 1125R painted up in the Rossmeyer GEICO Powersports RMR livery as ridden by Eslick and Barnes. Former factory Honda crew chief David McGrath is blipping the bikeís throttle to warm the engine prior to my short test session, barking out a raspy and intimidating cacophony. I feel inadequate.

However, the 1125R racer proves to be a surprisingly rideable racebike, as itís endowed with the same rider-friendly attributes as the stock 1125.

Torque, as youíd suspect, is plentiful, catapulting the 1125R quickly through first gear despite tall racetrack gearing. Very quickly it demands an upshift, and this is accomplished posthaste via quick-shifter electronics through a race-pattern (1 up, 5 down) gearbox. The $279 shifter kit is worth every penny on the racetrack.

The stock 1125R is competent around a racetrack, but the modified racebike is much more capable.

The Buell/RMR bike we sampled at Road America had the plus-1.0-degree steering-head insert, which should slow the 1125ís steering responses, as should the longer wheelbase from the kit swingarm. But it instead responds with alacrity. Credit goes to a lighter weight (though more than the 380-lb class minimum) than the streetbike and the addition of feathery magnesium wheels that knock off 1.8 lbs from the front wheel ($954) and 3.0 lbs from the rear ($1,011) compared to the stock cast-aluminum wheels.

The RMR crew has done significant juggling of ride heights during development to alter steering geometry for the optimum setup. Like all racebikes, the RMR 1125R is set up stiffer than stock, as the springs inside the Ohlins dampers help keep chassis pitch to a minimum. The result is corner entries that can be taken very quickly and are accompanied by confidence-inspiring stability mid-corner, aided by a $495 Ohlins steering damper.

Even though the engine is totally stock except for the kit ECU and exhaust, the linear and broad torque curve pulls like a demon out of the corners, even if a gear too high. The way in which the 1125cc engine produces power is exemplary, providing smooth response from closed throttle positions. Strong though the Helicon motor is, with 140-plus horsepower at the wheel, thereís no way it can run with something like the Ducati 1198. However, to a mid-pack-placed racer, this grunty motor is a walloping advantage over a peaky four-cylinder 600. An excessive amount of vibration felt on the right-side footpeg is a slight distraction.

The faster itís ridden, the better the RMR Buell responds.There are four hard braking zones at Road America, and these really put Buellís ZTL braking system to test. The stock 375mm perimeter-mounted rotor is replaced with a 1mm thicker disc (to 6mm) to better handle the heat generated on a racetrack. Its cost is just $170, but youíll need $241 of hardware to mount it. The massive 8-piston caliper is beefed up with track-specific brake pads ($368), and a race-duty Nissin master cylinder ($715) supplies excellent feel at the lever. 

Corner entries are aided by the Helicon engineís built-in back-torque-limiting system based on the amount of vacuum generated though the motor. This functions like a mechanical slipper clutch, although it isnít quite as effective. That said, Eslick doesnít race with a slipper clutch, as his back-it-in style seems to suit the bike. Stiffer clutch springs are the only alteration from stock.

Even just a few laps on the RMR Buell 1125R were enough to learn that this Buell-supported effort is a highly capable yet easy to ride race machine. It easily handled my timid efforts to go fast, and it continued to feel better the harder I pushed it.

Just as impressive, and perhaps even more so, is Buellís expanded commitment to racing. The Little Company That Could has done the necessary homework to enable any racer to bolt on about $13,000 of parts to create a highly competitive Daytona SportBike, and you can one-stop-shop them at your local Buell dealer via the companyís race department. Buell also offers a nice pot of contingency money for its racers.

And all signs point to further race support from Buell in the future. An astute racer such as Erik Buell didnít hire a super-wrench like David McGrath just because heís a nice guy. We suspect McGrath will spearhead a more elaborate racing program, and the newly released 1125RR superbike is just the tip of the iceberg. Buell has opened up a dedicated race shop down the street from the companyís headquarters for McGrath to work his tuning magic, and itís reasonable to expect the operation will expand.

The addition of several Buell-supplied race components transforms the 1125R into a winning combination. We interviewed Mr. Buell back in 2007 and asked him about his racing intentions for the 1125R and his future projects. ďIt all has to be fundamentally spun into the business package,Ē he said shortly after the launch of the 1125R. ďMaybe one of these days that will happen. When we were talking to Jeremy (McWilliams) and some of the other test riders, I sat down with him and looked him in the eyes and said, ĎOkay, Jeremy, if some magic happens and we go World Superbike, what do we need?í And he said, ĎNothing but power, Erik.í I said, ĎOkay, thatís what I wanted to hear.íĒ

Of greater importance to street riders, Buellís bolstered race efforts may also be accompanied by a larger, more powerful and more capable production motorcycle. Think about it: Buell is going Superbike racing with an 1125cc engine when V-Twins are allowed 1200cc. It would seem foolish for Buell not to produce a 1200RR, providing a stouter base to take on the Superbike heavyweights.

Make a return visit here about this time next year to see if our prediction for Buellís 2011 model announcements include a 1200cc superbike contender.

Related Reading
2010 Buell 1125RR introduced
Buell 1125RR in AMA American Superbike
2008 Oddball Literbikes Comparison: Benelli Tornado Tre 1130 vs. Buell 1125R vs. Ducati 1098S
First Ride: 2008 Buell 1125R
Erik Buell Interview
Kevin Duke to race MOTO-GT
Buell Motorcycle History
Graves Motorsportsí race section

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