Those of you who obsessively pore through all texts motorcycle-related (as I do) probably have a basic impression of Buell motorcycles even if you've never ridden one. Almost every Buell review praises these innovative American-built sportbikes for their light, precise handling, their ability to carry serious corner speed, and the surprising feeling of light weight (they're not really that light, comparatively) - all features which were obvious to me my first time riding Buell's most recent sportbike, the XB12R Firebolt.
Of course, the rest of the review inevitably mellows its tone when it comes time to describe Buell's Harley Sportster-derived V-Twin (in either its 1203cc or 984cc variants). The low-revving, air-cooled V-Twin motors are actually quite fun in their own way, with copious amounts of torque available right off idle and an interesting low-frequency vibration that adds character without being too irritating. Unfortunately, overall acceleration just isn't in the same class as other modern sportbikes, most of which use dual-overhead-cam, liquid-cooled powerplants that rev higher, produce more power, and generally whomp the Buell in terms of straight-line acceleration.
Buell has finally responded to the long-standing suggestion "amazing chassis, but would be even better with a stronger motor." For 2008, Buell has a new top of the line sportbike, the 1125R, which uses an 1125cc liquid-cooled, DOHC V-Twin mill developed in conjunction with Austrian engine-design specialists BRP-Rotax (ironically, Rotax also developed and built the Aprilia mill).The 1125R features a compact, 72-degree Vee angle, while Aprilia uses a 60-degree angle and Ducati sticks to its traditional 90-degree design). The new Buell produces a claimed 146 hp @ 9800 rpm and has a claimed torque output of 82 ft-lbs @ 8000 rpm. The oversquare dimensions (103mm bore x 67.5mm stroke) allow the 1125R to carry power all the way to its 10,500-rpm redline (according to Buell) - quite a change from the undersquare XB12R (88.9mm bore x 96.82mm stroke) and its 103 hp @ 6800 rpm!
Buell's latest sportbike will be jumping in to a market segment that is currently the exclusive province of Italian brands.
The Ducati 1098 is the latest descendant of the original 916, one of the first modern V-Twin superbikes. Ducati's younger competitor, Aprilia, has continually improved its RSV1000R since its release, and it proved to be a valid competitor for the Ducati 999, on the showroom floor if not at the racetrack (Aprilia hasn't come close to approaching Ducati's success in superbike racing). Unfortunately for Aprilia, the new 1098 has one-upped the Aprilia in terms of both power and light weight. Aprilia is currently hard at work on a 1000cc V-Four literbike that will be revealed before the year is out. Both bikes, however, could be seen as potential competitors, or at least performance benchmarks, for any liter-plus V-Twin superbike.
A few years ago, there were significantly more sporty V-Twins on the market. Honda had its RC51 superbike, which was designed to win the World Superbike Championship and compete with the Ducati and Aprilia for sales, but it got eclipsed by the latest CBR1000RR as Honda’s top sportbike. And Suzuki's entry into the same market, the TL1000R, was intended as a Ducati competitor but had an unsuccessful and brief foray in AMA Superbike competition.
With both of the above bikes now out of production, we are left only with the Suzuki SV1000S and possibly KTM's Super Duke 990, neither of which really fit into the same segment as the new Buell. The SV is significantly heavier and less powerful, as is the streetfighter-styled Super Duke (in fact, if Buell follows up the 1125R with a streetfighter version along the lines of their XB-S Lightning range, it will leave KTM feeling the heat for sure). This leaves the Ducati and the Aprilia as the 1125R's logical competition, as all three bikes feature racebike styling, light weight, and large-displacement, liquid-cooled V-Twins revving to around 10k rpm and producing in excess of 140 hp.
The new Buell 1125R gives another unique option to those looking for a big-displacement V-Twin sportbike, and its unusual design will certainly catch any consumer's eye. Priced at $11,995 in the U.S., the 1125R has the advantage of coming in significantly below the price of its most direct rivals - the Ducati 1098's MSRP is $14,995, while the Aprilia comes in just under $1k cheaper at $13,999 (still $2k more than the Buell).
Looking at the manufacturer’s claimed horsepower figures, the 1125R is just slightly more powerful than the RSV1000R, with 146 peak horsepower versus the Aprilia's 143 - somewhat behind the 1098, which produces an impressive 160 horsepower at its peak (all numbers listed are from factory specs, presumably at the crankshaft rather than the rear-wheel data we obtain when running a bike on a dyno). We expect the 1125R to crank out 130 rear-wheel horsepower.
The Buell has the advantage of being the lightest bike in the class (again going by manufacturer's claims), coming in at just 375 lbs dry, slightly undercutting the 381 lbs of the 1098. The RSV1000R is the heavyweight of the group, with 417 lbs to be tossed into the corners. In power-to-weight ratio, then, the Buell is somewhat behind the Ducati, although not by a huge margin, and it comes out well ahead of the heavier, slightly less powerful Aprilia. If Buell's claims are accurate, then we expect the production 1125R to offer acceleration nearly equal to that of the 1098, for $3k less.
In terms of torque, the Buell falls midway between the Aprilia and the Ducati - the 1125R's claimed peak torque of 82 ft-lbs @ 8000 rpm compares favorably to the RSV1000R's 74.5 ft-lbs @ 8000rpm, while being slightly down on the 1098's claimed 90.4 ft-lbs @ 8000 rpm. It is interesting to note that despite their vastly different designs, all three V-Twin motors produce peak torque at exactly the same point on the tach.
Buell's press material claims that the 1125R is designed "for optimal power delivery across the entire rev range." This is probably why the Buell/Rotax design team chose to use a 67.5mm stroke (identical to that of the Aprilia and almost 3mm longer than the Ducati's 64.7mm), rather than using a shorter stroke to allow higher revs and more peak horsepower - the longer stroke will give more low-end and mid-range grunt to the new motor. A hydraulic vacuum-assist clutch similar to that in the Aprilia provides a fairly light clutch pull with a measure of back-torque limitation for “slipper clutch” action during high-rpm downshifts.
Of course, the 1125R is unique in its class by virtue of its distinctive Buell chassis design. Like previous Buell sportbikes, the 1125R uses a radical 21-degree rake with a minimal 84mm of trail. In comparison, the Ducati uses a more conventional 24.5-degree rake and 98mm of trail, while the Aprilia is slightly more conservative at 25 degrees and 102mm of trail. Buell claims the new bike carries 54% of its weight on the front wheel.
The big difference between the chassis geometry of the 1125R and its predecessor, the XB12R, is the wheelbase.
The XB series uses an ultra-short 52-inch wheelbase, while the 1125R was stretched to a more conventional 54.6 inches. Despite the longer wheelbase, we expect Buell's new superbike to handle much like the XB-series bikes (the XB12Ss “Lightning Long” model uses a 54-inch wheelbase and a more relaxed 22-degree rake and 119mm trail, and it is nearly as nimble as its more aggressive brethren), which is definitely a good thing.
The use of this radical chassis geometry is a big part of what gives Buell sportbikes their unique and impressive handling characteristics, and despite its defiance of convention, it has always worked well for the American company. However, never before has Buell produced a sportbike with anywhere near this level of horsepower, and it will be interesting to see if the massively increased acceleration works in concert with or against the Buell's chassis layout.
How many sales will the latest Buell steal from its Italian competitors? Despite the fact that the three bikes discussed here will probably be lined up against each other in magazine shootouts worldwide, the Buell is a distinctly different motorcycle than either of its competitors. Rather than stealing sales from them, it may target a different market entirely.
The Ducati 1098 is targeted at the high-end consumer looking for something more exclusive than a Japanese-made inline-four, and that special something that commonly sets high-end Italian machinery (of both the two- and four-wheeled variety) apart from the pack is a big part of the Ducati’s appeal, as is the company’s illustrious racing history. Aprilia’s RSV1000R is also targeted at the higher-end market, and seems to have been designed with a firm crosshairs aligned on the Ducati 999’s heart.
Buell, on the other hand, produces American-made motorcycles targeted primarily at the American market, where some people place as much value on a “Made in the USA” badge as others would on one that read “Made in Italy” - albeit for entirely different reasons. Besides the cachet of being American-made, the idea of a V-Twin powered sportbike produced by a Harley-Davidson subsidiary will appeal to many buyers who would never even consider purchasing a Japanese four-cylinder.
Still others will be snared by the Buell’s distinctive design, as there is probably no bike on the market that can satisfy the need to be different better than a Buell, with its rim-mounted brake disc, massive frame spars, and uniquely-styled bodywork. The 1125R’s $11,995 price tag even allows those who are shopping for a Japanese literbike to consider it as an option – most current 1000cc four-cylinders are priced between $11k and $11.5k, just marginally less than the new Buell.
(Also in the 1125R’s favor for street riders are its tallish windscreen and reasonably roomy ergonomics, with its clip-ons mounted nearly level with the upper triple-clamp and adjustable foot controls. We recently sat on one and had no problem imagining draining the considerable 5.6-gallon fuel tank in one sitting. Its wiring harness is even pre-wired for accessory heated grips! –Ed.)
We’ll have to wait and see if Buell delivers everything it’s promising with the 1125R, but this is definitely Buell’s biggest move yet. You’re still not going to see a Buell at every small bike night or parked in every turnout at your local canyon, but for the first time the little American company with the radical ideas has produced a sportbike that can compete with the more traditional crowd without compromise – not just in terms of handling, but also in terms of horsepower.
Offering an impressive performance level for a reasonable price, as well as appealing to the rider who wants to stand out from the crowd, we expect that the 1125R will be catching a lot of attention from buyers when it hits Buell dealerships this fall.
(Editor’s Note: We’ll get our first crack at this exciting new design when we thrash it at the fabulous Laguna Seca racetrack and on the twisties in Monterey later this month. Stay tuned also for an interview with the brains and the will behind the 1125R, the man himself, Erik Buell.)