American SuperbikeAfter the initial motorcycle press launch, select journalist had mixed reviews regarding the styling the actual performance of the 2008 Buell 1125R motorcycle. Subsequently, up-and-coming but largely unknown Danny Eslick hops aboard a relatively stock 1125R and proceeds to start cleaning-up in the new AMA Pro Racing Daytona SportBike class.
My interest in the motorcycle was certainly peaked, as only rumors and racing controversy had composed my impressions of the sizzling new Buell to date.We wanted the complete story, as this seemed like a significant major milestone on the Buell roadmap that Erik Buell had been crafting for the last 25 years. Is the 2009 1125R the long awaited and eventual culmination or proof point of Buell’s crafty and sometime overly provocative innovations? Or is the 1125R just another solid Buell trying to find itself in a highly competitive field over-achievers?To get the scoop, we traveled to Wisconsin to extensively ride the 2009 1125R, meet with the design team, watch the motorcycle being manufactured, sit with Danny Eslick (and the entire AMA race team), and discuss the bike in detail with Erik Buell himself. With fuel-in-frame, a belt drive, purpose-built 72 degree V-twin, underbelly exhaust, dual-mounted radiator in side-pods, oversized fairing and rim-mounted single rotor brake, this is obviously not your typical superbike. Driven more by function than form, Buell’s racing results instigate a further look at the innovations that defined the motorcycle. First the fuel-in-frame concept was originally born in the late 1980s as a way to create space for a larger airbox, increase torsional frame stiffness, and position the fuel closer to the center of gravity. Over time this concept has been refined with new material types and manufacturing processes. The result is increased engine performance, improved handling, fewer parts, and greater fuel capacity.The 146-horsepower Helicon motor with 82 ft/lbs of torque was speced by Buell and built by BRP-Rotax; the liquid-cooled, big-bore, short-stroke, fast-revving engine is the heart of the 1125R. The 72-degree V-twin angle was selected to maintain a compact design, while opening up the V enough to allow for a straighter shot for the 61mm throttle bodies. Most notable here is the incredible linear torque band, which is best represented as a line between 5000 and 10,500 rpm, as opposed to your typical curve. The clear advantage we noticed was drivability in any gear, which had great advantages on both the street and track. The 1125R belt drive system is a few pounds lighter than a comparable chain and sprocket system. The lower unsprung weight improves throttle response and increases overall drive performance. Surprisingly, belts can last a lifetime with no maintenance or required adjustments, providing rocks or similar debris does not get caught up in the belt. The belt was also extremely smooth ride. One limitation may be the ability to change the final drive ratios, as the system is fixed.The under-slung exhaust can be traced back to Buell’s original VR project. Many Japanese OEMs have validated this design principle by following suit, and Buell has stayed true to design. Lowering this mass minimizes rotational inertia and lowers the center of gravity providing a motorcycle that is easier to transition from corner to corner. Riding the 1125R, especially through the chicane at Road America, brings this concept to life.Splitting the radiator allowed Buell to move the engine and rider forward in the frame for better weight distribution and increase cooling. The radiator pod housings act as side fairings, and have spring mounts that help minimize damage in the event of a crash–the pods are designed to absorb most of the damage and are easier and less expensive to replace than the frame or engine. This feature we decided not to test.One of the most visually apparent Buell innovations is the 375 mm single-sided ZTL-type front braking system. Yes, with just one stainless-steel floating rotor mounted on the outer rim of the front wheel, it is like nothing else you have ever seen. The rotor is grabbed from an inside out position by an 8-piston, 4-pad fixed caliper. The design reduces the number of workings and weight, while directly applying the brake pressure closest to the tire, as opposed to the conventional practice of running the brake pressures through the hub and spokes. Yet another innovative is the cush drive, which has been relocated from the rear wheel to the engine drive sprocket. The new positioning of the drive allows Buell to reduce the component size and weight. The results add to a lighter, more freely spinning drive train. Logic asks, "Why didn’t I think of that?" as this is simple way to get more of the power to the ground.Engineering types revel in Buell innovations while testers and racers put the 375-pound claimed dry weight of Buell 1125R to the test. AMA wins tell one story, and after two days on the bike, I concluded that the Buell performs impressively well. The bike is extraordinary to ride and is actually better in practice than off the spec sheet. This is a real sport-bike rider’s sport-bike. First, the riding position is extremely comfortable relative to other sport-bikes, yet still aggressive enough for track riding. The windscreen provides a welcomed shelter while traveling down front straight at Road America at over 155 mph. The stellar power delivery of the Helicon has improved drivability, crisper throttle response, and improved heat management. As a V-twin fan, this motor has my heart, as it is so easy to drive out of corners while providing top-end acceleration that just keeps pulling.Priced more in line with the Japanese than the Italians, and with fantastic performance and handling, the American Buell 1125R is worth a serious look. This bike is equally at home on the streets, comfortable enough for commuting, and track-oriented enough to win pro races. Thanks to Erik and company, America is squarely delivering on the world-class sport-bike promise.