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Buell 1125R Test Ride

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The ambient air temperature read 87° as I pressed the starter switch on the blue-on-white Buell 1125R, and prepared myself for the slight possibility of fun.

I say “slight possibility”, because the restrictions that Biggs Harley-Davidson in San Marcos, CA had set on the test ride were stacked against any serious test of the motorcycle’s capability.  First, I was restricted to riding a pre-defined route that would prevent any serious test of the bike’s handling.  Second, I was required to ride behind an accompanying Biggs employee, who would be riding a…wait for it…Street Glide.  Now the Street Glide is a beautiful motorcycle, but any casual listing of it’s outstanding characteristics would not include “Sharp, high-speed handling”.

Our Exciting Test Ride Route

Our Exciting Test Ride Route

I was told, however, that I was lucky to be allowed to take a test ride at all, because “the insurance company classifies them as ‘superbikes’, we we were lucky to allow anyone to take a test ride.”

And you can believe as much of that as you please.

Starting up the 1125R rewards you with a decidedly un-Harley-like, yet recognizably V-Twin rumble.  It’s a fairly unique sound, and after thinking about it for a while, I decided that it sounds sort of like a WWII aircraft engine.

The first few minutes I spent in the parking lot, doing a couple of figure-8s, and playing with the low-speed handling of the bike.  For someone like me, who rides at low speed using the techniques from the “Ride Like a Pro” series of DVDs, the 1125R is resistant to the trail-braking techniques.  That’s because the rear brake is essentially useless.  There is no feel whatever, and even a hard stomp on the brake pedal rewards you with…nothing.

This was a recurring feature of the ride, since I tend to use my rear brake a fair amount, and I had to adapt my riding style to essentially ignoring the rear brake and concentrate on two-finger front-braking.  I use my rear brake and engine braking  to scrub off speed when approaching corners, and the 1125R doesn’t reward that technique at all, though the engine-braking is quite acceptable.

Conversely, the front brakes worked very well.  They were grabby, and had plenty of feel.  And the bike didn’t stand up straight under light front-braking.

Getting onto the street, another adjustment I had to make was the use of the clutch.  It takes hardly any squeeze at all on the clutch lever for it to fully engage, and the engagement and disengagement is fairly abrupt, due to the small amount of required travel.  By the end of the ride, I had adapted to it, but it took a bit for me to figure out how to shift smoothly, and not apply to much RPM before the clutch engaged.

Ergonomics are described by Buell as “athletic”.  I’d describe them as fairly comfortable in sportbike terms.  They’re certainly more relaxed than I expected, and you can ride the 1125r without leaning on your wrists, and laying on the tank.  You are crouched forward, and pegs are high, but not so far forward, and not so high that it becomes quickly uncomfortable.  It may be a racing bike, but it is a bike you can ride.

Even at very low speeds, the exceptional balance of the 1125R never gives you the feeling that you’re about to fall over.On the street, the broad torque curve is forgiving, and the engine responds promptly in any gear.  Unlike the long-stroke V-Twins on most cruisers, the high-revving short-stroke Rotax engine rewards throttle inputs with prompt obedience,  the power is linear, and willing to surge higher at the flick of a wrist.  While lofting the front wheel on the 1125R could be done with ridiculous ease, the power is easily tameable.  It doesn’t get out of control, and doesn’t surprise you.  It merely does what you ask, when you ask.

I’ve read several reviews of this bike, and many of them have mentioned buzzing and vibration at certain RPMs.  As far as I could tell, it had typical V-Twin character, with buzzing and vibrations everywhere.  I expected that, and I don’t really understand why anyone would complain about it.  You can drop in as many counter-balancers as you want, but no V-Twin with ever be electric-smooth.  That’s just not the character of the engine type.  As far as I could tell, the Rotax engine really showed off a lot of the character that makes the V-Twin engine so lovable.

Having said that, it’s not a smooth bike.  The vibrations do make the rear-view mirrors essentially useless at speed. But, if a glass-smooth engine and perfectly clear rear-view mirrors are your deal, then a V-Twin bike probably isn’t for you.

Doesn’t make you a bad person.

2009 Buell 1125R

2009 Buell 1125R

As we entered the I-15 from Escondido, I could see my minder from Biggs drop his elbow as he twisted the throttle for all his Street Glide was worth.  With a very slight twist of the throttle, the 1125R stayed right in formation with him.  I did, however, find the mild acceleration amusing.

The 1125R is not only very stable at highway speeds, the way the fairing directs the airflow was perfect for my 5″10″ frame.  There was no buffeting at all, just a nice stream of clean air at the top of my chest and shoulders.  Dropping into a slight tuck made even that go away.  The fairing design on the Buell is quite effective, which would make highway trips far less fatiguing.

While the route we traveled contained no twisties, while we came back on the Old Highway 395, I did do a little playing with the bike’s response to body position.  Putting weight on a footpeg, leaning your upper body, even looking and shifting a butt cheek puts the 1125R in the mood to lean.  there were a couple of turns on our route, and when going through them, the 1125R was composed, and tracked like it was on rails.  It effortlessly took a line inside that of the Biggs minder and his Street Glide, and stayed on that line like it was on rails.  I had wondered whether the relatively steep rake and short trail would make the Buell twitchy in corners, and as far as I can tell from my limited experience, it doesn’t.

The only major drawback to the 1125R was the leaden ineffectiveness of the rear brakes.In fact, it’s very stable at all speeds, and in all conditions–admittedly limited ones–I subjected it to.  Even at very low speeds, the exceptional balance of the 1125R never gives you the feeling that you’re about to fall over.  You can crawl this bike along in city traffic at walking speeds, and never take your feet off the pegs.  You don’t usually think of sportbikes as particularly forgiving or confidence inspiring, but the Buell 1125R is exactly that.  That, combined with the more forgiving ergonomics, make it a joy to ride.

Heat management on the Buell 1125R can be described with one word: Nonexistent.  That bothers some people.  Meh.  I live in the desert.  Everything’s hot.  So, the 1125R has no lower fairing to generate the nasty heat away from you.  Man up and deal with it.

The only major drawback to the 1125R was the leaden ineffectiveness of the rear brakes.  I didn’t like that at all.  As far as other negatives goes, I did notice that the gear shift selector read “Gear: –” for the entire ride.  And, while the analog Tachometer dominates the dashboard display, you tend to have to hunt for the digital speedometer.  On a bike that can cause you to travel at license-losing speeds at the drop of the hat, a more prominent speedometer might be helpful.  Finally, the switchgear on the handlebars look amateurish and clunky, and sport annoyingly bright colors.  They look out of place on an otherwise well-crafted bike.

On the plus side, this is a genuinely fun and–in sportbike terms–comfortable bike to ride.  It’s definitely not a beginner’s bike by any stretch of the imagination, but for an experienced rider, the Buell 1125R is versatile enough to use as a daily commuter at nice, sedate speeds, and a weekend hooligan bike for more…ahem…energetic riding.

I like it a lot.

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