Buell 1125CR - Road test review

If we bought motorbikes using our head alone, Buell would be out of business. Will the 1125CR help Buell onwards and upwards?

Click to read: Buell 1125CR owners reviews, Buell 1125CR specs and to see the Buell 1125CR image gallery.

I don’t quite understand Buell, infact I’m convinced no-one does. The bikes they produce are genuinely surprising and when I hear rumour of a new model, I have absolutely no idea whether it’s going to have the fuel in the mudguard, or if the engine’s going to be mounted on the pillion seat.

Buell are always striving to be radical, but - a bit like your mate who turns up to a fancy dress party looking like he’s just walked off the set of Star Wars – they always appear to try just that little bit too hard. And therefore you spend most of your evening trying to avoid them.

Buell’s first proper sportsbike was a great example of this; they ditched Harley-Davidson engines in favour of Rotax engines, they kept the fuel in the frame, went for one massive rim-mounted brake disc and traded chains for belt drive. And yet with all this off-the-wall thinking, they forgot to produce a superbike that’s a genuine contender for Ducati, Aprilia and KTM.

So here we have the 1125CR. Essentially it's a stripped down 1125R, no engine mounted on the pillion seat, no fuel in the front mudguard. CR stands for Café Racer and it’s Buell’s take on an classic design. Front on it has the same brutal, bouncer-like stance of Suzuki’s B-King, but side on it ceases to look intimidating. Infact - like the kid at school who wore bottle top glasses and never got picked to play football - I kind of felt sorry for it. The 1125CR’s lines don’t flow, and unlike café racers of old it looks neither savage nor suave. It better be good to ride.

Firing up the 1125CR, the 72-degree V-Twin lumps into life, slightly hesitant, it feels like a blunt hacksaw if, like me, you try and ride it the moment you fire it up. It doesn’t tolerate being ridden from cold. Sat on the bike, you immediately feel the reach to the bars, low and long, the clutch bites when the lever is nearly fully out, which is off-putting at first, especially when you go from nothing to dialling in that entire 1125CR lump, almost in one go.

Around town, the 1125CR is well-suited to the carving up traffic on the daily grind. The motor is strong, although fuelling at the bottom end feels slightly lean; the bike is a touch jerky when you’re trying to dial in precise and small amounts of low-end revs, but slipping the clutch softens up the slight harshness of the new fuel map.

Buell have changed the final drive of the 1125CR to 8% lower than the 1125R, so the already monstrously capable engine is now even more eager to churn its way through the gears. Although below 3,000rpm in the first two gears, the engine’s not happy, but once you clear past 3,000rpm there’s almost no stopping it. Around town, you’d think it’d be happy sitting in 2nd and 3rd all day but you do have to dance around the gearbox to get the best from it.

There were a couple of other niggles that became apparent after a 10 mile commute; the steering lock isn’t good enough. I had to do a bit of shuffling back and forward to help me slide through the grid-locked traffic down Embankment. The mirrors poke out just too far, and I know you could say I should be more careful threading my way through gaps, but despite my grips, I never clipped anyone but the thought is always in the back of your mind. The fact is, the mirrors are pretty much useless; everything behind you appears like it was sketched with crayons, by a 5 year-old. And lastly, the riding position puts too much weight on the wrists, not helped by the fact the clip-ons aren’t actually clip-ons at all, it’s a one-piece bar and therefore, not adjustable for reach. Their angle is too acute and – by using scientific guesstimate - they need to sit about 10 degrees further out. If Erik Buell had his way, humans would have evolved to suit his handlebar design, but as yet, we haven’t.

So in town, the 1125CR scores some good points, so I pointed it in the direction of Dorset and clicked up a 150-mile blast to Lyme Regis to see what it thought of the fast A-roads and cowpat coated country lanes.

Sat on the motorway, the first thing you notice about a bike is its natural cruising speed, the speed where the bike’s happy and you’re happy. It’s different for everyone, but for me, the 1125CR wanted to sit at 76mph. That’s quite boring really.

The engine’s on the first rung of its torque ladder at 4000rpm with plenty of steps to go before its peak at 8000rpm. The digital dash lets me know I’m getting 57mpg. I ramp up the pace to 90mph and it just doesn’t feel right, the wind deflects off the fly-screen straight at my visor, the miles per gallon plummet to 37 and the whole experience becomes slightly uncomfortable.

The 1125CR will sit at 85mph with a bit of compromise. A mile-muncher this is not, but if you’re happy to push on at a sensible speed, the only thing holding you back will be a numb arse after 60 miles.

What amazed me was the mpg the 1125cc motor returns. After 100 miles of motorway and fast A-road, the average mpg was 48. That’s a bit sensible for a Buell, isn’t it?

Just as I got to the B3165, a classic country challenge, the heavens opened and the mist descended. Never have I ridden so slowly as I tip-toed my way down to Lyme Regis, doing my best to make progress while keeping the eager motor at bay. Over the slightest bit of over-banding, broken tarmac or cow shit the rear wheel spun up, probably not the adrenaline producing experience Buell’s designers were thinking of when they penned this bike. I let a couple of psi out of the tyres to try and get a bit more confidence and feedback from the 1125R and, while a touch better, I felt about as confident as I did the first time I went ice-skating.

In all honestly, the weather I endured for the last 15 miles of my journey down was more suited to kayaking than motorcycling and I was just glad to get to a warm B&B and forget about analysing the bike until the following day.

I headed out early on Saturday to avoid the OAPs dawdling along great roads at 25mph and I was lucky with the weather, dry and sunny. In these conditions and free from the burden of a massive rucksack I could really tap into the 1125CR.

It’s not as easy to ride as some of its rivals, like the Triumph Street Triple or Aprilia Tuono, but it’s a rewarding bike to ride. On dry roads, you can make the most of that massive 375mm disc and 8-pot brake combo – the feedback is amazing, you can feel and judge the effect of every mm of pressure at the lever. Once you get the hang of the motor, you can really use it to its full and capable potential. It’s happy short shifting through the box as long as you’ve over 4000rpm, but you can wring it out throughout 2nd, 3rd and 4th and it just wants more. In faster bends it felt stable, but when I was getting on the gas early, the 1125CR let you know about it, with a slight head-shake. I had the same feeling from the 1125R and was assured that my 10-stone frame was a few curries short of the optimal weight for the standard setup.

If you want a bike for once a week back-lane blasts, the 1125CR will appeal. It has the ingredients of a hooligan tool and love to wheelie in the first 3 gears. Small ridges in the road become take-off points and on an empty tank, the front-wheel will surge skyward with alarming ferocity.

I’d change a couple of things on the standard 1125CR to make it a better bike for weekend blasts. Firstly fit a slightly taller screen to ease the wind-blast, ditch the Pirelli Diablo Corsa III tyres for something better suited to the torque-happy motor, like Dunlop’s Qualifier II, which I have no doubt would help the suspension keep the 1125CR firmly in-touch with the road. Finally, I’d fit some Stomp-Grip tank pads; the tank is very narrow and it’s hard work getting purchase on it when you’re flicking left to right down a perfect country road.

The 1125CR is packed with character, the heart of which is its fantastic motor, it's a huge step on for Buell when you compare it to the older Harley-engined models. All the time I was riding the Buell, its minor flaws meant I had to think about my riding to get the best from the bike. It’s not often you step off a bike knackered, wind-blasted but chomping at the bit to get out there again and the 1125CR is one of those bikes.

I still don't understand this bike or quite where Buell are going with their range in general, but that's no bad thing. You wouldn’t buy this bike using your head and pure-logic, but save that for when you’re buying something soulless, like a washing machine..