Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 2nd December 2008

There’s no denying that new motor transforms the whole feel of the Buell experience.

Buell are on their way. The new 1125cc, liquid-cooled engine is set to give their range a much-needed leap forward into the 21st century, with the 2009 1125 Café Racer a serious contender in the big Roadster class.

Words; Alastair Walker
Pics; Double Red/Buell UK

A few years ago Buell seemed to be heading down a blind alley. The bikes had always been renowned for their compact, highly flickable chassis, but that old-fashioned, low tech, pushrod engine, with roots that could be traced back to the Sportster of 1968, let the bikes down. It was slow, vibrated excessively and required the services of its impeller type cooling fan at almost every junction.

The crux of the problem was that the Buell brand was being marketed as the sporty arm of H-D, but the reality was that a sweet-handling and compact twin, could be outperformed by modest 600cc commuters and all-rounders from most of its rivals, never mind the big stuff.

Thankfully, the new Rotax-derived, 1125cc, 72 degree V-Twin motor has the kind of performance which would impress any self-respecting 21st century rider. There’s a claimed 146bhp lurking inside those cases, which puts the Buell way ahead of Roadster class rivals like the Aprilia Tuono, Triumph Speed Triple or Moto Guzzi Griso for example. The Buell even makes fractionally more torque than Triumph’s big triple, at 111Nms, compared to 105Nms for the 1050.

The Rotax twin is that bit different, in that it uses both a cam chain and cam gear drive, with its inlet valve overhead camshaft driven by the chain, whilst cut gears drive the exhaust valve camshaft. It’s an unusual arrangement for sure, and I think Rotax should have chosen all gear-driven cams, especially now that Honda have chains inside their VFR800. It would have given Buell a `reliability’ edge perhaps, at least in terms of marketing.

There’s no denying that new motor transforms the whole feel of the Buell experience. As soon as you fire up the motor and let its fast idle settle, you notice a different tone; more aggressive, staccato and potent than any of the old generation Buells. The American factory have also been busily working with Rotax, to smooth out early 1125R motor fuelling glitches and once warm, the 1125CR accelerates with a smooth, torquey lunge towards the horizon. There’s none of the old `on/off’ hesitancy that Buells used to always have at low rpm, it just goes. Like the clappers.

The new Café Racer is one fast motorcycle. The thing simply punches its way out of corners, from hairpins to fast sweepers, with a real beefy, forceful rush of low down poke. The CR variant has lower gearing than the R version, and this makes a big difference to the bike’s real world ability. Put simply, the CR forgives gear-selection errors on the rider’s part by pulling incredibly well in the 2000-4000rpm range, so you rarely feel stuck in the wrong gear. Hairpins at the test circuit in Germany could be taken in 3rd gear, no problem. There’s useful power everywhere in the range.

Despite its grunty acceleration and boasting gadgets like a lap timer inside its electronic dashboard, plus adjustable footpegs and control levers, this isn’t a pure track bike. The `Ace bars’ are a nice optional extra for anyone who craves the Café Racer look, but the 1125CR still leaves the rider feeling a tad perched on top of it. By contrast, aboard something like a GSXR1000 I feel truly tucked into the machine, hooked within its video game blur of speed and power, but the 1125CR lacks that sheer sport bike intensity.

My feeling is you might track day this bike once, just to prove to your mates that Buell have really changed and made a genuinely quick bike. It’s powerful for sure, but it doesn‘t feel as naturally at home on a race circuit as some bikes do.

Smooth Mover

The new generation, 1125 series Buell still features oil in the swingarm ( lengthened slightly over the 1125R version by the way ), fuel in the frame rails and an underslung exhaust. The bike feels very light, and at 375lbs dry, it is a skinny supermodel compared to many other 1000cc class twins, plus Buell’s mass-centralisation design concept means that weight is carried low. Paddling the bike around for photos on tip-toe, was easy, even for a short-legged bloke like me.

There is one key difference from Buells of old, which is that the rear monoshock is now mounted behind the engine, joined to the swingarm without any linkage, rather than set lengthways beneath the motor. Both the monoshock and the 47mm, USD forks are Showa, and give a firm ride overall, with plenty of adjustment at both ends for riders who want to play all day at the track.

The factory set-up proved excellent for the tight and twisty Spreeewaldring track just outside Berlin, except for one slow right-hander, where the 1125CR kept trying to shake its head a little bit as I tipped it in, then sat up to brake. I swapped to a different bike, but it felt the same. The 1125CR feels a very responsive, precise steering machine overall, so I guess it was down to my slightly ragged riding, rather than any chassis weakness.

One thing you soon learn not to do on any Buell is trail that massive, rim-mounted front disc brake into corners, unless you want to stand the bike straight up immediately. The new 1125CR has an 8-piston caliper on the front brake, which offered outstanding stopping power and a good level of fine control. I still think a few inexperienced riders could be caught out by the sudden force of the brake on a wet road, or in an emergency, but on a dry track, it is very effective at scrubbing off speed.

There’s always debate about having one disc on a `big’ 1100cc class motorcycle, but my feeling is that the 1125CR is light enough to get away with having one huge disc, rather than two smaller stoppers, especially in everyday usage.

So, what did I learn from my track sessions on the new 1125 Café Racer? Well, it’s actually more of a sporty all-rounder than a kind of stripped-down racer. The gutsy, stump-pulling engine and adroit chassis make it a precise, lively and exciting bike to ride around the racetrack, but in truth, it’s a much better proposition as a road bike, especially with the higher `bars option.

Bottom line? On the track the 1125CR is impressive, but on the open road, the Buell is riotously great. It is exactly the same `Jekyll and Hyde’ personality that the big Triumph 1050 triple delivers. That mix of rider comfort, backed up with near sports bike grunt, is where the Buell excels.

Jack of all Roads

Buell have created the 1125 Café Racer variant by dropping the half fairing from the R version, adding a few millimetres to the wheelbase by fitting a longer swingarm and lowered the gearing. But those few tweaks, alongside improvements to the fuelling have transformed the bike into a true contender.

On the open road, the effortless torque of that Rotax engine is a joy to use. See a gap where an overtake looks like it’s on? Just twist the throttle in any of the six gears and the bike’s away, and past traffic, in a matter of seconds. The gear change itself is the best on any Buell I have encountered and a million miles away from the notchy, clunky `box that the bikes seemed to have as recently as three years ago. A pulley keeps the final belt drive under tension as well, so throttle response and rapid gear changes are translated into instant urge seamlessly.

With the flatter, higher handlebars fitted, the 1125CR has a stance similar to an Aprilia Tuono, or perhaps the Morini 1200 Sport. You’re canted forward, braced against the wind and the fact that there’s a tiny nose fairing, that stops very little oncoming breeze, isn’t an issue until you hit 90mph. By then, you’ll be wishing the wobbly mirrors gave a clear view of what State snooper agency lies behind you. But I reckon more bikers in the UK are choosing naked bikes because they act as an alarm call – you know your licence is at risk when the windblast gets serious. So you roll off the gas.

If you are looking for a Sunday motorcycle with some speed and panache, but weekday practicality too, then the 1125CR has those bases covered. There are bungee hooks on the seat, a detachable tail section for emergency pillion transport, plus the 20 litre fuel capacity offers a decent range, unlike some rival Naked/Roadster type bikes. The `09 improvements in the 1125’s fuel injection system have also increased mpg, say Buell, so reckon on getting around 45mpg on typical commuter runs.

The belt drive is a maintenance-free alternative to a chain and Scottoiler for those who rack up serious miles on our motorbikes too.

Add all that up and you have a V-Twin that can kick sand in the faces of less powerful naked bikes, or handles a relaxing spin around your favourite B roads without causing excessive back pain ( with the high `bars option ). It also stands out with its quirky styling, unique engineering touches and visceral, highly-addictive power delivery.

Crunch question, would I buy one? For me, the 1125CR looks less handsome than the a Street/Speed Triple Triumphs, a Ducati Monster or a Guzzi Griso 1100. The 1125’s finish on parts like the large, matt black exhaust pipe or the tank/side panels could be better. Like many older riders, I miss the durability of many 80s/90s machines – they were made to last, not to a budget.

Overall, the 1125CR surprised me, got me hooked. It has a blend of performance and handling that makes a motorcycle useful, and yet fun, on our crowded roads. It still has a few rough edges, but then, maybe that’s a good thing with a bike that pays homage to the Café Racers of the 60s. If there’s still a little bit of old school, Ace Cafe Rocker within you, try one.

Get Buell bike insurance for the 1125 CR.


Vital Statistics
ENGINE 1125cc. 72 degree, V-Twin, DOHC, liquid cooled four stroke.
POWER 146bhp@ 9800rpm
TORQUE 111Nms @ 8000rpm
GEARS 6 speed
Cycle Parts
FRAME Aluminium twin spar, with fuel cell
SUSPENSION Front: 47mm Showa, upside-down telescopic forks, multi-adjustable. Rear: Coil-over Showa Monoshock, multi-adjustable
BRAKES Single ZTL 375mm front disc, 8 piston caliper. Single rear 240mm disc, 2 piston caliper.
TYRES Front: Pirelli 120/70. Rear: Pirelli 180/55. Both 17 inch diameter.
FUEL CAPACITY 20.1 litres
Buying Info