American-Made Café Racer


MSRP (U.S.): $11,999; Engine Type: 1125cc V-twin DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder; Horsepower: 146HP @ 9800 rpm; Torque: 82 ft. lbs. @ 8000 rpm; Transmission: Six-Speed; Primary Drive: Belt; Weight: 375 lbs. (dry); Seat Height: 30.5"; Wheelbase: 54.5"; Tank Capacity: 5.3 gallons; Front Tire: Pirelli Diablo Corsa III 120/70 ZR-17; Rear Tire: Pirelli Diablo Corsa III 180/55 ZR-17

It's getting harder and harder for a new motorcycle to make a splash. To get noticed, a new bike has got to have new technology, or new looks, or something going for it that gives it some personality. Here's an experiment to think about: If you took every current sport bike, covered the names, and painted them black, how many people could tell you which was which? I'll bet you could pick out the Buell.

The Buell 1125 CR definitely has a very distinctive, very unique look that will never be mistaken for another sport bike. Its two aerodynamic, radiator-holding side pods set it apart, as does its scowling headlight. The more I look at the bike, the more I like. It has an aggressive, tough look that's more muscle car than Porsche, more Rottweiler than Labrador. If its looks grow on you, its performance jumps on you. One ride on it and I was saying, "I love this bike!"

All previous Buells, and some current models, use the Harley Sportster-based engine. I've ridden these, and liked them, but you just can't compare the air-cooled motor and the new water-cooled motor.

This Buell and its full-fairing brother, the 1125R, are the first Buells to feature the new Helicon motor, a 1125cc, fuel injected, water-cooled, 4-valve, 72 degree V-twin that pumps out 146 horsepower and 82 ft.-lbs. of torque. Despite its mega power, the internally balanced engine is shockingly smooth for a big V-twin, and incredibly well mannered at low rpm. I was able to idle around in the parking lot and make full-lock turns with the engine idling without any complaints from the fuel injection. (The biggest way the new CR differs from its R-model brother is its lack of fairing. Old style Clubman bars—like café racers use to have, hence the CR name—replace the clip-on bars on the R model, and it has a lower final drive ratio.)

Before I left, Sean Hickey, the Buell guy at West Knoxville Harley, told me to not be surprised by the power of the front brake. This was very good advice, because the 8-piston caliper combined with the large 375mm perimeter rotor is extremely powerful. Powerful to the point that it takes a little while to get use to how little effort it takes to stand this puppy on its nose. A very light touch is all you need when scrubbing off speed.

As I pulled out of the parking lot, it took me about two seconds to say, "Cool!" Mr. CR pulls so hard the front gets light, revs quickly, and leaves no confusion that this engine was designed for performance, not modified to get more performance. The engine redlines at 10,500 rpm, but I wasn't able to get close to that. The throttle response is great, the 6-speed close-ratio gearbox shifts slick, and the exhaust, while quiet at lower revs, has a wonderful-sounding howl when you get it over seven grand. It reminded me more of an exotic car sound than a bike sound. The Buell info says that the valve train uses F-1 car technology, so maybe that's the reason.

While the engine is totally new, the bike still has the patented ideas that Buell is known for. The fuel is carried in the frame, the oil is carried in the swing arm, the exhaust is mounted under the engine, and the font brake is a perimeter design, which means that the rotor is almost as large as the wheel. All of this follows the Buell principles of design known as Trilogy of Tech: Centralizing mass, lowering unsprung weight, and having an extremely rigid chassis.

Don't think for a second that these are design gimmicks; all of these Buell ideas combine to create a wonderful thing. The CR handles like nobody's business. Weighing in at only 375 pounds, with a fully adjustable Showa suspension, and with Pirelli Diablo tires, the CR flicks in and sticks to corners like a Hot Wheels car on one of those plastic tracks. After just a few miles, I was already feeling super comfortable on the bike and was thinking of the curviest roads to follow back to the Harley shop. West Knoxville roads and traffic really suck on a bike like the CR. This bike is begging for a piece of the Dragon.

The CR I rode was equipped with an optional upright handlebar kit, which raised the bars a couple of inches from the stock Clubman bars, and gave it what was to me a perfect seating position. The Buell factory kit includes the bar and extended braided steel lines, and only cost $200. I would have it installed before I left the showroom, but that's just my preference.

The instrument pod, while looking simple, actually provides a ton of information, and would be super useful on a longer ride. The large conventional tach (which I prefer) is easy to read, and everything else is digital. "Everything else" includes the speedometer, gear indicator, air temperature, two odometers, and lap timer (just in case you need to take it to the track one weekend).

So, to sum it up, the 1125 CR handles great, has big buckets of horsepower and torque, a great seating position, and unique looks. To top it off, it comes with a two-year, unlimited mileage warranty. I would call that a splash.

I want to thank Sean Hickey at Knoxville Harley Davidson West for all of his help setting up on this test ride.