Mass centralization. Low un-sprung weight. A Bombardier Rotax engine (“my plane,” “my train”- Oh hey: “MY MOTORCYCLE…click” sorry, but I just had to throw that in). Add all this Canuck content to a design that looks like it should get an over-50 speeding ticket just for being parked and you can’t help but look close, very close. I slowly wandered around the black beauty as it stood spotless under the lights of the Toronto Motorcycle Show in early December. Regardless of the vast array of new iron, magnesium, titanium and other way-past low cut attractions at the show – this machine was cool, definitely cool. A thousand questions started to line up in my noodle. The nice thing about having unanswered questions was that I was probably going to have a bunch of those question marks erased from my forehead, as I was about ten minutes away from shooting some serious breeze with the man himself. Gotta love it when a plan works ‘cause I hate unsolved mysteries.
We were led into a very well equipped anteroom where there was no shortage of available cholesterol and were introduced to Erik Buell. Now, Mr. Buell doesn’t fit the average version of a major motorcycle manufacturer type. Comfortable in a pair of jeans, a roll-up-yer-sleeves attitude prevailed. There was also something unmistakable with this guy. His passion is two wheels. He exudes it.
If you go back and look at some of the original Buell clips, Erik states that the engine of choice was ‘choice’ because of forgiveness. You could be at one with the machine. Simpatico. I’ve felt that occasionally and it’s quite satisfying. But, the engine is now a Helicon Bombardier (BRP) designed in conjunction with Buell. Is the forgiveness still there? To put things in a condensed form, because this is a big thing with Erik, the answer is a resounding yes, but you need context here. This is a sport bike, a kick ass sport bike to be more precise.
To Erik the whole thing comes down to the oneness of machine and rider. “We designed the 1125R from the rider down.” The new Buell doesn’t just come down to horsepower, or high tech widgets. It’s the whole package. There must be a connection that works between the nut that secures the handlebars to the seat. Predictability that adds to confidence. No surprises required here thank you very much. Erik paraphrased the engine as likened to “an electric motor.” The rider doesn’t need to think about engine hiccups or power-band issues so the rider can concentrate on the moment of the ride. To Erik a lapse of connection between motorcycle and rider means that he (Erik) did something wrong. My impression is that Buell doesn’t cotton to that idea well and has done some pretty impressive moves to ensure that doesn’t happen.
So will the Rotax do the job? Hey, it sure works for BMW, so why wouldn’t a good basic design, detailed specifics, multiple drawing board visits and a commitment to absolute quality work for Buell? Erik states that Bombardier was absolute straight up with what was possible and what was off the bell curve, and they were more than willing to work it all out. Although I’m taking some liberties here, I can just imagine part of the conversation…
Erik: “Can we do it in a litre?”
Bombardier “Nope, no way, 1000cc ain’t gonna do what you want it to do. Bump it up to 1125cc and now we’re talking.”
Erik: “Let’s do it.”
And they did it–with some considerable style. The Buell 1125R Helicon engine is a brand new 1125cc DOHC V-Twin, the first liquid-cooled engine to power a street legal Buell motorcycle. This compact, 72-degree Helicon engine was designed to Buell specifications and is exclusive to Buell. It will be manufactured in Austria by BRP-Rotax. The Helicon engine is rated at 146 crankshaft horsepower making it the most powerful street legal engine ever offered by Buell and is designed to deliver optimized usable power with a broad power band across its 10,500 rpm range. Its V-Twin design retains the styling and character that has always defined the Buell riding experience.
I’d like to say that the Buell BRP engine is the magic here. But it’s not, there’s a whole lot more to the picture than horsepower. Mass centralization. Now there’s a term that a professional engineer could chew on for a while, but it makes sense. Think of it. Build a traditional sport bike and then hang a little more than 21 litres of gas just below the fork crown. Wind this whole package up to track speeds and what do you get? You get a low centre of gravity that is more forgiving regardless of the amount of fuel in the machine. I know that when I have a brain fart in the middle of some demanding move, I need a bunch of forgiveness or a real big bag of band-aids. I’ll choose forgiveness. Mass centralization doesn’t stop with liquid loading, the exhaust is a compact little ditty that sits directly under the engine, nothing routes up and out, or off high on one side. Just another little thing that allows the rider/machine simpatico magic to just naturally happen. Talk of that puts a smile on Erik Buell’s face.
One of the most visual oddities of the bike is the monster front brake rotor. One disc only, sitting just inside the rim. Although it looks huge, it actually offers a seven-pound weight reduction over traditional double disc rotor set-ups, which considering the total weight of the machine is a substantial chunk of un-sprung weight carved off the front end. I asked Erik if we’ll see ABS on this set-up and got some push back on the idea. Although the thought is there and probably a well worked out design in the Buell files, Erik goes back to the purity of a true sport bike and the important need for rider feedback from the machine. Long and short, will it happen? Maybe; but not unless it’s perfect and will not detract from the oneness between the rider and the machine.
The frame has a touch of Canuck in it as Erik Buell in concert with Alcan have developed a new method of welding that offers superior rigidity and fluid integrity. The engine is cradled in a new Buell Intuitive Response Chassis (IRC) with massive, rigid aluminium spars that double as the fuel reservoir. Neat touch.
So what do we end up with? A radical new liquid-cooled engine configuration. Mass centralization that aside from offering some nice handling touches allows some much needed room for massive air intake boxes that help the Helicon breathe just right and still allow some very slippery wind resistance. The other nice touch is the price. At $12,919 there will be some serious head scratching done when it comes to making a choice on a new sport bike. I think it’s a safe bet that sport bike folks who wouldn’t be caught dead in a Harley-Davidson dealership will definitely be snooping around this sweetheart.
What’s next for Buell? I asked Erik about some frame changes, a little more wheelbase and entering the sport touring side of life and got the answer that I expected. Erik is one of these guys that thinks way down the road and although the idea is wiggling away there’s a catch. His passion is sport bikes. Very well designed sport bikes. Whatever it is–it has to be absolutely right and that’s something that doesn’t happen overnight. So for the time being I wouldn’t suggest that we’d see a lengthened Buell sporting a stereo and touring bags.
One of the last questions that I asked Erik was “What would you say to Johnny Canuck to get him or her on a Buell 1125R?” Answer: Aside from the machine itself, a little bit of every sale ends up here, in Canada. Now that’s something that you just don’t hear everyday and I think that’s just dandy.
Now I want to go have some ride time on this machine, on a track, with some professional help real close by, both riding instructors and paramedics ‘cause I think I might need both.