The ride through wind and rain could hardly be described as a caf race. But as we thundered our 1125CRs along slippery German roads toward the launch base and a warming cup of coffee, we were putting Erik Buell's latest creation through its paces pretty much the way he intended.
The initials CR stand for caf racer, and Buell regards the bike as a 21st-century take on the naked Britbikes that were thrashed on the roads around London's Ace Caf in the 1950s and '60s. Essentially an unfaired version of the 1125R, the 1125CR blends sportbike performance with a dose of naked aggression. Buell's desire to recapture the caf-racer spirit extends to giving the bike a low "Ace" handlebar. Right now that made a lot of sense, as the sporty riding position was keeping some of the wind and rain off my chest.
The CR's layout closely follows that of the R-model, with the same Austrian-made Rotax V-twin incorporating the latest fuel and ignition mapping, claimed to improve starting, low-rpm running, cooling and fuel mileage. The claimed peak power output of 146 bhp at 9600 rpm is unchanged, as is a torque curve as flat as the windswept fields south of Berlin.
Most of the chassis is also taken straight from the R, including the fuel-holding twin-spar aluminum frame and swingarm, directly operated by the diagonally mounted Showa shock. There was no need to change the spring rates in the shock or the 47mm Showa fork because the CR is just 4 pounds lighter.
The 1125CR's visage is intended to be raw and intimidating. Its promotional video featured
A clubman-style drop handlebar comes standard, but there's also an accessory handlebar tha
The Austrian-made, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 72-degree Rotax V-twin is identical to that of the
That weight saving comes from replacing the R's wide half-fairing with a simple headlight and flyscreen while retaining the side-mounted air intakes. Those intakes gave the bike a misleadingly bulky look from the rider's fairly low seat, as I leaned forward to that one-piece, clubman-style handlebar, which curves round a digital instrument panel that is unchanged except for the addition of a gear-position indicator. The liquid-cooled motor fired up easily with a rumble from the stubby silencer down by my right boot. As I let out the fairly light clutch to pull away, the CR felt notably sharp, thanks in part to 10 percent lower overall gearing.
My ride began on the twisty new Spreewaldring racetrack, where riding this mad, bad bike for the first time could have been intimidating even before spots of rain appeared on my face shield. But the CR could hardly have been more confidence-inspiring. That mapping update has done a good job of curing any lingering low-rev hesitation, giving excellent throttle response, making the Buell easy to ride.
In the tricky conditions its broad torque spread was particularly welcome, as its ability to storm out of turns with 6000 rpm or less on the analog tach gave a choice of gears for every bend. And it revved toward its 10,500-rpm redline with such contagious enthusiasm, backed up by a flawless six-speed gearbox, that I barely noticed the high-rev buzz through the bar and fairly high-set footpegs.
This is a seriously rapid bike, too. Out on the refreshingly traffic-free roads of Eastern Germany, it cruised effortlessly at an indicated 100 mph with just 6500 rpm on the tach, and snapped forward eagerly from that speed-all the way to almost 150 mph, with a little more to come. Inevitably that speed was seriously breezy, though less so than on most unfaired bikes.
The Buell handled well on both road and track, its blend of light weight, steep steering geometry and short wheelbase making it very flickable yet stable. On the circuit, its sportbike-stiff suspension was in its element. The front end felt awkward as I rode slowly out of pit lane, but better the faster I rode. The rear end occasionally moved around a little under my 185 lbs., suggesting a bit more rebound damping would help. I was also impressed by the grip of the Pirelli Diablo Corsa III radials, which made excellent use of the Buell's generous cornering clearance in the dry yet held on even when the surface became damp.
That front Pirelli had plenty of work to do when the six-pot front brake caliper and perimeter disc were used in anger. As with the 1125R, there's plenty of power. But when used gently on the road, the brake sometimes didn't bite as hard as expected initially, before coming in more strongly. More of a drawback was the harsh shock, which clunked and jarred over surface repairs, of which there were an uncomfortably high number on our street ride.
The CR's speed and chassis poise meant we reached shelter and that warming cup of coffee as quickly as we'd have done on any sportbike, confirming that this modern-day caf racer lives up to its billing.