Cafe racer from the USA
When the salesman called from Cascade Harely Davidson (Buell/Arctic Cat–and anything else they can think of to help balance the books during this recession) I wasn’t sure I was going back. I test rode an ’08 Buell XB12s a week earlier and he’d offered to let me ride the 2009 1125cr afterwards.
After riding the XB12s, though, I figured I had a good idea what Buells were all about–and I wasn’t eager to have other parts of my anatomy roasted (read more about that here). When I found myself headed in the general direction of the shop with time to kill, though, I wasn’t really surprised. I do have a motorcycle addiction after all…and isn’t admitting you have a problem the first step? Not that I’m looking for a cure.
I hand’t phoned ahead like last time, but my the salesman spotted me and quickly set about readying the CR. After the usual paperwork and a quick pre-ride I was off…or so I thought. Just as I twisted the throttle, I noticed the fuel light and–not wanting to get stuck on the side of the road and ruin a perfectly good test ride–I hit the kill switch and went to get help. Ten minutes later the bike was back in my hands–no more gas (apparently it had plenty–but the idiot light thought I looked the part).
Pulling out of the parking lot, some differences between the XB and the CR quickly became apparent. First, despite the CR being a naked, standard-looking bike, it is definitely a sport bike, holding true to its cafe racer designation with a set of low clubman-style bars and seriously high rearsets. Second, the Austrian-built Rotax engine that is the heart and soul of this bike is definitely a sport bike engine. It revs quickly and easily and has a very linear power curve, making it easy to ride.
In town, the 1125–like many sport bikes I’ve ridden–was a bit of a handful. The saddle is tall–making low-speed or stop-and-go traffic tricky…even for me (at six feet tall). The pegs are high and the clip-ons low, putting lots of weight on wrists and causing my legs to cramp up (maybe I am getting old–or out of shape–or both).
Once I found some more rural roads, however, the ride got more interesting. The things that bothered me at low speeds didn’t seem to matter anymore–high pegs, low clip-ons, tall saddle…it all worked better the faster I rode. I also found the exhaust note to be particularly satisfying–like the XB12s I’d ridden. If Buell and Ducati can build bikes with decent sounding stock exhaust, why don’t they all do it?
The CR carves corners easily, putting the rider at ease with good suspension and plenty of motor…making brakes the only thing you really need to worry about. And, unfortunately, I found myself genuinely worried about the brakes. The 1125cr’s brakes are similar to the XB12s’ with a permiter-mounted disc and single beefy claiper. On the XB12s, I could gradually introduce more brake force with a firmer squeeze on the lever–very linear. On the CR, a firmer squeeze took the bike from barely braking at all to “hold everything, we’re stopping this puppy right here right now!”
After a few minutes of trying different stopping procedures, I found that if I added enough rear brake I could get stopped in a hurry without too much drama. Wish someone had warned me about that. To make things more challenging, during the last five minutes of my ride, the front brake started making an awful howling noise when I lightly pulled the lever. Not good.
I almost felt sorry for the salesman when I pulled off my helmet. He could see the look on my face…and his smile soon faded. I told him about the brakes and he meekly said he’d have someone look at it. The bike, I told him, was a good sportbike otherwise–just not for me.
The engine CR’s engine has none of the quirks I expereinced on my XB12s test ride (which is good and bad), but the riding position is just a tad too committed for my taste. I guess that’s why it’s called a cafe racer, though. It’s plenty comfortable–and loads of fun–blasting from one cafe to the next (or perhaps from one track day to the next). Truely a modern day cafe racer.