Words: Brad Puetz
Photos: Ted Bae
Edited by webBikeWorld.com
Photos and Text Courtesy
Used with permission.
Motorcycle Reviews Directory
So, many of you might be thinking, "What is an avid
superbike racer and sportbike enthusiast doing testing a
Harley Davidson?" Harley is not exactly known for
producing cutting edge sportbikes.
Well, I would be lying if I didn't say I also asked
myself this exact thing. That is until I did some
research on the Harley XR1200.
Actually, even before
getting to research my upcoming ride I was actually won
over purely by the visual appearance of the XR1200. The
design is one that is muscular, clean and sporty with
just the right touch of dirt tracker nostalgia thrown
in. Suddenly I found myself becoming more intrigued by
this grey and silver motorcycle that is surely inspired
by the highly popular XR750 racer.
Throw in the fact
that I witnessed my first AMA Pro Flat Track this year
at Pomona and the whole concept of what Harley-Davidson
was trying to achieve with this model was becoming much
My first real hint of the sportiness of this machine
however was during the pickup. One of the fleet center
employees mentioned to me how the XR1200 was actually
being raced in Europe. Yes, you heard me right, I said
The European version taking to the track with
Öhlins suspension components, Termignoni exhaust and
wave rotor brakes. Who would have thought this
All-American machine would be making its debut
appearance on track in Europe and not
Well, have no fear, the AMA has just
announced the XR1200 will soon be racing here in the
U.S. as well, in the AMA Pro Vance & Hines XR1200 Spec Racing
Series. This will be a five-race championship
specially modified Harley-Davidson XR1200 motorcycles.
Although I would not be taking the XR1200 to the
track, and the version I was riding did not have the
go-fast European modifications, I was still eager to
swing a leg over the XR1200 and see just how good this
XR1200 Engine and Suspension
The XR1200 features a rubber-mounted 1200 cc V-twin
with a 10:1 compression ratio that puts out roughly 90
horsepower at 7,000 RPM and 74 ft-lbs of torque at 4,000
The XR1200 boasts performance cams, downdraft fuel
injection, precision-cooled cylinder heads and a large
capacity oil cooler. A high volume 2-1-2 straight shot
exhaust finished in satin chrome does away with spent
gasses and, in my personal opinion, does it in a very
In an effort to save weight and improve handing, the
XR uses a hollow cast-aluminum swingarm, a break from
the traditional steel units found on typical Sportsters. The XR also utilizes 3-spoke cast wheels and Dunlop
Qualifier tires designed specifically for the XR1200. Sizes are 120/70ZR18 in front and 180/55ZR17 on the
Suspension duties are handled via 43 mm inverted Showa
forks which are non-adjustable and dual coil-over shocks
in the rear with preload adjustment.
Controls and Ergonomics
The Harley-Davidson XR1200 weighs in at 580 pounds in
running order and is brought to a halt with Nissin
four-piston calipers and two 292 mm discs up front and a
single piston floating rear brake.
Simple probably best describes the controls and
cockpit on the XR1200. Sitting above the handlebar is an
analog tachometer with a slightly smaller digital
speedometer. Harley-Davidson has gone with very basic
controls and gauges to keep with the clean and retro
look but I could not help being somewhat disappointed in
this department; I think a little attention to detail
and some added elements of design could have gone a long
way towards adding some style to what is otherwise a
I waited until very late morning to fire up the new
beast making a home in my garage. This is a
Harley-Davidson, let's not forget, and surely the sheer
volume of firing up the V-twin powerplant will be enough
to rattle the windows and wake the neighbors. Well, to
my surprise, the XR1200 sounds a little on the mild side;
not only by Harley-Davidson standards but in comparison
to most motorcycles sharing the same displacement.
Getting the XR up to speed was not a problem with a
healthy amount of grunt at low RPM. Torque is
strong in the 3,000-5000 RPM range -- as you would expect from a big
V-Twin -- but don't expect the motor to pull very hard
at higher revs.
To keep the XR running strong, I was
moving steadily through the gearbox to make up for the
lack of high-RPM power. The XR1200 powerplant ran extremely
smooth and the rubber mounted engine had no excessive
AMA Grand National Champ Scott Parker helped assist
in the chassis and handling department during the
development of the XR1200 and I would have to say this
is one of the strongest areas of this Sportster.
The XR1200 is extremely well balanced and
hides its weight quite well; it transitions with ease
on the open road and, coupled with the comfortable
ergonomics, was an extremely easy bike to get used to
and to feel comfortable on. The seat was comfy enough for
long stints and the bars were wide and well placed with
no uncomfortable bends at the wrists.
The XR1200 Utilizes a "split-rake" design to give the
XR an assertive steering input while still allowing for
a relaxed ride. While the XR will never be mistaken for
a sportbike, there are benefits to this design. The XR
never felt twitchy or unstable during my daily rides or
while cranking it over through some long winding canyon
bends and I was grateful for the added grip of the
While the balanced chassis of the XR makes for an
enjoyable ride, the suspension front and back does have limitations.
Contact with any significant potholes
or square edge bumps tended to create some harsh
transfers through the chassis. The forks seemed to be
blowing through the stroke too quickly and this was
leading to some hard hits up front that could be felt
throughout the chassis and handlebars. This could also
be due to the short amount of suspension travel; 4.9
inches in the front and 3.5 inches at the rear.
The wide clutch lever had a very classic
Harley-Davidson feel to it and I actually liked the feel
of the extra width at the lever. The clutch actuation
was relatively light as well.
The 5-Speed transmission
performed flawlessly but definitely feels quite
mechanical, as if you can feel every moving part as you
click through the gears. Engagement was precise and
finding neutral was an easy task even if the feel was
not silky smooth.
A touch of the Nissin brakes is all that was needed
to bring the XR1200 down from speed. Stopping power was
impressive and the feel at the lever gave me the
confidence needed to stop the XR in a hurry. I've ridden
a few Harley-Davidons in the past and the one thing that
always scared me was their lack of stopping power. Not
so on the XR1200, the brakes were definitely up to the
Harley-Davidson has always been more than just the
motorcycle; for many it's a statement. A way of life.
Wearing the Harley-Davidson Classic Leather Jacket (I
think I might have been just as excited to rock this
Classic Harley jacket as I was to ride the XR1200) and
riding the XR1200 was a chance for me to experience this
Harley-Davidson fraternity. Lucky for me, I was able to
experience it on a model as sports-oriented and capable
as the XR1200.
When speaking to sportbike riders and fellow racers I
often mentioned I was testing a Harley-Davidson to which
I would receive some strange looks. I would quickly
respond with, "you don't understand, this is not the
Harley-Davidson you are thinking of. This bike is freakin' cool, you need to see it."
The XR1200 is a highly refined and capable motorcycle
but does have it's performance limitations. Lacking
adjustable suspension and producing low HP numbers, the
XR1200 does not rival many of the European streetfighters on the market in sporting ability.
What the XR1200 lacks in performance numbers however,
it more than makes up for with iconic styling and the
pure roadside interest it attracts. Harley-Davidson has
designed a motorcycle with a wide appeal that attracts
cruiser riders and the sport rider alike. Looking for an
iconic classic that performs? Then look no further.
Harley-Davidson XR1200 - Specifications
||Bore/Stroke: 3.5 in. x
||Engine Torque: 73.91
lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Sequential Port Fuel Injection
Primary Drive: Chain
||Length: 85.4 in.
||Seat Height: 29.2 in.
(laden); 30.5 in. (unladen)
||Ground Clearance: 5.8
||Rake Steering Head/
Trail: 29.3-degrees/5.11 in.
||Wheelbase: 59.8 in.
||Brakes, Front: Dual
4-piston, fixed front
Single-piston floating rear
||Tires, Front: 120/70ZR
||Tires, Rear: 180/55ZR
||Fuel Capacity: 3.5
||Oil Capacity: 2.8 qt.
||Weight: 562 lbs. (dry
weight); 580 lbs. (running order)
||Vivid Black, Pewter
Denim, Mirage Orange Pearl
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From "J.W." (7/10): "This is a very
good and fair review. I bought my first XL
Sportster 4 years ago , but its limitations on UK roads
quickly became obvious. I part exchanged the XL
for the XR 3 weeks ago and have been very pleased with
the bike so far.
Your review is correct in that the detailing of the bike
could have been so much better, but the handling and
braking are truly excellent.
I test rode a competitors machine (Triumph Tiger) which
was undoubtedly a more accomplished motorcycle, but the
XR had real character and to be honest was much more fun
At a time when many motorcycles are starting to become
very similar in terms of specification styling and
performance ,the XR bucks the trend. The engine
retains the classic HD look and feel but the performance
is much more up to date.
I would recommend a test ride."
From "G.M." (5/10): "It's been a
while since I have commented on an article, but this one
piqued my interest.
Ok, let's face it, I have always been a Honda man.
"Back in the day" (early seventies when I first got into
motorcycles), I would not have been caught dead on or
off of a Hoggly Davidson. T hey seemed to be primitive,
lumbering beasts, that were fine for Police Officers to
ride, but the word performance simply never entered my
mind in relation to HD.
I owned four Hondas, enjoyed each and every one of them
(except that 100 Scrambler, it was a toy, but it taught
me to ride) and then put up my helmet for thirty years
when I got married.
Time and perspective changes some things. Watching
HD raise itself from the dead and become the number one
motorcycle seller in the world was impressive, and a
source of good old fashioned American pride. Who
wouldn't be proud that an American company could perform
such a feat?
Oh, and their bikes obviously improved a great deal
along the way. I developed a respect for HD, the
quality of the product, their enormous success, albeit I
developed no personal desire to own one. I once
admired an entry level Sportster for its smaller size
and classic design, but that's about as close as I ever
came to being attracted to a Harley. And frankly,
there are many, many Hardly Movingsons that I would
never throw a leg over.
I have read recently that HD has sort of filled the
"environmental niche" that they grew into with their
come back. Most baby boomers who bought HD's
because they were getting older and wanted to get the MC
their dad would never let them have, have done so now,
and HD seems to be in some degree of trouble now,
producing dozens and dozens of models in a niche that is
filling up. So one might wonder if HD is to fall
on hard times again, and well, everyone is falling on
hard times in these times.
Which brings us to the XR1200. "Adapt or Die"
might be the theme for this bike. I have read
several reviews of the XR1200, and this seems to be a
really good bike. The styling is great!
I might disagree with the author's characterizing it as
"classic" (Ok, it does remind us of the old 750, but who
ever considered THAT bike "classic" Harley?), but it
does remind me quite a lot of my fourth Honda, the 750F
"Super Sport", a great bike in it's time. The
XR1200 is the first HD I would ever consider purchasing,
and that means that HD is doing something right.
Motorcycles are about styling, performance, and doing
new things that have not been done before, constantly
changing and adapting to make better bikes. Kudos
to HD for producing this bike. If this is a trend, it
just might save HD like the Taurus saved Ford.
Regardless, this it a great direction for Harley to
take, and I wish them great success with this bike."
From "A.M." (4/10): "As I was
reading the article, I was thinking; neat, neat, neat,
but racing??? Similar displacement sport bikes
make about twice the horsepower and would weigh less
riding two up. Aside from a model-specific "race"
where everyone pilots these boats around, I can't see
As for being a sweet looking Harley; yup! That
satin chrome exhaust is something to behold."
Editor's Note: There is indeed a
European race series for Sportsters, and AMA Racing
announced in March 2010 that they have partnered with
Vance & Hines and Harley-Davidson to present the XR1200
road racing series. It will be called the AMA Pro
Vance & Hines XR1200 Series.