Harley-Davidson XR12000 Review
Words: Brad Puetz
Photos: Ted Bae
Photos and Text Courtesy
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
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 more
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 Europe.
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 stateside?
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 series, featuring 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 bike is.
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 RPM.
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 attractive manner.
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 rear.
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
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
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 classic beauty.
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 vibration.
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 Dunlop Qualifiers.
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 task.
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.
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.
XR1200 - Specifications
||Engine: Air-Cooled Evolution
||Displacement: 73.40 cu. in.
||Bore/Stroke: 3.5 in. x 3.81
||Engine Torque: 73.91 lb-ft
@ 4000 rpm
||Fueling: Electronic Sequential
Port Fuel Injection
||Compression Ratio: 10.0:1
Primary Drive: Chain
||Length: 85.4 in.
||Seat Height: 29.2 in. (laden);
30.5 in. (unladen)
||Ground Clearance: 5.8 in.
||Rake Steering Head/ Trail:
||Wheelbase: 59.8 in.
||Brakes, Front: Dual 4-piston,
||Brakes, Rear: Single-piston
||Tires, Front: 120/70ZR 18
||Tires, Rear: 180/55ZR 17
Weights and Capacities
||Fuel Capacity: 3.5 gal.
||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 to ride.
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.
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
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
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
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 the point.
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.