No, your eyes aren't fooling you, that really is a Harley-Davidson in the pages of Sport Rider. What is it and what's it doing here you ask? Well, it's the XR-1200 and the reason why it's here is all your fault really. You see, originally H-D designed and built this bike solely for the European market, as the naked sport(y) bike segment is much more popular across the pond than it is over here. When it was released however, dealers from all over this country clamored for it and made their desires known to the company. Not only that, but individuals just like you complained to the folks on Juneau Avenue about how much you really want this bike. Some said how they'd buy it on the cool factor while others said they didn't want a sportbike but weren't ready for a cruiser either. Still, others loved it because of its historical roots. Whatever the reason, H-D felt compelled to listen to its fan base and release the XR-1200 around the world.
Oh and there's still another reason why you're reading about this bike in a magazine you thought would never feature a Harley: dirt track racing is cool. In fact, as much as we love road racing, some of the best racing we've ever seen occurred on dirt ovals.
First, let's make one thing clear: this is not a sportbike. It was never meant to be a sportbike. H-D's primary focus was to turn to its XR-750 dirt tracker--a machine that has more dirt track championships than anything else--for inspiration for a road-going model. The emphasis is on fun, sporty type riding with unmistakable Harley style. In a sense the company is banking on its own legacy to create a motorcycle that doesn't fall into any pre-existing categories.
But creating a motorcycle meant for the road based off of one that lives on the dirt presented its own set of challenges. Fortunately, the existing Sportster platform provided a good starting point from which to start from. Gas tank and tail sections received a dirt track makeover and the gaudy chrome was instead replaced with menacing black and satin chrome. The 1200cc Evolution engine was massaged slightly and received a bump in compression from 9.7 to 10.0:1. Camshafts directly from the Buell XB12R Firebolt also made their way to the XR, providing more lift and longer duration than the standard Sportster cam. To maintain that classic XR look, the traditional side-draft air-cleaner setup of Sportsters past had to be reconfigured. The solution was a down-draft setup utilizing a 50mm throttle body, with the sleek airbox situated just under the fuel tank for a clean look. Harley doesn't release horsepower figures, but it will say that the bike puts out 74 ft-lbs of torque--five ft-lbs less than the standard Sportster--though Harley reps say peak horsepower is substantially higher than its more docile cousin.
For the first time ever on a production Harley, inverted forks sit up front. This time they're of the 43mm cartridge variety provided by Showa. Adjustability is nil however, but suspension travel is nearly five inches. Interestingly, the XR uses a split-rake fork offset: rake is 29.3 degrees while fork angle lies at 27.8 degrees. Twin shocks adjustable for preload lie out back with 3.5 inches of available travel. In the braking department, dual Nissin four-piston calipers bite on 292mm disks in front while a single, 260 mm disk is mated to a two-piston caliper. H-D worked in conjunction with Dunlop to develop a specific variant of the popular Qualifier model just for the XR-1200 in a 120/70ZR18 (yes, 18) front and 180/55ZR17 rear. From there a hollow, cast aluminum swingarm and cast aluminum alloy wheels reduce unsprung weight.
As mentioned earlier, the XR-1200 doesn't exactly fall into any pre-existing category of motorcycle. It is billed as a sharp handling machine (for a Harley anyway) that you can, in fact, drag a knee with. We were skeptical too until we saw the press materials that included pictures of test riders in full leathers with their knees on the deck. Granted, it was at their test facilities, but it was good enough for us. To get our own feel for the bike, journalists were invited to San Diego, California to put it through its paces. Immediately, you're greeted with a high handlebar and rearset foot controls. It's not enough to really shift rider weight forward, instead it gives a more neutral seating position compared to what you'd expect from a Harley. Gearing is widely spaced throughout the five cogs which requires adapting to holding a gear longer and taking advantage of the torque.
Perhaps where the XR-1200 really comes into its own is in the twisty stuff--territory where you wouldn't dare bring an Electra Glide. It's here where the wide gearing let's you focus more on the turn than what the engine is doing. Steering is predictably slow and heavy, favoring a smooth, natural line over a late apex and quick turn-in. The XR will then follow a line nicely and tracks as it should. Learn to adapt to it and the bike will reward you; force it and it will bite you. On that note, there are times when it's obvious the bike was designed for smooth European roads; rear suspension runs out of travel quickly over less than ideal surfaces and that forces the front to understeer when being overridden. That European flavor isn't always a bad thing however; it'd be easy to think the brakes were designed to slow the bike from autobahn speeds as the dual discs and Nissin calipers are clearly the strongest pairing we've seen on a Harley. They're quick and responsive and give good feel at the lever.
First impressions on Harley's latest creation are positive. It's an enjoyable ride for someone who isn't looking to get every last ounce of performance out of their sportbike and instead wants to experience the open road. The question now is how many of those are there? Vivid Black versions of the bike will sell for $10,799, while the Mirage Orange Pearl goes for $11,179. The company is already taking cash deposits for the first 750 XR-1200s and those who are lucky enough to get their hands on one will also receive a commemorative number one number plate. It's nice to see that a big company like this one listens to their customer's demands, but now that they've done so it's up to you, the buying public, to put your money where your mouth is. --TS