My first real hint of the sportiness of this machine however was upon 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 Ohlins suspension components, Termignoni exhaust and wave rotor brakes. Who would have thought this All-American machine would be making it\'s debut appearance on track in Europe and not over here stateside. Well, have no fear, the AMA has just announced the XR1200 will soon be racing here in the U.S., in the AMA Pro Vance & Hines XR1200 Spec Racing Series. This will be a five race championship 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 was.
The XR1200 features a rubber-mounted 1200cc 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 43mm inverted Showa forks which are non-adjustable and dual coil-over shocks in the rear with preload adjustment.
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 292mm 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 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 in the upper rev range. To keep the XR running strong I was moving steady through the gearbox to make up for the lack of over-rev. 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 and I would have to say this is one of the strongest areas of the Sportster. The XR1200 is extremely well balanced and hides it\'s 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 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 it\'s 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.
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 freaken cool, you need to see it."
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.