Harley Davidson has resurrected its legendary XR 750 dirt-tracker from the 70’s and 80’s into the reincarnated body of an XR 1200 for 2008. And if you want this modern spirit in your garage, you will have no problem if you live in Europe.
Ummmm, that’s right, this incarnation is not available in North America. It’s the first time the celebrated American motorcycle maker, with over 100 years of manufacturing to its credit, has launched a bike elsewhere than the US of A.
“You could say the XR 1200 was born in Milwaukee but bred in Europe,” said Bill Davidson, Head of Product Planning, XR 1200.
The apparent reason is that European HD dealers have “demanded” such a bike for years. In support of that, Euro riders are known for their sport-bike enthusiasms. So, let’s be clear, the XR 1200 is NOT a cruiser. In fact, the XR 1200 is an HD anomaly, a bike with pretensions in the performance motorcycle arena. Although I’m sure there are no Asian or European motorbike execs quaking in their boots in response to anything Harley Davidson would proffer to the performance-oriented riders of the world.
Also, one could suppose another reason Harley might avoid a home turf debut would be because they did attempt a similar “American” launch in the early 80’s, with their XR 1000 – which was also based upon the XR 750 (but more loosely). The result? It didn’t sell. On the other hand, it became a collectible as soon as they stopped making them. So, are Americans ready for a Harley Davidson XR 1200 that is “not” part of its long-term success?
Stated differently, the XR 1200 is so distinct from the HD “cruiser” tradition that although it could pull a new crowd of performance-oriented buyers into the HD Brotherhood, one could also surmise that this bike may not likely experience strong favor amongst long-time HD worshipers.
My bet is that the XR 1200 will do well enough in Europe that the bike will be made available in America. And if HD can manufacture the bike to the relative standards they have been making their cruisers for the last several years, the HD prestige alone will capture a new market of buyers for them. (Granted, it’s a bit inconceivable that an HD will ever be “competitive” with any other manufacturer, but they have long proved that they don’t need to be).
On top of that, bear in mind that the legend of the earlier XR 750 is established upon the bike’s success on the flat track racing circuit, and as the early bike of choice for several MotoGP stars before they moved into higher-profile motorcycle racing.
And of course, good old Evel Knievel’s motorcycle antics of jumping, flying and crashing XR 750s brought the bike a good amount of media attention back in the 20th century, as well.
So, the all new XR 1200 does behold a renowned lineage. That it was made available via European dealers last month and not in America will likely only help to stir up additional interest as the bike hits the streets.
However, regardless of the publicity, is the darn thing any good?
Technically, the bike does feature high-performance Showa suspension and Nissin brakes. As well, the 1200cc engine is more powerful than its sister XL1200R Sportster engine, tested earlier this year, according to Cycle World magazine (August 2008).
Blake Conner, who wrote the Cycle World article, rode the XR 1200 at Harley’s “secret 530-acre Florida Evaluation Center.” His summation is that, “The XR 1200 is without a doubt the best-handling production Harley to date.” That’s certainly an encouraging note, although the article respectfully does not compare the bike to anything else near its class. (Actually, this bike is arguably in a class of its own). Further, he writes, “This bike is a rider’s bike, all about go and less about show,” further remarking that this is not a conventional Harley.
Tor Sagen of motorcycle.com, who rode it in Spain as part of the official HD media launch, wrote a Harley Davidson XR 1200 review and concluded “The XR1200 can’t really compete on the edge with other European streetfighters, but it’s a huge step in the right direction should Harley ever wish to do so.”
Personally, I’m glad to see HD taking a swing into other markets. As a “business” decision, it just makes sense. The Big Four manufactures have been making cruisers for a long time now, capitalizing on Harley’s styling and the American love affair with cruisers (and those clever Japanese can make ’em more reliable, better performing and for less money). Therefore, if HD can capture even a small amount of another market than their primary one, they will likely do wonders with their brand recognition alone. (Bear in mind that there are a number of HD aficionados that would consider some other of the “modern” Harleys to be a different market altogether, too. For example, the V-Rods).
I, for one, will be looking for an opportunity to ride an XR 1200 when it comes to North America. And regardless of how well the bike sells, my wish is to see this offered as a brand-new XR 750: Could you imagine a light and nimble (relatively speaking) HD midsize playbike? Such a modernized retro version of this American classic would compel my ownership regardless of any practical considerations. (And isn’t lack of “practical consideration” the essence of what has made HD the great brand that it is?)