Harley Davidson XR 1200 – Legendary Anomaly?

Harley Davidson XR 1200Harley 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?)

UPDATE 12-13-08: See the North American Debut of the Harley Davidson XR1200 in Long Beach, CA at the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show.

6 thoughts on “Harley Davidson XR 1200 – Legendary Anomaly?

  • I have been riding for 53 years. The XR1200 remains one of the worst bikes I have EVER ridden. It’s too heavy by 150 pounds, it vibrates like a paint shaker, it handles poorly AND is unstable, and it is pathetically underpowered.

    It’s a poser bike, for people who want to park in front of a bar and get attention from other idiots. Of course that might make it the perfect bike for you, but don’t assume it’s a good bike, because it is not.

    Harleys are for people who are trying to be cool, not for people who know what a good motorcycle is. End of.

  • well its 2011, 3+ years no reply, NO one cares-its still a h.d.— dealers have been to long brain washed to sell tee-shirts, head rags, any all sorts of blacki am bad look at me stuff. give them the buell a real sport bike and they know squat about it, so how do you sell some one if the sales men look at you when you ask about such dumb things as handling,braking, horse power—- what do they reply ” you know when you ride a h.d. you get into the hog riders free for a year ” –great — piss poor brakes,crap handling and you the sales men know nothing about the bikes mechanics except the color and i get a free tee-shirt. so i am to give you $12,000 to be in a hog riders group. on a under performing bike. so how do they sell a xr- something. when most sales men can not even find it in the sales book….xr something another make believe h.d. crap bike. take sales from honda cbr’s ya right like thats going to happen… no some one will buy it with more $ then brains like j. leno and sock it away for 20 years and bring it out and lie about how powerfull it was in its time. and do the j.leno look at me thing.. xr- something thats a joke do it with a v rod motor and maybe just maybe it will go,throw in its own head rags,tee shirts, black everthing i am bad and look at me pipes and it might sell…… NAAAA no one is that dumb

  • This bike seems a little too much, too late. The original street racer by H-D was the 1984-85 XR-1000. Much closer to the real XR-750 and much, much lighter that this (ahem) Sportster. If you really want to ride something that is the closest to the real thing, check out SHR’s Grand National.

  • I once saw a 1971-’72 HD XR 1200 lent to Evil Knievil while his 750 was being worked on. I wanted to buy it , but I forgot where it was . does anyone know?

  • I use two seconds, as three leaves a tempting gap for cagers behind to hop past and in to the space between me and the vehicle in front, leaving me braking with traffic coming up behind, to maintain my 3 secs. I prefer to keep to the right so I have the option of running down the side of them. Scary in the wet (especially with with cats-eyes and white lines) but effective, at least for me… so far a?

    Peace Bro’s.

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