2009 Harley-Davidson XR1200 First Ride

December 15, 2008
Bryan Harley
Bryan Harley
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Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it's chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to 'Merican, he rides 'em all.

Are you sure this is a Harley-Davidson  It handles sharper than any other H-D I ve ridden.
The 2009 XR1200 debuted solely in Europe originally, but outcry by dealers and enthusiasts here in the States helped convince Harley-Davidson that we needed it here, too.

The road before me is relentless. Dropping down off E Grade Road on Palomar Mountain is an unforgiving series of sneaky decreasing radius turns and switchbacks. I give the stiff clutch lever a short pull and bang it down a gear. The rear Dunlop Qualifiers are sticking like glue, and the motorcycle ahead of me is picking up every small rock in the road and throwing it back at me. The pace is fast as we drop a thousand feet with the bike seldom standing up. Transitions are quick and smooth as I hit another turn. I check my side view mirror to see 9-time AMA Dirt Track champion Scott Parker hot on my tail. To add to the surreal nature of the scene is the fact that the sharp-handling bike I am on is a Harley-Davidson, the 2009 XR1200.

It is fitting that Parker is on hand for the XR press introduction. Harley-Davidson used his weapon of choice, the XR750, as inspiration for the XR1200. But besides the fact that Parker won nine of the 26 #1 Race Plates the XR750 has captured, he also helped The Motor Company sort out the XR1200’s chassis as they adapted the aggressive attitude of the dirt tracker for the street.

These adaptations start with a 1.5-degree split-rake fork offset, with the 29.3-degree angle of the steering axis slightly more than the 27.8-degree fork angle. The tight rake and Showa sticks up front keep the 18-inch D209 firmly planted on

Twin four-piston front brakes with 292mm discs have great feel and are very responsive.
Twin four-piston front brakes with healthy-sized 292mm discs have great feel and are very responsive.

the road. The 43mm inverted front fork does have a claimed 5.12-in travel to the front, but even under heavy braking the amount of flex wasn’t an issue. Steering response is like an Insta-Matic, just point and shoot. Throw a set of high-performance Nissin brakes into the equation and you’ve got the best feeling front end you’ll find on a production Harley. The twin four-piston front brakes with 292mm discs only take a light squeeze to engage and have the potential to throw you over the bars if you don’t respect them.

Harley-Davidson is all about lowering unsprung weight on the XR1200, so the cast aluminum swingarm is hollow, shaving off a claimed 3.3 lbs in swingarm mass. Lightweight, three-spoke black alloy wheels aim to trim a little mass as well while pulling double-duty as slick-looking hoops. Twin shocks on the rear soak up most road imperfections unless you smack a

Twin  upswept 2-1-2 straight shot exhaust give the XR1200 an aggressive stance.
Dual upswept exhausts look racy running up the right side of the bike and allow for a copious amount of cornering clearance.

pothole directly. At 225 lbs, I would have adjusted the preload for a man my size, but for a one-day ride it wasn’t necessary.

Twin, upswept 2-1-2 straight shot exhaust shooting up the bike’s right side mean these aren’t the straight shooters on your dad’s Sportster. Mounted up and out of the way to give riders a generous lean angle, the pipes and the tank are the two most immediately recognizable styling traits carried directly over from the XR750. The exhaust note is a tad tame in comparison to Harley’s other platforms, but get it into the midrange of the torque and the note gets richer and deeper.

Supplying the growl is a 1200cc Evolution V-Twin with a huge 50mm down-draft throttle body at the disposal of H-D’s proprietary Electronic Sequential

A 1200cc Evolution engine provides plenty of pop  especially midrange.
Performance cams and oil-cooled cylinder heads with a higher compression ratio set the XR1200’s Evolution apart from the standard Sportster 1200cc mill.

Port Fuel Injection system. Performance cams, oil-cooled cylinder heads and a higher compression ratio (10.0:1) set it apart from the standard Sportster engine. Besides the oil cooling, an air box is mounted under the right side of the tank to assist in intake and cooling. Riding a sporty bike like this where you’re going to want to tuck in tight  and Harley-Davidson realized riders wouldn’t want an air cleaner right up against their right knee so they incorporated it under the tank. Without the air box sticking off the right side, it leaves an unobstructed view of the engine so you can appreciate the little details like the granite finish of the cylinder heads.

With horsepower numbers claimed to be around 90 and 74 lb-ft of torque available in the meat of the powerband at 4000 rpm, the Evolution can easily loft the front wheel, which Parker demonstrated during one of our pit stops as he ripped one off in first and second gear going uphill. The smooth-shifting five-speed transmission is rider-friendly and easy to short-shift. The best part is that there is no clunkiness like the tranny in Harley’s big cruisers. I spent most of my time in the mid- to upper-rpm range with the bike humming along at 4000 rpm at 70mph in fifth gear. And even though redline is at a tad over 7000 rpm, it doesn’t sign off immediately at that point.

Ergos on the XR1200 allow a rider to sit upright with arms out wide on the flat track-style handlebars.
Ergos on the XR1200 are upright and comfortable but the wide reach to the bars  and the tight tuck of the rearset footpegs leave you poised and ready.

Ergos on the XR1200 leave you in a straight-backed, upright position, but rearset footpegs and a wide, flat-track styled handlebar mean you’re not riding lazy in the saddle and are poised like a snake ready to strike. At a standstill, the 29.2-inch seat height feels a little high, just allowing me at six-feet-tall to stand flat-footed. Get it up to speed, though, and you realize the center of gravity is spot-on. The placement of the footpegs along with a tank that tapers toward the rider allows you to squeeze in tight to the bike and leaves ample cornering clearance. It does come with a small patch that you could call a pillion and passenger footpegs with an extra rubber bumper mounted on the top exhaust pipe to keep passenger’s heels from melting on the pipe. Being a naked standard, wind blast is a factor at higher speeds, but it’s easy to tuck in dirt-track style for short stints. You can also pick up a detachable short windscreen for $339.95 as one of the available aftermarket accessories Harley-Davidson already has available for the bike. After a full day’s riding, the upright riding position is appreciated, as my back wasn’t sore like being humped over a sportbike, but the narrow seat and thin padding left my tail a little sore.

The big white-faced tach centered on the handlebar is teamed with a compact digital speedo.
The instrumentation on the XR1200 is minimal and matches  the stripped-down dirt-track racer theme.

Instruments on the XR1200 are minimal. Watching the needle bounce around on the good-sized, round, white-faced tach is what you’ll mainly see. A compact digital speedo is centered next to it on the handlebars and the digital display makes it easy to know exactly how fast you’re going. A dual trip meter and clock have been thrown in for good measure.
During the course of our dash through the mountains, I didn’t notice any vibrations coming off the rubber-mounted engine, but after the engine heated up when we got into stop-and-go city traffic, moderate vibrations are noticeable through the bars at idle. It was a comfortable 70-degree day and I never felt any heat off the engine until getting stuck in traffic, and even then it was to a lesser degree than your standard Sporty.

Little details like the word ‘Sportster’ cast into its right engine case pay tribute to the fact that the line has been around since 1957. The 3.5-gallon tank looks like it was pulled right off the XR750, and the minimalist color-matched bodywork also ties into the dirt-track theme. The swingarm, engine, and primary covers are other styling cues that add to the appeal of the bike with their attractive flat granite finish. The black

The XR1200 can spark the inner racer inside any rider  even an old mullet like me.
The XR1200 can spark the inner racer inside any rider, even an old mullet like me.

oil cooler mounted outside of the frame on the left side is a little unsightly and seems susceptible to damage in a tip-over but I’m sure you’d get an argument from the cylinder heads if you tried to remove it.

The 2009 XR1200 is available in the iconic Harley- Davidson Orange and Black, but also comes in an all-black or pewter version that ain’t too shabby. Production is limited to 750 units here in the states, and with a US MSRP of $10,799, they won’t last long. The bike has the uncanny ability to attract the attention of riders who weren’t fans of The Motor Company beforehand. At the recent IMS show in Long Beach, the waiting time for a test ride was over two hours. Harley-Davidson already has a debut in the British Superbike series on tap next year in a special supporting class for the XR1200. Performance-wise, it’s definitely the most grin-inducing Harley-Davidson that I’ve ridden. And yes, I will tell my kids that Daddy held off dirt-track champion Scott Parker down a mountain with a straight face. I’ll leave out the part that it was during a press intro and he was just riding along for fun, though.

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