2011 Harley-Davidson XR1200X First Ride

July 5, 2010
Steve Atlas
Steve Atlas
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Professional-grade speed and an attitude to match, Steve Atlas is the new blood at MotoUSA. Atlas has AMA racing creds that are even more extensive than his driving record.

Never judge a book by its cover. Case in point: Harley-Davidsons 2011 XR1200X.
Cranked over through Road America’s Turn 6 on the XR. We were surprised by the Harley’s handling.

First appearances can be misleading. Case in point: Harley-Davidson’s 2011 XR1200X. At first glance the updated Harley appears to be your average, run-of-the-mill standard, barely two steps away from a full-on cruiser. It’s for this reason that upon arriving at Eastern Wisconsin’s beautiful Road America we were surprised to be riding said machine on the racetrack for the U.S. press introduction. But 70-degree sunny weather and one of the country’s best circuits awaited us, so when in Rome… As it turns out all of our prejudices were quite unfounded.

Things started to make a bit more sense in the pre-ride technical briefing, where the motorcycle’s changes were highlighted. While there aren’t too many to speak off, the bike does feature new suspension front and rear, with Showa’s 43mm Big Piston Fork gracing the pointed end. This came as somewhat of a surprise as said Showa fork is advanced in even the most hardcore sportbike circles. Fully-adjustable dual 36mm Showa rear shocks completed the suspension changes. As for brakes, the 292mm front rotors are now floating while still being gripped by the same potent 4-pistion Nissin calipers as last year’s bike.

Tires are still specially-made Dunlop D209 Qualifiers. Due to the 580-lb curb weight of the XR they had to tailor a rear tire to handle the rather large amounts of weight transfer it generates under acceleration. Up front Harley uses an unconventional 18-inch wheel, something Dunlop also catered to.

2011 Harley-Davidson XR1200X.
The 2011 Harley-Davison XR1200X features a host of upgrades, including a blacked out engine and exhaust, new suspension front and rear as well as updated brakes.

The engine gets a blacked-out treatment, as do the upswept dual-exit shotgun exhausts, while orange pinstripes on the wheels round out the changes for the X-model. Retail price goes up $1000 to $11,799 for the XR1200X. Remember though, just the shock upgrade for the previous XR1200 to match what is now standard on the new bike cost $1500, so the 1K price hike isn’t a bad deal at all. The new XR-X will hit dealers later this summer, eventually replacing the standard XR1200 completely come 2011. Colors are Denim Black and Hot Denim White, both featuring a semi-gloss final finish.

A somewhat interesting back story follows the XR1200, as originally in ’07 when the model was first introduced it was for European markets only. Yes, a bike based off the dirt tracks of America only being sold overseas. Try and make some sense of that. The bottom line was that sport-standards just plain don’t sell in the U.S. like they do overseas, thus the original decision not to bring the quintessential American flat tracker to the U.S. was made.
But through an overwhelming number of customer requests, Harley-Davidson had a change of heart and at the end of 2008 announced we would sell the model on our shores as a 2009 edition. Many a dirt track fans rejoiced, even if it was only a limited run of 750 units.

Showas new Big Piston Fork sits up front on the updated 2011 XR1200X.Fully-adjustable Showa 36mm dual shocks are parts of the suspension upgrades that grace the 2011 H-D XR.
(Top) Showa’s new Big Piston Fork sits up front on the updated 2011 XR1200X. (Below) Fully-adjustable Showa 36mm dual shocks also grace the H-D XR for ’11.

That’s not to say the same trend of overseas priorities didn’t continue. The Euro contingent received the updated XR1200X we are testing here as a 2010 model, and it has been in dealerships for several months now. But better late than never, they say, so for 2011 the U.S. will follow suit and get the updated ‘X’ edition, which we rode around the strangely-fitting Road America Raceway.

Don’t forget this is a rather massively-heavy standard and with the exception of the new front fork features mostly several-decade-old technology wrapped in a new packaging. Or so we thought. Once we threw a leg over the XRs and hit the track our minds began to change – and fast.

Slamming the footpegs onto the ground the third corner out of the pits was startling, though the trusty XR didn’t falter. It was a bit unnerving for awhile, as once easily past the footpeg feelers we were into the exhaust heat shield and then the exhaust itself. And though the footpegs are folding and forgiving, the exhaust definitely is not. Yet one just had to approach things slightly different, hanging off far more than usual, especially though the long right-hand Carousel. Once really off the seat it kept the bike more upright and away from the solid and scary parts. We were soon knee on the ground in every corner and pushing far past what we thought possible for such a machine, scraping noises dancing through our helmets the entire time.

Due to the odd-sized front wheel I had feared front-end feedback and grip would borderline on scary. Not the case at all. The bikes turned in with a surprising amount of authority and were equally as stable, providing feedback on par with most modern sportbikes. This was aided by the stock, specially-designed Dunlop D209 Qualifier rubber. No question the grip levels of the Dunlop rubber far exceeds that of the machine’s cornering clearance, so tire sliding was never an issue. That is, unless you slammed hard parts into the ground with enough force to lever the wheels into the air – not something we would recommend trying.

The brakes had good initial bite when cool, though that lasted for about two laps before they began to overheat. Even so, they remained consistent and didn’t do anything scary as the performance slowly trailed off during longer sessions.
Top speed down the Kettle Bottoms and into Canada Corner was a tapped-out on-the-rev-limiter 122 mph. This is no doubt the result of the belt-drive final gearing, as the bike felt like it had an easy 10 mph more in it. Thankfully the rev-limiter is soft, not nearly as abrupt as some of the previous Harleys we have tested.

Knee on the deck and tucked in on a 580-lb standard. Who would have thought  It didnt take long before parts were dragging on the XR.
Knee on the deck and tucked in on a 580-lb standard. Who would have thought? We sure didn’t until throwing a leg over the updated XR.

The transmission worked as well as one would expect from a massive air-cooled V-Twin with very low miles on the odometer. Just about everyone pushing hard did have trouble with bike jumping out of top gear and back into fourth when attempting clutch-less up-shifts at wide-open throttle. While it wasn’t a false neutral, the load on the tranny wouldn’t let the gearbox fully engage the top cog and on occasion would click it back a gear without warning. Startling no doubt, but a quick swipe of the clutch lever would remedy the situation. As complaints go, this was without question our biggest.

Seating position is fairly upright, though as sporting as you’ll find on a motorcycle with the words ‘Harley-Davidson’ on the tank. The upswept dirt track-style bars made for easy reach and the seat is a comfortable place to be, both at speed on the track or cruising down the highway. Footpeg position is very neutral, further complimenting the seat and bar position. This may be a ‘sport’ Harley, but there’s still plenty of long-distance comfort built in.

Terry Vance, one of the founders of Vance & Hines, was on hand for the intro and made a comment in the morning briefing that I had initially been a tad skeptical of. Vance is a very smart guy, an ex-professional drag racer and current race team owner, and has done extremely well in the business end of motorcycling. As such he has a stable of motorcycles that would make any motorhead jealous. Yet he said that he continually found himself riding his XR1200 more than any other of the bikes in his “mancave”. Seeing as we were at the XR intro and he owns a Harley-sponsored race team, there was plenty potential for bias. Plus, I just didn’t see the XR as that exciting of a motorcycle. Until I rode it, that is.

In more ways than one the updated H-D had us all scratching our heads – and in a good way. The XR performed far better than any of us expected around the demanding Road America circuit – stable and solid handling, easy-to-use power and a torque-laden bottom end there just a few of its highlights – and not one of us ended the day without an ear-to-ear grin. Turns out it was a darn good thing that American consumers put up a fuss when H-D announced they were originally not going to bring the XR stateside. Because as they say, sometime looks can be deceiving.

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