Steve Storz has been spinning wrenches on Harley-Davidson dirt-trackers for a long time. How long? "I remember buying beer for Jay Springsteen when he was underage," he laughs.
It's been a quarter-century since Storz quit his job as a mechanic on the Harley-Davidson factory race team and moved from his native Nebraska to Southern California to found Storz Performance (www.storzperf.com). Originally, he specialized in building XR750 motors for racers, but his business evolved to the point that today his 44-page catalog is bursting with performance parts for Harleys and Buells. Along the way, he combined his passion for dirt-tracking with a little business common sense and started offering kits to convert Sportsters into street-legal dirt-trackers.
Storz built his first street-tracker, dubbed the XR-883, in 1990, and has sold similar such parts ever since. When the Motor Company introduced a new Sportster with a rubber-mounted engine for 2004, however, he was forced back to the drawing board. The result is the XR-1200 shown here.
Like its predecessor, the new bike sports true dirt-tracker looks, but is meant for the street. Witness the 18-inch wire-spoked wheels ($1385), down from the 19s common on dirt-trackers, to allow a broader choice of tire selection. Measuring 3.5 inches wide in front and 5.5 inches in rear, those hoops are shod with Metzeler Marathon street tires in 130/70 and 180/55 sizes, respectively ($405.90). Helping to make room for that fat rear meat is a #520 drive chain ($307.35) in lieu of the standard belt. Brakes consist of a single Galfer wave rotor pinched by a six-piston Performance Machine caliper up front, and a similar four-piston setup out back ($1234.91). Suspension chores are handled by a Ceriani 55mm inverted fork ($2311 with triple trees), plus a pair of Works Performance Pro Racer shocks ($489). Or at least that's what it would ordinarily have; it had a set of stock shocks when we rode it, owing to fitment issues that were in the process of being resolved.
The biggest visual difference between the XR-1200 and a stock Sportster is, obviously, the bodywork. Storz has the fiberglass seat ($357) and aluminum tank ($1045) made by old-world craftsmen that are increasingly hard to find in today's disposable society, so excuse him if he doesn't open his rolodex for you. Those prices are for unpainted parts, incidentally; figure another grand or so for a quality spray job. Rounding out the transformation is a set of billet clamps holding a Flanders dirt-track-style handlebar ($270.95), plus a pair of Storz billet rearset footpegs ($670).
Because it's Steve's personal ride, this particular bike was equipped with select Screamin' Eagle performance parts including a Keihin 44mm CV carburetor ($309.95), a set of XL bolt-in cams ($324.95), a high-flow air cleaner ($109.95) and an ignition module that raises the rev limit to 7500 rpm ($119.95). That, combined with the freer-flowing two-into-two high pipes that Storz has built by Bub ($875), boosts rear-wheel horsepower from the stock 60 or so at 6000 rpm up to almost 80 at seven grand. There's no mistaking the bike for a GSX-R1000, but that's still a 33 percent gain.
With the XR-1200 scheduled to embark on the International Motorcycle Show circuit shortly after our visit, Storz was understandably reluctant to turn the bike over for an extended thrashing. Which was smart: The last time I had access to a street-tracker, I rode it in the Harley races at Costa Mesa speedway. Instead, riding his new KTM 625 SMC Supermoto bike, he led me on a 50-mile loop from Ventura around Lake Casitas to Carpinteria--a nice, mellow ride punctuated by lunch at a Mexican restaurant. And they call this work ...
First thing you notice about the Storz bike is how un-Sportsterish it feels. You no longer sit back on your haunches, hands roughly level with your eyes and feet directly below your knees. You assume a much more active posture on the XR, leaning slightly forward into the wind to grasp the wide, leverage-enhancing handlebar, with your feet down below the seat where you can effectively weight the footpegs. The Saddlemen seat pad looks thin but is surprisingly dense and supportive, and I didn't burn my heel on the high-mount pipes like I did when I ran this setup on an 883 Twin Sports racer a decade ago.
Credit the current use of double-walled mild steel; the old ones were single-wall stainless. That riding position plays a large part in improving handling, too. Combined with the smaller front and larger rear wheels that help reduce rake and trail, plus the stout inverted fork, the bike feels infinitely more nimble and neutral-steering; you no longer find yourself chasing that pizza-cutter front tire as the fork chatters through bumpy bends. It feels as though the whole bike has been rotated up onto its front contact patch, because it has. Not wanting to scratch up a show bike, I didn't test the limits of cornering clearance, but it proved ample for our reasonably brisk pace.
Mostly, though, you notice how much lighter the bike feels. Rubber mounting added some 50 pounds to the stock Sportster, increasing the weight of an XL-1200R to a claimed 557 pounds dry. But Storz says his XR-1200 tips the scales at just 474 pounds. Ever tried to lose 83 pounds? Of course, all this goodness comes at a price, and if you add up all the numbers in parentheses and a few miscellaneous odds and ends, the total comes to more than $14,000. And that's not including the price of the bike itself.
Still, Storz has found no shortage of customers. Echoing a popular sentiment, he claims the key to success in the motorcycle industry is specialization. "The Sportster niche has been a good one for me," he says, "I'm the only guy doing it." Asked how Mert Lawwill's new Sportster-based street-tracker might affect business, Storz shakes his head and says, "Nothing against Mert, but he's doing it the hard way, building his own frame with that parallelogram rear suspension. His bikes are expensive, but they're probably not expensive enough. I don't know how he's going to make any money. The thing about what I'm doing is you don't have to do it all at once; you can build it bit by bit. "I think the appeal of a Sportster is it's your basic motorcycle--just two wheels and an engine," Storz says. "Only mine is really cool."