Harley-Davidson XR1200 VS. KTM Super Duke 990 R - Opposites Attract

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Kevin Wing

Extremist Or America's Most Wanted Expatriate?
They're both V-twins. Both aim at an erudite sporting audience, and both wear the orange and black racing livery of their respective factories. Beyond that, the XR1200 and Super Duke 990 R are farther apart than the 4531 miles between Harley-Davidson's hallowed Milwaukee, Wisconsin works and KTM Sportmotorcycle AG headquarters in Mattighofen, Austria. But both are clear reflections of their parents' best competitive instincts.

Like most Harleys, the XR1200 is homage to a beloved piece of Motor Company history: the XR750 that has ruled big American dirt ovals from San Jose to Syracuse since the alloy XR was instituted in 1972. Harley already owned 12 of the 13 AMA Grand National Championships since '54, and the new XR carried the illustrious number-one plate 20 times over the following 27 seasons. Though it remains the best tool for sliding around the county fair circuit, a domesticated XR750 on the street is like Big Brown pulling a plow: unhappy. That's why the only direct carryovers to Harley's new XR1200 are the sacrosanct 45-degree arrangement of its air-cooled cylinders, assorted styling cues and a coat of Jet-Fire Orange paint.

KTM has been building motorcycles exactly half as long, and can't touch Harley in the history department. Duke singles have been thumping around since '94, but the 990 Super Duke-complete with second-generation LC8 V-twin-has only been around since '04. With more than 120 world championships in the corporate trophy case, however, "Ready to Race" is more than a trite tagline. Still, from its humble beginnings as a repair shop in 1934, Kraftfahrzeuge Trunkenpolz Mattighofen has been too busy looking ahead to spend much time basking in the bygone. Harley has a museum. KTM has the Red Bull Rookies Cup. Any questions?

This latest 990 Duke is a predictable move, putting a sharper, R-spec edge on our 2007 Motorcycle of the Year for those who insist that way too much is just about right. And despite its glaring absence from the '08 lineup, the XR1200's arrival in the U.S. is more a matter of when than if. The KTM looks like something Milwaukee might have come up with if it didn't look at the future with one eye on the past. Park them next to each other and differences bury similarities, polarize opinions and show you just how much corporate persona these factories can build into a naked sporting twin.

The KTM feels half as long and twice as tall as Harley's sportiest Sportster. Okay, so the Super Duke's wheelbase is only 2.5 inches shorter, but its cruel excuse for a seat is 5 inches taller, which makes more legroom for tall types. Dig deeper and the differences just get bigger. At 448 pounds complete with life-giving fluids, the Austrian bike is fully 138 lbs. lighter than the American. But wait, there's more: Park both tach needles at 7000 rpm and the Harley's 1202cc OHV twin is tapped out at 80 horsepower. The KTM's DOHC 999cc mill makes 89 horsepower at 7000, but it's open for serious business all the way to 10,000 rpm, when all 118 horses are let out of the gate.

At this point you could be forgiven for thinking this contest is like the New England Patriots vs. Devils Lake School for the Deaf, but there's more to it than that. For one thing, the Firebirds were 10-2-0 last season, one win short of a state championship. The overdog, in this case, has only one thing on his mind, and Harley's tribute to the blue groove is a whole lot more fun on pavement than it appears on paper.

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