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

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Kevin Wing

Unfortunately, that Marquis de Saddle is also part of the deal, along with a WP Roma 4860 fork and 4618 shock that are better suited to landing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. That shock is 10mm longer than a standard Super Duke's which, along with a new milled triple clamp, sharpens the front-end geometry with a crazy-steep 22.7 degrees of rake and a skimpy 3.7 inches of trail. Are these people serious? Of course they are-they're Austrian. The R comes with everything except a sense of humor.

This KTM is not your friend. It's a scalpel, honed exclusively for high speed and smooth pavement. Indecision, indiscretion and ham-fisted behavior will not be tolerated. That much is clear as soon as you start the engine. Blip the throttle. The tach needle flicks to the right quicker than anything else with two cylinders and a license plate, accompanied by a taut, angry bark that could only come from a racy 75-degree V-twin. Everything else happens just as fast.

Treat neutral throttle as an oxymoron and acceleration is startlingly immediate beyond 3000 rpm, but not terribly compelling until the tach strikes 6000 and punts you forward with an immediacy usually reserved for R-suffix Ducatis and select theme-park rides. Expect some amount of daylight under the front Pirelli in the first three gears. A determined two-finger squeeze cues the radial-mount front calipers to scrub off speed with exactly the sort of reassuring precision we expect from the House of Brembo. Brake ridiculously late and the R nails the apex precisely as directed, leaving you with plenty of pavement for a graceful exit. Take your time to get the fork and shock right-Suspension 201 is a prerequisite here-and front-end feedback is quite good. Cornering clearance is effectively unlimited with the gummy, Pirelli Diablo Corsa 3 radials. Unless you're a neurosurgeon or commandant of the local bomb squad, going through all that 90 or 100 times on Saturday morning takes its toll on the old neural circuits.

So relax and have a go on the Harley-middle-American yin to the KTM's overwrought Austrian yang. The undersquare twin can't spin up anywhere as quickly, and nothing happens any faster than you want it to, but there's a surprising amount of practical thrust in the fun zone between 4000 and 7000 rpm. That's enough for a GPS-certified 123 mph on top, vs. 158 for the KTM. Nissin front calipers and 292mm rotors are a high-water mark for Milwaukee braking hardware, with feel that lets you brake all the way to the apex plus all the power you need from a one-finger squeeze. The key to speed on the XR1200 is the same as the XR750's: Brake lightly and haul around corners. Rearset pegs help the cause, touching down only occasionally on the street once those cute little feelers are gone.

Compared to the KTM, the Harley arcs into bends in slow-motion and tracks around on the proverbial rails from there, always letting you know how the 18-inch front Dunlop is getting along with the pavement. We never found a road the XR-specific Qualifiers didn't like. The 43mm Showa fork does a decent job despite a lack of external adjustments. The preload-adjustable shocks that can't quite manage comfort and compliance are the weak link in any cornering equation.

In the end, which one of these two bikes you like says more about who you are and how you ride than anything else. Professional bull riders, Formula 1 drivers and pathological adrenaline addicts will throw down for the KTM, dismissing the Harley as an overstuffed American artifact for schmaltzy Europeans. Anyone who knows which foot the steel shoe goes on will pine for the XR1200 and lay down cash money the day it materializes in their local showroom. And if such a deal could be done for, say, $12,000, bring lunch and a lawn chair. It's going to be a long line.

Ari Henning
Off The Record

The XR plucks a cool cord in riders who wouldn't look twice at any other Harley.

Like, um, me. I typically don't dig Hogs, but the XR is different. Purposeful styling, no chrome and a seating arrangement that lets you ride the thing, which I did-for several hours-on the way to the drag strip.

I enjoyed cruising the XR, but where's the power? I can't understand why Harley does so little with displacement while KTM and every other builder does so much. It may be mean, but I'd rather take the Duke's punishment than make apologies for the Harley's deficiencies. Swap those pushrods for cam chains and America will have a bike to brag about.

Age: 23 Height: 5'10" Weight: 165 lbs. Inseam: 33 in.

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