What took so long, and when can I buy one?" That was the overwhelming response to the October 2006 debut of Harley-Davidson's XR1200 prototype, a street-legal tribute to the iconic XR750s that have dominated American dirt-track racing for more than three decades. The XR1200 has finally reached production, complete with Willie G's brilliant, flat track-inspired styling, a surprisingly effective chassis honed by none other than nine-time AMA Grand National Champion Scott Parker and a satisfying powerplant that delivers a claimed 91 horsepower-20 up on the standard XL1200 Sportster. Just one problem: You can only buy the XR1200 in Europe, Africa or the Middle East-American enthusiasts need not apply.
How ironic that this American motorcycle, inspired by the most American form of motorcycle racing, isn't available on the American market. This discrepancy reflects shifting realities inside Harley-Davidson. A plunging exchange rate, combined with a significant dip in home-market sales (down 18.1 percent since '06), has made the export market (up 29.9 percent over the same period) more important to Harley than ever before. The result? Bikes developed exclusively for Europe that aren't available in America-at least for the time being.
That's too bad, because the XR1200 is an impressive streetbike. As an expression of The Motor Company's confidence, the new machine was introduced on the hardcore racer roads just inland from Spain's Valencia Grand Prix circuit. Riding H-D's Orange Blossom Special through the orange groves in the company of Parker and other hard-riding members of Harley's R&D team demonstrated that the XR delivers the goods.
The racy tank looks great, but only carries 3.5 gallons of fuel. Postage-stamp passenger s
Twin Nissin four-piston calipers make this the best-braking bike in the H-D lineup.
Minimalist dash consists of just an analog tach with digital speedo/trip computer offset t
The XR utilizes a more potent version of Harley's iconic Evolution V-twin, rubber-mounted in the standard Sportster frame. The super-Sportster motor still transmits quite a bit of vibration at rest, persisting through the footpegs until 2500 rpm, after which it smoothes out. From there to the hard, 7000-rpm rev limit it's all muscle, delivering a linear build of power with zero driveline snatch to make for a forgiving and easy rider.
Low-end vibes are a bit of a pain around town, but in the happy zone between 3000 and 6500 rpm you can't help but feel you belong at the Springfield Mile. The XR is satisfyingly fast and torquey to ride hard, with the well-mapped fuel injection delivering good midrange response and respectable top-end performance, pulling an indicated 200 kph (124 mph) in top gear. A sixth ratio would give it slightly longer legs, but that's not really practical on a naked bike.
Back at idle, you'd never guess this is essentially the same engine that's fitted to the rest of the Sportster range. It emits much less mechanical noise than the Nightster, with fewer rattles and a more responsive throttle pickup. And thanks to the XR's exclusive oil-cooling system-necessary to address the higher-spec engine's higher operating temperatures-the engine also looks neater, without so many external oil lines.
The XR sounds better than other Sportsters too, thanks to H-D's clever Active Intake System that quiets the motor at (coincidentally, we're sure) the exact same rpm and road speeds that EU noise tests are carried out. This system allows Harley to run a less restrictive setup outside of these parameters, which not only enhances performance but also allows a bike that still sounds great through the twin, stacked, stainless steel 2-1-2 exhaust on the right side of the bike.