Why do “real” motorcyclists hate Harley-Davidsons?

R.I.P. XR1200.

[ Who says Harleys don't handle well?

Lost amid all the noise surrounding hard-candy flake paint, mini apes and Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary is the disturbing footnote that one of our all-time favorite Motor Company motorcycles, the XR1200, has been dropped from the 2013 lineup.

The XR1200—the Sportster-based tribute to the iconic XR750 racers that have dominated American dirt track racing since 1970—debuted overseas in 2008. We even gave it a “Best Dreambike” nod in our MOTY balloting that year, and our dreams came true when the XR1200 was sold stateside the next year. The XR was an immediate success, bringing countless “conquest” customers into Harley-Davidson showrooms for the first time with its unique mix of classic racing style, inimitable H-D character, and plenty of practical, real-world performance. The model even inspired Harley-Davidson’s welcome return to professional road racing with the AMA Pro Vance & Hines 1200 series. Harley-Davidson finally made a motorcycle “real” enthusiasts responded to. Was the Motor Company coming around at last?

Alas, it seems like everyone who wanted an XR1200 bought one that first year; sales have trickled off to almost nothing since then. This isn’t the first time Harley-Davidson has seen this happen, of course. Remember the lithesome XLCR Café Racer from 1977? The awesome, dual-carb, XR1000 flat-track replica from ‘83? The entire Buell Motorcycles catalog? Whenever The Motor Company ventures out on a limb and designs a performance bike to appeal to hardcore motorcycle enthusiasts, the reward is a sales bomb. The reality seems to be this: sport riders won’t ride Harleys, and Harley riders won’t ride sportbikes. Some lines will just never be crossed, no matter how great the bike.

That’s a shame for those who are willing to look beyond labels and recognize a great motorcycle for what it is. It’s doubly tragic for those of us who sincerely wish that America’s oldest and proudest motorcycle manufacturer would produce a world-class superbike. If they can’t even find success with a relatively low-risk, high-reward venture like the XR1200, there’s not a chance in hell that a modern, street-legal update of the VR1000 Superbike is ever coming back.

R.I.P. XR1200: the next in Harley-Davidson’s long line of sporty sales flops-cum-coveted collector bikes.