Monday, June 21, 2010

Ride Review: Harley-Davidson XR1200X

With apologies to the movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre—and to Erik Buell—I’m compelled to open this posting with: “Buell? We ain't got no Buell. We don't need no Buell!” See, Harley-Davidson’s got its new XR1200X to handle the turn-and-burn crowd, and it’s not a bad ride. And, like most Buells (other than the 1125R), the XR1200X uses a Sportster-based engine for power. Moreover, the 1200X checks in as the best-handling Hog yet. Or at least the best-handling Hog that I’ve ever ridden. With such credentials, who needs Buells?

I had the opportunity to ride the XR1200X at Road America a couple of weeks ago when my amigo, Terry Roorda, asked me to review the bike for his magazine, Thunder Press. The occasion was Harley-Davidson’s long-lead introduction for the model, and since I haven’t spent much time on road-race tracks since the demise of the original Cycle Guide magazine, I couldn’t say no. Free track time, free meals, and free beer after hours? How could I resist?

One more thing before we get rolling on this bike: The XR1200X isn’t exactly an all-new model. The lads in Europe were privy to it for 2010 model year, and the X’s adjustable suspension—inverted fork and nitrogen-charged shocks, all by Showa—was offered to Yanks with standard-issue XR1200s on this side of the pond last year from Harley’s P&A division. The suspension kit retailed for $1,500; installation was extra. That’s important to know because the 2011 XR1200X’s MSRP is $11,799—exactly $1,000 more than the XR1200 that it replaces. Quite a bargain, and besides the adjustable suspension you get Nissin full-floating front rotors, and blacked-out mufflers, engine cases, and three-spoke cast-aluminum wheels in the deal.

 You can read about my experiences with the XR1200X on the racetrack in Thunder Press, available free at most Harley dealers. What I’d like to address here is the relevancy that the XR1200X has in Harley-Davidson’s lineup, especially now that the folks in Milwaukee eliminated Buell Motorcycles, the company.

It doesn’t take someone with an MBA in marketing to realize that the Buell brand wasn’t performing according to Harley-Davidson’s original business plan. Clearly, it was a bad mix, especially when Harley strong-armed dealers into taking on the Buell brand so that both marques shared the same floor. Guys wanting Softails and Dynas dolled up with chrome and slammed suspension didn’t mix well with other guys looking for bikes that took aim at apexes, not roadhouses; the dichotomous dealer concept probably didn’t help Buell sales one bit.

With Buell Motorcycles now parked in dodo bird heaven, the door swings open for Harley to shift some of its product line towards bikes that corner, brake, and accelerate with a little deftness. Enter the XR1200X and, no, it’s not in the same league as a Ducati 1198 or even BMW’s R1200 HP2 Sport, a bike that, like the XR1200X, is powered by an updated antiquated engine design.

Instead, the XR1200X is a sporting model that, like practically all other bikes that wear the Bar & Shield logo, plays heavily on the heritage concept. In this case, the family tree branches out onto the limb formed by the XR750 flat-track racer conceived in 1970 and updated with the alloy engine in 1972. And even that connection is a big stretch because the XR1200X and XR750 probably share only a few nut and washer part numbers, nothing more.

What I find interesting about the XR1200X is that it addresses the wants and needs of a specific kind of Harley-Davidson owner and rider. And they are guys—and gals—with a need for speed. Again, I’ll state that the 1200X won’t set the world on fire in terms of performance, but I’ll also go on record as saying that it’s a mighty fine street bike that—thanks to its adjustable suspenders—affords a comfortable ride for gobbling up the miles, yet when you crank up the suspension it’ll also gobble up the turns with proficiency.

I’m an ex-road racer (in all modesty, an accomplished one at that), and at this point in my riding career I’ll take an all-day ride on the 1200X without flinching or complaining. I like its traditional ergonomics; the V-twin engine’s broad torque curve means it’ll pull strong out of tight turns without having to downshift a zillion times to do so; and the steering is neutral after initial turn-in. No doubt, the thought of having to fold myself into the fetal position before piloting a bike such as the 1198 takes a lot out of the pre-ride excitement for me. But swinging a leg over the 1200X’s saddle is doable by any rider who hasn’t had his back fused in 20 places, and like I said earlier, the ergonomics make me want to stay seated aboard that 551-pound motorcycle for the duration of the ride.

Yet I still encourage Harley engineers and the design team to take the XR1200X to the next level. You know, drop a few pounds, trim it here and there, add a fairing or other streamlining apparatus, and tuck in the handlebar and footpegs. Heck, maybe the folks in Brewtown could even enlist Erik Buell to help with the project. The whole program has my endorsement.

But at the end of the day, I’d probably opt to ride home on the XR1200X. After all, it’s got the Daingerous moniker written all over it with invisible ink. —Dain Gingerelli


  1. Nice review, but is it worth $12 grand if that's the type of bike you want? I can't see Harley types really being interested, so you've got to attract somebody from the sportbike or sport touring crowd and they will likely be comparing specs. closely, not just looking for the logo T-shirt.

  2. Thanks for sharing, please keep an update about this info. love to read it more. i like this site too much. Good theme Congratulations


  3. Much more expensive and committed HP2S aside; anyone know how this Harley performs vs. the R1200R, another sporty, unfaired, upright, air cooled 1200 twin with lots of 'heritage', a similar price, and a seemingly not too dissimilar riding position?

  4. Actually, XR750s were conceived in the late '60s, but The Motor Company couldn't get its act together for AMA's '69 season.

    Mike H.

  5. Never understood the Harley, has bad suspension, brakes, heavy, outdated engine, frame geometry all wrong, doesn't do anything well. If this was 1960 they might have something, barring that...

    If you have a weak ego and are unsure of your masculinity and want to be associated with Marlon Brando, Harley is your bike. If you want something good than it is not.

    1. Brando was riding a british bike...stay off the road for all our sakes

  6. I recently purchased a 2009 XR1200 and have to tell you that it is a great riding bike. I have had many motorcycles over the years, but few have provided the fun and excitement that I get while riding the XR. If you are looking for a good all-around fun bike with lots of power and great styling (looks much better in person), then give this thing a try. You will not be disappointed!

  7. As a rider of the suzuki sv 650, another comfortable, fun bike with good ergoes, that you can find on Craigslist all day long for $3k-$5k, I see myself saying Kudos to HD for the thought, but your probably not ever gonna see my money. I just dont need the HD experience that bad.