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2008 Harley-Davidson XR 1200 Review

Harley's proposal to Europe

By Tor Sagen, Jun. 10, 2008, Photography by DoubleRed

As far as I know, Harley-Davidson has never before launched a new motorcycle exclusively first in Europe. In Valencia, Spain Harley did and the XR 1200 was launched in a big way to virtually anyone that can walk and talk in the European motorcycle press.

The XR1200 is as close to a true sportsbike Harley-Davidson is ever going to make. Itís air-cooled with a modified 1200cc Evolution V45 from the Sportster range. To make it more powerful than the rest the XR 1200 features a larger air-box, downdraft fuel injection and a performance biased exhaust system. The result is a true 90 horsepower at 7,000rpm and a trademark 100Nm of torque maxing at a low 3.700 rpm. The enlightened will know that a Buell makes more horsepower than this with similar technology.

How often do you get a chance to lift the front wheel off the ground on Harley?

The reason the XR 1200 doesnít make a full 100 horsepower was explained to me by one of the Milwaukee engineers as being down to a lower volume air box and different exhaust system. Harley-Davidson would never completely sacrifice style over performance and that is the reason.

The XR 1200 sure seems to have a different presence than most other motorcycles. Itís unique from the Motor Company and the only other motorcycle on the market I can find for some sort of comparison would be the Yamaha MT01!

At the same time, if it hadnít been for the 1970 launch of the 90 horsepower XR750 for Flat Track racing we would never have seen the XR 1200. That the new 1200 makes the same horsepower as a 38 year old bike will have to be forgiven as the modern noise and emission regulations doesnít allow for much more.

This early morning in April, I have the privilege of following Wrecking Crew member No. 1 Scott Parker into the mountains on the XR 1200. Parker is nine-time AMA champion and the most successful rider on the most successful Flat Track race bike ever.

Not long after Scott Parker and stunt-monkey Craig Jones were doing monos worth a gold medal up in the mountains. Thereís no doubt in my mind after doing some of my own that the XR 1200 is the most fun Harley-Davidson I have ever ridden! So it wheelies, but even more impressive is the ability to go fast through the tight corners in the Spanish mountains. True, the XR 1200 is much heavier than any other European brand motorcycle it is supposed to compete with, but once on the move it handles brilliantly and the monstrous torque curve is a delight to use.

This Harley has got tires to match its abilities fully in the Dunlop Qualifiers. Using an 18-inch Flat Track style front wheel, the Qualifiers have been specially designed for the big Harley. With a 551 lb. dry weight the XR is probably a little bit heavier than what the Qualifiers were intended for in the first place. But never mind, they stick like glue to the tarmac and only the foot peg feelers touch the ground. To me, those foot pegs and feelers are the most annoying thing about the XR 1200 package. At stand still I hit the feelers with my ankles and getting back on the move I drag the foot pegs up and they havenít got spring action to bring them back down again. The Harley engineers that I spoke with told me that this was the first issue that they would address ahead of mass production, which began May 12.

Our writer Tor Sagen with Wrecking Crew member Scott Parker on his rear wheel.

The seat is quite thin and sporty and the seat height is a low 29.2 in. The handlebars are very wide and make it easy to wrestle the XR to its sides. The lean angle is very good, but despite the fact that it looks like the right exhaust side will touch ground first itís actually the typical Harley side stand on the left that will touch first. The clutch cable looks fairly exposed - as if it will start grinding when leaning the XR to its extreme left. It shouldnít and it didnít, it just looks that way. The whole mid-placed exhaust cover will grind on the right hand side. Despite the fact that the XR 1200 is the sportiest Harley ever, it still has got plenty of styling compromise. 

This Harley sports a (gasp!) plastic tank.
The Dunlop Qualifers are a good match for the XR 1200.

Harley aficionados will frown upon the fact that thereís a plastic tank and rear fairing sides on the XR 1200. The headlight is a standard Sportster item and the double rear shocks remind me of a Sportster too. The travel is a short 3.5 in. at the back and 4.9 in. from the 1.7in. USD fork. That aluminium swing arm, which looks technical and light, does not remind me of anything found on other Harleys. 

Mounted on the 18-inch front wheel is a pair of four-piston Nissin callipers providing plenty of stopping power. I canít help it, but I am really glad that Harley-Davidson kept the Harley clutch and brake levers as they feel really good to use. The five-speed gearbox was brilliant and not heavy to use at all.

Riding the XR 1200 as hard as I dare through the mountain passes and valleys was a very pleasing experience. I had to keep reminding myself that I was on a Harley launch and not a Buell launch! Not that the XR 1200 feels anywhere remotely like a Buell. Itís too big for that, but still handles so well. With the XR 1200 working hard under you it should be much easier to keep up with your friends on sportsbikes. You wonít go faster, but certainly as fast in many places.

On my way back from the mountains and into Valencia I got to test the city riding qualities too. The XR 1200 filters like no other Harley, apart from maybe the Nightster. One of the major differences that make the XR 1200 is the fact that it has top-end tires that gives you the extra safety to go a little bit faster everywhere Ė the town included. A little bit too much heat radiation is my only town-riding complaint.

Finally, I asked Scott Parker which he preferred, the XR 750 or the XR 1200? Of course, Parkerís a company man so didnít give any clear answers to that one. What was evident during our ride was that pretty much everyone enjoyed the XR immensely.


The Harley-Davidson XR 1200 is a solid piece of work. The whole aura of the bike and the XR 750 heritage is pleasing. I feel owning one of these would be no problem at all, Iíd be satisfied on all sorts of roads and youíre not stuck through a hair-pin corner dragging a 240mm rear tire (XR 1200 features a 180/55-ZR17) after you. The XR 1200 canít really compete on the edge with other European streetfighters, but itís a huge step in the right direction should Harley ever wish to do so.

The Perfect Bike For...
Those who want a sporty Harley and have been disappointed with the Sportsters or the V-rod.
 Highs:     Sighs:
  • XR 1200, what a cool name!
  • Torque is beautiful<
  • It handles and wheelies!!!
  • Foot pegs do not retract by themselves
  • What exactly are extra 100 pounds for?

XR 1200 Specs
Engine Air-cooled, Evolution
Displacement 1202cc
Engine Torque 74 ft. lbs / 100 NM @ 3700 rpm
Horsepower 90hp / 67kW @ 7000 rpm
Bore x Stroke (mm) 88.9 x 96.8
Fuel System Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Compression Ratio 10.0:1
Exhaust System Upswept, high-volume 2-1-2 straight shot exhaust system finished in satin chrome
Primary Drive Chain, 57/34 ratio
Final Drive Belt, 68/28 ratio
Clutch 8-plate, wet
Transmission 5 speed
Brakes, Dia (Front/Rear, mm) 292 dual / 260
Caliper Type Dual 4-piston, fixed front, single-piston floating rear
Front Fork 43 mm inverted
Rear Shocks Coil-over; preload dual-adjustable
Suspension Travel (mm) Front 125/Rear 89
Frame Mild steel tubular frame; circular sections; cast junctions
Swingarm Aluminium cast
Length (mm) 2,195
Seat Height (mm) 742
Ground Clearance (mm) 147
Rake at steering head (°) / Trail (mm) 29.3 / 130
Fork Angle (°) 27.8
Wheelbase (mm) Valentino Rossi
Fuel Capacity (liters) 13.3
Oil Capacity with Filter (liters) 2.8
Dry Weight (kg) 250
Color Options Vivid Black; Mirage Orange Pearl; Pewter Denim

Related Reading
H-D XR1200 rolls off the line
2008 Harley-Davidson models

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