2008 Harley-Davidson XR1200 Review - Motorcycle.com

Tor Sagen
by Tor Sagen

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 XR1200 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 (except for the ill-fated VR1000 Superbike –Ed.). It’s air-cooled with a modified 1203cc Evolution V45 from the Sportster range. To make it more powerful than the rest, the XR1200 features a larger air-box, downdraft fuel injection and a performance-biased exhaust system. The result is a claimed 90 horsepower at 7.000 rpm and 73.8 ft-lbs of torque maxing at a low 3.700 rpm.

2008 Harley-Davidson XR1200. Only in Amer... er, um... Europe.
The XR1200 puts out a claimed 90 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 73.8 ft-lbs of torque maxing at a low 3,700 rpm. The enlightened will know that a Buell makes more horsepower than this with similar technology.
Scott Parker (in the leathers) is a 9-time AMA flat-track champion.
The dual over-under up-swept exhaust is a signature design item and iconic to the XR1200's inspiration, the XR750 flat-track dominator.
Riding the XR1200 aggressively through mountain passes and valleys was a very pleasing experience. Tor had to keep reminding himself that he was on a Harley, not a Buell!

The enlightened will know that a Buell makes more horsepower than this with similar technology. The reason the XR1200 doesn’t make a full 100 horsepower was explained to me by one of the Milwaukee engineers as being down to a lower volume airbox and different exhaust system. Harley-Davidson would never ever sacrifice style completely over performance and that is the reason.

The XR1200 sure makes a presence different to most other motorcycles. It’s unique from the Motor Company, and the only other motorcycle on the market I can find for some sort of comparison would be the Euro-only Yamaha MT01!

At the same time, if it hadn’t been for the 1970 launch of the 90-horsepower XR750 for flat-track racing, we would not have seen the XR1200. That the new 1200 makes the same horsepower as a 38-year-old bike will have to be forgiven, as modern noise and emission regulations don’t allow for much more.

'The XR1200 sure makes a presence different to most other motorcycles.'

This early morning in April, I have the privilege of following Wrecking Crew member number 1 Scott Parker into the mountains on the XR1200. Parker is 9 times AMA champion and the most successful rider on the most successful flat-track racebike ever.

Not long after, Scott Parker and Brommie stunt-monkey Craig Jones were doing monos worth a gold medal up in the mountains. There’s no doubt in my mind after doing some of my own, this Harley 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 XR1200 is pretty 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 just 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 claimed dry weight, the XR is probably a little bit heavier than what the Qualifiers was intended for in the first place. But never mind, they stick like glue to the tarmac and only the footpeg feelers touch the ground. To me, those footpegs and feelers are the most annoying thing about the XR1200 package. At a standstill, I hit the feelers with my ankles, and getting back on the move I drag the footpegs up and they haven’t 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 scheduled for this spring.

The seat is quite thin and sporty, and the seat height is a low 29.2 inches. The handlebar is very wide and this makes 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, it’s actually the typical Harley sidestand on the left that will touch first. The clutch cable looks fairly exposed and as if it will start grinding leaning the XR to its extreme left. It shouldn’t and it didn’t, it just looks that way. The whole mid-placed exhaust cover will grind on the right-hand side. Despite the fact that the XR1200 is the sportiest Harley ever, it still has got plenty of styling compromise.

Harley aficionados will frown upon the fact that there’s a plastic tank and rear fairing sides on the XR1200. 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 inches at the back and 4.9 inches from the 43mm USD fork. That aluminium swingarm does not remind me of anything found on other Harleys, though. It looks technical and light.

Mounted on the 18-inch front wheel is a pair of 4-piston Nissin calipers providing plenty of stopping power. I can’t help it, but I am really glad that Harley-Davidson have kept Harley clutch and brake levers as they feel really good to use. The 5-speed gearbox was brilliant and not heavy to use at all.

Riding the XR1200 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. It’s too big for that but still handles so well. With the XR1200 working hard under you, it should be much easier to keep up with your friends on sportsbikes. You won’t 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. The XR1200 filters like no other Harley, apart from maybe the Nightster. One of the major differences that make the XR1200 is the fact that it has got top tires that gives you the extra safety to go a little bit faster everywhere, also in town. A little bit too much heat radiation is my only town-riding complaint.

Finally, I asked Scott Parker which he preferred, the XR750 or the XR1200? Of course, Parker’s a company man, so he didn’t give any clear answers to that one. What was evident during our ride was that pretty much everyone enjoyed the XR immensely. (Too bad Harley hasn’t yet announced plans to sell the XR in North America – Ed.)

'With the XR1200 working hard under you, it should be much easier to keep up with your friends on sportsbikes.'


The Harley-Davidson XR1200 is a solid piece of work. The whole aura of the bike and the XR750 heritage is pleasing. I feel owning one of these would be no problem at all – I’d be satisfied on all sorts of roads, and you’re not stuck through a hair-pin corner dragging a 240mm rear tyre (the XR1200 features a 180/55-ZR17) after you. The XR1200 can’t really compete on the edge with other European streetfighters, but it’s a huge step in the right direction should Harley ever wish to do so.

The 2008 Harley-Davidson XR1200 is a step in the right direction toward true hooliganism for the American bike maker as Tor implies in this photo.
The Perfect Bike For...
The rider that wants a sporty Harley and has been disappointed with the Sportsters or the V-Rod.
Highs: Sighs:
XR1200, what a cool name! Torque is beautiful! It handles and wheelies! Footpegs do not retract by themselves What exactly are those 50 kilos above the 200 mark? Not sold in America
XR 1200 Specs
EngineAir-cooled, Evolution
Engine Torque74 ft. lbs / 100 NM @ 3700 rpm
Horsepower90hp / 67kW @ 7000 rpm
Bore x Stroke (mm)88.9 x 96.8
Fuel SystemElectronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Compression Ratio10.0:1
Exhaust SystemUpswept, high-volume 2-1-2 straight shot exhaust system finished in satin chrome
Primary DriveChain, 57/34 ratio
Final DriveBelt, 68/28 ratio
Clutch8-plate, wet
Transmission5 speed
Brakes, Dia (Front/Rear, mm)292 dual / 260
Caliper TypeDual 4-piston, fixed front, single-piston floating rear
Front Fork43 mm inverted
Rear ShocksCoil-over; preload dual-adjustable
Suspension Travel (mm)Front 125/Rear 89
FrameMild steel tubular frame; circular sections; cast junctions
SwingarmAluminium 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 OptionsVivid Black; Mirage Orange Pearl; Pewter Denim

Related Reading
Harley-Davidson News
2008 Harley-Davidson Models
2008 Harley-Davidson CVO Models

Tor Sagen
Tor Sagen

More by Tor Sagen

Join the conversation