2011 XR1200X Review
Bouncing off the Harley-Davidson rev limiter in fifth gear, I quickly glance at the digital speedometer displaying 122 mph and instantaneously return my concentration to the track in time to notice the first braking marker blur past in my peripheral vision.
I lift out of the tuck position and apply both binders to set up for the 90-degree right known as Canada Corner.
I feather the throttle and trail brake through the turn to set up a good drive into Road America’s Thunder Valley chicane.
It is a beautiful spring day in Elkhart Lake, Wisc., the weekend of an AMA Pro Superbike race, but I’m not riding a Superbike-I am on a new 2011 Harley-Davidson XR1200X Sportster.
Americana, the classic cruiser, a sense of freedom and the spirit of the open road are the thoughts the name Harley-Davidson conjures up.
Terms such as deft handling and outright performance don’t immediately come to mind, a bit strange for a company that has such a rich racing heritage in flat track, road racing and dragstrip competition.
Continuing this legacy is exactly what the H-D engineers in Milwaukee had in mind with the launch of the new 2011 Sportster XR1200X and the AMA Pro Vance & Hines XR1200 Racing Series, a spec-bike, five-race championship featuring specially modified Harley-Davidson XR1200 motorcycles.
The Harley XR1200X was initially launched as a 2010 model for the European market, where naked bikes have a cult following and are loved for their tough brutish styling and high performance characteristics.
XR clubs were forming in England and elsewhere; back alley dragging and café racing quickly evolved into sanctioned racing.
This groundswell of support for the XR1200X overseas convinced Harley to launch the bike stateside as a 2011 model year and team up with Vance & Hines to showcase the tight racing and competitive fun that can be had atop the new X.
Built on the pedigree of the standard XR1200 that it replaces, the new X steps up performance by focusing on handling and suspension personalization.
Inverted 43mm Showa Big Piston forks utilize the same spring rates as previous models but the damping characteristics are tuned to work specifically with the Dunlop Qualifier D209 front tire designed for the XR models.
Compression and rebound adjustment screws are located at the top of the fork tubes with spring preload adjustments at the axle holder.
In the rear, fully adjustable twin Showa shocks with 32mm pistons and piggyback nitrogen-charged reservoirs keep things planted. Compression and rebound damping are controlled through easy to access thumb knobs and are complemented by spring preload collars for quick tuning.
Throwing a leg over the XR1200X, I felt like I should be donning stars and stripes leathers with the name Knievel emblazoned across the shoulders.
The 573-pound machine has a very substantial and masculine feel, and the signature power pulse thump and throaty exhaust note is 100-percent Harley, compliments of the 2-1-2 side-mounted upswept exhaust system. Noticeably absent is much of the vibration associated with Harley’s cruisers.
Rumbling out of the pits and onto the track for a sighting lap, the ergonomics of the X felt immediately comfortable.
The leverage available from the wide handlebars and the rearset footpegs allow me to easily transfer weight to the front for cornering, and the scooped out seat facilitates the tuck position down the straights.
After just two laps I couldn’t contain my excitement anymore and I began yelling in my helmet. This is fun! I found that utilizing the endless torque of the 1200cc V-twin was the fastest way around the racetrack. With its tall third gear, spirited riding can be done with minimal effort.
Confidence is a function of predictability of behavior, and the XR responds to rider instructions without garbling the message.
Handlebar and foot controls are fairly precise, and the rear brake is surprisingly strong with a good progressive feel.
Dual 292mm full-floating rotors matched to four piston Nissin calipers make braking a one finger experience on nearly every turn on the track, except when coming out of the Kettle Bottoms straight at 120 mph plus, where using two digits facilitates corner entry.
The highlight of each lap is definitely the infamous Carousel. At over a third-of-a-mile long, the 180-degree, near-constant radius right hand sweeper is the perfect test of the XR’s stability. Shifting into fourth gear and dropping a knee renders a huge fun factor.
The five-speed transmission functions flawlessly when you use the clutch, but upshifting without the clutch can be a bit laborious, especially when pounding the rev limiter.
However, with 74 ft/lbs of torque generously spread throughout the power delivery, the fastest way around the track is to shift before the red line is reached.
Although riding the XR1200X at Road America is an absolute thrill, the truth is that 99-percent of us are going to buy the new XR primarily to burn up our local canyons and back roads rather than the track.
Quickly changing out of my track suit and into riding jeans and a leather jacket, I pointed the bike toward the Wisconsin countryside to take the long way back to Harley-Davidon headquarters in Milwaukee.
The Showa suspension transitions perfectly to street use. The bike feels planted over moderately bumpy sections of tarmac and remains settled under braking. Perhaps the most fun is dumping the clutch and accelerating from a dead stop.
The belt drive delivers the torque from the fuel-injected, air-cooled 1200cc Evolution power plant in silky smooth fashion, and the Nissin braking package slows the massive display of American muscle with such little effort that the XR seemingly begs to be ridden aggressively.
decided it was time to slow down and soak up some of the Midwest charm. I quickly noticed townsfolk. Some of them were staring, some waving, and nearly all of the kids pointing and shouting, “Motorcycle!” It is a visual and audible reminder of the striking blacked-out aesthetics of the XR1200X.
Weaving through rush hour traffic approaching downtown Milwaukee, I was struggling to wrap my mind around events of the day.
Was the new XR more enjoyable railing through the twisting turns and ripping straights of Road America, or powering through the open expanse of the Wisconsin countryside?
As I mull that over, one thing is abundantly clear, the 2011 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200X is a seriously fun street-legal, naked sport bike, and a welcome addition to the AMA racing scene.
Motorcycle Riding Apparel
Helmet: Akuma Phantom II MFR
Leathers: Dainese Gran Premio
Gloves: Dainese Ignition
Boots: Dainese Torque Out D-W