2009 Harley-Davison XR1200 | Motorcycle Review

Dirt-track Inspired Sportster

Gunning a motorcycle around a dirt oval is a pastime as indisputably American as swatting the horsehide with a Louisville Slugger, so it is little wonder that Harley-Davidson’s decision to release the dirt-track inspired Sportster XR1200 exclusively in Europe left many frustrated Yanks feeling as though a hunk of the American Soul had been crudely expatriated.

Built on the legacy of the omnipotent XR-750, which has been grinding dirt track opponents into greasy loam since the early 1970s, the XR1200’s European exile was short-lived. As the torches bore down on Juneau Avenue, Harley brass moved swiftly to make the XR1200 available in the United States.

Described by Harley-Davidson as a "Hot Rod Sportster," the XR1200 is unquestionably the sportiest specimen of that classic Harley family, which dates back to 1957. Still, the crucial Darwinian link to the XR1200 remains the XR-750-not surprising when you note that H-D Wrecking Crew legends Scott Parker and Rich King were instrumental in the XR1200’s development.

Drawing a host of styling cues from the XR-750, and possessing an abundance of finned muscle and an absence of luster, the XR1200 brooks no festoonery. The Frank Savage-designed fuel tank is evocative of the XR-750 canteen, and combined with the narrow sport tail section and dramatically upswept 2-1-2 pipes, highlights the XR1200’s track-ready profile. Despite those sporting touches, the silver powdercoated, air-cooled Evolution V-Twin is the bulging focal point of the XR1200’s lean, naked styling.

Dropping into the narrow 29-inch-high saddle, grabbing the wide flat-track style bars and planting your boots on the moderately rearset pegs casts you in a slightly forward posture. Thankfully, you are not leaning on your wrists, nor are you relaxed in the saddle. H-D has fixed the XR1200 rider’s geometry squarely in the middle of the sportbike/cruiser road and they have hit the ergonomic bullseye as a result.

The rubber-mounted engine vibrates impatiently through the pegs and grips at idle, but composes itself as you roll on the throttle. Running up to speed, mechanical noise diminishes beneath the clenched growl that pours from the upswept straight shot pipes.

H-D designers crafted a downdraft intake with a mammoth 50mm throttle body feeding the proprietary EFI and tucked the system beneath the 3.5-gallon tank, providing an unobstructed view of the pushrod mill at the curb and some extra space for the rider’s right knee when tucking through turns. Power delivery is seamless. The midrange offers gutsy acceleration, and a throttle response that borders on the clairvoyant.

With its performance cams and oil-cooled cylinder heads boosting the compression ratio to 10.0:1, the powerplant produces a claimed 74 ft/lbs of torque, lending the 580-pounder surprising agility. In fact, skilled riders will be tempted to get the bike on its hind legs in a hurry. As satisfyingly torquey as it is, the XR1200’s power won’t have you dangling off the grips, but it pulls willfully to the 7000 rpm redline.

A big, boldface analog tachometer is mounted just above the handlebars with a smaller, digital speedometer to its left. Both are easily clocked at speed without much distraction. On a purely cosmetic note, the big silver Allen bolts that secure the handlebar clamp are a clunky detraction from the cockpit’s cool, blacked-out minimalism.

Those foolish enough to dismiss the XR1200 as a dirt track-bred hillbilly will be surprised by the bike’s metropolitan aplomb. The XR gracefully slices through traffic with athletic bursts. The five-speed transmission shifts crisply, chastening the familiar Harley clunk to a muted click. On the other end of the wire, however, the non-hydraulic, forearm-actuated clutch is more of a primitive grunt and pull arrangement.

Haul the XR1200 into the mountains and you will understand why H-D was confident it would arch European eyebrows and surprise longtime Motor Company critics; this Harley corners with aggressive precision and stops with authority.

At the front of the slightly modified frame, 43mm sport-tuned Showa forks are angled at 29.3-degrees (midway between sport and cruiser bikes), while preload-adjustable coils attached to a hollow cast-aluminum swingarm provide a firm ride at the rear. After a variety of rubber was auditioned, Dunlop was conscripted to mint and tune a pair of Qualifiers specifically for the XR1200.

When pushed around by the wide handlebars, the longish bike hustles through high-speed sweepers with a fluid stability. Coaxing the weighty machine over into tight corners requires more of a collegial shove, but once settled into a turn, the firm Showas and grippy Qualifiers keep the bike pinned to the pavement and holding the line like a rail.

When not leaned over to the pegs, the XR1200’s punchy midrange torque and strong engine braking capabilities allow for fluid transitioning at a sporting pace. The first application of the powerful Nissin dual four-piston front brakes might prompt you to lean over and check the tank badge. Feedback is excellent but the front stopper is so arresting, you will be tempted to use your index finger to avoid angering the gods.

With its moderate geometry and ergonomics, the Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 does not aspire to be an aggressively flickable streetfighter, but it is without a doubt the brand’s best handling bike to date. The classically styled Harley that was designed to entice skeptical European riders has taken a strange and paradoxical road home, to be sure. Now that it is here, the XR1200 is poised to capture its share of zealous converts in the U.S.A.

Link To: Our Real Time XR1200 Riding Review




Seat Height



Ground Clearance



Track Width

Fuel Capacity

Oil Capacity


Dry Weight

Running Order

Luggage Capacity




85.4 in.


29.2 in.

30.5 in.

5.80 in.

29.3° / 5.11 in.

59.8 in.


3.5 gal.

2.8 qt.


562.0 lbs.

580.0 lbs.







Bore x Stroke

Engine Torque 

Fuel System 

Compression Ratio

Miles per Gallon 



Primary Drive

Gear Ratio (overall)








Air-cooled, Evolution®

73.40 in.

3.5 in. x 3.81 in.

73.91 ft lbs @ 4000 rpm

Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)



53 hwy / 38 city

Chain, 57/34 ratio (57/38 JPN only)














Wheel Option

Tire Size






Black, 3-Spoke Cast Aluminum

Black, 3-Spoke Cast Aluminum



120/70ZR 18 M/C

180/55ZR 17 M/C




Indicator Lamps 

Reverse Function



Handlebar-mounted electronic speedometer with odometer, time-of-day
clock on odometer, dual tripmeter, low fuel warning light, low oil
pressure light, engine diagnostics readout, tachometer

High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics,
low fuel warnings, low battery, security system (optional)




Parking Brake

Lean Angle (per SAEJ1168)

Exhaust System


Dual 4-Piston, fixed front, single-piston floating rear


40° / 39°

Brushed, straight-shot exhaust w/ dual mufflers; black end caps and shield


Vivid Black; Pewter Denim; Mirage Orange Pearl