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Harley XR1200 Sportster Magazine Review

Harley Reviews Harley-Davidson Sportsters

Harley XR1200 Sportster Magazine Review


Chris leans into one aboard a Harley XR1200 Sportster.

Not to belittle the present offering of Sportsters, but it’s great to see that Harley-Davidson is again putting out an aggressive machine in the XL lineup! I hail from the days when XLCHs ruled the two-wheeled streets. In my opionion, the late ’50s and all of the ’60s were a golden age of piston-powered machinery. And though the newest crop of rubber-mounted Sportsters are great bikes, being much more refined than any of the machines back in the day, I think they lack the aggressive spirit of those early bikes.

That’s all changed with the XR1200!

This bike has more than just its father’s looks going for it. The XR-750’s racing heritage can be felt in both the XR1200’s chassis and engine. The XR-750 is not for the faint of heart. In the fieldå of modern racing machines, the XR-750 is a battleax — a potent and successful battleax. Of course, the XR1200 also carries traits of modern Sportsters, which, I think, makes it a perfect blend of both eras. Sort of like a meat cleaver with an ergonomic handle.

Though the XR1200 was initially designed for and launched only in Europe (it debuted in April 2008), considerable US customer demand convinced Harley-Davidson that there was a sizable interest in the XR1200 stateside. I’m told hundreds of bikes were ordered before they were even promoted. As you can see in the photos, the XR1200 has quite a few new features. The most obvious are the rearset foot controls, rear swingarm, intake system, and oil cooler.

Our test ride was done in the mountains outside of San Diego, California. We blasted through hill and dale, with the most notable trip being on Mount Palomar. With aggressive curves on the way up and tight switchbacks on the return trip, we got to put the XR1200 through its paces. It also showed me I’ve got to improve my twistie skills, since the XR1200 had way more ability than I did to negotiate the switchbacks. And that’s great! When riding a bike that’s designed to be a performance machine, I like it when I can’t master it right away. This is a machine I can grow into and not get bored riding.

Here’s the skinny on the XR1200: the bike is stable and predictable in turns. Though not as flickable as a Buell, it was a lot of fun to ride. It’s also a solid platform on the highway and likes to run fast. While on the test ride, I got to talk with Steve Bond (who was there for another publication) and found out a cool thing about the XR1200’s riding position. The rearset controls and pegs were comfortable — both for me at 5’4″ and Steve who’s over 6′. However, that was not the case when it came time to put our feet down. Needless to say, Steve had no trouble getting both feet flat, while I could only do that with one foot, if I scooted my butt off to one side.

The 2009 Harley XR1200 Sportster is stable and a lot of fun to ride.

The suspension is well-balanced and the frame geometry was right on. The Showa inverted 43mm front forks did their job exceptionally well. Bumps were absorbed and dispensed with quickly, while still giving me solid control in tight turns. And that superlight-but-rigid rear swingarm and twin preload adjustable rear shocks made a big difference out back. The new cast-aluminum swingarm is 40 percent stiffer than the steel version and 3.3 pounds lighter, which makes a big difference in unsprung weight and, therefore, handling.

Like that 3.5-gallon gas tank? Well, the front of it almost had two indents in it. (And, yes, that is an aircraft-style fuel cap.) However, the H-D engineers worked a little magic on the front end and frame neck design to get the room they needed. It seems the fork tubes were going to smack into the front of the tank with the originally planned triple tree offset and 29.3-degree frame neck rake. The fix was to change the fork stem offset, which gave them a final rake of 27.8 degrees and, more importantly, the room they needed for the tank, without affecting the handling.

In the Stop department, the dual Nissin four-piston calipers and 292mm rotors up front have no trouble hauling the XR1200 to a quick stop. As for Go, though the engine is the standard displacement 1200cc with a 3-1/2″ bore and 3-13/16″ stroke (for a total of almost 74″), this mill does not operate like a standard XL motor. This 10:1 compression version likes to spin! Redline is at 7000 rpm, and it pulls right up until you hit the rev limiter. Many times I did a double take on the tach, since the engine was turning at 5000 rpm, but it felt like a normal Sportster at 3000. The XR1200 has nice power all around, though it pulls stronger up top than down low. For those of you who understand cam specs, both the intake and exhaust have 252 degrees of duration. The intakes open at 25 BTDC and close at 48 degrees ABDC. The exhausts open at 60 degrees BBDC and close at 13 ATDC. Lift is .550″ for the intakes and exhausts.

A feature I definitely liked was the way the engine sounds when you open the throttle: a little like a big-block Chevy! If you’re looking for the air cleaner, it’s tucked horizontally under the right side of the gas tank. That’s why the right side of the bike looks so clean.

View of the Sportster's gauges from the driver's seat

Though this version has slightly less volume (2.9 quarts) than a standard XL airbox (3.4 quarts), it flows enough air to feed the downdraft 50mm throttle body. As for cruising nice and easy, at 60 mph the engine is spinning at 3500 in fifth while 4000 rpm will get you to about 70.

The previously mentioned oil cooler is a sizeable unit hanging off the left side of the frame’s front downtubes. According to the engineers at the launch, since the rider’s legs are no longer alongside the engine, airflow over the cooling fins is not as good as on a standard Sportster. Result: an oil cooler was needed to keep the engine from running too hot. Since we were riding on a cool day, I can’t tell you if the XR1200 will run hot in the summer. I guess that’s something you’ll have to tell me.

So what didn’t I like about the XR1200, besides the fact that I had to give it back? The only flaw I found was that the powdercoating on the cam cover didn’t match the finish on the rear sprocket cover. Though it did match on some bikes, most didn’t when looked at from various angles.

For those of you who are already thinking about what accessories you can bolt onto your new ride, Father H-D has you covered with a line of stuff already waiting to be had. A trip to the dealership or www.H-D.com/XR1200 will give you plenty to drool over. AIM –Chris Maida

Length: 85.4″ (216.9cm)
Unladen seat height: 30.5″ (77.5cm)
Ground clearance: 5.8″ (14.7cm)
Rake: 29.3 degrees
Trail: 5.1″ (13.0cm)
Wheelbase: 59.8″ (151.9cm)
Engine: Air-cooled Evolution 73″ (1202cc)
Compression: 10.0:1
Fuel system: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Transmission: Five-speed
Front tire: Dunlop Harley-Davidson Series D209 120/70-21″
Rear tire: Dunlop Harley-Davidson Series D209 180/55-16″
Fuel capacity: 3.5 gallons (13.2L)
Oil capacity: 2.80 quarts (2.7L)
Shipped weight: 562 pounds (255kg)
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR): 1,000 pounds (454kg)
Front brake: Dual-piston caliper, 11.5″ x .20″ uniform expansion rotor
Rear brake: Single-piston caliper, 10.2″ x .28″ uniform expansion rotor
Front forks: 43mm inverted
Rear shocks: Coil-over; preload dual-adjustable
Wheels: Front, 3.50-18″; rear, 5.50-17″; black, three-spoke cast aluminum
Colors: Vivid Black, Pewter Denim, Mirage Orange Pearl
MSRP: Black $10,799/color option $11,079



  1. Kelly March 10, 2012

    Pretty interesting information !Perfect just what I was looking for!

  2. Mac January 28, 2011


    I’ve had my Sporty for four years/25K miles without anything major. Rocker covers weep a bit (I think the gaskets are Rev. C by now) and my oil pressure light went out (bad connection to the LED). Other than that, no problem – she’s my daily commuter.

    For the same price as many metric cruisers, you get real metal, excellent fit and finish, a bike built tough, and a bike with soul.

  3. havey January 9, 2011

    i,m looking to buy a h-d , my question is how dependable are they,are there recalls or major problems and what are the average and most common problems.

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