The Harley Davidson XR series was a short-lived and intriguing line of motorcycles that piqued the interest of many due to its rarity and departure from the traditional Harley image.
Admittedly initially it was with repulsion, which in time turned to curiosity, then fascination. For me, it was not 'love at first sight'.
One guy described the overall aesthetic as a bike that 'looks ugly from all angles. I'd agree it's a bit of an oddball but absolutely not ugly from all angles. It also depends whether we're talking about the first or second series - the latter with the blacked-out engine and denim paint option which to my eyes worked far better especially in black as it pulled it all together.
The early models of the Harley Davidson XR series, with their silver powder-coated engines, had a somewhat unconventional appearance that some compared to a DIY project using refrigerator parts. However, it is noted that these bikes had a more appealing visual appeal in person rather than in photographs, suggesting that they possessed a certain charm that may not have translated well through images.
What's the big deal anyway, isn't the XR just another Sporster?
Yes, and no.
Although the XR engine is derived from the Sportster, it undergoes significant modifications in terms of internals, intake, cooling, and overall performance. These enhancements make the XR a distinct and powerful machine. Many custom builders strive to achieve the level of performance offered by the XR, but only a few succeed.
Initially introduced for the European market, Harley Davidson aimed to tap into the growing sportbike segment, which was gaining popularity at the time. However, the XR faced challenges as it was considered heavy and underpowered compared to Japanese and Italian sportbikes. Consequently, it didn't sell well initially. Interestingly, the XR series gained more popularity after Harley Davidson ceased its production, a common phenomenon where discontinued models tend to garner increased interest.
The XR1200X Model
The XR1200X model was released in 2010 and introduced several notable styling changes and suspension upgrades. The most visually striking feature was the blacked-out engine, which added a sense of style and coherence to the overall appearance of the bike. These enhancements, along with the improved front and rear suspension, contributed to the X model's appeal and made it stand out from its predecessors.
Handling the XR1200X
The XR motorcycle is often considered the sportiest Harley ever made, designed with a focus on handling. It offers impressive clearance, making it difficult to scrape anything while riding. However, it requires some adjustment when leaning into corners. Achieving smooth cornering requires a combination of counter-steering, shifting weight on the pegs and seat, and maintaining focus and effort. Similar to a strong relationship, it demands concentration and active participation. Failing to stay attentive can result in finding oneself unexpectedly further to the outside of a corner than anticipated.
The ergonomics of the XR motorcycle are somewhat unconventional, despite its sporty nature. Compared to a regular mid-mount Sportster, it is taller, with the handlebars positioned slightly forward and the footpegs moved back. Additionally, it features firm shocks and a hard seat.
Having ridden the bike for approximately 3,500 kilometers over four weeks, the rider is still adjusting to its unique ergonomics. At times, it may feel a bit awkward, but overall, it is a rewarding experience.
The suspension of the XR is clearly designed for sporty performance, resulting in a stiff setup. Both the front fork and rear shocks are fully adjustable with options for preload, compression, and rebound—a feature not commonly seen on Harley motorcycles, especially considering that this model is now a decade old.
It's important to set up the suspension according to one's typical riding conditions. A race track configuration may not fare well on bumpier backroads, and vice versa, as the appropriate adjustments are necessary for optimal performance and comfort.
A case in point, our particular bike seemed like it was set up for Laguna Seca circuit, which meant that on the street it was like riding a plank of wood down concrete stairs — easily remedied by easing the dampening settings. Dialled in, it provided a good measure of compliance over bumps but still the firmness and control you'd expect of a 'Sporty' motorcycle.
Who's it for
People who want a Sportier Harley, Fans of Sportsters who want more oomph.
The XR motorcycle, considering its vintage nature, is described as a raw and aggressive machine that may not appeal to those who prefer smooth inline four-cylinder motorcycles. It is characterized as a "moto-bush-pig" that shakes, grunts, and snorts, exhibiting a rough and visceral personality. The bike tends to generate a significant amount of heat and lacks subtlety, likened to an angry bull in a porcelain shop. Riding for extended periods can be physically demanding due to the vibrations and noise. Additionally, the wind blast can add to the overall challenging experience. The XR is noted to exhibit grumpiness both in cold and hot conditions, particularly at low RPMs.
The ergonomics of the stock seat will have you begging for mercy within two hours, and you might want to get some fireproof jeans for your right leg as the exhaust doubles as a chicken rotisserie. The XR is an angry bronze-age tractor that's as heavy as a small car with go-fast bits on it.
That said, it's easily one of the most fun machines I've had the pleasure of riding — a visceral experience to the core that will have you buzzing hours after dismounting. Its eccentricities make you want to know it more and ride more. Cracking open the throttle feeling it surge at 4,000rpm to its redline of 7,000 and you're onboard a P52 mustang fighter plane in a dive. It sounds proper sublime and simultaneously unmerciful.
The sound and presence of the XR are the highlights for me. In the end, I think it's more of a muscle bike than a sports bike, much like the Mustangs and Chargers of the old Days — more grunt and engine sound than outright performance. Of all bikes I've owned, this one gets the most attention (if that's important to you).
It's a menacing and unique bike that any enthusiast or collector should start taking seriously before they are all gone.
It's a polarising machine which you'll likely love or hate. Or perhaps like me, grow to love it over time.
Specifics of the bike we're writing about:
2010 Harley Davidson XR1200X
- Vance & Hines Black Widow competition pipes
- Screaming Eagle Pro tuner with Dyno Tune
- K&N Air Intake
- and Plenty of other knick-knacks that make it look cool but no performance differences.