Living with a 2009 Harley Davidson XR1200

James Whitham's review of the Harley XR1200

June 2009

I’ve only ever ridden Harleys a few times. Of course, I’ve seen loads in their natural habitat on the occasions when I’ve competed in events like the 200 miler at Daytona speed week. Cruising down a long straight road under a blue sky, with a tattooed rider, they look the part and it’s easy to see why loads of people have them. But on narrow, bumpy British roads in the rain, I’m not so sure you look quite so cool. It’s a bit like the cowboy boot fad of the late ’80s. It was okay for Yank film stars and big-haired stadium rock bands, but if you tried wearing a pair to your local pub on a Friday night you just looked a twat and risked getting a slapping.

My whole thinking changed though (about Harleys that is...not cowboy boots) when I saw the XR1200 at the bike show last December. Here was a Harley I could see myself riding.

If you’re going to spend your hard-earned on a sports bike you do your homework, read the tests and go for the one you think is going to suit you, and your type of riding best. With a tourer comfort and practicality are probably more important. With something such as the XR1200 it’s mainly the look of the thing that’s the selling point. And I love the retro stuff when it’s done right. In my opinion this one is spot on - reminiscent of the factory XR750 flat trackers of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, ridden by legends such as Mert Lawwill and Cal Rayburn. It’s genuinely exciting.

I’ve only done 300 miles so far. It’s heavy and has so much torque you hardly have to think about the gearbox. With the standard pipes it’s fairly quiet, so I’ve fitted a complete Termignoni system. It now makes the sweetest, off-beat thump you can imagine - loud, but totally inoffensive. Oh, and changing the pipes also sheds about 20kg off the overall weight of the bike. Full report and pics next month.

DATE RECEIVED: 16th March 2009

PARTS ADDED: Termignonis

TOTAL MILEAGE: 350 miles




July 2009

One of the reasons I didn’t go for a sportsbike this year is because I’m in the enviable position of getting to ride all the latest, fastest and sexiest bikes for the magazine (don’t ya just hate me?).

Another reason is that even when I try to behave, with a modern sportsbike I easily get carried away and end up going faster than I should. The problem is that they’re all too good these days. How many times have you glanced down at the speedo to find you’re doing 30 or 40mph faster than you thought you were? I rest my case.

So instead I’ve gone for a bike that hasn’t been designed to be at its best when going flatout around a racetrack. The Triumph Scrambler I had a couple of years ago was perfect, as was the Ducati 696 Monster I ran last summer, and although it’s a totally different bike to ride, for me the Harley XR1200 fulfils the same role.

The first thing you notice about the Harley is its weight. Full of fuel and oil it tips the scales at a portly 260kgs. With that much timber and the bike’s steady geometry, you ain’t rushing anywhere on it. And this is a really good thing, because you don’t try – you just sit back, chill out and enjoy the ride and the glorious noise.

And I have to say, you feel a bit cool on it. I’m the un-coolest person in the world (with the possible exception of Gordon Brown) and I find myself squinting at myself in shop windows as I chug by.

And as long as you ride the thing as it was intended to be ridden, there ain’t a lot wrong with this bike. There’s so much torque it’ll plod along in top gear at revs that would be just above idle on a CBR600RR. By the time you get to 90mph the motor is out of its comfort zone and the total absence of any wind protection means your neck hurts, so you cruise along at 75mph. Perfect.

DATE RECEIVED: 27th March 2009


TOTAL MILEAGE: 758 miles




October 2009

Whit spends some quality time with the XR and finds it’s just about perfect... as long as posing is all you do I’m putting a few more miles on the old Harley and for the most part I’m still enjoying living with it. I’ve been to a few of the British Superbike meetings on it, mainly so I can avoid the queues coming out of the circuits on Sunday night. People’s reaction when they see me getting off it is mint. If they’re a motorcyclist their first question is invariably “what the f**k are you doing on that ?”, shortly followed by “what’s it like ?”. And back in the real world, away from racetracks, non-motorcyclists think the race-rep Harley is coolest object in the world.

I’d agree up to a point but I’ve decided the XR1200 is a bit of a one-trick pony, and by that I mean it’s good at doing what it’s good at... and not a whole lot more.

The XR’s in its element doing what every other Harley’s good at; cruising along wearing shades and an open-face lid with the sun on your back. Over reasonably short distances you’d struggle to find a better, more relaxing bike. The problem is, that’s pretty much all it does do well.

Doing distance on the motorway is hard work. Anything over 70mph is tough, the bike getting pretty vibey on your hands and feet. And when the traffic inevitably snarls up, cutting through queues is tricky thanks to the weight of the bike and the the wide bars, which I’ve actually pinged off the odd wing mirror or two. And despite the sporty premise all over the XR1200’s promotional material, riding twisty roads on it is a ball-ache simply because the bike steers so slowly.

So the XR1200 is the perfect posing machine, and I still love the look of it. With the Termignonis fitted it makes one of the sweetest sounds known to man too, at least in my opinion. It’s fairly loud but totally inoffensive to anyone. If you rode a two-stroke making the same amount of noise in terms of decibels you’d be handed an ASBO before you had the garage door shut. Even the Triumph Scrambler on open pipes used to have elderly ladies turning their hearing aids down, but nobody minds the Harley ... not even my missus.