First Ride: 2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 Street-Tracker

Fun on a Mile, or a couple hundred of them strung together, especially riding with Scott Parker.

2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 Street-Tracker - First Ride

2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 Street-Tracker - First Ride

On the press launch for the 2009 Harley-Davidson XR1200 street-tracker, we were only a stone's throw from the Del Mar racetrack just north of San Diego, where 10 years ago I'd seen Scott Parker glide and slide around that loamy dirt-track on his XR-750 in a way that seemed to defy physics. His insistent artfulness to lead—and win—at the mile that day had also defied an upstart 18-year-old racer named... Nicky Hayden. As I cruised the pits back then, I ran into Willie G. Davidson himself. "To me, this is the best racing in the world. A dirt mile...there's nothing more exciting," he said. I had to agree, and it was talented riders like Parker and the rest who made that show.

But it was also their machines, almost to a bike the venerable XR-750, running in a form much like it had been since its all-alloy intro in 1972. Anyone with an eye for purity of two-wheeled form loves the dirt-track motorcycle for its spare, elemental nature and elegant-yet-stout lines. Plus, a riding position that embraces the idea that the human form likes to sit up in corners isn't a bad thing, either.

Which is what makes the new XR1200 such a cool ride. True, it's simply a hot-rodded rubber-mount Sportster, but it echoes the lines of the dirt-tracker well. And with all the tuning done to the 79.2-horse Sporty engine (run on the CW dyno for our full test of the $10,799 machine in the August, 2008, issue) and that sweet-handling chassis, well it's a fun standard-style motorcycle that deserves to wear XR on its sides.

But one of the best parts of the launch was getting to hang out and ride with Parker himself, on hand to lend a bit of star power and, shall we say, smoky ambiance. Turns out the dude knows traction. You don't win nine Grand National Championships on our nation's wickedly competitive dirt-tracks without having a good sense of what the tires do when they start slidin', but who knew he could wheelie like he does, too!

After a day-long street ride in the company of the 47-year-old, he made it clear he still likes to have a good time on two wheels. Especially on a bike inspired by his championship-winning mount. These days, Parker is partner in a pub with long-time friend Dave Donahue—PD's in Flint, Michigan ("Karaoke Tuesdays")—and helps out his wife Wanda at her hair salon. "I'm the handyman!" he said with a smile and a laugh.

While he said he doesn't miss the grind of racing, he did speak pretty fondly of the last time he got to ride just for fun on a groomed dirt-track a few years ago. Hopefully, he dug our time on the street, too. Judging by the photo, sideways, is still a way of life!

2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 Street-Tracker

2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 Street-Tracker

2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 Street-Tracker

2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 Street-Tracker

2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 Street-Tracker

2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 Street-Tracker

2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 Street-Tracker

2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 Street-Tracker

2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 Street-Tracker

2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 Street-Tracker

2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 Street-Tracker

2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 Street-Tracker

2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 Street-Tracker