2011 Harley-Davidson XR1200X - FIRST RIDE

Hot laps at Road America on The Motor Company’s best-handling V-Twin.

It's only natural to obsess over what you can't have, and for the sport-minded Harley-Davidson faithful living on the home front, the XR1200 has been a bone of contention. Coy marketing ploy or not, when the sportiest of Sportster models to ever roll off The Motor Company assembly line debuted three years ago, the titillating street-tracker-style machines were crated and shipped overseas as a European market exclusive. Although Harley heeded the call and made the XR available to the American public this past year, we once again remained a year behind the curve, as Euro riders enjoyed an even better XR1200X version in 2010.

Good news for 2011, as the X will be the only model sold both here and abroad. What makes the X model special is the use of higher-grade Showa suspension featuring a Big Piston Fork similar to that found on the current Suzuki GSX-R1000, not to mention the stillborn Buell Barracuda 2. The advantage BPF offers over a conventional cartridge-type fork is its smoother, more responsive action and reduced weight, due to fewer internal parts. A pair of Showa shocks with piggyback nitrogen-charged reservoirs delivers a very controlled ride at the rear. Spring preload, plus compression and rebound damping, can now be adjusted at both ends, allowing ride to be tailored for improved comfort or enhanced cornering performance. The X also gets full-floating Nissin front brake rotors of the same 292mm diameter as its predecessor's.

Add it up and the $1000 price hike, to $11,799, is a bargain considering that the suspension package alone retails for $1500 in the Genuine Motor Accessories catalog.

Harley-Davidson staged a press intro for the new model at Wisconsin’s Road America circuit a few days prior to the inaugural Vance & Hines XR1200 Series event. The X proved quite proficient when negotiating the winding road course at speed. Its wide, dirt-track-style handlebar and relaxed sport-riding posture make for light yet super-stable steering response. I quickly gained a great deal of trust in the front entering corners and never felt a hint of slip from the 180/55 Dunlop D208 radial at the rear when dialing in the big Twin’s torque driving out. The chassis felt balanced and hooked up through the apex at full-tilt lean. While cornering clearance is superior to that of any model in the H-D line, lapping the XR at even a moderately swift pace was a grind; I completely wore away the peg feelers, followed by the mufflers’ heat shield and abused the shift-lever tang.

Finding the limits on a sporting machine is a gratifying experience, and the XR1200X allows one to flirt with the edge without punishing consequences. Perhaps there’s something to be said for tractable power delivery, solid stability and a max bank angle that leaves a bit of chicken strip on the tires’ edges.

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