June 24, 2019
Harley-Davidson introduced the XR1200 to an ambivalent US audience in 2009, one year after the machine debuted to its target market at a media scrum in Spain. Originally developed to quench European tastes for racier suspension, more powerful brakes and (relative) light weight, upon its release the XR1200 was among the most performance-oriented models in Milwaukee's history, and should have been a raging success. Coercing the AMA to create a spec class for the XR1200 in 2010 did little to improve the machine's fortunes on dealer floors, and the US sanctioning body killed the series in 2015, three years after Harley pulled the plug on their naked sport bike's five-year run. Today XR1200's are rarer than fans of "American Chopper." Clean examples of Harley's sportiest Sportster are rarities on Craigslist. When one does materialize, it is usually a clapped-out tracker with dubious service pedigree.
I have loved the idea of this motorcycle since Bill and I saw an unmarked prototype doing hot weather testing in the SoCal desert around 2004. We knew then what just creeped past us on I-15 featured a rubber-mounted XL engine, but the beefy aluminum swingarm, ram-air ducting below the gas tank, and pillion seat/fender assembly were like nothing on any Harley of the day. Half a decade later I saw my first XR1200 in the flesh at a MoCo dealership in Orange County. It was a beast, with massive cast-steel passenger peg mounts, fat aluminum mags and enormous upside-down forks with raw sandblasted triple trees. Its orange, black and white color scheme was faithful to the race livery that adorned the XR750 Jay Springsteen made legendary in the '70s, but everything else about this motorcycle seemed off the mark to my untrained eye. If Harley was trying to build a motorcycle to suit experienced European riders, why was it so damned big? In 2008, a Ducati Hypermotard 1100S weighed 396 pounds and looked like Ironman's crisply tailored battle suit. H-D's Euro-spec XR1200 weighed 562 pounds wet and looked like a bomb suit for the world's fattest SWAT operator. Both bikes shared a $15k MSRP. Given its competition, Harley's XR seemed doomed from the start.
Despite all that baggage, when this pristine example popped up in a raffle on Instagram, I bought four 100-dollar tickets and took my chances, which were exactly 1-in-25. Another riverboat gambler who liked this bike even more than I did bought 15 tickets, improving his odds to 1-in-7. At 9 a.m. Easter morning, Jeff Holt at V-Twin Visionary pulled the winning chip—lucky number #13—on Instagram Live. Of course, the video glitched mid-feed, and no one witnessed Jeff's hand extracting my chip from the bucket. Massive shit slinging ensued, to the point where Jeff called to say re-doing his raffle was mandatory. In a standup move on his part, Jeff said if I didn't win round two, he'd return my 400 dollars. More than fair.
One hour later and with redundant cameras rolling, Jeff reached in the bucket and pulled the last of my four chips, #16. Skeptics in the peanut gallery satisfied, Jeff delivered my track-prepped Euro Hog to Biltwell HQ, where she has been sitting on a battery tender ever since. Full disclosure: I already own one bloated, air-cooled Euro-market motorcycle few Americans have bought in big numbers—a 2018 BMW R NineT Pure. I don't need another. In the immortal words of Rouser Rob Galan, "Sell it!"