Harley Davidson tests a new design direction with XR1200
By Mike Hanlon
October 10, 2006
October 11, 2006 In an intriguing move, Harley-Davidson will use Europe’s premiere motorcycle show, Intermot in Germany, for the world premiere of the XR 1200 prototype motorcycle. As visually appealing as the bike may be, it is styled on an American-only racing motorcycle, the XR 750 dirt tracker, and is debuting in order to “gauge media and public reaction to a new kind of Harley-Davidson, with an emphasis on performance, handling and sporting style.” Though the XR 1200’s 85-90 bhp is hardly a “sporting” output (and would see it blown into the weeds by any self-respecting 600 class bike), the company is touting exceptional handling characteristics as its strength so we’ll reserve judgement for now. It will be interesting to see how Europeans respond to the decision to base the styling on a racing heritage that will mean nothing to most of them. Finally, amongst the PR for the XR1200 was the claim that the bike is based on “the most successful racing machine in the history of motorcycle sport.” It might be true in terms of outright wins (though nearly all of those wins were in homeland race series where the rules were sculpted), but if you’re going to make claims like that, don’t you need to back them up with numbers?
The Harley-Davidson XR 1200 Prototype’s development goals included creating Harley-Davidson’s most powerful regular production, European specification, air-cooled V-Twin engine; excellent handling, suspension and braking, all fine-tuned for European roads; and styling inspired by the Motor Company’s legendary XR 750 dirt track race bike.
The XR 1200 Prototype is the result of a close collaboration between the Motor Company’s Milwaukee-based product development team and Harley-Davidson’s Product Planning Europe (PPE) team. An example of their earlier work is the recently introduced and currently sold-out VRSCDX Night Rod Special.
Reflecting the growing importance of the European market, the PPE team played a significant role in defining the specifications and ergonomics of the XR 1200 Prototype, and worked with the US Ride and Handling engineers on suspension and handling development. The resultant specs look good: a generous lean angle, specially tuned Showa sports suspension, including 43mm inverted front forks, high performance Nissin brakes and specially developed Dunlop Qualifier tyres.
Harley is apparently banking on strong European interest in the XR 1200 Prototype as John Russell, Vice President, Harley-Davidson Europe explains: “We are experiencing strong growth in Europe and we anticipate that the XR 1200 Prototype will appeal to new customers, including younger riders currently using competitive brand standard and sports motorcycles. They probably like and admire the Harley-Davidson brand, but are not currently in the market for a more traditional custom or touring Harley-Davidson motorcycle. If the reaction to the prototype is favourable, and the prototype is brought to market, it is expected to have a similar effect to the highly successful V-Rod models. These have been particularly successful at bringing in new customers and broadening the appeal of Harley-Davidson.”
Pure Flat Track racing DNA
The inspiration for the concept comes from the highly successful XR 750. Introduced in 1970, the XR 750 has notched up thousands of race wins in the hands of famous Flat Track riders such as nine-times Grand National Champion Scott Parker. Many of America’s top road racers including MotoGP championship front-runner Nicky Hayden have honed their skills drifting around oval dirt tracks in the US.
XR 1200 Prototype styling project manager, Frank Savage, explains how the design of the bike came about: “The inspiration came from the XR 750 – a raw, simple motorcycle built like a tool for a specific job: Dirt Track racing. This results in unique proportions and features. For example, the fuel tank is a beautifully slender form. It was important the XR 1200 Prototype was laden with the DNA of the XR 750. And the engineering guys have also been working hard to ensure that the bike has the right performance, handling characteristics and feel to ensure the bike deserves to wear the XR badge.”
Matt Weber, ride and handling specialist for the XR 1200 Prototype project, added: “My team and I have done extensive on-track ride and handling performance development, including working closely with our European product planning colleagues and Adrien Morillas, the French former GP and endurance racer.
“As a result, the bike really works – and it’s extremely easy and fun to ride fast. I have ridden, raced and benchmarked sports bikes most of my motorcycling life. This XR 1200 Prototype compares extremely favourably. It’s pretty cool that it looks like a flat tracker, but for me the great handling is the most important thing.”