First ride: Race-ready Harley-Davidson XR1200

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Unless you’re from Springfield, Illinois or have a brother named ‘Bubba’, the idea of a Harley-Davidson race bike is probably as foreign as ‘grits’ for breakfast.

Not any more. Harley-Davidson are planning a one-make race series in the UK next year (postponed from this year) using modified versions of its XR1200.

As a curtain-raiser, a star-studded, ‘World Cup’, one-off race is scheduled to support the Silverstone WSB round next month. What’s more, all of the modifications – of which there are many – will be available to XR customers.

So, to find out what difference these changes make over the standard bike – and to get a foretaste of what kind of racing we can expect – we tried out the racer at Mallory in final development trim.

Like most probably, I was very sceptical of the XR racer beforehand. Although the road version is easily the best handling road Harley, it’s still not a ‘real’  sports bike. This race version, however, is transformed.

It’s been developed in conjunction with suspension and race experts Harris Performance.

As a result the XR has had an Ohlins makeover c/o new fork internals and new, fully-adjustable twin shocks at the rear, these are also longer than stock to increase ride height and thus ground clearance.

Also improving ground clearance are new Harris race pegs and a full 2:2 titanium race exhaust by Termignoni.

This not only increases engine performance but also reduces the bike’s overall weight, another criticism of the standard machine. Harris estimate that overall they have managed to shed around 40kg from the standard bike.

Other criticisms of the standard bike have also been addressed. To speed up the steering a lighter, more conventional 17-inch front wheel replaces the stocker’s 18, with a fatter rear wheel to match, both by Dymag.

Both look very trick, and I’m sure will be a popular buy for road users. Harris have also fitted adjustable yokes, which means it’s easy to change the head angle to quicken up the steering.

The brakes have been up-rated by switching to new, huge Brembo discs, race pads and Hel braided lines.

Then there are a host of detail improvements. The oil cooler has been moved from its rather precarious, standard placement on the frame downtube to behind the number board.

Plus there’s a new, single, race seat and sticky Dunlop tyres. It all adds up to a good-looking race bike. But does it cut it on the track?

Within two laps I must admit it was impressing me. The brakes feel strong, it’s turning smoothly through Mallory’s tight chicanes, and, unlike the road bike, nothing has touched down yet.

The harder I push the more surprising and rewarding the bike is to ride. It’s very foreign indeed to be lapping this quickly and comfortably on a Harley-Davidson.

Once fully familiarised I go after some hot laps – but am making mistakes and over-revving the big V-twin, repeatedly exiting corners on the rev-limiter as I’m not used to a ‘race engine’ which revs to just 6500rpm.

But that apart I’ve very few complaints. Nothing has decked out, the brakes aren’t fading and the Dunlops aren’t sliding.

Yes, the XR remains a big, heavy bike and a real, physical workout to ride hard. And nor is it quick by track standards – even with the pipe, this 1200 still puts out way less than 100bhp.

But next time out, as I start to use the XR’s torque instead of revving it so hard, the times start to tumble.

It’s much more controllable, but still very physical – 15-20 laps of this at race pace is going to be really hard work.

No, it still hasn’t got razor-sharp steering but it is far better than standard, and more importantly I’m having fun.

I’m impressed. This race version is far better than standard and most of the mods should be transferable to the road.

It steers far better than standard, ground clearance isn’t an issue, brakes are much improved and lapping Mallory in around a minute isn’t bad.

However there are still a few criticisms. You cant change the gearing due to a belt drive, it’s not exactly quick, the gearchange is slow and it remains physically hard work.

That said, in the XR series, everyone is going to be in the same boat so it’s sure to make for some exciting racing. I can’t wait.


Key modifications/What’s new

Termignoni exhausts, £1400
The full titanium, road legal Termignoni exhaust not only increases power but vastly reduces weight. What’s more, the baffles are removable for full-on race mode, and sound awesome.

Dymag Wheels, £1100
Mouth-watering 17-inch, 7-spoke Dymag wheels replace the standard 18-incher and allows the use of Dunlop GP race rubber.

Ohlins shocks, £900
Fully adjustable and supplied either as part of the full race kit or, like the other parts, individually by Harris Performance. Being longer, ride height is also increased (to 70mm) to increase ground clearance. They come with a 9.5 kg spring rate as standard.

Henderson Harley-Davidson XR1200 Trophy

The 10 round Henderson Harley-Davidson XR1200 trophy will run alongside BSB at eight different venues with a double header at Donington and Cadwell Park.

Harley hopes to field over 30 bikes in the series.

For £12,999 you get a road-going XR1200, along with full race kit, supplied by Harris Performance and including a full Termignoni exhaust, and a set of BKS race leathers.

Additionally you’ll have to fork out for you entry fees which work out at £1,800 over the series and Dunlop race rubber.

However the fee does include one set at the first round and one at the last.

Better yet, there’s an impressive prize fund of £50,000 which is expected to attract some top riders.

Winners will get £2000 (plus one front and two rear tyres) and the prize money will go right down the field with further prizes for the fastest lap and pole position per round.

The XR1200 racer will debut in a special ‘World Cup’ one-off race at next month’s Silverstone WSB round whereby a British ‘all-star’ four man team (names still TBC) will take on teams from around Europe and the US.

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