The good old Sportster model turned 50 this year. Harley-Davidson celebrated with a limited edition 50th anniversary model and added fuel injection to the whole Sportster range. We sampled the new XL1200R in Austria and later in the UK.
Words: Tor Sagen/Pictures: Jürgen Mainx/Olivia Turley
The XL1200R is the sportiest of the sporties which involves a different seat, wide dirt-inspired handlebars, tachometer and double front brake discs. Bodywork is minimal and the 1200cc rubber mounted Evolution engine is blacked out.
I always enjoy watching a Sportster on idle as it nearly jumps up and down like a Pit-bull Terrier eager to go. And I always listen and kick it into gear. The low first gear in the five-speed gearbox transmits an immediate surge of torque that propels the XL1200R forwards. The belt final drive is on a 38/68 ratio. The Roadster is quite fun to ride from the word go and those double front brake discs enables more aggressive riding than other Sporties. The large 19 inch laced front wheel coupled with the 16 inch rear also makes for a Pit-bull stance. The Roadster is the essential motorcycle as the man on the street would view it.
The wide handlebars give great control of the steering and I love the feel of the levers (clutch/brake) on the Sportster models. For a Sportster the suspension is quite soft. I particularly noticed with a pillion riding around the Goodwood estate for the Festival of Speed. It bottomed out several times and my pillion was really lightweight. The double rear suspension on the Roadster has got longer travel than on the other Sportsters (104mm) but it still fell a bit short when hitting bumps in the road. The XL1200R is one of the worst motorcycles out there for pillion comfort, but then again it’s a Roadster and best suitable for solo riding anyway.
The new fuel injected Evolution V-twin allows seamless acceleration, but still keeps some of that raw edge you expect from a Harley engine. There is never any doubt that you are on a Harley and somehow those guys at Milwaukee manage to make Euro 3 sound good! Someone at Harley-Davidson should soon get the Nobel price for resonance research I think.
The foot controls are mid mounted and the reach to the handlebars are mildly sporty without being uncomfortable. The clutch lever is now 11% lighter to operate than before and the left foot is in an ideal position for quick up shifts. As quick as you like I could see 110MPH on the speedometer. The XL1200R also has a Tachometer so that you can follow the revs too.
The lean angle is slightly better on the Roadster than on other Sportsters. By a degree or so on each side, but it still makes it the sportiest of the sporties.
In Europe you also get all the extra security in the Harley-Davidson smart security system. Just remember to keep that key fob on you at all times.
The XL1200R Sportster is a charming little Pit Bull of a motorcycle. It vibrates a bit, makes all the right noises whilst still complying comfortably with all Euro 3 requirements and above all it’s the arch-essential motorcycle. Since 1957 the Sportster family has been around and for 2007 there’s new fuel injection, a Nightster model and an anniversary model. The Roadster is still a good choice though if you’re shopping for a Sportster. Just remember that there are much better motorcycles than this if you want to carry a pillion a lot. It is a fun little motorcycle and I particularly like the torque surge when changing gears.