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Why do “real” motorcyclists hate Harley-Davidsons?

R.I.P. XR1200.

XR1200X 300x225 photo

Who says Harleys don’t handle well?

Lost amid all the noise surrounding hard-candy flake paint, mini apes and Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary is the disturbing footnote that one of our all-time favorite Motor Company motorcycles, the XR1200, has been dropped from the 2013 lineup.

The XR1200—the Sportster-based tribute to the iconic XR750 racers that have dominated American dirt track racing since 1970—debuted overseas in 2008. We even gave it a “Best Dreambike” nod in our MOTY balloting that year, and our dreams came true when the XR1200 was sold stateside the next year. The XR was an immediate success, bringing countless “conquest” customers into Harley-Davidson showrooms for the first time with its unique mix of classic racing style, inimitable H-D character, and plenty of practical, real-world performance. The model even inspired Harley-Davidson’s welcome return to professional road racing with the AMA Pro Vance & Hines 1200 series. Harley-Davidson finally made a motorcycle “real” enthusiasts responded to. Was the Motor Company coming around at last?

Alas, it seems like everyone who wanted an XR1200 bought one that first year; sales have trickled off to almost nothing since then. This isn’t the first time Harley-Davidson has seen this happen, of course. Remember the lithesome XLCR Café Racer from 1977? The awesome, dual-carb, XR1000 flat-track replica from ‘83? The entire Buell Motorcycles catalog? Whenever The Motor Company ventures out on a limb and designs a performance bike to appeal to hardcore motorcycle enthusiasts, the reward is a sales bomb. The reality seems to be this: sport riders won’t ride Harleys, and Harley riders won’t ride sportbikes. Some lines will just never be crossed, no matter how great the bike.

That’s a shame for those who are willing to look beyond labels and recognize a great motorcycle for what it is. It’s doubly tragic for those of us who sincerely wish that America’s oldest and proudest motorcycle manufacturer would produce a world-class superbike. If they can’t even find success with a relatively low-risk, high-reward venture like the XR1200, there’s not a chance in hell that a modern, street-legal update of the VR1000 Superbike is ever coming back.

R.I.P. XR1200: the next in Harley-Davidson’s long line of sporty sales flops-cum-coveted collector bikes.

Categories: Harley-Davidson  


  1. johnzero0
    Posted on: May 23, 2013 12:05 pm

    I just found this thread. I worked for HD as a consultant for many years in the 1990s/2000s, and the guys (it IS mostly guys) who work there designing and marketing the bikes are great people – smart engineers who want to build the best bikes they can. After becoming a rider, what strikes me most is that all brands sell some combination of brand mystique and hardware – it’s marketing plus engineering. Harley, for my way of riding, is just too much into marketing their bikes and too little into engineering them. It’s an old ride, and even when they make it a newer ride, they have to make it seem like an old ride, or their niche won’t buy it. I ride a Duc right now, certainly another brand with mystique, but it’s also engineered to kick ass. Same with Triumph.

    Most riders recognize that different riders like different kinds of rides, and respect one another’s decisions. If there is a problem with HD riders, it’s that some of them act like the brotherhood extends only to Harley riders, not to riders in general. But the people AT Harley? They don’t have that attitude. Honest. When I showed up at a meeting riding a K75, they said “Nice bike”. I just wish they had riders as good as they are.

  2. Patrick Highland
    Posted on: May 10, 2013 8:47 am

    The ONLY thing WRONG with Harley Davidson Motorcycles are some of the “SCUM” that ride them. They will party with you untill you eather pass-out or go to sleep and then they will STEAL Your Harley and your wallet if you are passed out. When I got out of Vietnam I spent 3 years building a fantastic chopper from a ’66 electraglide, Custom 10 over forkes by Frank, Every thing crome plated on the motor, Turned down lower fork legs and too much more to list. All work done by ME.It could sit rite along with ANNY of those TV custome choppers even today. BUT THE SCUM STOLD IT. I bought my first BMW in ’74 and have ridden them (NO BREAK-DOWNS) TO THIS DAY. 46 YEARS OF RIDEING. Best thing about Beemers is the tipe of SCUM that steal bikes “Don’t want no BMW. I still have the title for my ’66 Electraglide as proofe that I still OWN a H.D.!

  3. scott
    Posted on: May 10, 2013 6:49 am

    Harley riders are motorcycle riders. There are good, considerate, helpful Harley riders just like every other brand. Don’t buy into the sterotype. If you continue to wave and treat Harley riders like motorcycle riders the majority of them will treat you the same way.

  4. Dave
    Posted on: May 2, 2013 5:30 pm

    The funny thing about the Us vs Them thing is that we are all fighting for the same thing. The ability to ride and feel the wind and the motion of the bike with the freedom that comes with the ownership of a motorcycle. I have two very opposite motorcycles and enjoy them for very different reasons. GTL1600 and a Victory Cross Country Tour. Both provide a great sensation both are very enjoyable to ride. The only time I every feel like I am an outsider is when I am in the company of HD Posers.I ride with two friends with sportsters and they actually get the same vibe. These are the owners who ride to the local coffee shop and stand their posing like they actually ride. Other wise the others who really ride and tour normally get it. It being its about the ride regardless of what your riding.
    Just my opinion

  5. Jim A
    Posted on: March 5, 2013 4:32 pm

    Harley riders flipping me off when i wave to them on my first street bike (GS750ES) in ’79 was only a precursor to th Harley attitude.Harley Dealers and their employee’s that think they are rock stars caused my 180 when I considered one. The tarriff tax furthered my resentment. Tax importerd bikes of over 700cc’s to save HD? How did H-D return the favor? By gouging the customer at their Dealerships sometimes charging Thousands upon thousands over retail to the devout. I still don’t get it and never will. There were some that were eternally loyal though and THAT fact alone sent them to metric dealers to buy. IMHO,H-D and ther Garagemahal Dealers have lost sight of the blue collared American culture that supported them and made them the iconic brand they are today….whether I like it or not. Ride on.

  6. Tom Albrecht
    Posted on: December 8, 2012 12:49 pm

    We are all real bikers to some extent. Some of us ride more and have been riding longer. It comes down to this in my view. We all ride what we like according to our tastes and what our wallets will allow. For my purposes a Harley never fit the bill. Ride what you like. We have bigger things to worry about, like the texters that weave into our lane, and they don’t discriminate between sport bikes or cruisers. Motorcycle safety and awareness should be of a greater focus.

    Keep the shiny side up

    • Walt
      Posted on: April 23, 2013 4:44 pm

      Well said my friend

  7. Jokowi
    Posted on: December 4, 2012 10:29 pm

    Where I live, HD riders often ride in packs, gesture rudely, and just plain look arrogant.
    Not to mention, like another person said here, it costs wayyyyy too much to get a HD with mostly outdated, or lagging behind at best, technology, where you can get other bikes (sports or otherwise) with state-of-the-art technology with half the price.
    And not forgetting most HD riders are old folks with mostly beer-bellies and leather jackets designed to FLAUNT their beer bellies. And with that beer bellies usually the passengers are pretty hot chicks in skimpy leather outfits. Not the image I wanna portray when I ride.
    Sports- (or other categories-) bike riders are more varied. Young and old. And usually with 6-packs abs, or at least if we have fat stomachs, we don’t flaunt them.

  8. mike
    Posted on: October 30, 2012 10:20 am

    Buy a Triumph and forget about the idiosyncracys of both extremes. Triumph makes everything from God awful fast crotch rockets to low and slow cruisers. They are the motorcycle makers of the future ,hd makes them for the droolers.

  9. Fred M.
    Posted on: October 24, 2012 2:12 pm

    Jeffzx9r wrote: ““REAL” motorcylists? What’s that? We’re all on the same team, aren’t we?”

    No, we’re not. When Harley Davidson shuttered Buell, refusing offers from Bombardier to buy the firm and keep the plant open, they proved they were not on the same team I’m on. Almost 200 Americans were needlessly put out of work just weeks before Christmas in the middle of a recession because a certain contingent within Harley management was more interested in sticking it to Erik Buell that in doing the right thing for the employees or customers of Buell.

    I’m also old enough to remember the mid-1980s, when HD successfully lobbied Congress to pass legislation putting a tariff of almost 50% on imported motorcycles of over 700cc displacement. Yes, that’s right, if you were in the market for a Suzuki GSX 750 ES sport bike, Harley was going to punish you for not buying a Harley cruiser.

  10. Hugh
    Posted on: October 5, 2012 8:17 am

    What is a “Real” motorcyclist in your opinion. I have ridden since I was 10, (I am 53) on trail bikes, dirt bikes, and street bikes. I have Hill Climbed, Flat Tracked, and Motocrossed as well as toured across the country. I have owned a lot of bikes of many brands. My next planned purchase is a KLR to ride logging roads. I own a Harley and love it. It seems your definition of a “Real” motorcyclist is one that prefers sportbikes. IMHO your headline would be more accurate if you replaced Real with Sportbike Riders. I am not telling you how to write your magazine, I recognize the title was written to get clicks and cause controversy, but it also causes unneeded division of riders, continuing an “us against them” mentality that is usually blamed on the Harley riders. Some of the rudest most reckless riders I have ever encountered were on sportbikes but I don’t hold that against everyone on them, after all I had my version back in the day, The Suzuki GT 550. The demise of the XR 1200 (which I loved as well) has more to do with poor marketing by the MoCo than so called “Real” motorcyclist. Ride Safe.

    • Duke Walls
      Posted on: April 28, 2013 10:17 pm

      Sorry, Hugh, but that divisiveness is all on the Harley side of the aisle. They don’t wave, they don’t stop to help, and they certainly don’t endear themselves to the neighbors with loud pipes and flatulent exhaust notes. “Real” motorcycles don’t weigh 800 pounds and have 65 horses to move their bulk. I thought the Buell XB12 might have been a tremendous motorcycle if not for that paint-shaker of an engine — I tried to like it, but I just couldn’t get over everything vibrating at different rates at different times. Imagine how much better it could have been with a Rotax twin. I think KTM calls that an Adventure. No, until such time as the Harley faithful stop acting like attention-seeking children, they won’t be buying any XR1200s, or Buells, or anything else that the fully capable Harley engineers could dream up. I hope you enjoy your new KLR, and the rest of the wonderful sport that is motorcycling.

  11. Dan
    Posted on: October 2, 2012 11:26 pm

    Harleys are antique, loud, ugly bikes. That is their market niche, and buyers won’t stray from it. As time goes by and the old guys die and quit riding, HD will fade because it failed to take risks to go after a younger market.

    • Alby
      Posted on: November 12, 2012 3:31 am

      Unfortunately Dan, every time Harley tries to make their bikes lean a little further, brake a little better and handle like they should people just don’t buy them. Look at the twin spark Sporties with adjustable suspension and triple brakes, the FXDX using similarly improved forks and brakes and now thew XR1200 (which admittedly didn’t quite get styled right)…..nobody bought them. Traditional Harley buyers want chrome plate, soft suspension and more chrome plate. You can;t blame HD for selling folks what they want, though I find it disappointing at best when every time they try harder they fail to make an impact. Buell were travelling OK but didn’t really fit in with either the “real” HD buyers or the sport bike crowd. Pity bout that.

  12. Dirk Eide
    Posted on: October 2, 2012 6:30 pm

    Why the XR1200 and the Buells were sale flops. In the past I tried to buy a Buell two times.
    Anyway, I ended up with a Ducati sport bike (first time) and a Husqvarna dual sport (TE610).
    The problem is not with the bikes, but the dealerships. They drive off customers who would
    buy the bikes. “Real Motorcyclists” do really give a rat’s ass about the mystic of owning a Harley.
    And the sales people are idiots.

  13. TubeBuell
    Posted on: October 2, 2012 2:19 pm

    If Harley had any serious desire to produce a real superbike they could have continued with the Buells. They could be celebrating podium AMA finishes like EBR is doing and not canceling the XR1200, however its not my company so what do I really know.

  14. Chad
    Posted on: October 2, 2012 12:20 pm

    I am a “real” motorcyclist that rides more than most would dream and I love Harley – Davidsons. It’s amazing how slanted the views of many who ride non-Harley riders often are. Like a right wing talk show host slamming the other side because you’ve met some extremists that act the fool. All Harley riders are not the bar hopping weekend riders that metric riders loath. So please stop using the term “real motorcyclist” to assert your superiority.

  15. Peter Hefele
    Posted on: October 2, 2012 11:54 am

    And tha’t why I ride TRIUMPHS now………and Hondas for the last 38 years.
    Had a Harley (2003 FLHTCUI) and got over it.

  16. Jeffzx9r
    Posted on: October 2, 2012 8:15 am

    “REAL” motorcylists? What’s that? We’re all on the same team, aren’t we?
    I don’t “hate” Harley Davidson’s; I had a Harley “Shortster” as a kid I’ve just never understood the high price of admission to Harley ownership, when the technology is woefully behind sportbikes which cost less than half. There’s also that Harley “attitude” issue, (which to many sportbike riders comes across more as unflattering ignorance, than anything to do with “cool.” No offense to Harley folks; really. One huge exception; when I see a group of VietNam vets or other military vets on their Harleys, I GET that; I’m old enough to remember those days. BIG props to you guys…God bless you. That IS cool; very very cool.)
    I think I could (honestly) enjoy riding a Fat Boy, or other low-slung cruiser, but the “bang for the buck” just isn’t there for most of the sportbike crowd. It’s NOT about “hate;” OK? There are plenty of other negative and/or lethal forces out there against ALL motorcyclists…….let’s not fight among ourselves.

    • Mark Wesley
      Posted on: October 26, 2012 5:46 am

      well said! I have a Harley Sportster 1200 ( well it was when I got it) and a Yamaha FJR, I am not into the Harley scene to be honest but I really enjoy riding of the Sporty when the weather is nice and the FJR is just a fantastic bit of kit. I agree that bikers shouldn’t get tribal and ‘diss’ each other just because of their ride.

    • Pablo
      Posted on: February 21, 2013 8:03 am

      Harleys, Triumph, Ducati, Kawasaki…etc…etc… we all share the same road… the same experience. We all share the same heart for that freedom when riding. We are what we are… all Motorcyclists!

      • Terri
        Posted on: May 11, 2013 10:24 am

        Well said Pablo. I own and ride my 3 bikes consistently; 2 Harleys and an S1000RR (sold my Buell XB9R and am kicking myself). ALL 3 bikes have different personalities, specific pros and cons (just like people) but I enjoy them all. Why? Because I love to RIDE, and it really doesn’t matter to me who makes the bike. If I like it, I’ll ride it!