Harley Davidson XR1200X – Part Two – Motorcycle Mojo Magazine

15 Feb 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Harley Davidson XR1200X – Part Two – Motorcycle Mojo Magazine
Harley-Davidson XR1200X

Taming of the Shrew

“Oh my God, what did I get myself into?” It’s a moment of utter disbelief as I thumb the starter of the race-prepped XR1200X for the first time. The docile V-Twin that unassumingly powered the stock version of the bike is now snarling and barking at me out of its exhaust like a rabid dog. Equally unsettling is the changed seating position; the newly fitted, high-performance Elka shocks are longer than stock and raise the rear of the bike to a stratospheric height.

The view and reach to the ground makes me feel like I’m riding a highchair instead of a motorcycle, but even before this fully sinks in, I nearly ride the bike into a wall. The steering lock, altered for racing, catches me off guard; it’s so restrictive that the bike now has the turning radius of an aircraft carrier.

My original idea of street-testing a stock XR1200X and then racing the track-prepped version of the bike in a professional race now seems the plan of a madman. Concerned for my safety and the safety of those around me, I decide to steal the XR1200X from Deeley Harley-Davidson Canada and get some practice time during a track day being held at Shannonville. It’s not the track configuration that will be used for the actual race, but it’s close enough for me to get a feel for the bike and hopefully build some confidence for the race.

Clearly, I am not the only XR1200X rider who needs some practice time. When I arrive at the track, I’m surprised to find that half of the field I’ll be racing is here too. Even the defending Canadian Superbike Champion, Jordan Szoke, is on track, working on the setup of his Kawasaki.

The scene at the track puts the state of Canadian road racing into perspective; imagine showing up for a public track day in Italy and sharing the paddock with Valentino Rossi?

If I had any confidence at all about racing an XR1200X, it is completely shattered before I complete a single lap. With the bike barely leaned over, it’s weaving so badly that I almost lose the front end, and I realize that it’s the most unstable motorcycle I’ve ever had on a track. Dejected, I head straight back to the pits and seek out John Sharrard, owner of Accelerated Technologies. The former pro racer and suspension guru is an Elka distributor and happens to be at the track.

Rather than waste the better part of the day trying to figure out the new shocks, I ask for his help and describe what the bike is doing. He looks over the shocks and discovers that the rebound damping is turned all the way out. By the time he’s made a few rudimentary adjustments, I only have time for one partial lap before the session is over.

It’s enough to know that the bike is at least rideable and that I have something to work with.

The next two sessions are cut short by crashes that bring out the red flag. With half the day already gone, I realize that I’ve only managed seven hot laps – just enough to give me some feel for the line through each turn – not enough to give me any comfort with the bike. I take the little information that I’ve gathered about its handling and pay Sharrard another visit.

He has concerns with the XR1200X’s weight distribution. “With the rider sitting so far back, I don’t think the front wheel is weighted enough; let’s try increasing the preload by four turns to raise the rear and load the front.” Raise the rear? I can barely get my leg over the bike as it is without shredding every sinew in my groin, but I have faith in Sharrard’s professional opinion and let him make the changes.

I’m always amazed at the impact tuning a bike’s suspension can have on its handling. Only a few laps into my first session of the afternoon, I realize that the extra preload has improved the overall stability of the bike; the suspension setup still needs work, but for the first time I feel confident enough to increase my pace.

Harley-Davidson XR1200X

With my lap times dropping and confidence building, I head into turn 10 hard, squeeze the front brake lever at my braking marker, and don’t feel any resistance. “Crap,” is all I can say as the lever pulls in all the way to the handlebar and the bike doesn’t slow. On the edge of panic, I drop another gear and press hard on the rear brake while adding even more lean. I barely avert running off the track, and limp back to the paddock area on the rear brake while staying off the racing line.

The splitter for the front brake line has ruptured and covered the front fender and wheel with brake fluid. My day is over. I would later find out from Thomas Morin, Deeley’s Racing Fleet Coordinator, that the stock splitter was scheduled to be replaced with an aftermarket unit that had been back-ordered. Although I’m disappointed with my lack of track time and mediocre performance on the bike, I’m thankful that no one was near me when the brake line failed.

At the very least, I know that I’m able to lap a track on the bike.

As I’m loading the bike onto the trailer, someone asks what the XR1200X is like on the track. “It’s like grabbing a bull by the horns and hanging on for dear life,” I reply. “Every time I manage to find a way to help smooth the ride, it finds another way to buck me off. It reminds me of how my 1982 Honda CB900F handled on the street thirty years ago. In other words, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.”

Less than two weeks later, I return to Shannonville for the Canada Day race weekend. Bleary-eyed from my 5:00 a.m. start to make the mandatory 8:15 a.m. rider’s meeting, I pull into the racer’s compound and am a little surprised by the sight. More closely resembling a gypsy encampment than the professional paddocks I’ve seen at World Superbike and MotoGP races, every conceivable type of shelter is in use, from the most luxurious of motor homes to the most basic of tents.

I half expect to see a goat tied to a tent pole and chickens pecking at the ground in the encampment, but racers are beginning to pop their heads out, one by one, to begin setting up for the day. MMM

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Harley-Davidson XR1200X
Harley-Davidson XR1200X
Harley-Davidson XR1200X
Harley-Davidson XR1200X

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