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The Son and the Inheritor: Using Harley-Davidson’s Newest Manufacturing facility Flat-Tracker, the XG750R

The Son and the Inheritor: Using Harley-Davidson’s Newest Manufacturing facility Flat-Tracker, the XG750R

A lot has been made just lately of Harley-Davidson’s lack of youth-market penetration. Some millennials declare that the boomer-centric vibe of the corporate’s closely accessorized and moderately costly bikes doesn’t swimsuit their light-weight, cash-strapped life. Pundits—as pundits are wont to do—are claiming that the Motor Firm is in disaster. Some opine that maybe it shouldn’t have killed off the Buell sport-bike marque. Others assert that possibly it shouldn’t have merged the Softail and Dyna strains, allotting with the latter title within the course of, simply as a gaggle of youthful hipsters was starting to embrace the Dyna.

Evel Knievel XR750

Evel doing Evel on his XR750 in 1975, leaping vans within the Wembley Stadium car parking zone.

Others may level out that its newish entry-level machines—the four-valve, overhead-cam, water-cooled 60-degree V-twin Avenue collection bikes—are an excessive amount of of a divergence from the model’s core competency: large-displacement air-cooled pushrod 45-degree twins with that instantly identifiable potato-potato sound. What higher option to construct some cred into the comparatively new motor than by taking it racing? And what higher type of racing is there to showcase it than flat observe, a completely American sport that’s having a little bit of a renaissance for the time being? Even higher, it’s a sport that the bar and defend has principally owned for the previous 4 many years, because of its venerable XR750, undoubtedly one of many nice bikes of the 20th century.

There are two elements of motorcycling that enchantment to most riders. Foremost is the expertise of truly being on the machine, transferring by area and time. Phrases have been spilled on this topic, and to this point no person I’ve run throughout—together with riders extra considerate, introspective, and articulate than myself—has nailed it precisely. Regardless of the way it’s described, there’s all the time a “Yeah, it’s that, however there’s one thing else, too.” The bit that’s simpler to elucidate is the connection to fable. For guys like Mark Wahlberg, the impetus is a few Hopper/Fonda factor. For a legion of bikers who threw legs over Dynas previously decade, it’s Kurt Sutter’s Sons of Anarchy, though they most likely wouldn’t admit it.

Harley-Davidson KRs, 1966 Sacramento Mile

The KR was the XG750R’s great-granddaddy. Right here, a pair of them rip down the straight on the 1966 Sacramento Mile.

For me, it’s the lingering cultural whispers of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Kenny Roberts was ruling Europe, Terry Vance was burning up the quarter-mile, and the AMA’s Grand Nationwide collection, which consisted largely of flat-track occasions, was nonetheless the most important factor in American motorbike racing. The blurry echoes of childhood; half-remembered ghosts of pictures in Common Scorching Rodding in airport ready areas; radio spots for the Sacramento Mile. Flipping by my pal Kevin’s dad’s problems with Cycle World on summer season afternoons after we’d are available from skateboarding or bombing round on our BMX bikes. It was the tip of the benighted AMF period of Harley-Davidson, when the one guys who rode these issues had been gnarly die-hards. All people with any sense had a Honda CB750. The work required to run a Harley in these days made them uncommon, and their rarity made them unfathomably cool.

With the American dominance of street racing within the 1980s, paired with the ascendence of motocross and supercross, flat observe fell off a cliff. As Michael Lock, CEO of American Flat Observe—a successor to the outdated AMA Grand Nationwide Collection—says, “The individuals who had been coming to the races had been the identical individuals who’d been coming to the races 30 years in the past. They had been simply 30 years older.” And but, previously decade, a brand new era of MotoGP and superbike riders have rediscovered the game. GP phenom Marc Marquez’s Superprestigio, form of an IROC for motorbike racers, has turn out to be one of many must-see occasions on the two-wheel calendar. Valentino Rossi preaches the sideways gospel. American Flat Observe simply signed a TV take care of NBC Sports activities. And, maybe most telling, Polaris went all in on the Indian Scout FTR750 program, constructing a flat-tracker from the bottom up—together with an all-new engine—to problem Harley’s 40-odd-year dominance of the highest class of the game.

Harley-Davidson XG750R

Whereas Indian was growing the FTR from scratch, Milwaukee selected the race-what-we-sell strategy to competitors. The Motor Firm lastly retired the XR750, a bike launched for the 1970 racing season and seared into American consciousness as Evel Knievel’s plane of alternative. Its substitute, which bowed in prototype type through the 2016 season, is the XG750R, carrying a model of the XG750A Avenue Rod’s Revolution X engine developed by Vance & Hines, the Southern California aftermarket producer and race store greatest recognized for extracting most potato from Harley’s giant pushrod twins.

Harley-Davidson XG750A Street Rod

The XG750A Avenue Rod lends a labored model of its engine to the XG750R.

In distinction to the roadgoing XG750A, which weighs in at 507 kilos dry, the R mannequin weighs solely about 300. Which, for the non-moto-savvy reader, is about 50 kilos heavier than a large-displacement single-cylinder enduro just like the stalwart Honda XR650L, and it’s about 100 kilos lighter than a race-replica liter bike. MotoGP bikes, which make about 250 p.c extra energy than trackers, weigh round 350, however GP machines aren’t going sideways on dust. GP bikes additionally price about 2 million bucks apiece. Indian sells its FTR750 to privateers for simply $49,900. Trackers are elemental, sturdy, classically American issues, a easy hammer and chisel in distinction to the multi-axis CNC machines that populate the MotoGP grid.

Fireplace it up, and the XG750R gives up the identical heavy-equipment rattle from the highest finish as its roadgoing relative, a sound not far faraway from that of a contemporary four-valve Moto Guzzi V-twin. In truth, the complete character of the engine is extra big-block Goose than it’s Harley massive twin. However not like a full-size Guzzi or a Avenue Rod, the R’s engine revs to 11 grand. I nursed it out onto the hard-packed clay of the little Lodi, California, bullring, uncertain of what to anticipate. The bike was nonetheless geared tall for the day past’s Sacramento Mile, which made throttle inputs a bit extra forgiving, a welcome trait since my solely earlier flat-track expertise was on a small Yamaha making round a tenth of the Harley’s energy.

Harley-Davidson XG750R

Your writer aboard the XG750R in Lodi, California. CCR-related jokes associated to his lack of velocity are welcome.

An ideal nook in flat-track racing works one thing like this: Cane the bike arduous down the straightaway, get on the brake as you again out of the throttle, push the motorbike down into the nook, aiming for a late apex whereas preserving your self upright over the contact patch, get the bike turned, decide up throttle as you ease off the brake, lather, rinse, repeat. Reduce velocity too early, and also you’re left having so as to add gasoline midcorner, which throws you offline. Trim the rate too late, and, properly, there’s a wall there to catch you.

In preparation for my experience on the Harley, I’d taken a second stab at American Supercamp early this 12 months. I’d fared higher in my return to the flat-track faculty, ending the weekend as a strong midpacker. I felt good about my progress, however there was loads of room left to enhance. In my head, I used to be pondering, “Man, if I don’t have issues solely wired on a one-lung Yammie 125, how rattling hairball are issues going to be on the massive Harley?”

Seems, the belongings you do unsuitable on a 125 are largely the identical belongings you do unsuitable on a 750. My worst concern was bombing right into a nook, forgetting I used to be on dust, and hanging off the within of the bike, road-race fashion. I’m a significant proponent of utilizing your physique weight to nook a bike at any time when doable; in quick bends, I’ve invariably received one cheek off the within of the seat on my 900-pound Harley tourer and my head out within the wind previous the display. Not as a result of I wish to look showy, however as a result of the FL’s flexi-flyer body takes a much more constructive set in corners and is much less vulnerable to spooky oscillation at velocity. In brief, my hard-wired intuition is to get off the within of the motorbike in corners. Do this on dust, and it’s a really brief journey to the bottom. Fortunately, I didn’t try this. I did, nonetheless, proceed my yellow-bellied behavior of not driving the motorbike deep sufficient into the nook.

Harley-Davidson XG750R

This could be a greater story if I instructed you that I received on the factor and dug a rut within the concrete-like floor of Lodi’s brief observe, hanging the again finish of the Harley out all the best way round, engine screaming close to redline, whereas singing “Born in the usA.” within the voice of Jay Springsteen. It’d be a extra entertaining yarn if I screwed up and launched myself headlong into neighboring Calaveras County. It’d even be an enchancment if I received on, instantly scared the dwelling hell out of myself, putzed across the observe at 5 mph whereas feathering the clutch, and handed it off to the closest individual in a black-and-orange T-shirt, echoing Kenny Roberts’s well-known assertion after successful the Indy Mile on the flat-track model of Yamaha’s all-conquering TZ750 two-stroke four-cylinder: “They don’t pay me sufficient to experience that factor!”

The truth of it’s that, regardless of its standing as a full-race machine, the XG750R is shockingly pleasant. Discretion being the higher a part of not destroying Harley-Davidson’s manufacturing facility race bike, I didn’t push the XG in any respect. I didn’t, nonetheless, experience round terrified that the factor would spit me off at its earliest comfort. In truth, apart from the dearth of a entrance brake and the offset pegs—the precise positioned to most simply wedge one’s knee into the tank for leverage, and the left set so the foot makes a straightforward transition from the bottom again to the controls—it felt shockingly like a motorbike, the form of factor you’d bomb right down to the shop on, commute to work on, or experience round a lake at sundown. I fell into the oddball tracker slouch, I received my outdoors elbow up, I wedged my proper knee into the tank, I pushed the bike down, and it merely went across the observe. Taken by itself, the XG750R is a superb machine, and I need one.

As a contest bike, nonetheless, the XG has not fared properly towards the Indian. On the FTR’s debut race final 12 months in Santa Rosa, California, the Polaris unit introduced that they’d simply occurred to rent that race’s high three finishers: Bryan Smith, Jared Mees, and Brad Baker. Because the Indian Wrecking Crew, the trio has been largely unstoppable in 2017. As of this writing, Mees is main the championship with 9 victories, second-place Smith has 4, and the winless Baker is hanging in in third, because of a season full of constant finishes. The one non-Indian wins have come courtesy of Kawasaki riders. Briar Bauman has managed two victories, whereas fellow Kawi pilot Henry Wiles pulled off a win at Peoria final month. Harley has not gained to this point this 12 months, and there are solely two races left within the season. Take into consideration that for a second. Harley-Davidson, the corporate that largely carried the game from the 1970s into the 2010s, has not but taken a top-rank flat-track race in 2017.

Harley-Davidson XG750R

Since Indian introduced the Scout FTR750, moto geeks have been clamoring for a manufacturing facility road tracker, and the frustration in some circles was audible when, moderately than an FTR-style bike, the model introduced the Scout Bobber, nothing greater than a restyled model of its entry-level Scout cruiser. Whatever the XG’s efficiency on the observe throughout its inaugural full season, a road model of the XG750R looks as if a improbable option to convey youthful people into the Harley-Davidson fold.

The arduous work has already been completed. Simply use a production-optimized model of the one-off narrowed engine case covers that Vance & Hines ginned up for the racer, and add lights and a entrance brake. Within the title of price slicing, a roadgoing XG750R might acquire an additional 100 kilos within the course of, nevertheless it’d nonetheless be a 400-pound, 75-hp motorbike, which could be a lots entertaining factor. Ask anybody who owns a Yamaha FZ-07. And for those who’d like extra energy, certainly Harley’s Screamin’ Eagle performance-parts division can be completely satisfied to promote you some.

Harley-Davidson XG750R

The Motor Firm is banking on the XG750R to promote Avenue Rods, which is slightly like Chevy utilizing NASCAR to maneuver Camaro ZL1s. There’s, to place it bluntly, not a whole lot of commonality. The engines are considerably associated, they’re each rear-wheel drive, they each put on bow ties, and that’s about it. The Avenue Rod just isn’t a foul bike, however the FZ-07 is a greater one which prices lots of much less. To make one other automotive comparability, if the Avenue Rod is a Mercedes-Benz CLA250, then the Yamaha is a Volkswagen GTI—a extra competent all-around machine with out the luxury-brand cachet. A toned-down XG750R, however, might be a motorcycle price saving the additional coin for, providing the identical form of lifestyle-accessory status as Ducati’s Scramblers. It’d be a motorcycle to solid a showroom halo over the opposite Avenue fashions and produce some extra cachet to the Revolution X motor, powerplant that’s getting brief shrift as a result of its low place within the line and its break with Milwaukee custom.


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Maybe I’m naïve about all this. Undoubtedly, each Polaris and Harley have run the numbers and really feel that, whereas the race applications are price sinking into, the actual cash is in cruisers and tourers from the Scout/Sportster class on up. However it appears to me that an reasonably priced, American-built road tracker with actual racing heritage just isn’t solely a really usable on a regular basis motorbike, however the form of factor youthful motorcyclists might get very invested in.

In any case, for those who ask a Harley hater in the event that they’ve received any exceptions to their generalized distaste for the model, they’ll invariably enable one: the XR750. Why not make its inheritor a cornerstone of a Harley-Davidson retooled for the subsequent era?

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