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XR1200 : Our Interpretation of the Harley Icon Came First

Hindsight 20/20 Our collaboration with Barnes Harley-Davidson that resulted in the XR1200 would prove to  foreshadow things to come. Harley-Davidson launched the XR1200, their own interpretation of the classic XR, as a 2009 model in North America. In an odd turn events, the European had the bike a year earlier than Canadian riders.


In our July 2006 issue we introduced Project: Barnes Stormer XR1200, a collaborative effort between Canadian Biker and Barnes Harley-Davidson of Langley, BC to develop a base 883R into a motorcycle that pays homage to the Sportster’s superbike roots. The bike’s off the bench now, and we couldn’t be happier.

“We kept the compression ratio under 11:1 so we could still run pump gas,” says James Allen, a technician for Barnes Harley-Davidson in Langley, BC. “It is sitting at 10.5:1 now.” The “it” he’s referring to is the Barnes Stormer, a bike that was once an 883R, but is now a dirt track-styled Sportster that leans heavily on the performance traditions laid out by the splendid XR750 and XR1000.

The Barnes Stormer is the result of a collaborative effort between Barnes Harley-Davidson and Canadian Biker. We had a common vision for what a custom Sportster could and should be about and as early as January it was decided that together we would build a bike that tracks the origin of the Sportster and pays homage to its superbike roots.

Allen, assisted by parts advisor Gary Baker and service manager Duncan Rourke, did the real work of incorporating a Storz XR1200 conversion kit into Project: Barnes Stormer and the result is a thing of subtle beauty. No flames or chains here, just black and orange styling that syncs with the blacked-out treatment of the basic ’06 Sportster to underscore the upgrades that are all performance in nature. Steve Storz’s kit had many of the elements we were looking for: race oriented bodywork, aggressive suspension and the signature pipes in the XR mode. Because the 883R and its rubber- mount motor is already considered one of the best-handling Sportsters to come out of Milwaukee in many years, it was a lock as a donor bike for the project that would see the top end torn down enroute to a 1200 conversion.

“But,” as Duncan points out, “we still wanted it to look like a Harley.” So, the Storz kit is integrated with Harley- Davidson essentials such as the stock tank and, more importantly, kick-ass motor work. A Screamin’ Eagle .575 cam for torque; forged dome pistons for the compression increase and to accept the cam’s high lift; and heads sent to J-Precision in Montreal for a Stage III treatment to optimize airflow and install compression releases.

xr1200 action shot with rider right side

The XR1200 ‘s six hours of tuning on the Barnes dyno finally resulted in 82.6 hp and 73.7 ft/lbs. torque at 4,800 rpm. This package, remember, began life with a modest 60-horse output. Pre-armed with SE race ignition, it’s possible that James could have coaxed higher numbers out of the bike but, first and foremost, he was concerned about keeping the bike streetable.

“The power and torque numbers still make it rideable,” he says. As it is, the bike lofts quickly. “Once it’s climbing, just stay on the throttle and keep the front end up,” says James, who seems imbued with the Barnes hotrod philosophy—the dealership is at the very centre of a powersports mad community in BC’s Fraser Valley.

A big steel sprocket facing a 180- series Metzler is yanked by a 520-size chain, while a sharp crackle of the throttle opens a drum-sized Mikuni 45mm carb. Bellowing exhaust out of horizontally-stacked Storz/Bub pipes, the hard-revving mill keeps a linear pull as the needle finally tops out at the 6,700 rpm redline. It works in mechanical unison with Harley’s new reduced effort clutch and slick-shifting transmission—Milwaukee has made enormous strides in the development of a gearbox with positive feel and oily engagement.

“The power curve feels like an elastic band,” said CB Track Editor Oliver Jervis, who was the first here at our office to sample the spirited Barnes Stormer. “It seems to have a freer motor than the Buell. They got the jetting just right.” It was within the first few moments of his road test that he observed the bike is not just about the motor’s pleasing spread of torque, it has elegant, peg-scraping handling qualities as well.

“You just turn, get set in the lean angle and pour it on,” said Oliver of the Barnes Stormer XR1200.

While the rear-set shocks are staple Harley units, the critical stock front end was removed to accommodate beefy 55mm Ceriani forks mounted beneath 883R handlebars. Because the front end came off as a unit, James replaced the standard 100/90-19 with a 130/70-series 18” Metzler mated to a Galfer wave rotor that’s squeezed by a PM caliper. The Excel rim was hand-laced and trued by James and mounted on a Harley hub. The assembly is complemented by a 180/55 R18 Metzler at the rear, which also sports a James Allen laced Excel rim.

xr1200 action shot with rider left side

The 180-series wheel lends a muscular streetfighter look to the motorcycle that is a thematically correct companion for the heavy-duty front forks. It’s exposed by an abbreviated tail section treatment that was made possible only after the rear sub-frame had been cut off to make room for the Storz bodywork. But it was in the refabrication of the hindquarters that James found his most difficult challenge.

Because the team had elected to go with a stock tank, the fibreglass lines had to be remolded and the seat reshaped to fit. It proved to be a fiddly procedure that ultimately resulted in a narrow, streamlined profile that permits a rider’s side-to-side movements as he flicks the bike through corners.

Originally we had discussed the possibility of rear-set pegs, but at the end of the day the location of the stock footpeg was kept intact because it seemed to fuse better with the bike as a whole. In practically every regard the Barnes Stormer is about performance, but some concession finally had to be made to a level of creature comfort.

xr1200 diving into a corner with rider looking good

And there’s a wonderful sense of harmony about the resultant rider position.

True, this is a “full-on hooligan bike,” as Gary Baker points out, but it’s also a fully-functional machine complete with signals integrated into the LED tail light. It howls, spits fire and handles corners with a level of flickability that’s typically the domain of factory sportbikes.

In short, the Barnes Stormer XR1200 is everything we’d hoped it would be, right down to the chain drive we begged for.

“And, the speedo is correct,” says James.

Great Ancestor: From its go-to-hell stance to horizontally-stacked exhaust and free-breathing intake, the Barnes Stormer XR1200 can claim a direct genetic line to Harley-Davidson’s legendary XR1000. The limited production scary-fast XR is one of the rarest birds ever to emerge from the Milwaukee factory. Pictured here is an even rarer find: An XR with all the original parts intact and mileage low.

by John Campbell Canadian Biker Issue #225 Photos: D. Stemler


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