By Reg Kittrelle
[This 1300-miles on a Harley-Davidson XR1200 Road Test was originally published in American Rider]
Packed to the max I left home at 5:15 a.m. on Friday, July 24, aboard a Harley-Davidson XR1200. Destination Denver, four days hence. If you read the first article I posted you’ll know that I was loaded up with camping gear and a plan to find out if the XR could be a decent touring motorcycle and, not incidentally, get away from things for a few days. With its 3.5-gallon gas tank, the XR’s mileage range was the big thing on my mind. Because of this I planned my gas stops in advance; a first for me as my usual ride has a 6-gallon capacity.
Las Vegas was my first night’s stop, 557 miles and five gas stops down the road. The gas stops were placed between 63 miles (Barstow to Baker) and 110 miles (King City to Lost Hills) apart. Prior to this trip I was seeing the low fuel light come on around 115 miles, so I was playing it conservative. I pulled into my campsite for the night 12 hours later (almost to the minute); the KOA on the grounds of the Circus Circus Casino, just off the Vegas Strip. This is a large KOA catering to, primarily, RVs. Hot and tired, I was greeted by a dour-faced woman ?Ms. Ann Thrope, I believe ? who assigned me a plot of ‘kitty litter’ adjacent some RVs. When I first rode up I’d noticed a couple of tents on grass… that’s what I wanted, and told her so. She wasn’t happy (an alien state for her), but reassigned me to a patch of grass next to a cinderblock wall. Camp set-up takes me all of about ten minutes, so I was soon cooking my gourmet fare for the night, fettuccini alfredo, with a bag of Doritos, and a quart of milk. This was not necessarily a mix I would have at home, but on the road anything that fills me is good stuff. The fettuccini was part of my dried food cache that I carried, the chips and milk came from the KOA store. The store, by the way, appeared to be there to satisfy the whiny needs of the way too many children.
Saturday dawned a bit later than I had planned, about 8 a.m. Eggs and bacon (dehydrated) and coffee kickstarted me and I left Vegas late (for me) at about 9 a.m. But, as I had an easy day in front of me, it didn’t matter. My day’s destination was Richfield, Utah, about 280 miles distant. Mesquite, Nevada, sits on the Nevada/Arizona border around 70 miles from Vegas. To me, it started the more interesting and scenic part of the trip, beginning with the Virgin River Canyon just inside Arizona. The road through there were built for the XR; great pavement with nicely banked high-speed turns. The tough decision was did I want to go fast, or view the scenery?
From there, St. George, Utah, was my target for lunch. St. George can be an absolute inferno, but this trip it was a relatively cool 103 degrees. From there I was greeted by rain on several occasions. Most of it was welcome as it cooled me off. The exception was a short flooded section on Interstate 15, just before the Interstate 70 turn off. I came upon it suddenly and could do nothing but hold on as I skated across it. It turned out to be a non-event, but it caught my undivided attention. Rain dogged me till my night’s stop at the Richfield, Utah, KOA .. a much more friendly, enjoyable campsite with a large grassy, shaded tent area … at about 4:30 p.m. Three gas stops placed between 67.4 miles (Vegas to Mesquite) and 115.3 miles (Mesquite to Parowan) got me there. A chili mac, a quart of milk, and a Snickers bar served as dinner. As is always the case, I met an interesting couple. They were from the midwest and were on their way to be married. In my home town of Santa Cruz. As my wife would say, “Too weird.”
After another round of dried eggs (they’re actually better than they sound) I left Richfield at 7:20 a.m., Sunday morning. The info I had on the next gas station was a little sketchy, so I stopped a mere 17 miles later to top off. Between Richfield and Green River is a spectacular stretch of highway that I hadn’t traveled in many years. The eroded rock formations, canyons and spires make the trip a long one as stopping for the many views is a must. Despite it being the height of the vacation season I was never bothered by much traffic during any part of my trip. In fact, it was mostly very light. I stopped in Green River for lunch; a depressing little town steeped in history but short on charm. The best part of Green River is the John Wesley Powell River Museum on East Main Street, just off I70. There are at least a couple of Powell museums in the Southwest that I’ve visited; this was one of the better ones. Better yet, I was the only one there other than two staff people.
As this was another short mileage day (under 250 miles) I took Hwy. 191 (50 miles east of Green River) to Moab. This is an area that you must not miss. In particular, Arches National Park. While I didn’t stop there this time, I have in the past. It defines the term “scenic.” Moab itself is a funky town that reminds me of my hometown, Santa Cruz. It has an adventurous, artistic air to it that makes you want to climb a rock, or paint a picture. It’s a bit like Sedona, Arizona, was before the world discovered it. Hurry and get yourself to Moab before the Jeep and ATV “adventure” businesses drag it down to Sedona’s level.
Leaving Moab I chanced upon a road that is now added to my favorites list: Hwy. 128. I don’t know why I’ve never traveled this before, but I’ll not miss it in the future. It parallels the Colorado River for about 60 twisting miles, until it connects back up with I70. Almost absent of traffic, it welcomed the shenanigans that the XR allowed me to perform.
Back on I70 I made a beeline for my final night’s KOA before Denver: Grand Junction, Colorado. I arrived here at 5:30 p.m. and camped in a nicely mown bit of grass with a roofed picnic table. That latter was important as a bit of rain visited as I munched my beef stroganoff dinner. It had taken four gas stops to get there, with a maximum spacing of 124.9 miles … with no low fuel light showing … (Moab to Grand Junction) and a minimum of that aforementioned 17 miles. As happened several times during the trip, I had a long conversation with someone very curious about the XR. We swapped lies for an hour or so.
My last day on the road, Monday, I treated myself to a restaurant breakfast. The eggs were better, but I would have preferred my own coffee. Leaving Grand Junction at 8 a.m. I had a very fun 245 miles into Denver along I70. Well-maintained, winding, and scenic this is one of those interstate highways that is actually entertaining, as opposed to being a straight slash from point A to point B. Most of Colorado is above a mile in altitude. In fact, a few of the roads actually reach more than two miles into the sky. On my trip, Vail Pass (10,600+ feet) was the high point. Despite this thin air country, the XR ran like a fine watch.
Two gas stops, spaced 112 miles and 131 miles apart, got me to Denver. That 131 mile section was a bit of a test as I wanted to see just how far I could go before the low fuel light came on. I arrived at the hotel before it came on, however. And, as I turned the bike back over to Harley there, I still don’t know how much farther it would have gone.
This was a good trip; a great motorcycle on often spectacular roads. Overall, I stopped for gas 14 times, and averaged 44.3 mpg, with a high of 49.9 mpg (Mojave to Barstow) and a low of 41.2 mpg (Green River to Moab). In retrospect, I was being a bit too conservative with my gassing up as 150 miles per tank turned out to be a reasonable goal if the need arose. However, if you make a mistake on gas consumption in that part of the world becoming a buzzard’s dinner entree is a real possibility. Despite these gas concerns I usually traveled at a high rate of speed. The majority of I70 has posted limit of 75 mph, with traffic flow often in the 80 mph to 90 mph range.
The XR1200 performed flawlessly… almost, and was always comfortable. The most surprising aspect was how effective the small windscreen was as I never felt excessive pressure (which is very tiring) on my chest. Two things kept me from labeling the bike completely flawless. First, the rear shocks. Lacking all adjustment other than spring preload, these are basic, bargain-basement boingers that fall into the just OK category. Within the first month of my using this motorcycle I had noticed a slight oil film coating the shafts and springs. Before leaving on my trip I thought about replacing them, but decided not to just to see how they would fare after 1,300 miles in the heat. Not well, not well at all. By the time I arrived in Denver, a thick oil film covered the shocks, the aft end of the swingarm, and the wheel; they were toast.
The second problem was a bit more involved and probably had more to do with my short height than anything else. With loaded saddlebags and tailbag, it was easier for me to slide my right foot and leg across the saddle, rather than swing it over the seat, per usual. At my second gas stop in Lost Hills I found the XR’s right side coated in oil. This was caused by my foot/leg contacting, and opening, the oil dipstick, as I mounted the bike. Its design is a press-to-open mechanism … my foot/leg pressed it, and it opened without me realizing it. This happened two more times, but I was watching for it. This never happened prior to the trip. At the same time, a bigger man with larger thighs could, conceivably have the same problem while riding the XR as the cap is very close to your leg.
Those two issues aside, the XR1200 proved to function very well as a touring motorcycle. In fact, it performed this task better than I had expected, and whetted my riding appetite for more of the same.