Here are two ultra-rare Harley-David offerings, a true XR 750 flat track racer, raced here in Australia, and an almost original XR 1000. Words: Paul Bailey, Images: Knackers BDP
Flat track racing is one of those pure American sports that could only come from America. From the land of excess, motorsport has always been one of the most pure forms of function must meet the needs of the sport.
A great example of this is flat track racing. Simple, build a 750cc bike that is as light as possible with an engine that has 130hp, kick the horses off their mile long horse tracks and race at 130mph on the dirt! Easy! It sounds simple but, to be one of the very brave to race this discipline and to watch these riders and bikes doing 130mph on the straight and then pitch the bikes sideways and go through the corners at 110mph at full lock is unbelievable to watch.
So where did it all start? Way back in the earliest days of motorcycles in America there was the need to prove which brand was the fastest. Two of the biggest contenders for the fastest bike was Harley-Davidson and Indian. Both had fast machines and both wanted the tittle of fastest motorcycle badly.
Competitions were set up around the country, first on half mile and board tracks with banked corners just like at a push bike velodrome but, these were big tracks. On the mile tracks the bike could reach over a 100mph but the cost was great, with many riders being killed each year.
A slightly safer option was dirt track racing, no banked corners no wooden tracks and plenty of run off areas. So in time this became the track and racing of choice for the major teams and riders. There were classes of racing based on the capacity of the machines.
The big bikes, 1000cc to 1300cc were very fast and there was some serious accidents due to both speed and rider skill. Eventually the big bikes were pushed aside and the Class C 750cc class was established.
This all started in the late ’30s and the rules allowed 500cc overhead valve singles to race against 750cc side valves. Harley and Indian had the 750cc side valves and the British bikes were all 500cc overhead valve. It made for competitive racing.
By the late ’50s the rules regarding capacity weren’t viable anymore and the class was re-adjusted to be just 750cc capacity for any make of bike. The side valves were getting out classed, Indian had gone bankrupt and no longer were in the racing game or selling motorcycles. Harley needed to do something to be able to compete with the others.
Harley developed and released the first XR 750 based on the then popular Iron Head sportster, it had a chrome-moly frame with all the right dimensions and geometry to be competitive but the engine was letting it down. The cast iron cylinders and heads were holding too much heat and the engine was struggling to make good power, at this time 80hp was considered massive!
Harley persevered with the engine for a few years and made some big changes to porting and position of carbs and exhaust , it really wasn’t working that well but it did allow time to develop the chassis properly and have a bike that was handling very well.
In 1972 Harley released the all new, all alloy engine XR 750. This was a game changer for the company and for flat track racing. Harley now had a factory prepped race bike that customers could also buy to compete with. The bike was a winner from the very start. It made far more power, was cooler in temperature and had very good reliability. The XR 750 became the dominant bike in flat track racing for the next 35 years.
The bike was such an iconic model that Harley-Davidson has done two tribute models for the road over the years. The first was the XR 1000, based on the sportster of the time but with the all alloy cylinder heads twin carbs and high exhaust straight from the XR 750 race bike.
It was only made for two years, 1983 and 1984 and has become a serious collectors bike. The next was the XR 1200 which was based around the then current sportster but heavily modified into a road racer style of bike, again only made for two years, 2009 and 2010.
To be able to get your hands on either the XR 750 or the XR 1000 is a very hard thing to do, both are rare and both are expensive. Two very lucky people here in OZ have one each of these bikes and at the recent Broadford bike Bonanza weekend they were seem and phots were taken of the two iconic bikes.
The owner of the XR 750, Eddy is a real passionate owner of bikes and is a real lover of the American brand. Les the owner of the XR 1000 is also a lover of all motorcycles and was lucky enough to obtain the XR 1000.
Here is Eddy’s story of how he got the bike and a brief insight into its past.
Eddy’s Harley-Davidson XR 750 Flat Tracker
At the Bendigo swap meet, many years ago, a buddy said “Did you see that old XR over there for sale?” At the time I thought he was having me on, (an XR750 at a swap meet?) but thought I better take a look.
Among a pile of rusty car parts was Phil Baker, a local, and a large chain attached to the real deal! It evolved that Phil had imported a new C&J rolling chassis with Performance Machine wheels and rear brake, along with a Jim Kelly Racing freshly-built XR750 engine. The tank/seat unit is from Bartels H-D dealership in Los Angeles, a long-term Springsteen sponsor, and delivered by Springer.
Phil’s idea was for Jay Springsteen to come to Australia and race it at various events, which he duly did! Jay raced at Tamworth Showground, Redcliffe Raceway in Brisbane and Bankstown, Sydney in January 2001. These events were all part of the Jack Daniels sponsored Australian Long Track Grand Prix.
Before he left, he signed the tank Springer #9 “MAN” Soon after, unfortunately, Springer had a serious back injury while flat-tracking back in the USA and never raced full-time again.
I met Springer again at the Springfield Mile in Illinois a few years ago with my buddy Denis, and he said “You’ve got my bike!” He was helping Bill Werner with another front-running team, and is full of laughs-a great character!
Thereafter Phil rode the XR 750 himself on occasion but decided to let the bike go, hence the swap meet. I have ridden the bike at the Broadford Bike Bonanza sometimes, but the bike is not suited to a kidney-shape short track.
After racing Sportsters and Buell’s for decades, the XR750 is still the best adrenalin weapon, and the ultimate Harley-Davidson, especially when I am used to having front brakes! Serious offers for the bike come often, but no way Jose, it’s a keeper.
Harley-Davidson XR 750 (stock, alloy head) Specifications:
Claimed power: 61kW[82hp]@7700rpm
Dry weight: 134kg
Fuel capacity: 9.5L
Engine: Air-cooled, four-stroke, V-Twin, push-rod two-valve, 750cc, 79 x 76mm bore x stroke, 9:1 compression ratio, dual 36mm Mikuni carburetors
Transmission: Triple chain primary, four-speed, chain final drive
Chassis: Steel twin-loop full cradle Rake: 26°, Trail: 87mm
Suspension: Ceriani telescopic forks, dual Girling rear shocks
Brakes: No front brakes, optional rear brake
Wheels & Tyres: Spoked wheels, aluminium rims, 4.00 x 19in
Seat height: 790mm
Harley-Davidson XR 750 Gallery
Now, here is Les’s story on his XR 1000.
Les’s Harley-Davidson XR 1000
I first became interested in the XR Harley Davidson after watching the movie “On Any Sunday”. The XR1000 appealed to me because it looked much tougher then any other Harley, and had the performance to match.
I had been watching them for a while and occasionally one turns up on eBay. I spotted this one in Oregon Wisconsin, so I got a mate to bid on it for me as I hadn’t worked out how to tell my wife I was buying another bike – Thanks Howdy!! At the time I had three CBX1000 Hondas and a Triumph Sprint.
On one of its first outings I went for a ride around Somerset Dam, on the outskirts of Brisbane, with three of my mates on late model Jap bikes and flogged them all through the twisty stuff. We stopped at a coffee shop at Mt Glorious and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself until it was time to go, and it fired up on one and a half cylinders.
The bike had bent a valve, so I limped home and pulled the motor out, heads off, and sent them away to be fixed. While the engine was out I noticed a couple of cracks in the frame, near the top mount for the rear shocks. I have spoken to a couple of other Harley owners and they have seen this before so it may be a common fault.
Luckily my brother Jim is very skilled in this area, and cut the back off the frame, inserted some steel sleeves and welded it all back together, looking like brand new and stronger than before. It wasn’t a big deal, and the motor was reassembled and back in the frame a couple of weeks later and I’ve had no drama since.
I take the bike to a few local shows and some dirt track meetings to show it off. Last year I took it down to Broadford and gave it a blast around the track – had a ball and the bike got a lot of interest down there. I chose the Phil Little Body Kit as it gives the bike a bit more of the XR 750 flat tracker look. The bike is basically stock with some anodised red hose clamps for a little more competition look.
My bike has full rego and I can ride it when and where I like, as I believe these bikes should be ridden and shown off, not hidden away. I have a few other Concourse restored bikes but I am under pressure from a few mates not to spoil this bike by over restoring it and making it look too new.
Harley Davidson XR 1000 (stock) Specifications:
Claimed power: 52.6kW[70hp]@5600rpm
Claimed torque: 65Nm[48ft-lbs]@4400rpm
Dry weight: 228kg
Fuel capacity: 9.5L
Engine: Air-cooled, four-stroke, 45° V-Twin, OHV, two-valves per cylinder, 998cc, 81 x 96.8mm bore x stroke, 9:1 compression ratio, dual 36mm Dell’Orto carburettors
Chassis: Welded steel tube frame
Suspension: Telescopic forks, dual rear shocks
Brakes: Dual 292mm front rotors, single 292mm rear rotor
Wheels & Tyres: 100/90 – 19, 130/90 – 16
Harley-Davidson XR 1000 Gallery
So there you have it, two examples of the rarest models of Harley-Davidson. Both lovely examples of Racing and tribute models from Harley-Davidson. Models that will never lose value and will always be on the wish list of those that know what is rare and what is unique in the world.