The Harley-Davidson FXR platform has an almost magical reputation among the most seasoned Harley-Davidson enthusiasts. Quite simply it is touted as the best-handling Big Twin ever and has a cult-like following. I have ridden more than my fair share of FXRs over the years and all have handled downright fantastic. But all these machines have been highly modified and customized. I had yet to experience the FXR handling prowess in its purest form.
I had never ridden a bone-stock FXR as The Motor Company had designed and intended. Finding a 25-to-30-year-old motorcycle of any brand and model in a completely stock state is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. For a Harley-Davidson it’s damn near impossible.
Well all that changed a few weeks ago when my good friend Andrew Huerta offered to let me ride his pristine 1992 FXRS Low Rider Convertible in the local foothills. Andrew had acquired the bike off the original owner after a divorce. There is a lesson to be learned here but I won’t get into that, haha. Except for a few fresh sets of tires over the years, that original owner had left it unmodified since rolling it off the showroom floor in 1992. I was in for a two-wheeled treat!
Right off the bat I felt at home as I sat down and got behind the bars. The ergonomics were just about perfect. Much to my surprise the layout felt more welcoming to me than most of the modern bikes I have ridden in the last handful of years. Everything felt “just right.” Peg to bar distance, seat to peg distance, peg position—they all felt comfortably appropriate. While the buckhorn handlebars looked like wrist crampers and kind of goofy, they actually felt pretty good once in motion and finessing the bike around town and in the local canyons.
Taking off from a standstill I immediately noticed how agile the FXR felt. The center of gravity appeared to be quite low and hid the bike’s more than 600 pounds well. It felt very similar to a Sportster, which made a lot of sense since the FXR is sprinkled with Sportster parts including the front end. Once up to speed in twisty canyon roads the FXR magic started to happen. This bike was super steady yet quite responsive in the turns. Both tight and long gradual turns were gobbled up in a way that the bike felt like an extension of my body. It did exactly what I wanted it to do when I wanted to do it. Milwaukee’s finest felt like it was on rails with zero twitchiness, flex, or wobble at all speeds. Pretty amazing and almost magical.
Now I fully understood the hoopla around the FXR platform and its fanatical following. It really did have the substance that could make it the best-handling Harley-Davidson model of all time. The only other Big Twin bikes that can even begin to compare are some of the machines in the 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail lineup, and by some I mean about three of them.
This got me to thinking how kick-ass would it be to compare an FXR with a modern drivetrain and suspension with one of the new bikes and settle the debate of best handling H-D ever produced. Luckily for me and you, Hot Bike Editor in Chief Jeff G. Holt is already in the midst of shoehorning a Milwaukee-Eight powerplant into an FXR frame. Much more on that exciting project to come online here and in the pages of the magazine.
Back to the 1992 model. While the 80-inch Evolution engine isn’t quite up to modern power standards, it supplied an easy-to-use spread of power that was quite fun. The engine actually worked quite decently when paired with the chassis’ great handling. Keeping corner flow and speed up was just the ticket to keeping the EVO engine happy. A powerplant with more torque would be needed for a more stop-and-go style of cornering associated with a not as superb handling bike.
So what actually makes FXR models handle so well?
I asked renowned guru of all things FXR Chip Kastelnik of famed San Diego Customs for his take on it. “The FXR overall is and always will be H-D’s best-handling motorcycle in the company’s history. The reasons are simple. A solid designed chassis with little to no flex, a three-point mounting system for the drivetrain, and superior suspension for its time,” Chip said.
This is also known. Famed performance motorcycle engineer and designer Erik Buell had a big hand in getting the chassis to work well during his stint in the Harley-Davidson engineering department. With his expert-level roadracing background, implementation of new testing equipment, rigorous testing procedures, and doing the majority of the development test riding himself, he set the benchmark and then some for what a “cruiser” could handle like. Erik had designed a “performance Harley-Davidson” well over three decades before that term and style of bike became popular with the masses for production bikes. Sure, there have been performance-oriented H-Ds since the company’s inception in 1903, but those all have been in the form of purpose-built racebikes that were meant for closed-course competition in flat track, road circuits, board tracks, drag strips, etc.
The proverb “all good things must come to an end” rang true for the FXR platform in 1994 after being in the lineup for 12 years. It came back for some low-volume production runs from 1998 to 2000 with the FXR2, FXR3, and FXR4 models birthing the company’s CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) unit.
If the FXR was so great, why did it die?
That stems from a multitude of things. The frame was expensive and time-consuming to build, a great-handling Harley wasn’t really what the market wanted at the time, other models being more popular, custom base aging, and much more. It was simply a bike ahead of its time.
Thankfully today there are still a ton of FXRs out in the world for you to experience the “magic” on like I did.