For the XR650L, Honda basically combined the off-road chassis of the XR600 with the electric-start engine of the NX650, creating one of the most capable dual-sport bikes. We start our new series “Your Honda Classic” with the Honda XR650L of Oliver, one of the guys behind Honda-Museum.com.
I have been looking for a secondhand XR650L for a rather long time. Even though still available new in some countries, it has never been officially imported to Germany, but distributed by independent motorbike dealers. XRL’s in original condition and offered at a reasonable price have become quite rare. I was lucky to find this XR650L near the city of Passau in Eastern Bavaria. The Owner was living in an old, castle-like estate and parked the bike in the former horse stable. He also had made some minor modifications to the bike, like adding Acerbis handguards and a UFO fender, but had kept all the original parts.
Growing up in 80’s Germany – where dual-purpose motorbikes were highly popular – has obviously left a lasting impression on my motorcycle preference. Enduro’s from the late 80’s into the mid 90’s continue to fascinate me to this day. I really like the simplicity and the oldschool look and feel of these bikes. When the XR650L appeared in 1993, it was considered one of the best dual-sports – and it still makes a great everyday, can-do-everything motorcycle.
One of the XRL’s best features is certainly its air-cooled single-cylinder engine. It has lots of character, plenty of torque and great low- and mid- range power. It is also very dependable, capable to last 60 to 80 thousand kilometers or even more. Like with most air-cooled singles of its time, its advisable to warm up the engine for a few kilometers before revving it. An oil-temperature meter is a useful addition. Keeping the oil level close to max (and checking it regularly) as well as changing the oil every 3000km is also a good idea. The overall built quality of the XR650L is very good and its reliability has been well proven by many round-the-world travelers.
Maintenance on the XR650L is fairly easy and straightforward. Most XRL owners I know service the bike themself. Changing the oil, oil and air filter, or the spark plug is very simple. Checking or adjusting the valve clearance is also very doable.The original Honda service manual is a big help and very recommended. Useful modifications to the XRL include a bigger fuel tank (Acerbis, IMS, Clarke) and a luggage rack for better everyday suitability.
Honda assembled the XR650L from mostly existing parts, mounting the tried-and-tested Dominator engine into the frame of a XR600. Aside from the bulky battery box, the stripped bike looks pleasantly slim. Having the battery located to the rear of the frame is probably the main reason why the XRL feels noticeable heavier than the XR600. Hence replacing the standard battery with a lighter one is a very sensible modification.
In the following pictures we placed the XR650L side-by-side with its more street-oriented counterpart, the NX650 Dominator. The XRL has obviously much more suspension travel – but also a considerably higher seat hight. The XR650L is definitely a tall motorcycle, but lowering kits exist. The XRL features a 18″ rear wheel and an aluminium swingarm, whereas the Domi has a 17″ wheel and a steel swingarm. The XR650L is unsurprisingly much more off-road worthy than the Domi, however compared to the XR600 it has a more road-oriented set-up. In short: a well-balanced dualsport suspension, suitable for on-road and off-road use alike.
There are quite a few things I like about the Honda XR650L. It’s a solid, unpretentious and reliable motorbike in typical Honda built-quality. It’s also pretty affordable and easy to service. To me pretty much everything about this bike feels just right. It has a great engine with lots of character, a go-anywhere suspension and a great classic adventurebike design.