1993 - 2007 Honda XR650L | Smart Money

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Honda

Stay the same for 15 years and people tend to ignore you. That's why Honda's stalwart XR650L gets lost in the shadows of flashier all-surface contenders. But if you're in the market for a lot of big-bore adventure single without spending much money, have a look-especially if you only need enough street legality to placate the rangers in the local national forest. Using the venerable XR600R as a foundation, Honda started the production dirtbike-with-lights movement with the '93 650L. And despite a stifling degree of stasis over the years, it's still a real-deal dualsport contender.

Derived from Honda's largely misunderstood NX650, the air-cooled 644cc thumper uses a gear-driven counterbalancer to squelch the most irksome vibration. A fully fueled stocker weighs in at just under 350 pounds and puts about 35 horsepower to the ground at 6000 rpm. Acceleration is adequate, but just. Ridiculously lean jetting in the 42.5mm CV carb and a labyrinth of expendable emissions plumbing take most of the blame there, along with restrictive intake and exhaust tracts. Tall standard gearing doesn't help either.

The 37-inch seat height can be insurmountable for vertically challenged types, and that slim saddle delivers something less than Gold Wing comfort. But it's easier to justify a little butt burn when you're getting 55 mpg on the way to work. The XR feels like an overgrown mountain bike compared to any big adventure twin and, relatively speaking, it is; it weighs 132 lbs. less than KTM's 990 Adventure, for example.

If you're serious about the dirt thing, carving off another 40 lbs. is easy. A plastic fuel tank adds range and saves weight. Any socially acceptable aftermarket exhaust system shaves further mass and adds a few ponies. Make sure the previous owner hasn't been getting dirty with Honda's reprehensible paper air filter. Beware of extensive internal hot-rodding. Excessive top-end noise can mean the camchain tensioner is going/gone or worse-run away. Limit mods to a little intake/exhaust therapy and the engine is as reliable as your basic sledgehammer. As with any air-cooled mill, make sure the oil has been changed on time and valves have been ministered to on a regular basis. Make sure any missing emissions bits were removed correctly. Since dirt, rocks, mud and sand are harder on consumables such as chains, brake pads and wheel bearings, a little extra scrutiny there may save you an expensive trip to the parts counter. Spend the same dough on a few aftermarket bits and you just might have the sweetest bangper- buck ratio on-or especially off-the road.

Iconic XR600R underpinnings and a stone-simple 644cc heart lay the foundationfor serious speed.

Asthmatic power delivery as delivered, squishy seat, tiny fuel tank.

Watch For
Extreme engine modifications, slipshod maintenance, top-end noise or smoky exhaust.

A stone-simple adventurer that can dust those literclass twins in the rough stuff.

$1715 (1993)
$2640 (2000)
$3905 (2005)

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