My goal was to see how good of a dual sport adventure bike the Honda XR650L could be made into. The stock XRL is a fine dual sport motorcycle but needs a little help as an adventure bike. Of the three Japanese 650 class dual sport bikes – the Kawasaki KLR650, Suzuki DR650, and Honda XR650L – the consensus opinion is that the XRL is, by far, the best in the dirt but is lacking on pavement I wanted to improve the XRL’s highway capabilities without losing its fine dirt characteristics.
Did I succeed? I think so.
The big bore kit and the different 2nd and 5th gears improve the Honda’s dirt abilities. Narrowing the gap between 1st and 2nd gears alone makes the Honda a better dirt bike. No longer do I find myself in the position of either screaming the engine in 1st gear or lugging it in 2nd. The addition of the big bore kit, while not absolutely necessary, does provide additional grunt for those times when you find yourself in challenging terrain and saying things like “Mother of Blessed Torque, please don’t fail me now”. The higher 5th gear allows me to run a larger rear sprocket, which further improves the bike’s dirt characteristics, without giving up the ability to ride at highway speeds.
The big bore kit and higher 5th gear also make the Honda a better touring bike. The increased power enables the bike to haul heavy loads uphill without losing speed plus it provides some much needed passing power. While I found the stock 5th gear to be acceptably high for highway riding, going to a 3 tooth larger rear sprocket meant I would give up the ability to cruise at 70 mph. Changing to the higher 5th allow me to enjoy the benefits of a larger rear sprocket without negating the bikes highway proficiency.
The addition of the oil cooler means the engine runs cooler and decreases the risk of experiencing an overheating issue.
The windscreen makes the bike all day comfortable at highway speeds.
The Seat Concepts seat isn’t perfect but it’s pretty darn good. I wouldn’t select it if all I did was highway riding on the XRL but for mixed dirt and pavement it is good enough.
With all the changes is the Honda as good on the highway as a KLR? No, but the difference has narrowed considerably. The KLR is wider, a little more comfortable, and more stable at highway speeds. But the modified Honda isn’t bad in any of those categories. It’s reasonably comfortable and stable at highway speeds and noticeably more capable, and fun, in the dirt than the KLR. And easier to pick up when you drop it. As it is today I wouldn’t hesitate to take the Honda on any long distance adventure ride.
This is what Big Red looked like when I first brought her home.
Here is how she looks now.
A better countershaft sprocket – One of the things that has come to my attention since completing the build of my XR650L Adventure is a weakness in the countershaft / front sprocket area. Luckily, the aftermarket has come to the rescue again. Read more about this important topic here.