The Honda XR650L was introduced in 1992 and won Cycle World’s Best Dual Purpose Bike in both 1992 and 1993. This is what Cycle World had to say in 2012 when they selected the XRL as one of the best used bikes you could buy:
“When introduced in 1992 (technically, it was an early-release ’93 model), the XR650L was considered the best dual-purpose bike ever built. Honda combined the basic chassis of its off-road-only XR600R with the electric-start single from the discontinued 1998-99 NX650. The outcome was a motorcycle that had a strong off-road bias but was no slouch on the pavement, either, with enough oomph to reach a top speed of 96 mph. Its long-travel suspension (11.6 in. up front, 11.0 at the rear) allowed the 650 to soak up the punishment of some pretty aggressive off-road riding, even if it did present the bike with a seat high enough (37.0 in.) to induce nosebleeds. Still, as an all-around mount that could have you roosting rocks one minute and rocking down the pavement the next, the XR650L was the ride of choice.
Aside from paint and graphics, the XR650L has gone unchanged since 1992, so it’s not competitive with today’s dual purpose bikes. But it’s still a very practical and versatile machine, many of which can be bought for little more than pocket change.”
In July 2014 I picked up a 2006 Honda XR650L with a little more than 20,000 miles on the odometer. The bike had been desmogged and had a Dyno jet kit, Supertrapp muffler, skid plate, Man Racks rear rack, and Clarke 4.7 gallon gas tank. Not a bad start but my intent with this bike is to modify it in order to make it better meet the type of riding I do (dual sport adventure riding).
A stock XR650L needs a variety of modifications and improvements in order to convert it into a proper lightweight adventure touring bike. In no particular order I think it needs:
- Increased range: The stock gas tank holds 2.8 gallons which is good for about 120 miles total. I want to be able to go at least 200 miles between fill-ups so an aftermarket gas tank is a requirement. Luckily the previous owner installed a Clarke 4.7 gallon tank on my bike.
- Improved comfort: The stock seat is less than adequate for a full day’s riding, the stock handlebars are too low, and the bike needs a windscreen so that extended highway travel doesn’t cause premature fatigue.
- Luggage: It’s difficult to go on a proper adventure tour without luggage. I plan on adding a system that allows me to pack for a day or a week. Unfortunately, the XRL subframe is a known weak point – an issue that will have to be addressed before I go on any multi-day rides.
- Increased power: At just 32 horsepower, the stock XRL engine is overall lacking in power. I estimate the engine needs about 40 horsepower in order to make it perform the way I want so I plan to add a big bore kit with a higher compression piston, upgrade to a FCR carburetor, and change out 2nd and 5th gears. These changes combined with an aftermarket exhaust pipe and some mods to the airbox should wake up the engine and make the gear ratio better for dual sport adventure riding.
- Other miscellaneous changes: I expect to make other changes, such as adding wider foot pegs and changing the suspension, to make the bike better fit my preferences.
The stock handlebars, pictured below, are much too low for my taste. I’ll be making changes to this area right away.
Once all those changes are complete I anticipate the XR650L will be a fine dual sport adventure bike, ready to ride around the world. So join me in my quest to build a true adventure bike out of the XR650L. My first change is to improve the handlebars.