Since its introduction in 1993, Honda’s XR650L has been a favorite of many riders. Its tall seat height and high ground clearance appeal to off-roaders, while a reliable engine and nimble handling make it popular with road riders. Unsurprisingly, the XR650L is one of the most popular dual-sport motorcycles ever. But does the XR650L make a good adventure bike?

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It looks promising at first glance, but to know for sure, we picked up an XR650L for ourselves and started making changes. If you want to see the results, watch our video and keep reading for all the details.

Background

The 1993 XR650L first hit showroom floors in 1992, and the bike has maintained its popularity ever since. It’s still being made in 2018, and besides the graphics, not much has changed. The bike’s steel frame holds a 664cc, single-cylinder, air-cooled engine that puts out around 35 horsepower, depending on the year. The bike also has a 5-speed transmission, electric start, and carbureted fueling.

Basic stats make the XR sound very similar to the Suzuki DR650 and KLR 650, but the XR has some key advantages when it comes to making it an adventure bike. Firstly, the XR is a relatively light 346 pounds, 20 pounds lighter than the DR, and nearly 100 pounds lighter than the KLR. The XR also has better ground clearance and a taller seat height. The only glaring shortcoming is its small fuel tank capacity compared to its peers.

honda xr650l adv motorcycle bike build

Range and Fueling

With the XR’s strengths and weaknesses in mind, we started turning it into a proper adventure bike. We handled the largest problem first and ditched the stock tank in favor of the larger Acerbis 5.8 gallon fuel tank.

The new tank drastically increased the bike’s range, and even with its large size, it doesn’t get in the rider’s way or change their riding position. The surplus fuel was great, but fueling was iffy since the XR comes lean from the factory. We rejetted the bike until we finally found something that worked for our altitude and riding style.

Luggage & Storage

You always need storage space on an ADV bike, and we wanted to use the Nelson Rigg Sierra Dry Saddlebags and Ridge Roll Dry Bag for our luggage. Both options are sturdy, waterproof bags with an affordable price that’s realistic for most riders. The only problem was the XR’s subframe that is known to bend under the weight of anything but a light load.

We fixed the problem with Tusk’s Pannier Racks with Top Rack Kit. Not only does the kit include pannier racks and a top rack for fastening luggage, it also includes supports specifically built to reinforce the XR’s subframe. With the racks and supports installed, the subframe handled a full load of luggage without issue.

Versatility has always been a big part of the XR650, and since we no longer needed to worry about the flimsy subframe, we bolted on some Bike Master Buddy Foot Pegs in case we ever ditched the luggage in favor of a passenger.

honda xr650l adv motorcycle build led headlight

Lights and Signals

The XR650L has been around for a while, and that helps with parts availability, but it doesn’t help its looks. Instead of going overboard, we polished the XR’s looks by upgrading most of the lights and signals to smaller, more-efficient LED units. We dropped the stock signals on the rear for the much smaller Tusk Mini Stalk LED Turn Signals.

Up front, we ditched the stock signals altogether, instead going with the Tusk D-Flex Pro Adventure Handguards that feature turn signals integrated into the reflector. Just remember that on any bike, if you switch from incandescent lighting to LED lighting, you’ll need an LED flasher relay to keep the signals blinking at a normal rate.

In the back, we installed a Fire Power Replacement Taillight, the Tusk Universal License Mount, and a Tusk License Light. All three accessories went on easily and did a great job of cleaning up the tail for a more modern appearance.

We replaced the stock headlight with JNS Engineering’s LED Headlight and supplemented it with a pair of Trail Tech Equinox LED Lights mounted to the JNS Engineering Dual Light Mount.

The LED headlight puts out much more light than stock, and with the Equinox lights delivering 1000 or 2500 lumens, depending on which size you get, night riding is safer and easier. All in all, updating the XR’s lights ticked off several goals for the build. They updated the bike’s looks, increased visibility, and decreased power consumption that’s now free to use on other accessories.

honda xr650l adv motorcycle build profile

Cockpit & Controls

Since this build centered on making the XR an adventure bike, controls and ergonomics needed special attention. We picked the low-hanging fruit first and added a Seat Concepts Seat Cover & Foam Kit alongside a set of IMS Rally Foot Pegs.

Both go a long way in improving comfort. Seat Concepts uses high-quality foam in their seats and an ergonomic shape for much-needed backside relief. IMS made the Rally Foot Pegs massive compared to the stock pegs so pressure would spread out on the sole and prevent achy feet at the end of a ride.

At the controls, the stock bar came off and a Tusk Chub Big Bar took its place. We mounted the new bar on a set of Speed FX Pro-Offset Elite Block Risers to get the right height, which is easy considering these reversible risers have both up-down and fore-aft adjustment. The Double Take Adventure Mirrors are a staple on most of our ADV builds thanks to their durability and folding design, so our XR got a pair of those as well.

Final touches included a 12 volt power socket, some dual-compound grips, and a couple of heater kits for the saddle and grips to keep the rider warm.

honda xr650l adv motorcycle build

Performance & Suspension

XR owners know squeezing more power from the engine is tough. We focused on refining what was already there by installing an FMF Q4 Silencer and Twin Air Air Filter. The exhaust looks fantastic, but both mods help the bike breathe better and get the air it needs.

While we were at the exhaust, we also wrapped the XR’s dual head pipes using the Helix Racing Insulating Exhaust Wrap, just to make sure we wouldn’t melt any boots or pants.

We gave the electrical system a boost with an Electrosport Stator, and since the new stator produced 20% more power than the stock equipment, we had no problem powering additional accessories. But, we still wanted extra assurance and got it from an Antigravity Re-Start Battery.

The lithium battery is lightweight, but we picked it because it has a battery-management system and jump start function built in to the battery itself. It’s a battery that jump starts itself, almost invaluable if you get a dead battery in the middle of nowhere.

Finally, we addressed the largest performance pitfall, the suspension. It’s pretty soft in stock form, and when you add a large rider and luggage, it gets even worse. We dropped in new fork springs from Race Tech, and the heavier-rate springs complimented the bike’s weight and ground clearance nicely.

Specifically for the XR

Every model of bike has quirks, and the XR is no exception. We already mentioned the bike’s weak subframe and fixed the issue with Tusk’s rack kit. Next is the front sprocket. The stock sprocket has a thin width and, given enough time, the splines on the sprocket can unevenly wear into the countershaft splines. If the countershaft splines get too worn, you’ll need to disassemble the engine to replace the entire countershaft.

We avoided this by installing the Primary Drive Front Sprocket Upgrade. The new sprocket is wider than the stock unit, and the extra width increases the contact area between the sprocket and countershaft splines, eliminating excess wear.

XR owners have noted the stock CDI has a nasty habit of failing without warning. If that happens in the middle of a ride, you could get stranded without a solution to the problem. We switched our XR’s CDI out with a Neutron CDI for an extra level of insurance against potential issues.

Additional Accessories

Since the major changes were finished, we turned to putting on the finishing touches. A Ricochet Skid Plate gave the engine and frame much better protection than the stock plate. We also tidied up the bike’s underside with some Skid Plate Foam, magnetic drain bolts, and a Tusk Brake/Shift Lever Saver to keep brush and branches from ripping off our foot controls.

Since the bike will primarily be in the dirt, we mounted Dunlop D606 tires for peak traction and Bridgestone’s Ultra Heavy Duty Tubes for the most puncture and pinch resistance possible from a tube. We also picked up the JNS Engineering Side Stand Foot to keep the bike upright in soft terrain.

Finally, we topped the bike off with a Polisport UFX Universal Front Fender and a great-looking set of graphics from Attack Graphics.

Comment

Tell Us What You Think

Our XR650L ended up being a much better adventure bike than we expected. How do you think our XR turned out? Would you ride this Honda on your adventures, or would you go with a different bike? Let us know your thoughts, questions, and opinions in the comments below.

Parts Available at Rocky Mountain ATV/MC

Acerbis Fuel Tank FMF Q4 S/A Silencer Twin Air Air Filter
acerbis fuel tank fmf q4 sa silencer twin air air filter
Tusk Brake Reservoir Cap Double Take ADV Mirrors Tusk D-Flex Guards w/ Signals
tusk anodized front brake reservoir cap double take adventure mirror kit Tusk D-Flex Pro Adventure Handguards wTurn Signals
Rox Speed FX Elite Block Risers Tusk Chub 1 1/8″ Big Bar Motion Pro Throttle Tube
Rox Speed FX Pro-Offset Elite Block Risers Tusk Chub 1 18 Big Bar Motion Pro Throttle Tube
Tusk Grip Heater Kit Tusk Dual Compound MX Grips Tusk 12 Volt Power Socket
Tusk Grip Heater Kit Tusk Dual Compound MX Grips Tusk 12 Volt Power Socket
Seat Concepts Seat & Foam Kit Tusk Seat Heater IMS Rally Foot Pegs
Seat Concepts Seat Cover and Foam Kit Tusk ATVMotorcycle Seat Heater IMS Rally Foot Pegs
Polisport UFX Front Fender Tusk Rim Lock Bridge­stone Ultra HD Tube
Polisport UFX Free Flow Front Fender Tusk Motorcycle Rim Lock Bridgestone Ultra Heavy Duty Motorcycle Tube
Dunlop D606 Dual Sport Tire WPS Rim Strip Tusk Rim Lock Nut/­Spacer Kit
Dunlop D606 Dual Sport Tire WPS Rim Strip Tusk Rim Lock NutSpacer Kit
Tusk Valve Support JNS Eng. Stand Foot Pad Race Tech Fork Springs
Tusk Rubber Valve Support Seal JNS Engineering Side Stand Foot Pad Race Tech Fork Springs
Ricochet Offroad Skid Plate Tusk Skid Plate Foam Tusk Magnetic Drain Bolt
Ricochet Offroad Skid Plate Tusk Skid Plate Foam Tusk Magnetic Drain Bolt
Tusk Engine Plug Kit Primary Drive Front Sprocket Upgrade Primary Drive Gold X-Ring Chain
Tusk Billet Aluminum Engine Plug Kit Primary Drive Front Sprocket Upgrade Primary Drive 520 ORH Gold X-Ring Chain
Antigravity Lithium Battery Tusk Mini L.E.D. Signals Tusk L.E.D. Flasher Relay
Antigravity Batteries Re-Start Lithium Battery Tusk Mini Stalk L.E.D. Turn Signals Tusk L.E.D. Flasher Relay
Fire Power Brake Light Tusk Universal License Mount Tusk License Light
Fire Power Replacement Brake Light Tusk Universal License Mount Tusk License Light
JNS Eng. LED Headlight JNS Eng. Aux LED Light Mount Trail Tech Equinox LED Lights
JNS Engineering LED Headlight Kit JNS Engineering Auxiliary LED Light Mount Trail Tech Equinox LED Dual Light Kit
Tusk Pannier Racks & Supports Bike Master Buddy Foot Pegs Attack Graphics Turbine Shroud Decal
Tusk Pannier Racks Bike Master Buddy Motorcycle Foot Pegs Attack Graphics Turbine Radiator Shroud Decal Acerbis Tank 5.8 Gallon
Wolfman Enduro Tank Bag V1.7 Nelson Rigg Sierra Dry Saddle­bags Nelson Rigg Ridge Roll Dry Bag
Wolfman Enduro Tank Bag V1.7 Nelson Rigg Sierra Dry Saddlebags Nelson Rigg Ridge Roll Dry Bag 30 Liter
Tusk Lever Saver Electr­osport Stator No-Mar Spoke Wheel Weight
tusk brake pedal lever saver electrospots-stator nomar-wheel-weights
Helix Racing Exhaust Wrap
Helix-exhaust-wrap-insulation