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The Honda XR650L: An Old School Adventurer’s Motorcycle

The Honda XR650L was regarded as the greatest dual-sport motorbike ever created when Honda unveiled the large Dual Sport back in 1992 (actually, it was an early release ’93 model). The bike had a clear bias for off-road riding but was also very capable on tarmac, with enough power to achieve a top speed of 96 mph.

Since making its debut in 1992, the XR has reaped the rewards of several Baja race victories and consistent success as a robust dual sport machine and neither it, nor its reputation, have moved all that much since then.

Aside from paint and graphics, the XR650L has gone unchanged since 1992, so it’s not competitive with the modern Dual Sport machines. But it’s still a very practical and versatile machine, many of which can be bought for next to nothing on the used market. 

2022 Honda XR650L Review

The Honda XR650L may be 30 years old but its still a great go anywhere motorcycle at a bargain price
The Honda XR650L may be 30 years old but its still a great go anywhere motorcycle at a bargain price


The Honda XR650L has over the years, established itself a reputation as one of the top “real” dual-sport motorcycles available today for excursions both on and off the beaten path.

The 644 cc air cooled SOHC four-stroke single cylinder engine in the large XR is indestructible and delivers ample power and torque for both on- and off-road riding.

Although the standard XR650L has roughly 40 bhp at the crank, in reality, it has closer to 30 bhp at the back wheel. That doesn’t sound like much for a 650-cc dual sport bike, however, it’s the torque curve is what makes it so effective.

The 2022 Honda XR650L produces about 50 Nm of torque, which is unusual for a dirt bike because the majority of off-road motorcycles are designed primarily for high rpm riding, which means the engine puts out a lot more horsepower than torque.

The XR650L is quite smooth and simple to ride thanks to the power and torque ideally suited to both on and off road riding. With its strong low-end torque, it has the power to pull, so you can ride it in a gear lower than ideal and still accelerate at low rpm, this also means you get good fuel efficiency as you’re not have the engine work its hardest all the time.

The 42.5mm constant-velocity (CV) carburettor delivers a high power output, great driveability, and a crisp throttle response. All of this is combined with a durable five-speed transmission that provides a gear for every on or off-road eventuality.

Suspension & Chassis

The single-downtube/double-cradle steel frame assembly of the XR650L is built on tubular steel components to reduce weight with the frame’s backbone doubles as the engine’s oil tank, saving weight and space. With the engine oil in the frame as well, the steel frame acts as a giant oil cooler.

 Showa supplies the suspension parts, which include a pair of 43 mm front forks and a monoshock at the rear. The Pro-Link rear shock has adjustable spring preload and 20 positions for compression and rebound damping, whilst the forks have air-adjustable preload and 16 positions for compression damping.

With long travel suspension of 11.6 inches up front and 11 inches even in back, the XR650L ends up with superb off road performance.

Both ends of the bike have a single disc for braking purposes, while the front disc is clamped by a twin-pot caliper the rear disc must make do with a single-piston caliper. The brakes offer superb stopping power, so you won’t have to worry about the weight of the bike overloading them at high speeds.


The front wheel, which measures 21 inches, as well as the 18-inch quick detach rear wheel, both have black rims and straight pull spokes and wear off road tires which are more than capable of navigating the big XR through some very challenging terrain.

The 13 inches of ground clearance on the Honda XR should clear up any residual doubts regarding its intended application. Without a doubt, this bike is intended to survive any terrain.


In terms of electrics, remember the XR650L is 30 years old. You get an enduro style headlight, rear brake and running light, flex mounted turn signals, a license plate light, a reliable electric starter system and sealed battery. That’s it.

On the dash, you get a neutral light as well as high-beam, turn-signal and side-stand indicators while the compact speedometer and tachometer are all analogue and don’t even think about asking about things like ABS…

The combination headlight/number plate and dual airflow shrouds help direct cool air to the engine with large, durable fenders there to help keep debris off the rider. Frame-mounted folding passenger pegs and a grab strap allows two-up riding capability, if the needs ever takes you, and a long motocross style seat is comfortable and allows maximum rider movement.

Honda Reliability

Just the name “Honda” has long since become a byword for reliability and the XR650L is really one of the reasons for this. Honda built this bike to last a very, very long time. The air-cooled engine, durable frame, and basic suspension components make it one of the most reliable bikes you can get requiring very little maintenance.

The XR650L can last you many years before needing any kind of engine rebuild if you just take care of it. It’s pretty common to get 20,000 or even 50,000 miles on the original engine, a real confidence filler if like me you regularly head off motorcycle camping for days at a time.

For those who like their adventures 2 up the XR650L is factory ready with a passenger grab strap and long MX style seat.

Honda XR650L

2022 Honda XR650L Specifications

  • Engine:                 Air-cooled, 4 valve, SOHC, Single cylinder
  • Capacity:              644 cc
  • Maximum Power:        43.6 bhp / 32.1 kW @ 6,000 rpm
  • Maximum Torque:      51.9 Nm / 38.2 lb ft @ 5,000 rpm
  • Transmission:             5-speed manual, multi plate clutch
  • Top speed:         109 mph / 175 kph
  • Fuel capacity:     10.6 L / 2.8 US Gal
  • Seat height:        940 mm / 37 inches
  • Wet weight:       158 kg / 348 lb


How does it stack up against its competitors?

Compared to today’s Dual sports, the Honda XR650L has certainly been left behind a bit in terms of technology. It lacks power, torque, is too heavy and doesn’t have enough fuel range.

Though in honestly those lines generally get echoed about so much among the Dual Sport community it’s difficult to tell which bike is being described any more.

However, leaving the more up-to-date machines out of this, its most obvious competitor being the Suzuki DR650S.

Suzuki however did the same thing as Honda with the DR650S and have mostly kept it the same for decades after just a few early updates to the model. Both bikes have exactly the same capacity at 644 cc and both claim to put out close to 44 bhp.

With torque the Honda claims 51.9 Nm and the DR edges it at 54 Nm. A small difference, but a difference worth mentioning.

Seat height on the DR much lower than the Honda’s at 885 mm, but this doesn’t come without a trade-off. The Suzuki’s ground clearance is 265 mm which is significantly lower than the Honda’s superior ground clearance of 330 mm.

The Suzuki has a larger fuel capacity the XR650L at 13 litres, an increase 2.4 litres which will take you about an extra 40-50 km. Again this is a trade off as the Suzuki’s wet weight comes in at 162 kg, 4 kg more than the Honda.

You really do struggle to separate the two with a sharp knife at this point so will come down to those miniscule differences or which badge and colour scheme you’d prefer.

2022 Honda XR650L List Price

$6,999 in the USA. Not available in the UK.

2022 Honda XR650L Verdict

You must admire Honda for just sticking to a model for so long without really changing it and they’ve clearly felt some affinitive towards the XR to keep it on the market for so long. It really is the ultimate example of “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.”

And Honda hasn’t, their version of an update when they decide to do one consists of a different colour scheme and maybe a different mirror set that clearly must have taken days to decide on. It’s now 2023 and the XR still has an analogue speedo, tachometer and carbs…

Unfortunately (for me) the UK doesn’t get the XR650L because I’d love to try one, it’s complete simplicity and no-frills attitude really resonates with me and I certainly feel like I’m missing out a bit here.

So, if you are in the USA and are looking for one motorcycle that can do it all, give the old-school Honda a try. Few motorcycles offer true dual-sport performance, but the Honda XR650L is equally at home on dirt roads, single-track trails, highways or byway and opens the door to riding adventure like few motorcycles ever have before.

More info here.

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