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Honda XR650R Specs and Review

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Dirt bikes have improved immensely since their beginning, with most descending from legends such as the Honda XR650R. This renowned dirt bike is on par with Honda NR and other off-road greats. It has many nicknames, such as Dominator and Big Red Pig, all coined from its wins in the Baja 1000 event.

Referred by Dirt Bike Magazine as the “the gold standard of Baja bikes,” the championship-winning Honda XR650R is the undisputed king of the desert, thanks to its powerful liquid-cooled engine, tough aluminum frame, race-ready suspension, and off-roading capabilities.

Thanks to the persistence of Bruce Ogilvie and the racing community’s support, enthusiasts and daily commuters can take advantage of the Honda XR650R’s strengths. This article will cover its differences from the Honda XR650L and provide you with an outline of your first build project. It will also go over some pointers on making this desert-racing royalty street-legal.

Honda XR650R

Honda XR650R – The Big Red Pig

The Honda XR650R is the 17th of 19 XR series motorcycles made by the Japanese manufacturer. It was produced from 2000 to 2007 and, like its predecessor, has conquered the Baja racing scene. Often thought of as an improved version of the XR600, the XR650R has triumphed over many desert and GNCC races by Johnny Campbell and Scott Summers. It came to life through Bruce Ogilvie, a visionary who wanted a dream bike mightier than the old XR600R. He wanted it to be able to hold its own in the unforgiving conditions of the Mexican peninsula.

Kawasaki‘s KX500 dominated the Mexican 1000 nine years in a row before the release of this two-wheeler. But in the 1999 Baja 1000, the XR650R broke Kawasaki’s winning streak with Johnny Campbell as the record rider. Sadly, Kawasaki pulled the plug on its Baja racing program by then, so the two giants never competed. It would have been a fascinating neck-and-neck run in the desert had the XR650R been able to race against the old champ.

Besides its unequaled Baja record, the Honda XR650R was popular for its reliability and potential. The shift from air to liquid cooling was a clever move from Ogilvie and his team, as this enabled the monster bike to handle the heat better and made it bulletproof as a result. The motorcycle had the needed displacement to pull it through desert races. Additionally, the XR650R’s bore-stroke ratio of 100 mm x 82.6 mm eliminated the need for modifications or a power-up kit.

Honda XR650R Specs & Features (vs. Honda XR650L)

Engine

The engine is powered by a four-stroke, liquid-cooled single-cylinder OHV engine with a piston-valve 42-mm Keihin carburetor. Its compact, lightweight engine (weighs only 88 lbs), Nikasil cylinder lining, and dry-sump oiling system paired with an in-chassis oil tank make for a better-revving engine. Its unique engine design and dual aluminum radiators provide optimum cooling and maximum performance.

Engine Honda XR650L 1993+
(North America)
Honda XR650R 2000-2007
(North America, Europe, Australia)
Type Air-cooled 4-stroke Liquid-cooled 4-stroke
Cylinder Arrangement Single cylinder Single cylinder
Carburetion System Carburetor, 1x 42.5 mm (CV) Keihin Carburetor, 1x 42 mm (Piston-valve type)
Valve Train Chain-driven SOHC, 4 valves Chain-driven SOHC, 4 valves
Bore x Stroke Ratio 100 x 82 mm 100 x 82.6 mm
Compression Ratio 8.3:1 10.0:1
Displacement 644 cm³ (39.3 in³) 649 cm³ (39.5 in³)
Lubrication  Dry sump Forced pressure and dry sump
Oil System   Oil Pump Type: Trochoid/double rotor
Air Filtration   Oiled Polyurethane foam

Drivetrain

The drivetrain in both models is very similar, with a difference in reduction.

 Driveline Honda XR650L 1993+
(North America)
Honda XR650R 2000-2007
(North America, Europe, Australia)
Clutch Wet, multi-plate, cable-operated Wet, multi-plate, cable-operated
Transmission 5-speed constant mesh 5-speed constant mesh
Final Drive Chain Chain
Primary Reduction 2.029 1.651
Final Reduction 3.000 3.429 (ED, DK types)
2.733 (U type)

Ignition

XR650R horsepower is 61.2, and the top speed is 98 mph.

  Honda XR650L 1993+
(North America)
Honda XR650R 2000-2007
(North America, Europe, Australia)
Maximum Power 41.5 hp (30.5 kW) / 6000 RPM 61.2 hp (45 kW) / 6,750 RPM
Maximum Torque 51 Nm (5.2 kgm) / 5000 RPM 64 Nm (6.5 kgm) / 5500 RPM
0 to 100 km/h (0-60 mph) 5.83 sec 5.83 sec
Top Speed 158 km/h (98 mph) 158 km/h (98 mph)
Electrical    
Ignition Solid-state CDI Solid-state CDI
Alternator Three-Phase AC, 186W at 5000 RPM N/A

Tires & Brakes

Front and rear piston calipers provide excellent stopping power. Plus, there is very little to no change when comparing the tires of both XR650L and XR650R. However, stock tires are 80% road and 20% dirt. So if you want to get serious, replacing the rear tire with a 140 and 2.5 rear rim would be a good idea.

 Frame Honda XR650L 1993+
(North America)
Honda XR650R 2000-2007
(North America, Europe, Australia)
Front Tire 3.00-21 51S 3.00-21 51P / 80/100-21
Rear Tire 4.60-18 63S 4.50-18 70P / 110/100-18
Front Brake Single disc, 240 mm, 2-piston caliper Single disc, 240 mm, 2-piston caliper
Rear Brake Single disc, 240 mm, 1-piston caliper Single disc, 240 mm, 1-piston caliper

Suspension

Slight changes were made to the suspension, resulting in a shorter travel at the front and longer travel at the rear. Main frame and removable sub-frame were made of new-generation aluminum, which combined rigidity, balance, and strength. Tapered roller bearings maintained precise steering and durability. Kayaba cartridge fork had minimal protrusion below the axle, giving the XR higher clearance in ruts.

 Frame Honda XR650L 1993+
(North America)
Honda XR650R 2000-2007
(North America, Europe, Australia)
Type Semi double-cradle (steel) Semi double-cradle (aluminum)
Front Suspension, Travel Air-assisted telescopic fork Showa 43 mm (adjustable compression damping), 295 mm / 11.6 in 46-mm Kayaba telescopic fork (adjustable compression & rebound damping), 285 mm / 11.2 in
Rear Suspension, Travel Swingarm Pro-link with mono-shock Showa (fully adjustable), 280 mm / 11 in Swingarm Pro-link with mono-shock Kayaba (fully adjustable), 307 mm / 12.1 in
Fuel Capacity 10.5 L / 2.77 US gal (reserve – 2.3 L) 10.0 L / 2.64 US gal (reserve – 4.5 L)
Trail 97 mm / 3.8 in 108 mm / 4.3 in
Fuel Economy 4.52 L / 100 km (52 mpg) 4.9 L / 100 km (48 mpg)

Dimensions

The two version differences are negligible, except for the overall length, ground clearance, and dry weight. The XR560R is slightly lighter than the L version due to its aluminum body, and the XR650R weight is 133 kg (293 lbs).

 Dimensions Honda XR650L 1993+
(North America)
Honda XR650R 2000-2007
(North America, Europe, Australia)
Length 2,185 mm / 86 in 2,255 mm / 88.8 in
Width 855 mm / 33.7 in 825 mm / 32.5 in
Height 1,245 mm / 49 in 1,245 mm / 49 in
Seat Height 950 mm / 37.4 in 939 mm / 37 in
Ground Clearance 330 mm / 13 in 305 mm / 12 in
Wheelbase 1,455 mm / 57.3 in 1,485 mm / 58.5 in (ED, DK types)
1,490 mm / 58.7 in (U type)
Dry Weight 146.5 kg / 322 lbs 133 kg / 293 lbs
Curb Weight 157 kg / 346 lbs 142 kg / 313 lbs (ED, DK types)
144 kg / 317 lbs (U type)

Exterior

The Honda XR650R uses an aluminum frame and plastic body material with Honda Racing-inspired graphics. You can get a Dowco Guardian Indoor/Outdoor Waterproof Motorcycle Cover (view on Amazon) to protect it from the elements.

Other features specific to the Honda XR650R include large, durable fenders, Enduro-style headlight and taillight, dogleg levers and brush guards, folding cleated footpegs, and USDA-qualified spark arrester for maximum power.

The XR650R Supermotard Project

The Honda XR650R’s reliability sometimes becomes a problem. Since nothing breaks, nothing gets replaced (except for tires and chains). But racing teams occasionally do build projects on the Big Red Pig for on-track usage or border-crossing tours. What makes for a compelling platform for an XR650R supermoto conversion is the bike’s power and suspension. These two factors drive many skilled mechanics and enthusiasts to go through lengths to find a close-to-abandoned XR650R to restore its former glory.

Honda XR650R Race Track

In summary, pulling off all road gear, putting some conventional gearing on it, customizing a reverse cone FMF Megaphone pipe, and doing suspension work will make your XR650R more agile.

Build Project Tips

  • Tires – Stock IRC rubbers are only 20% dirt-prepped, so replacing it with a 140 and 2.5-inch rear rim will create a significant change in your riding experience and make it more suitable for single-track runs. Stock tires are only adequate if you use your XR650R as a daily commuter.
  • Exhaust – The factory muffler is light and not too bad. You may want to get a reverse cone megaphone (not made commercially). If you take on the challenge, dimensions are freely available in the Honda HRC book that comes with every HRC kit.
  • Valves – Completely disassemble the head and visually inspect the bike, cylinder head casting, valves, springs, and other valve train components for broken and damaged parts. Pressure test everything, then do a fresh re-valve of the fork and shock or opt for a replacement. Racers usually go for Hot Cams Stage 2 Cam. If you would like to bounce between daily driving and off-roading, Hot Cams 1010-2 Camshaft (view on Amazon) will do the work for you. Installing one will not only give you more flexibility but also increase power output for high-performance race applications.
  • Airbox Modification – Modding the airbox will not result in a massive power gain. It will make the air filter breathe from the low-pressure zone behind the rider’s leg, distributing dirt on the air filter evenly and stopping it from loading up in one place. A popular version of this is the side cover cutout. You can purchase an XR-only version side cover (UFO replica) with its vent kit already fitted. But if you fancy using an OEM side cover, then better go the DIY route. A Dremel, LED pencil torch, and Prestik put the mesh frames into place and cut outside the side cover.
  • Parts – For racers, there are high-performance parts available through parts dealers. Your need for XR650R parts will depend on whether you plan to take it on the track or go off-roading. If it is on-track, make sure you take off the high-output stator and headlights. Also, adjust the gearing between 13/51 and 14/48, which should be perfect for tight turns. For jumps, invest in a steering damper.

There are plenty of other things to do when rebuilding. Seats need to be machined, chassis/bearings replacement may need to happen, and forks may need to be adjusted. The rear shock even needs to be extended 6 mm to accommodate tall riders. A dual-sport lighting kit, a 70-Watt LED headlight, 7/8 bars, and a Trail Tech Voyager GPS are now all must-have add-ons for a race-prepped XR650R.

Honda XR650L vs. Honda XR650R

Developed in the 80s and released in 1992 as a 1993 XR model, the Honda XR650L is a factory, street-legal, electric-start version of the XR600R that mostly targeted the North America market. The XR650L features a steel tube frame, air-cooled SOHC engine, metal tank, and a heavier flywheel than its predecessor. As with all other motorcycles under Honda’s XR series, this beauty is bulletproof, has a very reliable engine, and sports an engine displacement first seen in the NX650 Dominator in 1988.

Compared to the XR650R, this bike has more in common with the XR600R. Its electric start system and street-legal kit make it a tad heavier (add in a full tank of gas), plus its carburetor is a CV unit that you would find in most street bikes. Honda continues to produce the XR650L to this day, making it one of the longest-running unchanged models in motorcycling history.

On the other hand, the XR650R is not a direct spin-off of its predecessor – this is a dual-sport bike intended for desert-endurance races and high-speed runs. It featured an aluminum frame, liquid-cooled SOHC engine, plastic tank, a five-speed transmission, and had no real street legal parts. The only similarity it shared with the XR600R was its kick-start system, and the fact that it is simple to work on and great to modify. Its liquid cooling system puts it above the XR650L and makes it more Baja-ready, but your welder buddy may worry about not having an aluminum setup if you need to weld the frame. The XR650R’s smog bits and restrictor plates from the factory choke it up considerably. But removing unnecessary parts during a rebuild opens up a sizable amount of power and throttle response.

How to Make the Honda XR650R Street-Legal

Part of turning your XR650R into a street-legal bike requires a few accessories and parts, which are relatively straightforward. Here are the most common parts you’re going to have to add to your dirt bike:

  • Brake Lights & Tailight – In most states, only a single motorcycle brake light/taillight is required.
  • DOT Motorcycle Tires – An indicator of DOT-approval is the letters DOT on a tire’s sidewall. Depending on your use for the bike, you may go for less aggressive knobs or vice-versa.
  • DOT-legal Headlight – Depending on the year, make, and model of your dirt bike, you may need to get a new stator to help power your headlight, turn signals, brake lights, and taillights.
  • You can choose from halogen, LED, or HID styles. Take note that your headlight will need to have a high and low beam function.
  • Horn – The usual sound requirement is that a horn must be audible from at least 200 feet away, but may vary per state (some states require an electric horn). Your new stator should have enough juice to power the horn and all the lighting your bike needs. Otherwise, you may need to install a small motorcycle battery to make this work.
  • License Plate Bracket – There are plenty of fender kits available that include a replacement fender with a license plate holder and license plate light.
  • Muffler – A muffler will help your two-wheeler reduce/meet sound restrictions and pass smog or emissions testing.
  • Rearview Mirror – It needs to provide a view of at least 200 feet to the rear and is usually mounted on the left side.
  • Reflectors – Some states require this at the front, rear, or both ends of a dirt bike. These are an added safety feature when driving in low light or dark situations. Make sure to find out state-specific guidelines on size and mounting.
  • Turn Signals – Refer to specific state rules when mounting front and rear turn signals. There are rules about how high off the ground and how far apart the turn signals should be mounted. Additionally, your turn signals will need to have a self-canceling feature.

Some states only ask you to meet FMVSS or Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (such as the add-ons listed above). Others may require additional equipment and even testing or inspection to register your XR650R as a street-legal motorcycle.

Additional Requirements

The challenging part is getting the paperwork or the sign-off from your local motor vehicle office done. Below are additional requirements specific to some states:

  • Submission of personal property tax
  • Proof of insurance, which represents some additional costs (more so if you use your dirt bike on a public roadway)
  • The state of Colorado requires dirt bike owners to complete several forms, namely: 1) Certificate of Equipment Compliance for Motorcycles (this form and accompanying checklist needs to be signed off by a Certified VIN Inspector), 2) Colorado Certified VIN Inspection form, 3) proof of ownership (Manufacturers Statement of Origin or MSO, notarized Bill of Sale, or a Dealer’s Invoice), and 4) proof of insurance.
  • In California, any off-highway motorcycle with a 50-cc displacement or higher purchased after December 31, 2003, is not eligible for on-highway or dual-use registration unless the manufacturer initially certified the vehicle through the ARB to meet the California on-highway emission standards. An M-1 license and a GPS for the speedometer/odometer are also required.
Honda XR650R

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does XR stand for Honda? XR stands for cross-country racer.
  • Is the Honda XR650R street-legal? The XR650R is not street-legal, but you can register it to be one. Make sure to refer to state-specific regulations. It is also essential to have the bike pass inspection on the road.
  • When did Honda stop making XR? The last production year of the Honda XR650R was in 2007, but the Japanese manufacturer announced this plan as early as 2004. However, other XR series models continue to be in production to date. A good example of this is the XR650L, which is still being sold with its 1992 specifications.
  • How much does a Honda XR650R cost? You can find a Honda XR650R anywhere from $4,000-$8,000. On Craigslist, many come with Warp 9 supermoto wheels, add-on tech, FMF power exhaust, and a street-legal plate. Others sold at online auction sites may be a bit pricier, but they have gone through full rebuilds. They are also street-legal with clean titles in their origin state.
  • What are the negatives of the Honda XR650R? XR650R electric start: The main thing that owners are unhappy about is that the XR650R has no electric starter. Other upsets about the stock setup of the bike include: 1) having only one cam, 2) not using Honda’s signature double-rocker arm design, 3) throttle position sensors and roller bearings are only second to Yamaha’s dirt bikes, 4) torque curve is flat, and gears are too close together, 5) being heavier than its counterparts, making it unsuitable for motocross. Of course, these things can always be corrected during a supermoto conversion.

About Honda

In 1946, Soichiro Honda founded the Honda Motor Company Ltd., the maker of Honda XR650R and other XR series models. The Japanese firm has been producing highly-engineered motorcycles since 1959. Today, Honda is recognized as one of the world leaders in energy solutions, AI, robotics, and mobility. They continue to uphold that legacy by pioneering a wide range of high-caliber automobiles and multipurpose engines, dynamic sports models, and power equipment.

Conclusion – Honda XR650R

Although the XR650R only enjoyed a seven-year production run, it remains one of the most competitive, open class, Enduro motorcycles available. The Honda XR650R packs a vibrant history and beckons free spirits to treat gorgeous days differently. Undeniably, you will agree that nothing can be better than riding on one of the greatest motorcycles of all time.

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