2015 Honda XR650L Project Bike

A comedian once said that fashion is like a train and at some point, parents just hop off and say they are not going any farther. We could make the argument that the Honda XR650L did the same thing… in 1993. Without any changes since then, we took it upon ourselves to update this old school dual sporter so it looks and rides more like a bike from this century. The first order of business was to change the look of this big red beast. To fix this issue we went with an A-Loop Offroad tank, shroud, and seat kit. Not only does the kit make the bike look better and sleeker, it actually makes it feel way better on the trail. The stock seat and tank make for a very street-bike-like cockpit and the stock tank, with those “scoops,” is just awkward while off-road riding. The Aloop kit made the XR-L feel way more like a normal, modern dirt bike (a tall, heavy, and very large dirt bike, but a dirt bike nonetheless). The seat has a flatter profile allowing the rider to move more freely and feel more natural on the trail.

There are a few cons to this kit. First, you lose approximately .8 gallons of fuel capacity. Again, we were going more off-road than adventure with this build, but it’s always nice to have as much gas as possible. Secondly, the seat feels better when riding but makes the already tall XR650L even taller. At 5’8” I have to do a little hop-leg-swing to get on, and I have to be selective where I stop – on flat ground I can barely scrape both tippy-toes. Thirdly, the kit had some fitment and leaking issues. Once bolted on, the tank wasn’t quite straight and the seat was difficult to slot onto the tank peg and it was very hard to line up the bolt holes in the seat base with the subframe of the bike. Also, both fuel lines at the petcocks started to leak. I would use some hose clamps instead of the small clips that come with the kit.

For some reason, even thought the bike is tall, the cockpit is very cramped. The bar is very low and uncomfortable to ride with standing up. Plus, at freeway speeds, the XR-L’s coffee-can sized piston causes a considerable amount of buzz felt through the grips. To handle both of these issues, we mounted up Rox Speed FX 2” Pivoting Anti-Vibe Bar Risers. These put the bars in a natural position, especially for standing while riding and the rubber mounts took the sting out of the buzz. You can adjust how much damping you want by tightening or loosening the bolt on the bottom of the risers.

Next, we got into the meat of the matter. XRs Only has long been one of the go-to shops for red trail bikes and it has plenty of performance and protection mods for the XR650L. We took our test bike to the XRs Only shop in Hesperia, California to get the bike dialed in with there products. The exhaust was the first thing swapped, which saved some weight but also turned the bike into a “competition only” motorcycle. Then the airbox snorkel was removed to let the big bike breath. And, if you are going to do those two things, then you have to install the XRs Only rejet kit. The exhaust and airbox changes opens everything up and will only help if the bike is rejetted. Next, the bike received a plethora of new parts that, while some are heavier than stock, beef up protection and durability. Some of these bolt-ons include a case saver/sprocket cover, footpegs, chain guide, shark fin, and engine plugs. Lastly, the stock headlight was replaced by a trick XR’s Only/Baja Designs LED Squadron light. The very last thing we did was spoon on some Golden Tyre tires to get better grip in the dirt and because we weren’t going to ride it on the street at all.

After all that, there was still work to be done. Pete Denison from Aloop offered his knowledge of the XR-L with a list of DIY weight saving mods that we wanted to test out. We removed the taillight assembly and replaced that whole deal with just a taillight lens from an XR600. The only tricky part is getting the socket out of the lens assembly. The metal reflector is welded to the socket and you basically have to rip it off with vise grips and muscle. After that, we put a little tin foil on the fender and put the bulb in the XR600 lens, which fits right in place where the big rubber piece used to be. Once all that stuff is removed from the fender, there is a metal support under the fender that can be removed since it is only there to support the fender and any luggage you put on the bike. Then we relocated the front blinkers by drilling holes in the headlight housing and mounted the stocks directly to the plastic. This brings them in closer to the bike and gets rid of some weight via the mounting brackets. The same can be done to the rear blinkers by drilling holes and mounting them to the rear fender, which we did after the photo day, so you won’t see that mod on in the pictures. We also removed the passenger pegs, the rear brake reservoir protector, the tool bag, the plastic reflectors and a few miscellaneous items.

If you are wondering why we didn’t do any suspension work, the short answer is that modding the suspension on this bike is a huge topic worthy of its own standalone feature story. The stock suspension seems to work better with every pound the bike drops, and a lot of riders are happy with the plush, predictable feel of the bike in its untouched form. To really dive into the suspension on this bike would have taken more time and resources than we had available. Much like the “second gear” mod that is popular on XR650L forums, the suspension is a step that pushes the bike from the realm of ‘DIY project’ and into ‘dream ride’ land. Given more time to play with the bike, we would have loved to dive in to the fork and shock, but quite frankly we knew that the mods we were doing would have a satisfactory effect.

With all the work on the bike finished (mostly) we took to the trail to see how the “new” new XR650L performed. The bike starts right up with a stab of the button even without the choke. When cracking open the throttle the engine is now noticeably more barking and free-revving. Also, it isn’t that much louder than stock, which is a good thing because the stock muffler is quite stealthy. The jetting was nearly perfect – there was only a slight faltering when going from zero throttle to WFO, and we are pretty sure with a carbureted 650cc bike, there is no way of completely eliminating all hesitation. The new power character is much crisper and more exciting compared to stock. It is still a bike that you want to short shift, but it can be left in each gear longer and has more grunt across the rpm range. The only thing that is a slight disappointment is that even with the pipe and airbox mods, it doesn’t seem like there are 200 more cc in the motor than a modern 450 – this is just a dated motor and it shows.

The Aloop kit was actually very noticeable while riding and gave the rider/bike interface a modern feel. It was easier to grip with the legs and to turn and change direction using your lower body. Speaking of turning, handling isn’t this bike’s strongest trait. The big Honda is happiest when heading in a straight line, going up or down a hill, or blasting through whoops. Start to lean into a turn and the bulk of the bike starts to show itself. While our mod version feels better than the stock bike for sure, it is still a ‘bull in a china shop’ when trying to thread through trees and tight trail. The stock suspension does surprisingly well at a calm trail pace, even though it is on the spongy side. When trying to make the most of the newfound power, the fork and shock quickly hit their limit in high-speed whoops and sudden G-out or square edge bumps.

So, in the end, are all these changes, additions, subtractions, and mods worth it? Yes and no. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, our Dirt Rider scale says that the bike went from 343 lb. stock to 336 lb. after the build. That is only 7 pounds different for a whole lot of time, energy, and money. If you look at the chart, you’ll see that comparing the stock vs. aftermarket parts we should have saved over 9 pounds, plus some fuel weight with the smaller tank. This is likely because we didn’t weigh the Rox risers, the off-road tires are way beefier than stock, and a few XRs Only products slipped past the scale, such as the oil dip stick and engine plugs.

With all said and done, we would still ride the modified bike over a stock XR650L off-road any day of the week. The Aloop kit made it feel way more modern and the XRs Only exhaust, jetting, and airbox work added much needed excitement to the power. As far as the other mods and parts, it is up to you if you care more about protection, weight, or an overall sleeker look. The plan for this project build was to turn a Sherman Tank into a trophy truck, but the closest we got was a better performing, newer looking, slightly lighter Sherman Tank.

2015 Honda XR650L Project Bike Parts List

XR’s Only

  • Exhaust Muffler: $319.95
  • Exhaust Header: $199.95
  • Jetting Kit: $9.95
  • Header Heat Shield: $24.95
  • Chain Guide: $49.95
  • Counter Sprocket Cover: $44.95
  • Side Case Plug: $12.95
  • Inspection Plug: $9.95
  • Front Brake Reservoir Cover: $24.95
  • Temperature Dip Stick: $42.95
  • Foot Pegs: $85.95
  • Carbon Fiber Fork Guards: $79.95
  • Shark Fin: $35.95
  • Squadron Headlight with Frame: $350

Rox Speed FX

  • 2" Pivoting Anti-Vibe Bar Risers: $128

Aloop Offroad

  • 4SMX Seat/Tank Kit: $499.99

Golden Tyre

  • 90/100-21 GT216AA Rallye: $119.99
  • 120/100-18 GT523X: $130