The Honda XR650R is best known for its dominance of open desert racing and successive wins in the Baja 1000, beginning with its launch in 2000 through the 2009 period. (Some still race this bike, though Honda abandoned production after model year 2007.) Iconic, the XR650R starred in the cult classic documentary “Dust to Glory!”…Having ridden desert and mountainous Nevada terrain for years on XR Hondas, I thought El Dorado Canyon (a hardcore 4×4 route) could be handled. In this action coverage, friend Jason Ferguson brought his modified Honda CRF450X. Both cycles are “plated” at Nevada and were ridden on pavement to Dayton and out through Carson City. Can the XR650R handle rugged single track? The proof is in this video!
Purpose built and engineered to win races like the Baja 1000, the Honda XR650R motorcycle has a comparatively long wheelbase. These bikes also have virtues found in better handling adventure motorcycles. Of all its features, however, my favorite is its relative light weight for the monstrous amount of power. Stripped of luggage with the Acerbis 6.3-gallon fuel tank full, our cycle weighs near 310 pounds. This is half the weight of many ADV “adventure bikes”. Though not as nimble as a stubby 240-pound, closed course motocross bike, the XR650R was purpose built to eat up open desert. “Dust to Glory” aerial footage of the Honda XR650Rs at the 2003 Baja 1000 says it all.
While applauding and blindly eating popcorn as Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman tackled the interior of Africa in “Long Way Down”, I kept asking myself why they chose to torture themselves on behemoth R1200GS BMWs? Pardon me, but I owned two Beemers, an R80ST and a K1100LT. I rode an F650GS briefly. Though remarkably well built and engineered, can any BMW compare to a light weight, purpose built desert enduro motorcycle? Let alone a liquid cooled icon like the Honda XR650R? While a well supported team effort might make BMWs look somehow practical, a far more versatile, fully lit Honda XR650R would have made life a lot easier at the interior of Africa. In the magazine’s forums, a member shared his adventures at Africa on a salvaged Honda XR650R that he restored. That bike makes more sense.
In Dana Brown’s classic movie, “Dust to Glory”, the XR650R bikes ridden by Jimmy and J.N. Roberts, solo rider Mike “Mouse” McCoy, Johnny Campbell, Steve Hengeveld and Andy Grider showed what pro-level Honda XR650R riders can do between remote pit stops along the Baja Peninsula. At the notable local trail in this video, my XR650R shows its willingness to work through rough terrain at a crawl pace if necessary…Balancing on the pegs during creek crossings and while negotiating around rocks, I kept the skid plate and engine guard away from obstacles the entire way. This was a testimonial to the XR650R’s versatility.
The lengthier wheelbase helps at high speed, open desert but willingly negotiated everything this twisty trail dished out. In another video at the YouTube Playlist and the magazine, I test Michelin tires over “dual-sport” venues and wick up the throttle on asphalt. Uncorked, tuned right, 55 raw horsepower and 50 lb-ft torque on tap, the Honda XR650R motorcycle will respond to any challenge. While my memorable BSA 441cc Victor Special was a class act, this XR650R is by far the no frills, quickest thumper. Roll-on throttle must be experienced to appreciate. Frankly, the Big Red Pig is not for a first-time rider or the faint of heart.
Realistically, as equipped, this bike is not my pick for cross country touring or a long day’s ride on the interstate. In another video, where I test Michelin tires on asphalt, a 30-50 mile jaunt on pavement is enough for a meal stop or coffee break. Rebuilding the original brick-hard seat would improve highway riding. Many have done so. The saddle height is already 37″, and the thought of an extra inch of padding is not appealing…A windscreen at highway speeds would help, too. For dirt two-track and short highway trips, though, the Honda XR650R is a wonder and joy to ride!
A Dirt Motorcycle or a 4×4?
In the mid-‘nineties, I led a groundbreaking Rubicon Trail publicity run with two Geo Trackers. Our aim was to elevate the status of Chevrolet’s Geo. Steve Kramer of CalMini Products, a Geo engineer and a commissioned photographer made up our “team”. We had no vans or helicopters and no backup plan. All we had was the slightly modified Geo (2.5″ lift with 29″ diameter tires) that I drove with a small U.S.A. VenturCraft Sportsman supply trailer in tow. A winch and Hi-Lift jack became prime tools as we turned the typical 8-12 hour Jeep trip into a 46-hour marathon.
Yes, we got through, and Geo earned bragging rights plus a national ad campaign. During that challenge with camp meals and bedrolls on the rocks, I swore that any future trip through the ‘Con would be on a Honda XR motorcycle. The XR350R was foremost in my thoughts at the time, capable of making that trail a safe and predictable day trip. Our well maintained XRs are always ready for backcountry or open desert riding.
For more tech information and how-to, see the Road and Trail Ready YouTube Playlist. For how-to, step by step details on a Honda XR650R top engine rebuild, see the 54-minute video at the YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/pJl0MgASe3g. For more motorcycle information at this magazine site, search under “XR650R”.
For enthusiasts who want to learn more about dirt motorcycles, mechanical how-to and off-pavement riding, I will be offering a variety of Teachable courses. Among them, expect courses on ADV/Dual-Sport motorcycling. Watch my Teachable courses list as it grows. Also take advantage of the many digital download products: