Honda XR650L – 4000 mile report

XRL Choice • XRL Preparation • Desert Riders

Despite early reservations in Tunisia (it’s always the way on your first ride fully loaded), we agreed the bikes made a good alternative to a KTM 640 Adventure which was our second choice.

What we liked

  • Decent suspension (but see below)
  • Economy (but Andy’s was mysteriously 15% down on ours)
  • Clutch and gearbox took the hammering well
  • Engine never baulked at crap fuel
  • Despite low bhp, it was never lacking
  • Very accurate speedo/odo
  • Anvil-like reliability – worth a lot out in the desert

What we didn’t like

  • Too high and top heavy with that giant tank (oh really?)

  • ‘Sternwheeler’ steering (due to oversprung front end)
  • Rough riding with alloy panniers – smaller and soft next time
  • Accurately measuring the oil level
  • Skinny rear subframe
  • Accessibility for rear spring adjustment

Worthwhile mods/gear

  • Tough tank and rack fabrication
  • Nifty Petzl Zipka headtorches
  • Michelin Desert/T63 knobblies
  • DID gold-plate chains
  • Foam Unifilters
  • Renthal bars and Acerbis Pros
  • My rally screen
  • Andy’s IMO
  • My tank net
  • Our bashplates!
  • Reduced gearing (14/48 – never changed it back after Oued Samene)
  • I liked my Q/D Zega panniers
  • RAM mount
  • My trusty Coleman Dual Fuel 533 stove
  • Backpack hydrators (but my Platypus bladder leaked)
  • My Altberg boots – light enough to swing over and to walk in
  • Aerostich Darien Light jackets
  • Bel Ray synthetic oil – didn’t do the engine any harm
  • Thermorest matts (a three-quarter Ultralite was fine)
  • Hardwiring the GPS

Not in 2013 – some of this gear has become obsolete or a lot better

Sub-functional mods/gear

  • Fitting heavy front springs (without doing the same on the back)
  • My GSX-R seat (barely better than the Honda plank)
  • My RK (Tagasako) chain stretched quicker than the DIDs
  • A few of my rear alt spokes snapped – the others’ OEs were OK
  • Those 10L Ortlieb water bags are hard to use and one leaked from new
  • MSR ‘RBJ’ stoves – both packed up but not designed for regular ‘desert’ fuel anyway
  • My Renthal grips – as bad as Honda (but I used ordinary gloves)
  • Canvas tool bag on my bash plate – nice idea but metal would be better
  • A lower tank with a fuel pump would lower CoG and improve handling
  • My car type oil temp gauge never worked
  • 12v cig lighter PTOs – unreliable contact on the rough terrain – hardwiring or DINs is best
  • Enlarged sidestand foot was a not big enough in soft sand

Equipment failures (not including crashes)

  • Some of my rear spokes
  • Andy’s rear T63 (rock damage)
  • Jon’s tank bungs
  • One Orlieb bag
  • MSR stoves
  • Rear subframes found cracked on Jon’s and possibly Andy’s bike.

Other than that, these XRLs came back running much better than my previous Yamaha Teneres, but they were new and run on good oil.

I’ve lately been told that the Desert Riders boots I had custom made by Alt-Berg are now part of their line up.

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