Honda XR650L for Desert Riders

XRL preparation • 4000-mile reportDesert Riders 

Back in 2002 the criteria for our ideal desert machine for Desert Riders added up to those listed on p.208 of my Sahara Overland book:
• Lightness
• Economy
• Comfort
• Robustness
• Agility
• Reliability
• Mechanical simplicity

To give ourselves a good chance of success we wanted to buy new bikes and so the list was narrowed down to:
• KTM 640 Adventure
• Kawasaki KLR 650 (imported from Canada)
• Honda XR650L (imported from Australia)
• Yamaha TT600E (imported from Italy)
• BMW F650GS Dakar

In recent years I’d travelled with all these machines, either on my desert tours or my own travels. The way we saw it then, in 2002 these were the pros and cons of each machine:

KTM 640
27L tank, desert-ready components, suspension and build qualityExpensive in the UK, variable economy, vibration and exceedingly poor comfort
KLR 650
23L tank, inexpensive, economical, reliable, good kit in the USImport and registration hassles, average suspension
Inexpensive, economical, reliable, good suspension, proven air-cooled engineImport and registration hassles, small tank, seat height.
Easy to import, air-cooled, well known in UK and EuropeImport and registration hassles, dated design, small tank, leaky USDs, ‘non-Japanese’ build quality?
F650 Dakar
UK model, comfort, very good economyHeavy, complex, pricier than Japs

In a Burger King one evening we narrowed it down to a KTM or Honda with large fries. Then, once we considered the importance of economy and got a good price from Australia (about £4000 delivered), the Honda XR650L was the choice we were all confident with (until we rode them…).
In case you don’t know, the XRL is an NX650 Dominator engine in an XR600 frame ~ more or less. With good springs and a trail bike motor, it’s the ideal set-up for a desert bike, even if we had to buy a tank and get racks made. In our opinion, for this ride Honda’s proven, decade-old technology was an asset.
And now, they still sell them new in the US!

Proceed to XRL preparation