We were reminded of the Honda XLV750R when we saw the red frame and forks of Cobra’s RS750 Scrambler concept last month and it’s been sitting on our to-do list ever since. Now, with the Dakar rally reminding everyone that standing up is the best way to cover distance, we figured the time was right to take a look at Honda’s first, odd foray into adventure touring. Despite conventional wisdom that states otherwise, the XLV’s engine actually has very little in common with the Honda Shadow’s and it never actually raced in the Dakar, but it was built to capitalize on the success of the smaller, single-cylinder bikes that did.
Actually, us being reminded of the XLV when looking at the Cobra RS concepts is a case of imperfect memory too. Maybe it’s the combination of the red forks on the scrambler, the HRC-colors on the Cobra RS750 Tracker and the almost-Shadow v-twin that did it, but we were probably just looking for a way to remember the red powder-coated v-twin complete with fins.
It’s those fins that separate this engine from that of the Shadow. While both bikes have them, the 749cc, SOHC, 6-valve, 45-degree XLV was air/oil-cooled to the Shadow’s water-cooled 745cc, SOHC, 6-valve, 52-degree v-twin. In other words, the fins are real hear, an affectation on the Shadow.
It also tends to be believed that the XLV’s v-twin was carried over to the Honda XRV750 Africa Twin in 1990, but that bike’s 742cc, liquid-cooled v-twin was, to our understanding, instead derived from that of the Honda VT500 Ascot. Regardless, three 750cc, SOHC, 6-valve v-twins from the same manufacturer in the same time period likely share some common architecture.
That engine was, especially for the time, huge for a bike with off-road intentions. In an early mirror of the now hotly-contested adventure touring class, the XLV was intended to compete directly with the BMW R80GS, making 61bhp, 50.5lb/ft and 212kg (wet) to the BMW’s 50bhp, 41lb/ft and 186kg (wet). That’s a fairly substantial weight disadvantage, especially at a time when 210kg+ dual sports weren’t exactly common.
Perhaps testifying to the novelty of such a heavy bike with off-road intentions, the European press launch (the XLV was sold in continental Europe, Australia and Japan) was held at a motocross track on Tenerife. After riding the bike there, German magazine Motorrad’s review called the XLV “a pure show object,” going on to criticize its near total lack of off-road ability. Other period reports indicate that the XLV handled like a big dirt bike on-road and a big street bike off-road.
Another way in which the shaft-driven engine differs from that of the Shadow’s is the XLV’s dry sump and fuel-in-frame design. Note how bulky-looking the cradle is. Also notable are the frame-mounted airscoops, which funnel cooling air to the rear cylinder. Overheating apparently remained an issue.
Like the Honda Goldwing and CB900C of the same period, the XLV750R was fitted with air-assisted suspension which allowed the rider to pressurize the forks and shock to modify suspension characteristics for on- or off-road riding.
The XLV750R was discontinued in 1986, just three years after it first went on-sale. Its legacy can still be seen today though. Its internal development code at Honda was RD01; the NX650 Dominator was RD02, the first Africa Twin RD03 and that series continues all the way up to RD12 for the FMX650. Next year, Honda will again combine a v-configuration engine and shaft drive in a large adventure tourer, the Honda Crosstourer uses the 1,200cc V4 from the VFR1200 along with that model’s dual-clutch transmission. Too much weight and not enough off-road ability? The stars could be aligning for an XLV750R repeat.