2014 Honda XR650L Review

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2014 Honda XR650L Review

Now in its 22nd year of production, Honda’s big dual-sport is a total throwback to a bygone era of steel frames and air-cooled motors. We rode it through Saline Valley this weekend to find out of that’s enough to find adventure. Learn more in this 2014 Honda XR650L review.

What’s New

Nothing. The XR650L hasn’t changed in all that time. Why? Well, the market for big dual-sports isn’t exactly super competitive nor terribly popular. The Suzuki DR650 hails from 1990 and the Kawasaki KLR650 from 1987. Development in the sector has occurred in the high-end — KTM 690 Enduro R — and in the small capacity — Yamaha WR250R, Honda CRF250L.

But, while the XR650L is likely older than many of our readers, its age doesn’t limit its ability. The basic nature of the bike also makes it dead reliable, its age and lack of updates mean parts and knowhow are easy to find and, at $6,690, it’s relatively inexpensive to buy, too.

And make no mistake, this isn’t one of those modern ADV bikes which are basically tourers dressedup in off-road drag, it’s a bonafide dirt bike with a 21-inch front wheel, long travel suspension, 37-inch seat height and a gas tank that’s only good for about 50 miles.

Honda XR650Ls and Honda CRF250Ls
Honda XR650Ls and Honda CRF250Ls

The Ride

Our group of four rode two XR650Ls and two Honda CRF250Ls from Los Angeles to Saline Valley Hot Springs, a round trip of approximately 600 miles, 100 of which were on dirt.

Even wearing knobby tires, the XR is surprisingly happy on the highway, so long as you limit cruising speeds to between 70 and 80 mph. Push any harder and the big single-cylinder motor does start to vibrate a little too much. There was one 10-mile stretch where we were pushing speeds a bit, which caused it to transfer so much vibration to my body that I became convinced I’d peed my pants. Turns out it had just made my entire groin area go so numb that it just felt wet.

But it’s off-road where the XR really shines. There, it’s simultaneously friendly and respectfully fast. It’s under-stressed motor might only make 33 bhp and 32 lb.-ft. of torque, but it does so over a wide, easy rev range that enables you to maintain a solid pace.

The biggest limitation off-road is in the ergonomics. As stock, the pegs are so high and the bars so low that, at 6’ 2” tall, I’m virtually unable to remain standing for longer than a minute at a time, the degree of back bending required is just too extreme.

But, what the XR lacks in outright performance or even dirt friendly ergos, it makes up for with an understated capability that will get you anywhere you want to go with little effort and no complaint.

2014 Honda XR650L Review
2014 Honda XR650L on the highway

What’s Good

  • The 644cc single is flexible and easy to use, if not terribly powerful.
  • Simple and rugged. This one won’t break and, if you do damage it, this bike is robust and easy to repair.
  • Goes anywhere. Absolutely anywhere.

What’s Bad

  • Bad ergonomics limit your ability to stand up.
  • Suspension gets the job done, but lacks damping.
  • 33 bhp and 32 lb.-ft from a 644cc motor? That’s Harley levels of performance.
  • At 345 lbs (wet), the XR is no lightweight.
  • Lever shields provide no actual crash protection.
  • Fuel range is 54 miles before you hit reserve.
  • No luggage carrying ability.
2014 Honda XR650L
2014 Honda XR650L

The Price

At $6,690, the XR is affordable, if not surprisingly cheap in the mold of Honda’s recent successes. That’s on-par with other similar bikes in the segment too. Trouble is the $4,999 CRF250L is 90 percent as capable as its bigger brother and returns far superior fuel economy. As it is such an old model, the used market is also full of nicely-upgraded, low mileage XRs for less money. We’d shop there.

The Verdict

You know when some hillbilly shouts “get ‘er done” then chops down a tree with little but a hatchet? That guy is the living embodiment of the XR650L. It’s not fancy, it’s not going to impress anyone, but it’ll get you where you want to go with a simple, rugged capability that belies its spec sheet or prehistoric origins.

RA Rating: 6/10

Gear Worn

Helmet: AGV AX-8 Dual Evo Tour (Recommended, fit is super important with this one)
Jacket: Dainese Teren (Highly Recommended)
Pants: Dainese Teren (Highly Recommended)
Boots: Dainese Carroarmato (Highly Recommended)
Gloves: Racer Mickey (Best dual-sport gloves made)

  • Evil_Jim

    The XR650L is kind of schitzo in rider sizing.
    To comfortably mount and pad around off road, you need to be a tall person, 6’2″ or better.
    But the rider ergos are for someone like 5’6″ or so.

    My daily ride is a ’93 DR650, so I feel a kinship with the DS from Big Red.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Exactly!

  • Jason Blackman

    What’s a good dual-sport for someone 6’1″ in terms of standing on the pegs ergos? I’ve never ridden off-road, and I don’t even know what proper posture is when standing. How can I tell if a bike is going to be suitably comfortable without actually taking it for a spin?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Consider any bike an ergonomic starting point.

    • Nathan Haley

      see cycle-ergo.com

      also, handlebar ergos are a pretty easy fix with risers and/or different bars.

      The best STOCK bike I’ve ridden for standing was the KLR, mostly due to the low pegs. The limited ground clearance means you’ll be scraping pavement without much lean angle.

      • runnermatt

        Yeah, but the KLR isn’t exactly a cruiser.

        • Nathan Haley

          ?

          Was that part of the question? Does someone want it to be a cruiser, complete with chromed out front end and price-tag?

          If by “cruiser” you mean “it’s not comfortable”, you should probably ride one because they’re pretty comfy (I have a 2009 model but I expect the new ones on the 2014 to be even more comfortable). Low pegs, high seat means lots of legroom for long distances, standing up or sitting down. Lots of aftermarket seats and nerd-tastic windshields available for comfort connoisseurs. The vibration of the thumper is not that noticeable at highway speeds – if it’s a problem, you can swap out the sprockets to gear it higher, or get a handlebar vibration damper. The KLR will cruise just fine.

          • runnermatt

            I should have been more specific in my previous comment. You stated that the KLR limited ground clearance meant that a rider would be scraping pegs without much lean angle. Thus my comment that the KLR isn’t exactly a cruiser.

            • Nathan Haley

              oh! sorry I misunderstood! Yes, you’re completely right.

      • Stuki

        KLR rules for standing if you’re around 6′ tall. It’s comfortable to the point where you can talk about slouching on the pegs, all day long. Even the KTM 690 has pegs way to high to be comfy. As if anyone at KTM would be caught dead designing a “comfy” bike, good to slouch on…..

    • Tiberiuswise

      I feel like a broken record but the answer is always DR-Z 400. Unless you’re going to do mostly on road. Then the answer is Wee Strom.

  • runnermatt

    So between the XR650, DR650, and the KLR650; the KLR is the only one that has seen comparatively significant updates. Admittedly I don’t know much about the DR650. The XR650 is likely better off-road than the KLR. Kawasaki came out with the KLR650 “New Edition” for 2014 which has better suspension and a new seat for only $100 more. I think if I was shopping between the three I would have to go with the KLR.

    • Evil_Jim

      I shopped all 3 bikes.
      XR is certainly the best off road, but was way to cramped for me… 6’4″, and would have needed the pegs lowered, the bars swapped out and raised, and a new fuel tank before it would start to be OK for me.
      KLR is the heaviest and hardest to maintain… but is the best on the road of the 3.
      However, the weight, lack of ground clearance, valve adjustment procedure, and plastic to destroy off road took it out of the running.
      The DR650 was the Goldilocks bike of the 3.
      It does nothing great, but is competent at most everything.
      Mine is a first gen, so it is kick start only and came with a decent sized tank… but nothing like the tank on the KLR.
      The “upgrades” to the KLR enhanced its on road performance at the detriment of its off road performance.

      • runnermatt

        I’m starting to wonder if Kawasaki is moving the KLR away from dual sport and towards ADV bike. I was tho thinking this before reading your comment. Since they already have the Versys maybe they will keep the KLR more off-road oriented than most of the ADV bikes.

    • zedro

      Yeah I don’t see the point in buying a new XR, terrible range, low power to weight ( heavy), not great off road, it’s really an anachronism. Unless you need the luggage or passenger capacity, a WR, modded KLX or new CRF make way more sense (OK uhh more funner). I think you could mod a wee-strom to mimic these old 650s in more superior ways.

  • markbvt

    The XR650L is a good starting point for a dirt-oriented ADV touring bike. Add a bigger gas tank from Clarke or Acerbis, a Renazco Racing seat, handlebar risers, and have gussets welded into the subframe to reinforce it (a broken subframe is a very common problem with the XRL when loaded down with touring luggage); and of course don’t forget Dave’s Mods, the requisite carb modifications to get the extremely lean-jetted stock bike running more responsively. I rode mine through Labrador and Newfoundland; it was awesome on the gravel of the Trans-Labrador Highway, though definitely felt underpowered on Newfoundland’s wide-open paved roads. That said, it does have a few drawbacks: gas mileage is kind of pathetic, especially given how little power the engine makes; the engine gets awfully hot if you get stuck in traffic in hot weather (this can be helped by installing an oil cooler); and there’s no cush drive so the bike tends to go through chains pretty quickly.

    At this point a WR250R would be a really good alternative option for something even more dirt-capable, or a DR650 could also be kitted out really well.

    What I will never understand though is why Honda stopped producing the XR650R instead of slapping lights and a horn on it and making it the new XR650L.

    • Nathan Haley

      emissions.

    • Scheffy

      +1 re: the R version. A better idea than getting an L is to find a used R, put a Baja Designs kit on it and get it plated (if it’s still possible in your state). Or pay a premium and find one that’s already plated. It’s worth the extra money.
      From there, you can farkle to your hearts content and end up with an absolute beast that has exactly what you need and nothing else, and likely for a few thousand less than a new L. Bonus: slap some extra wheels and street tires on it and you’ve got the most ridiculous supermoto this side of a $10k modern KTM.

      I’m convinced the true reason for Honda sticking with the L is that the public no longer has tolerance for starting a giant single without the option of using the Magic Button. Try clearing a flooded R out in knee-deep mud or a steep incline a few times in a row and you’ll understand too.

  • Nathan Haley

    Anyone considering this bike should try a CRF250L first.

    54 miles to the reserve?!?! Usually I’m not one to complain about range but that is tremendously poor. Were those 54 miles on the highway at 85mph or in deep sand or something? 54 miles divided by a 2.2gal tank (not including reserve) is roughly 25mpg. I assume that if you rejet it with an aftermarket exhaust you’ll enrich the mixture and your mileage will be even worse! Admittedly you could go with a larger aftermarket tank but that adds a few hundred bucks to the price and makes it even more top-heavy. Strugs.

    I would really like to see the CB500X engine in a more rugged package with 21″ wheels and longer-travel cartridge forks. I think Honda doesn’t do that because it would cannibalize their high-margin XR650L sales.

    • markbvt

      My XRL with aftermarket exhaust, UNI air filter, and the usual carb mods gets around 40mpg in typical riding. Still pretty pathetic, but range with a 4.7-gallon aftermarket tank is decent without jacking up the weight too much.

      And I agree, a proper dual sport with the 500 twin would be pretty compelling.

    • 200 Fathoms

      Yeah, 54 miles is ridiculous.

    • STRTRRR

      I’ve got a CRF250L. Thrashing it (really, the only way to ride it) it’s almost impossible to get it below 60 mpg, which means 100-120 miles/tank. Suspension isn’t as good as, say, a WR, but it didn’t cost $7K, either. The places it can’t go, I wouldn’t want to go anyway. I’ve had two DR650s which I liked very much, but 650s are a full size larger in everything and can be a bit unwieldy offroad. If Honda would build a CRF300/350/400L with a bigger version of that motor in that chassis, with maybe just a bit more suspension, that would be just about perfect imho.

      • Stuki

        crf300, with the motor from from the recently announced cbr, tuned similarly to the crf250; would be awesome. Should retain the smoothness of the current crf, but give it about the same power as the wr without the freneticness. Then, shave 20lbs of the weight of the crf, as they ostansibly did off the cbr……

  • kswaid

    Too bad Husqvarna had to stop producing the TR650 after they were purchased by KTM. I was hoping that model would push all the other manufacturers to bring their 650 thumpers up to date. I bought one while I could and it is great. It has a super smooth fuel injected motor with 1.5+ times the power of all but the KTM 690, modern suspension with this crazy invention called damping, comfortable ergos, and a decent seat. All that for about the same price as the Japanese models.

    • Nathan Haley

      So true.

    • Piglet2010

      I was tempted to get a Husqy Terra, but decided not too when it was clear it would be a one-year bike with little future support.

      • Nathan Haley

        I understand the hesitation of buying a bike only made for one year – particularly a rugged off-road adventure bike made at least partly by Italians, for which parts are usually hard to get. But from what I understand the Terra sold more in its one year than a lot of bikes sell over 3-5 years. Husqvarna has also guaranteed parts support for…was it 10 years?

        The iteration of my ’83 Honda XL250R was in production for 3ish years, sold a bajillion but engine parts (gaskets, etc.) have been impossible to come by since the late 90s. Even parts for popular bikes run out after 10-15 years of ceasing production.

        • Piglet2010

          You maybe able to get stock parts for 10 years, but no manufacturer and little aftermarket accessory support. And if you break down in BFE, you are looking at getting it back home in a rental truck, or sitting in a boring motel for a week.

          And no, I am not a fan of Stefan Pierer.

    • Khali

      There are still some on the showrooms, so cheap that I am totally tempted of picking one… and there are enough aftermarket parts such as crash bars, skid plates, and rear tray…you wont need much more!

  • Aaron

    In Canada, Honda wants $8199 for the XR650…

    • Ben Mcghie

      Hm, Yamaha MT-09 or an ancient design dual sport…

  • Aaron Kirkland

    Wrong bike in the “…on the highway” pic…

    My ’87 XL shares lineage (or IS the lineage) and only has 20″ from peg to seat. It can be miserable, especially with a knee brace on. I’ve gotten in contact with Seat Concepts for a “tall” seat, which I think will help tremendously. I’ve already put a Renthal High Bend on and that helps, however I’m looking to get some risers too.

    Also, I’m 6’4″, so all of this bad ergo is just exaggerated.

    My KTM was like 22-23″ peg to seat, and was perfect.

  • metric_G

    I got one of these, to build an old school super moto out of it. Don’t buy these new, since the bike is pretty much the same throughout production, get a well maintained older one, probably with good mods are already installed. I got mine bone-stock used, I wanted to do all the mods so I know it was done properly, re-jet the carb (I did this 3 times to get it right + Dave’s mod), FMF slip-on (mostly to cut weight), misc. weight saving mods, fork brace (this is a must) and the sumo conversion (this was painful). Got a decent “retro” sumo out of it, in the end I sold it, it could not replace my previous DRZ400SM (which was perfectly setup and I traded it for another bike, biggest mistake in my bike history, ever).
    Anyway, the point is, get a well maintained used one and you might get lucky with the mods, the guy who bought mine sure got a good deal.
    Sumo – stock:

  • atvman29

    I understand Honda is likely making bank on these bikes as they haven’t had to retool in over 2 decades, but you would think a slight refresh with CRF250L body work, EFI, digital dash, a slightly modernized motor, etc., they could really give their sales numbers a jolt with how hot this adventure/dual sport segment is right now. This thing just looks archaic and on the dealer floors it looks downright ridiculous next to the likes of the CB500X and CRF250L.

  • Piglet2010

    So the point of this bike is that Honda paid for the R&D and tooling costs 20 years ago, so they still make a bit of money if only a few people buy them?

    Think I will wait for the inevitable CRF300L if I want a dual-sport from Honda. Or pay about the same money for a Yamaha WR250R.

  • Justin Sullivan

    I have a ’14, and stock and heavy no the throttle, not to mention some 100 mph runs, i was easily getting 54 miles per gallon. I road around maui and never hit my reserve at 90 miles. Now I have a two brothers slip on, uni filter, daves mods, and im closer to 40 miles per gallon.

  • ga_garcia

    i have a 2000 XRL with over 22,000 miles. i use it for an occasional big city commute to keep it fresh but really enjoy it for those long dual sport rides. i have ridden it from southern Oregon to souther Baja. (the Golden Gate, Black Rock, Tioga Pass, Death Valley, Bahia de Angeles, East Los). I purchased it new as an inexpensive, durable platform from which i could build a very capable adventure bike, before there were adventure bikes. i increased the fuel capacity, added power and luggage. When I have the need to escape, i hop on my v-twin bagger or the XR650L. The XRL gets me out there.

  • sowndoff

    hi,my honda 06′ XR 650 L in stock form is gettin 48 mpg US,or 57 mpg imperial here in canada,or 162 kl on 7.9 l,and i can fix most things without a shop and only minimal tools,.its faults are easily fixed; are small gas tank,soft suspension(but good unless you are packing over 200 lbs total weight and riding fast),low handle bars,tall seat hieght.If you do more off road than pavement buy the 650,it can go over a 1 foot tall log without getting hung up,other bikes will,.thats my 2 cents….spittin dirt

  • Jerome

    Mais comment en acheter une neuve quand on habite en France ???

  • Jerome

    j’en veux une !!!!!

  • Jerome

    aidez moi! quelles sont les demarches ?
    aidej@wanadoo.fr

  • Thorsten Wanoth

    With a few simple mods the XR650L will transform into a very capable and comfortable dualsport. The 19 liter Clarke tank gives me a range in excess of 200 miles. 2 inch Rox pivor raisers and Renthal fatbars take care of the ergonomics. TrTec oversized footrests are great for standing. My tank empty weight is now 137kg (301 lbs)
    Tank half full (10 liters) weight is 145kg (319 lbs)
    Mods done so far:
    Clarke 19 liter gas tank
    FMF Q4
    Rox raisers
    Renthal fatbars
    Ultrabatt LiFEPo battery

    Dave’s carb mod, derestricted and jetted
    Suzuki type tail light
    Twinair filter

    Best part was that with all the mods the Xr still only cost about 60% of the price of a KTM 690. As indestructible as an anvil I wouldn’t trade my XR for a 690 either.
    Allround happiness then.