2023 Honda XR650L Review [30th Anniversary Retrospective]

Introduced in 1993, the Honda XR650L is sold today in nearly its original configuration—no significant changes whatsoever. Thirty years is a long time for any motorcycle manufacturer to continue without offering the latest technology or gadgets. Attracting buyers without new bells and whistles is unheard of in the developing world, yet the 2023 Honda XR650L stays the same.

How could that have been allowed to happen in today’s mad world of consumerism? Because some things don’t need to change, I suppose.

1993 Honda XR650L
1993 Honda XR650L.

In the 1980s, there was anticipation in the dual-sport community for a replacement for the popular XL600R, which had a production run from 1983 to 1987. That was followed by the highly street-oriented NX650 adventure-style bike in 1988. The NX was in production until 2003, when it was dropped for poor sales.

The faithful hoped for an XR650L in 1993 based on the XR600R off-road racer, with an electric starter and license plate added! A “race bike with lights”. What could go wrong?

Well, instead of the popular genre of street-legal race bikes of today that dual-sport fans hoped for, Honda offered the XR650L. Disappointing to the off-road crowd, but joyous to what we have referred to since the mid-1980s, the dual-sport crowd.

2023 Honda XR650L Review: Price
2023 Honda XR650L.

I had just assembled my 1993 California Dual Sport Series with the half dozen rides I organized and sought a big-name Title Sponsor. I ended up with an ideal partnership with Honda’s Rider Club of America. The HRCA was under the supervision of Baja 1000 Champion Chuck Miller, who later became a Senior Manager at American Honda. I forget how we got to discussing the sponsorship, but it worked well for both parties. At the time, Honda was a strong presence at the AMA Dual Sport National Trail Ride Series, including two of my rides. Suzuki with the AMA series’ Title Sponsor, which went well with the dirt-friendly DR350S dual-sport bike.

The Honda XR650L arrived at a good time. Its competition was the Kawasaki KLR650, Suzuki DR650S, and Yamaha XT600. Honda had the edge off-road and experience thanks to the XR family’s rich history and existing components. Off-road-only XRs were the largest group of participants in dual-sport events thanks to riders converting them to street-legal with the help of various lighting kits. A street-plated XR was the hot ticket then—Ultimate Motorcycling Editor Don Williams had a plated Honda XR250R that he rode on dual sport rides.

Fast forward to today, and the same XR650L returns for 2023—nothing has changed except a few minor tweaks and, of course, colors and various bold graphics through the 30 years. In 2023, it still operates with a carburetor, air cooling, and low-compression combustion chamber.

2023 Honda XR650L Review: For Sale

The mild motor, large oil capacity, and simple maintenance tasks satisfied many owners, though a bit of a disappointment to racers, ex-racers, and wannabe racers. The XR650L was predictably heavier than the XR600R due to all the street-legal components, and the tires and suspension were less off-road capable. However, for owners of other brands of open-class dual-sport bikes, the XR650L was a step up for dirt riding. It was certainly an improvement over my 1987 Kawasaki KLR650.

In 1993, I participated in offroad racing in Southern California and attended every sort of event I could on the XR650L. Honda provided me with a new bike in lieu of cash to pay for its Title Sponsorship.

I rode the XR650L hard, so it took a beating. The wheel bearings were a bit undersized, and the one-piece, cold-rolled subframe/frame conjunction required gusseting in critical locations to prevent failure from heavy abuse. I carried passengers and chainsaws. I rode double at every non-competitive event on single-track trails, including Baja California’s infamous Matomi Wash, and dual-sport events in Oregon, Michigan, and Ohio. The Honda XR650L was not built to race, but that didn’t stop me from racing it.

1993 Honda XR650L dual-sport motorcycle
Damon Powell (left) with Honda’s Chuck Miller. Photo by Jean Offers.

Common modifications to the Honda XR650L include removing the smog components and replacing the stock steel muffler—lots of weight right there.

I replaced the factory battery with a lightweight option, allowing me to replace the XR650L’s lumpy left-side number plate with a svelte XR600 unit. I also installed an XR600R performance cam. These two changes turned out to be mistakes.

I had picked up the newly modified bike from Al Baker’s XR’s Only in Hesperia—a legendary California High Desert hop-up shop—on my way towards charting an upcoming ride in the Big Bear Lake area with my riding companion Jean Offers.

1993 Honda XR650L in the Nevada Rally
Damon Powell on his modified 1993 Honda XR650L in Baja California. Photo by Jean Offers.

Late in the day, I arrived and quickly unloaded at San Bernardino National Forest towards Devil’s Hole creek crossing and stalled the XR650L by submerging the carburetor drain and vent hoses. I soon realized the battery did not have the amperage strength to crank the motor past top dead center, so I was left stuck in the deep-water crossing, and there was no kickstarter backup. I attempted to bump start it by pushing it up both sides of the creek crossing approach, trying to get enough speed to turn the big thumper over on the way back down—no luck.

Finally beaten to a pulp from pushing the big Honda XR650L, I hid it in bushes and walked toward the hotel I was staying at. It was dark by the time I got off the trail and onto USFS dirt roads. From there, I had to navigate to pavement without moonlight, relying on my memory.

I reached the nearest paved road and wanted to get back to civilization before Jean sent search and rescue teams out for me—yes, this was before cell phones and Uber. I was hitchhiking in my riding gear with little luck until some younger guys spotted me. Thankfully, they picked me up and delivered me to a concerned group at the hotel. I was ridden back the next day riding as a passenger on my friend Mark Smith’s plated XR600R.

Chuck Miller of Honda
Roger Pattison at the Nevada Rally on the modified XR650L.

I thought I had learned the modification lesson, until a couple of years later when I sent it to Thumper Racing in Texas to increase the stock 644cc displacement to 670cc. The result was a wheelie monster that was also a handful to ride. With other bikes in waiting, I sold the now-XR670L.

In 2023, the stock machine does just fine without the modifications for me—for the most part. If I were to buy another one, I would do a few things.

First, the modestly off-roadable stock Dunlop K850A tires must be replaced for more aggressive trail riding. I like the DOT-approved Michelin Enduro Medium knobbies, with Ultra Heavy Duty tubes to reduce the chance of flats.

2023 Honda XR650L Review: MSRP

Next, it’s time for the 346-pounder to go on a diet. I’d replace the 2.8-gallon steel tank with a larger-capacity plastic tank. That would also mean dumping the locking steel fuel cap, which has the weight of a heavy coffee cup, with something plastic. The shrouds for the non-existent radiator direct airflow to the air-cooled motor and give the XR650L a relatively modern look, though you’ll lose them if you go with a larger fuel tank. A translucent plastic tank provides a quick visual hint of the fuel tank level, as there is no fuel gauge or low-fuel light—it has a carburetor and reserve position on the petcock.

For engine performance, the muffler baffle can be replaced with something more free-flowing and the carb rejetted, though keep in mind these mods are technically illegal for street use. Additionally, I would add more fall protection and remove some annoying street-legality bits.

Weight can be reduced by removing the passenger pegs. However, I still like offering a backseat view for my significant other so she can experience what I do in a day’s ride. The stock steel handlebars can be replaced with lighter aluminum bars for a bend of your liking. Also, upgrading larger footpegs is essential for the aggressive trail rider.

2023 Honda XR650L Review: Specs

The stock brake light and license plate mounting encourages replacement with an XR600 rear fender and taillight. However, I wouldn’t mess with them until the turn signals fall apart from off-road riding abuse. The headlight is of average performance; consider replacing the bulb with a brighter LED. A powered USB port would also be helpful for a GPS or smartphone—both necessary items these days for me. The stock real-analog dash is pure retro-tech.

With these changes, the 2023 Honda XR650L still won’t be a race bike. A 30-year-old design won’t be competitive unless it’s against a pack of Suzuki DR650Ss or Kawasaki KLR650s, even after the KLR’s three generations of improvements.

However, the 2023 Honda XR650L I am revisiting had only the Michelin Enduro Medium tire upgrade, which does make a big difference off-road. With the premium Michelin rubber, it performs better in more challenging trails and fireroads. My son joined me on his CRF450RL from our Tehachapi home towards the Tejon Ranch roads down to the south end of Bakersfield.

2023 Honda XR650L Review: With the CRF450RL

When first throwing a leg over the seat of the Honda XR650L, you’ll notice its 37-inch height, even if you’re a six-footer, as I am. The footpegs feel tall and close to the seat, giving the XR650L a cramped feeling despite its height.

There wouldn’t be any modification I could suggest in lowering, except maybe a seat foam modification, though that can play havoc with the ergonomics—the pegs will feel even closer to the seat. You can increase sag and raise the fork tubes in the triple clamps—if you don’t like the result, these changes are free—other than your time—and easily reversible. Various shock linkage kits can lower the rear as much as two inches, though you’ll be out $150 or so if you decide you don’t like it—stick with a name brand on this one, as you don’t want one from a dubious source to break.

Memories of what skills were learned in 1993 returned with proper weight posturing and front wheel positioning to gain speeds with two-wheel drifts. I don’t ride as aggressively as I did in 1993, so the XR650L feels more like it should and was intended for. The suspension takes the rutted routes of the day, and the SOHC motor’s output provides enough torque to satisfy a day of exploring and testing mother nature when the desire presents itself.

2023 Honda XR650L Review: Dual-sport motorcycle and trail bike

The 11.6-inch stroke of 43mm conventional Showa fork combined with 11 inches of linkage-assisted rear-wheel travel controlled by the Showa shock gives the XR650L a spacious 13 inches of ground clearance—ideal for offroad use in your favorite rock- and log-infested routes.

As a commuter, the view over cars is a benefit, especially when lane-splitting. On tight enduro trails, you’ll need your balancing skills and aggressive race mode to tackle spots when demanded, or the weight and height are going to bite you.

I enjoyed the XR650L for the high-speed fireroading I became accustomed to on my earlier KLR650. I pushed both to their limits hard. Experienced rally racing enthusiast and organizer Roger Pattison rode my modified XR650L in the 1800-mile 1994 Nevada Rally with great results and a finish. I can get in a three-hour loop on just 1.5 gallons—so I’m not even on reserve yet. However, for longer backcountry rides, make plans for fuel stops so you’ll make it home.

1993 Honda XR650L Test
Ultimate Motorcycling Editor Don Williams testing the 1993 Honda XR650L. Photo by Jean Offers.

So why is the Honda XR650L still around? How has it survived 30 years without any changes? In 2004, California ended the ability to convert offroad bikes to street-legal status with the kits. By then, KTM had taken over the serious off-road dual-sport market with licensed near-race bikes. Honda stuck with an absolutely reliable, low-maintenance air-cooled engine and durable chassis, rather than chasing the high-performance customer until the CRF450L (now CRF450RL) was introduced in 2018.

The XR650L was priced at $3995 in 1993—about $8400 in 2023 dollars. Today, a 2023 Honda XR650L can be purchased for $6999—an effective price drop of $1400. That’s compared to $9999 for a Honda CRF450RL or $12,949 for the latest KTM 500 EXC-F. Sure, the XR650L is much heavier than the high-priced dual-sport competition, but it is 100 pounds lighter than the Aprilia Tuareg 660 twin-cylinder adventure bike.

Honda must have a warehouse of XR650L parts made back in 1992 still in their original boxes. You can travel the world and have few issues with trailside repairs with no hard-to-find parts and broader choices of backyard mechanics. Maintenance is less frequent and expensive than the high-stressed “street-legal race bike with lights” we always claimed we wanted. With the 2023 Honda XR650L, you don’t need to stock up on oil filters, fuel filters and pumps, or save for costly top-end jobs every year. Good for us!

Contemporary photography by Brayden Powell and Don Williams

2023 Honda XR650L Specs


  • Type: Single-cylinder four-stroke
  • Displacement: 644cc
  • Bore x stroke: 100 x 82mm
  • Compression ratio: 8.3:1
  • Valvetrain: SOHC; 4 valves
  • Cooling: Air
  • Lubrication: Dry sump
  • Fuel: 42.5mm diaphragm-type CV carburetor
  • Transmission: 5-speed
  • Final drive: 520 O-ring chain


  • Front suspension; travel: Air- and compression-damping adjustable Showa 43mm cartridge fork; 11.6 inches
  • Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-assisted fully adjustable Showa shock; 11.0 inches
  • Wheels: Wire-spoke w/ aluminum rim
  • Front tire: 3.00 x 21; Bridgestone TW-301
  • Rear tire: 4.60 x 18; Bridgestone Trail Wing 52
  • Front brake: 256mm disc w/ 2-piston caliper
  • Rear brake: 220mm disc w/ single-piston caliper


  • Wheelbase: 57.3 inches
  • Rake: 27.0 degrees
  • Trail: 4.0 inches
  • Seat height: 37.0 inches
  • Ground clearance: 13.0 inches
  • Curb weight: 346 pounds
  • Fuel capacity: 2.8 gallons
  • Estimated fuel consumption: 52 mpg
  • Color: Pearl White

2023 Honda XR650L Price: $6999 MSRP

Vintage Honda XR650L Photo Gallery

2023 Honda XR650L Review Photo Gallery