“Budget” and dirt bike riding usually don’t go hand-in-hand, but there are many ways to make it more affordable. This tip is something so simple that will make your clutch last longer. You may already do it some of the time without even knowing it, but you may be able to improve upon it. It is a problem that I see quite often (I see a lot of guys/gals on street bikes doing it as well).
By now you’re probably thinking, just tell me what it is! Okay, I don’t like reading much either so I won’t waste time. When you come to a stop, put the bike in neutral and let out the clutch if you are going to idle for a period of time. That’s right, all you have to do is remember to keep the transmission in neutral with the clutch engaged (lever released/out).
If you’re still reading this, you may be wondering, “But why?” That is a valid question, so let me explain. When you pull in the clutch, even when the lever is all the way to the handlebar, the clutch fibers and friction plates are still spinning against each other ever so slightly. Even at idle, the friction of the plates rubbing will cause them to heat up. This will result in them warping over a shorter time period if you regularly do this on rides.
So, how do I know when and where to change this habit? Simple; if you come to a stop and know you’re going to sit there for more than a couple seconds, shift it in to neutral. You may forget to do this more often that not at first, but if you make a habit of it, it will become just that.
I hope this quick tip helps. Free free to post a comment, question, or a suggestion.
A broken dirt bike sitting in my garage is not a happy sight. What’s even worse is when I haul my dirt bike out to the track or trails and it breaks down shortly after my riding session begins. There will always be those kind of days sooner or later, but I have learned how to prevent most mechanical gremlins from occurring just from experience over the years.’
I started taking maintenance seriously when I had an incident that fried a top-end when it probably could have been prevented if I had only checked the coolant level prior to riding. I have now taken the time to figure out a maintenance routine that will keep my bike running better and longer. This list of items to check are the most common things that break or cause a bike failure.
First thing to do is check the oil level and cleanliness. Running out of oil will not only end your day, but also result in a major engine failure. Some dirt bikes have a sight glass on the side of the crankcase to check the oil level, while other bikes require you to check the dipstick. Certain bikes may also require the engine to idle for a minute to circulate the oil before checking it. Always remember to check the oil level with the bike standing straight up in order to get an accurate reading. If you have a four-stroke dirt bike with an oil filter, replace it (or properly clean it if re-usable) every 1-2 oil changes.
The next common part to cause problems is the air filter. A dirty air filter can make the bike run rough due to lack of air-flow. A dirty filter will also allow dirt to get past it and into the engine. Having a clean air filter will prolong engine life. Foam only lasts so longer until it starts to degrade and literally fall apart. Strong cleaning chemicals, such as gas, will speed up this process. While filters are meant to be cleaned and reused, do not reuse one if it has any rips, damage, or if you can easily pull chunks out of it.
A low-performance engine, such as an air-cooled four-stroke, may not be finicky with the gas you run through it. However, old gas will eventually cause problems because it degrades with age and will gum up in the carburetor or throttle body. If you run race gas or mixed gas in a motocross bike, I suggest using it all within a week or two, if not the same day. The longer it sits out, the more it degrades. I have personally had complications using mixed race that was several weeks old; the result was me rebuilding the top-end on my 125cc 2-stroke. If your bike is not running right compared to the last time you rode, there’s a good chance that the gas is either bad, or the carburetor is dirty because it has sat for too long.
There’s three things that an engine needs in order to run; air, fuel, and spark. Once you confirm that it’s getting air and fuel, the next thing to check is the spark plug. First of all, are you getting spark? If yes, then inspect the spark to see if it’s black and/or wet. If yes, then the plug started to or has already fouled. A proper color to see on the tip of a spark plug is tan or light brown. This means that the air-to-fuel ratio is correct. However, gas these days can be pretty lousy with all the additives and give you inaccurate readings. For more information on testing spark, read This Article on Diagnosing a No-Start.
Have you ever been on a ride and felt the front-end get a really mushy feeling? Sort of like a…. flat tire!? Getting a flat stinks, and it’s even less fun to change it on a dirt bike rim. Always check the air pressure of both tires before riding. The pressure will change with temperature as well, so you may need to add, or even reduce the pressure throughout the day.
If you have an air-cooled engine, you lucked out on this one (the disadvantage is lower performance, but that may not be a necessity anyway). Before starting your bike, pop the radiator cap off and look to see if the coolant level is at or near the top. If you need to tip the bike over far to see it, you may want to figure out why the coolant is low before riding. If it was full on the previous ride and now it’s noticeably lower, it’s probably because the engine started to overheat. It could be a minor problem caused by riding too slow for too long. If you’re continuously losing coolant then you have bigger problems.
A properly adjusted and clean chain will ride smoother and last a lot longer. Signs that the chain needs to be replaced are: kinks, excessive wear or side-to-side play, rust, or stretched beyond the length of the adjusters. You can remove links and continue adjusting it, but there is a much higher risk of snapping a link if it is stretched that far. It’s good insurance to bring a couple spare master links with you in case you do have a mishap. You’ll need a chain-breaker as well.
This is often overlooked by riders due to lack of experience or just plain ignorance. Some bikes vibrate more than others, and bolts can and will come loose overtime. Loose triple clamp, subframe, or engine mount bolts may break or fall out and cause a catastrophe if you have a hard impact. It may result in broken parts, and quite possibly a bodily injury if it causes a crash. You shouldn’t need to check every single bolt for every riding occasion, but you should make a routine habit of checking all of the critical bolts and torquing them to spec every 5-10 hours of ride time. If you put a lot of hours on a dirt bike, you will start to get the feel for how long things last and when certain parts or bolts need attention.
The faster you ride, the faster you will need to stop in order to turn or dodge an upcoming obstacle, such as a tree. A quick peak at the life of the pads can prevent an accident such as this from happening. If the pad is almost to the end of the wear bar or metal then it’s time to replace them. It’s a fairly simple job on most dirt bikes if you follow the manual. Yes, I know that if you are a guy then you probably don’t want to read instructions, but an OEM manual is a very valuable tool to have if you want to save money by wrenching on your bike(s) at home.
When is the last time you have checked the tension of the spokes on your set of wheels? If you can’t remember then now is a the time to check. If any of them feel loose, tighten them until they are snug. Spoke wrenches come in many sizes for all of the different sized spokes to make the job easy. Just don’t go too far when wrenching or else the spoke will pop the tube.
Last, but not least, you should test and make sure all of the controls are properly functioning. Is there proper play in the clutch lever (1/8″ to 1/4″ of travel at the end of the lever)? Are the front and rear brake strong; meaning they don’t have a spongy feeling? If they feel like mush or are weak and the brake pads are good then you should bleed them to get any air out that could be in the system. This is assuming that both brakes are hydraulic. If you have drum brakes, check the tension/play in them and adjust if necessary for optimum braking performance.
Any cables that are starting to feel stiff should be lubed. Check for any fraying in the line. If any visible damage, it’s best to replace right away or else it may break when you’re 20 miles into a trail ride. As for hydraulic brake (or clutch) lines, inspect for any rips or tears in the hose. If it’s leaking at the master cylinder or caliper, there’s a good chance that the crush washer or banjo bolt has failed. Do one thing at a time when attempting to fix a part or you will get in over your head in a hurry.
While virtually any part can fail, a regular inspection and servicing of all the items on this list will give you a much better chance of riding all day without a bike problem. Preventative maintenance may not always be fun, but 30-60 minutes of scrutinizing your bike beats losing a whole or even half a day of riding. Just remember that an OEM manual is your friend. Whenever you are wrenching, always check your bike’s specific manual for proper torque and adjustment specs.
Honda XR’s aren’t known for being high-performance dirt bikes. That’s a given… In stock trim. If you read Part 1 on XR200 Mods, you will know that there are a lot of parts that you can replace for better performance, such as: suspension, intake, and exhaust. Part two we’ll look at the parts that can be removed or replaced for the purpose of reducing the bike’s overall weight. One of the reasons why the Honda XR200R is so popular for trail riding is its simplicity and low weight compared to other bigger four-stroke trail bikes.
Wait, hold on! Why in the world would I spend all this time, effort, and hard-earned money to put this ‘outdated’ dirt bike on a diet? That is a good question, but I will answer that with another question… Have you ridden one that is properly set-up? It won’t win you many bets in a drag race, but if the race is up and through the gnarliest of terrain, this bike will putt to the top with less effort, all the while having a grin on your face (not that riding any dirt bike shouldn’t do that anyway). It’s just a complete package of being a mid-sized bike that is easy to ride, requires little maintenance, and having engine characteristics that make it desirable while still being big enough for many larger riders with some simple mods. Not to mention the fair amount of weight that you can subtract off of the XR200 that just makes it even more fun to blaze through single track trails. As long as there’s oil in the engine and gas in the tank, there’s very little chance of these bikes breaking down. But enough praise of this simplistic and less than eye-pleasing dirt bike; let’s get to the point!
Depending on the year XR200, the curb weight (meaning wet with fluids and ready to ride) is about 230 pounds, or just under 220 without gas. Many people have tried to get that number below 200. While it is possible, it starts getting expensive the closer you get. Getting under 210 without gas is pretty easy if you have some mechanical abilities and motivation. The difference that 20 pounds makes will be like riding a new bike. If you think it’s flickable in stock form, wait till you start removing some major weight, especially the un-sprung mass! More on this later…
The XR200 engine is close to 60 pounds, which is almost one third of the total weight. There’s not much you can remove from it other than a few ounces from the flywheel while staying on a budget and keeping it reliable. Instead, we will have to look at all of the chassis and suspension components to shed the weight. In reality, you can remove weight off of or replace almost any part with something lighter, depending on how creative you can get and how much cash you want to spend. Lightweight parts comes at a price. If you want a completely aftermarket chassis and titanium nuts/bolts for your XR200, you could probably get under 190 pounds, but the cost per ounce saved will be much higher than the first 15 pounds.
Sprung weight or mass is anything that is supported by the suspension. This includes the frame, engine, plastics, etc… These parts aren’t quite as critical as un-sprung parts when it comes to handling performance, but everything adds up (or subtracts if you’re taking weight off). Having a low center of gravity is also very important, and lowering the CG will make the handling characteristics feel like the bike is lighter. So, even if you can’t necessarily remove weight from a certain part, re-locating it to a lower spot (without being obtrusive, of course) on the bike can improve handling by making it “feel” like you removed weight because the bike doesn’t feel as top-heavy.
Yes, now it’s time for some numbers. Below is a list of parts that can be removed or replaced with lighter components along with their weight estimates in pounds and ounces…
Handlebars – Swapping to aluminum bars alone will save about 1 pound. It’s the highest part on the bike, so this is a very easy weight reduction mod. If you don’t like the stock bars anyway, this is a great time to pick out a handlebar with the right bend, sweep and width to suit you. Every rider is a little bit different, which is why there are so many bars available.
Snorkel cover – The top snorkel cover on the airbox is not needed unless you are riding through waterholes or in very sandy conditions. This is worth almost half a pound.
Muffler – The stock muffler is fairly heavy. An aftermarket silencer can save 1 to 2 pounds. Otherwise you can pull the stock baffle out of the muffler for close to the same reduction.
Case guards – The stock engine case guards aren’t very effective. If you don’t ride in rocky terrain, you can take them off for a 1.5 lb savings.
Kickstand – I don’t know of any aftermarket aluminum kickstands, but if you can weld one up, that could shave another 1 pound or so. Otherwise just take it off.
Steering stem – A mid 80s XR250R aluminum steering stem can be made to fit in addition to the inverted forks (see below) to replace the stock steel stem. This is worth about half of a pound.
Seat – Drilling out some holes in the seat base will take off some ounces. Everything adds up in the end…
Plastics – Trimming plastics can save a few ounces here and there. Besides, if you do it right, they can make the bike look better too.
Shifter – Switching to an aluminum shift lever can save several ounces. If you ride in rough terrain or tend to hit your shift lever on objects, you might want to consider sticking with a stock steel lever. This won’t make much difference as far as handling goes because it’s relatively low on the bike anyway.
Pegs – The stock steel pegs are heavy compared to aluminum ones. If you can find some cheap aluminum pegs off a Honda MX bike and adapt them, that can drop another pound or so.
Tabs – If you really want to get crazy, grinding off any unneeded tabs from the frame will save a few ounces here and there. Just remember that it will start to rust if you leave the metal bare. This is a good excuse to strip the whole frame down and get it re-painted or powder-coated to make it look like new.
Total Sprung Weight: 6 pounds
Removing any kind of weight is good, but if you can shed un-sprung weight, the results will yield significant results as far as handling and performance goes. Un-sprung mass is all of the suspension components, such as the forks, wheel assemblies, shock, swing-arm, linkage, etc. Removing weight from these parts is more effective than if you were to remove the same amount of weight from sprung mass because it is the rotating and moving with the ground surface and suspension.
Lightweight aluminum rims are highly sought after compared to steel rims because they can reduce a great percentage of rotating mass. A lighter wheel will be a light more responsive when going over obstacles and bumpy terrain because it doesn’t take as much force to move it. This allows for greater traction and improved handling. I don’t want to go too in-depth on this subject or else you’ll be sitting here all day. There’s no set equation that determines how much un-sprung weight removed that would equal the amount sprung weight. Just know that un-sprung mass has a greater effect on handling performance.
Now we’ll look at the key parts for removing weight from the suspension and wheels to make the XR200 the bike that Honda should have made…
Swing-arm – The stock swing-arm on XR200R’s are steel and can be swapped out for a XR250R aluminum swing-arm (’86-’89) with little modification. It’s about 3.3 lbs lighter and can be found on eBay for under $100. Look for one that still has everything on it if possible, such as the chain guide, slider, and axle adjusters.
Linkage – Another fairly easy weight savings is switching to an aluminum swing-arm linkage (1984-’85 XR250R). It’s just over 2 lbs lighter, but is debatable on being sprung or un-sprung mass. For less than 50 bucks, this is another good mod. However, the grease fittings may be broken off, and new bushings may be required.
Forks – The biggest fork mod for weight savings is switching to a CRF150R or CR85R front end (depending on what size front wheel you use). It’s about 6 lbs lighter, but is a little more work and costs several hundred depending on how hard you look. This is by far the most expensive mod on this list, but yields good results on both the weight and performance side of things. A servicing and re-valving will make this bike handle any trail you throw at it, especially if the rear suspension is dialed in as well.
Wheels – A late 80s RM125 rear wheel is a good 4.5 lbs lighter than the stock XR200 wheel. It can be modified with new spacers and some bearings that match the XR axle size. A complete wheel can be had for 100 bucks or less on eBay. Late 80s RM125 rear wheels are 18″, which is easier to find tires for. Many people swap over to 18″ XR250 rear wheels for the better traction you get from a bigger diameter tire. However, this will have some effect on gearing.
Sprocket – The rear sprocket is one of the easiest weight saving mods. The stock steel sprocket is about 1.7 lbs heavier than an aluminum sprocket. You can buy an aftermarket rear sprocket or certain bikes that have the same bolt pattern will work. Some examples are: mid to late 1980’s XR250, ’99 and newer YZ125, ’01+ WR/YZ250F, or ’01+ WR/YZ400/426/450F.
Tires – This depends on what size wheel you have and what kind of tire you want. The size that a tire shows may not be exact. Trials tires give good traction, but weigh more than standard off-road tires. If you want the lightest tire, go with something that’s narrow.
Total Un-Sprung Weight – 18 pounds
If you put all of these savings together (assuming you haven’t added any weight), you should meet the goal of having a sub-200 pound XR200R trail bike without gas! I could go on about every little part that you can replace or make a custom lightweight replacement for, but that’s when a simple and budget-minded project turns into a full-fledged hobby and pocket burner. Other than the CR/CRF front-end on the lists above, all of these parts or mods are relatively cheap and easy for a DIY person to do.
I can’t take all of the credit, as some of this information was from founded from members on ThumperTalk. If you have personally done additional modifications to make your XR200 lighter, please feel free to post your results or email me so I can add it to this article. This information, like all of the articles on Motocross Hideout, are for the benefit of other riders that want to learn more about their dirt bike and be able to work on it themselves.
Having starting or running problems with your TTR125? There’s a good chance that the stock carburetor is your problem. Instead of spending hours trying to fiddle with it, a carb swap can save you a lot of headaches and make your bike start easier and run much cleaner. Here’s a step-by-step video tutorial on how to convert to the Mikuni VM24 carburetor. If you’re unsure about this conversion or have questions on why you should do it, read all the details on swapping out the stock carb HERE.
Is the Honda XR200 a race bike? No, but it is a reliable, torquey, lightweight, easy to ride, and simple trail bike that is great for tight and technical riding. It may not be the best at anything in stock form, but it does a lot of things very well in the off-road scene, and let me tell you, it is a BLAST to ride! The XR200R started out with decent suspension back in the 80s that was adjustable and fully rebuildable, but went downhill in the 90s until Honda stopped importing the bike to the U.S. in 2002.
The XR200R was featured as the Used Dirt Bike of the Month in July of 2013here on Motocross Hideout. It briefly goes over the pros and cons of this bike, but now we will go over some real mods and tricks to make your current or future XR200 rig a force to be reckoned with.
It’s hard to find used ones in good shape, but with some TLC, along with a little bit of money thrown at it, you can be spinning laps through the woods in no time!
First thing to look at is the suspension. If you weigh over 150 pounds and are aggressive at all, the stock suspension on any year XR200 is under-sprung, as well as under-damped. 1981-83 had single adjustable shocks and 1984-1991 were fully adjustable. After that, Honda stuck on a cheap, non-rebuildable and non-adjustable rear shock, along with shorter forks. Both combine for a lower seat height and an even lower performing trail bike. While it may have the same power-plant throughout the years (except for the ’84/85 RFVC 4-valve engine), many people base the XR200’s capabilities off of the ’92 to ’02 because there are more of them to be had on the used market.
The stock shock on an ’84-’91 (84-85 XR250 shocks are the same and will bolt on) are surprisingly good, and much better than the non-adjustable shocks on any of newer XR200’s after being rebuilt. They’re not too hard to find on eBay, but a lot of them are in rough shape. You will want to service it at the least. A new head seal kit is a good idea, and if you really want it to perform better you can send it out to get re-valve for your weight and riding style. This is the best bang for your buck, but if you want the highest performance, a Works shock will cost you a hefty 500 American buckaroos, give or take. While it’s a great upgrade compared to the 92-02 stock pogo-stick shock, it may not be worth it if you’re on a budget and don’t need a full-on race machine.
Much like the shock, the forks were downgraded on the Honda XR200R after 1991. They were not adjustable, and they lost some much needed suspension travel; thus lowering the seat height. This was done to make it more of a ‘beginner bike’. It’s not difficult to swap out the internals to bring the travel back up, but it’s just one more thing to do. The best forks from an XR200 are on the 1986-1991 models, and they can bolt right on to the later model 200’s. However, this isn’t the only option you have (more on this shortly).
If you get the early model XR200 forks, you can get stiffer progressive springs that can handle heavier and more aggressive riders and are fairly inexpensive. Servicing the forks and putting some heavier weight fork oil can help slow the damping down, which is probably the weakest point of any stock XR suspension component.
If you want to spend a little more time and money, you can swap out the stock forks from with a set from another bike that has better/bigger forks. 1984-85 Honda XR250R forks are bigger, but they require the complete front-end to fit on an XR200. If you go this route, you will also get a much needed front disk brake upgrade. They only have 10 inches of travel (same as the early XR200), but the internals are beefier so it can take more abuse.
A step up from that would be the forks from a 1986-1995 XR250R. They have 11 inches of travel and are 41mm in diameter, compared to the stock 36mm on the 200R. They have a disk brake as well and will require the complete front-end to work on the XR200. If you do this swap, the front end will be higher, causing a difference in bike geometry and the handling with change. To combat this you can pull the forks up in the triple clamps, or change the rear-end height with a different shock/linkage that will raise it up to level the bike back out.
Another common swap, and probably the best bang for the buck if you can find a cheap roller, is swapping a front-end off of a late 80s Honda CR125/250R motocross bike. They aren’t inverted forks like modern MX bikes, but they are cartridge forks that perform a lot better than the stock conventional damper-rod forks. They also have disk brakes that are leaps and bounds better than the XR brakes. These aren’t technically a ‘bolt-on’ swap, but a specific height for a spacer is the only major part you will need to ‘fabricate’. These forks will definitely raise the height of the front-end, so you’ll want to move the forks up and/or compensate with the rear suspension or else the handling will suffer.
I could go on for quite some time about suspension mods for this bike, but I’ll let you decide and continue the research if needed. I wanted to cover suspension mods first because “go-fast” mods won’t help much when you’re bottoming out on braking bumps with a stock suspended XR200. The intake, as well as the exhaust, are rather choked up on almost every Honda XR from the factory. You may not want to do every single modification depending on your riding conditions because some of the OEM parts are designed to protect the bike from possible failure.
The airbox helps keep the air filter clean from dirt and water, but there’s very few openings for air to get to the filter. By “opening it up”, it will allow more air to flow through the carburetor, resulting in a noticeable increase in throttle response and power. To do this, the best way is to remove the snorkel on top of the airbox. Just remove the top cap part and keep the other piece that has the three ducts/openings. More water can get in if you ride through mudholes, but it’s still protected because you’re just opening the airbox on the top.
Another intake mod is replacing the stock filter with a bigger and more free-flowing air filter. This will let that new air actually reach the carburetor and use it to make a little more power. If everything else is stock, you shouldn’t have to re-jet the carb because the XR200 comes rich from the factory.
This is another modification that may require some compromise. If you need your XR200 to stay quiet because of neighbors or rules/regulations, you probably won’t find anything quieter than the stock exhaust. You can pull the baffle out for a good improvement in throttle response and low-end torque. However, it will be considerably louder. The stock head pipe also restricts the bike, so replacing it with a larger diameter aftermarket pipe will yield noticeable horsepower gains throughout the RPM range. XRs Only sells a stainless pipe that is meant to go along with their silencer. I have not personally tested this head pipe with the stock muffler, so I do not know if it will bolt on due to the larger diameter (however, this is on my to-do list and I report back when I find out for sure).
You can look for a supertrapp exhaust, but the consensus is that this is quite a bit louder than stock as well. If you want to be stealth, then the complete stock muffler is the best choice. On the other hand, a number of XR200 owners have swapped out the baffle that is held in with the bottom two bolts for the stock baffle from an early to mid 80’s Honda ATC 250R. It is not much louder while giving you back the performance similar to running it without a baffle due to it flowing better.
If the engine starts and runs strong without smoking, it’s probably the last thing I’d look at as far as mods. Why? Because it’s the most expensive, and the other mods should be done first to “un-cork” it. If you really want to add some torque and horsepower, there’s still some room for improvement in the cylinder and head. A hotter camshaft alone will make a good increase in power. However, the more radical the cam, the more supporting mods you will need to make it worthwhile. These mods may include an aftermarket exhaust, a high compression piston, better valve springs, and may possibly require some more piston clearance if you go really big.
There’s over-sized pistons, but if you bore the cylinder too big, reliability will be compromised. A stroker crank is also an option if you can find a shop that still does it for the XR200 engines. The 218cc stroker will mainly increase low-end and mid-range torque, so it’s a great mod for trail riders and those who don’t rev it out much. Powroll supposedly still does work for this bike, but you will have to call and see what they have to offer.
An XR Is Just an XR
There’s so much that can be done to these bikes, but in the end, it’s still just a 200cc (give or take) air-cooled, 4-stroke engine from 1980. If you care more about traction than power, this is the engine to start out with. If it were me, I would start out with the suspension and get it set up for your weight and riding style. This goes for any year XR200. Some of you may have a head start with the late 80s forks and adjustable shock, but it still may be too soft. If you can’t ride through the woods without bottoming out all the time, more power will not make you faster.
Once you get the forks and shock dialed in with the correct rate springs, oil, and damping changes so that they’re balanced, then you should move on to the go-fast modifications. An un-corked intake and aftermarket exhaust will produce a high percentage increase in power, but possibly at the cost of noise. If it still needs some more “oomph”, throw a cam and HC piston kit at it. Anything past that is going to cost hundreds or even thousands more.
Why would I personally do these mods? Because I bought a 2002 XR200R to slowly build up for my single-track and billy-goat, mountain bike. This is my plan for a long-term bike build, and even with an almost stock bike, it’s still a blast to ride.
For those that are crazy about making a lightweight bike even lighter, stay tuned for a future article on how to build a sub-200 lb. XR200 on a budget!