Honda XR200R Mods Part 2 – Weight Reduction

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 Why in the world would I spend all this time, effort, and hard-earned money to put this ‘outdated’ dirt bike on a diet?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.

Pictured Is Chuck's (with consent from TT) modified XR200
Pictured Is Chuck’s (with consent from TT) modified XR200

Sprung Weight

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

Un-sprung Weight

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.

-Tom Stark

Honda XR200R Mods Part 1 – Performance

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 2013 here 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.

Rear Shock

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.

Front Forks

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).

'02 XR200R
’02 XR200R

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.

Intake

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.

Exhaust

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.

Engine

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!

-Tom Stark

CRF250X vs. CRF250R – Which Dirt Bike Should I Buy?

Looking to buy a red dirt bike but not sure which one is better? While the CRF250R and CRF250X started off on similar platforms, there are some major differences between the two that make each better in its own way. The first question you should ask yourself is, “What kind of riding are you looking to do with it?”

Suspension – Racing or Trails?

Having the right suspension for the job will make all of the difference between two bikes. While this isn’t the only difference, it’s probably the most important. The CRF250R is a motocross bike; therefore it will have stiffer suspension and valving set up for racing on a track with big jumps and whoops. It’s still not going to fit you perfectly right out of the box, but it’s going to be a lot better of a starting point than if you were to get the 250X.

If you’re looking for something more than the typical, boring, air-cooled four-stroke trail machine, the CRF250X may be just the answer. It began production with the same frame design and style of the CRF250R, including the higher performance inverted-fork and shock set-up. While it may have better and more easily adjustable suspension than most other trail bikes, it’s still going to be pretty soft so you can go on long trail rides without getting worn out from stiff suspension bucking you around.

Engine

CRF250R
CRF250R

Do you like a fast-revving, high-horsepower, race engine, or do you want something that’s smoother with a broader power-band so it won’t scare you? For having almost the same engine design, there’s yet again some major differences between the two. The 250R has a larger stroke (smaller bore), a little higher compression, hotter camshaft, a close-ratio transmission, and EFI starting in 2010. These things all add up to making the motocross version of Honda’s 250F more snappy and begs the rider to twist the throttle.

On the flip-side, the CRF250X still has the same basic engine design. A less-radical cam makes it more trail friendly for smoother power, along with the lower compression. A wider transmission ratio also makes it great for trails, both tight and high-speed. A lower-flowing intake and exhaust set-up combine to make this bike tamer for the beginning riders in mind. The exhaust is considerably quieter, and has a spark-arrestor for state trail riding.

Light-weight vs. Trail Amenities

CRF250X
CRF250X

The more trail riding you want to do, the more accessories you’ll want to have on your bike. However, lightweight is the reason why the CRF250R handles so well. The options that are exclusive to the 250X that add the most weight are a kick-stand, electric start/battery, headlight/tail-light, airbox, larger-capacity gas tank, and exhaust system. Most of these mentioned are highly desirable for trail riding, but you will feel the weight difference if you ride both bikes back-to-back.

So the question is, what are the options worth to you, and how much off-road/trail riding will you be doing? A lot of riders that like the race form of the 250R will take it and add a few things to make it more ride-able in the woods and absolutely love it. However, if you are older and prefer E-start, a kick-stand, and soft suspension, you will enjoy the 250X more, even if it is down on power a little.

-Tom Stark

XR100 Vs. TTR125 – Best Beginner Trail Bike?

The Honda XR100/CRF100 and Yamaha TTR125 are among the most popular beginner bikes. Why? Because they are easy to ride, have a clutch, and require very little maintenance compared to a motocross bike. Change the oil and filter regularly, as well as lubing the chain, and these will last virtually forever. So the question is, which one is the better bike?…

There’s No Replacement For Displacement

As you would imagine, the TTR125 has a little more power than the XR100. It has quite a bit of torque for being an air-cooled engine, but nothing that will scare you. The Honda is very smooth and has a linear power-curve, so no surprises there. The flywheels are heavy on both engines, so they are slow to rev and harder to stall, making it great for someone learning how to use the clutch.

2003 TTR125L
2003 TTR125L

Both bikes have a five-speed transmission with about the same ratios, so not much to dispute there. First gears are very low, so you may want to change the gearing (sprockets) once you’re used to riding the dirt bike.

Some people may say the TTR is a bit finicky when it comes to tuning the carburetor. We’ve had a couple of these bikes and the only problem we’ve had is when they sit for months at a time (this happens on any bike when gas is left in it). Just pull the carb off (which is very easy), clean out the jets and passages with compressed air and/or carb cleaner, and we were up and running again!

Suspension – It Is What It Is

Not much to see here, as both dirt bikes are using suspension components that are decades old in technology. This isn’t necessarily bad, especially if you are just a casual trail rider, as it makes these cost very little to buy and maintain. Comparing the two, there’s not a lot of differences in fork and shock set-up. If you weigh over 140 lbs, you’ll want to get heavier springs no matter the kind of riding you’re doing. Jumping is not recommended unless you make some modifications to the frames to strengthen them, but that’s not what these bikes are for. For a younger kid that just wants a dirt bike to ride around and have fun, either is a great choice, as they will teach you all of the controls and skills needed on a motorcycle.

Handling

If you’re brand new to dirt bikes, handling on a dirt bike won’t be as big of a factor as ride-ability and reliability. However, there are some differences between the XR/CRF 100 and TTR 125 as far as handling goes. The Yamaha weighs a little more; particularly if you get the LE model with the larger wheels and Electric start. After riding both bikes, the 2001 and newer Honda feels a little slimmer handles a little better in the tight stuff. The 2000 and older XR100R’s have a wider seat and tank, but are more comfortable on your butt. The TTR front-end isn’t the greatest, as it wants to slide out a little more, but that’s probably because we were pushing it too hard (that’s what happens when you put an adult on a bike like this!).

So Which Bike Would I Buy?

2000 XR100
2000 XR100

Honestly, I would buy either dirt bike if I found a good deal on a clean one, which is the most important thing when looking for a used bike. If I could choose one over the other, it would probably be the Honda. Not because it’s red, but because Honda just knew what they were doing when the built the XR/CRF-F lineup. They’re easier to find, the engine is simple, and aftermarket parts are widely available.

-Tom Stark

Why Does My 2-Stroke ‘Load Up’ After Sitting A Few Minutes?

“Loading up” is a common problem for 2-stroke dirt bikes and snowmobiles. If you don’t know what it means or haven’t heard the term before, it’s usually when you let the engine sit or idle for more than a minute and when you go to rev it, it coughs and sputters. This feedback makes for terrible throttle-response, and will eventually foul the spark plug.

To temporarily fix this, assuming the bike is fully warmed up, give it a few quick bursts of WOT (Wide-open-throttle). This will clear it out, and should run like normal again. However, for those of you that want to fix this problem long-term, you’re going to have to spend a little more time, as well as a couple bucks…

The reason your two-stroke ‘loads up’ is because not all of the gas gets burned through the cylinder, so it just sits in the crankcase. When you give it some throttle, the fuel/air ratio is too high, causing it to blubber and sputter until it clears out this excess fuel. When there’s too much fuel going through the cylinder at the same time, the spark plug cannot burn all of it, thus resulting in a fouled plug. A spark plug is fouled when the jetting is too rich, and the tip of it will come out black and often wet (Click here to read more about Jetting).

Honda CR125 is a common bike that loads up.

So how do I prevent this from happening? The pilot jet is almost always the culprit. Many two-strokes (Honda for the most part) come jetted rich from the factory. This is probably to prevent engine failures, but it often causes more problems and headaches. A properly jetted dirt bike will have more power, much better throttle response, and no plug fouling.

Since the pilot jet is too rich, pull the float bowl off of the carburetor and unscrew the pilot jet. It will usually have a smaller number stamped on it, such as 42 or 55 (may require a magnifying glass). Go to your local bike shop and buy a couple jets smaller for it. Don’t worry, they’re only a few bucks each. To get an idea of what size you need, first check your manual if they have any jetting specs or recommendations. The internet is incredibly resourceful, so check there as well. In the end, every bike is different, so you may just have to try a few jets to see what works the best. Just remember that a rich pilot jet will cough and hiccup, while a pilot that’s too lean will bog off idle. Either one will have poor throttle response, so having the right jetting will go a long ways.

If re-jetting won’t get rid of the loading up problem, there’s probably something else wrong with your bike. Check and make sure the air filter is clean, the reeds are not cracked, the engine has good compression, and you are using fresh gas that has the right Pre-mix.

Have fun, and ride safe!

-Tom Stark