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Honda XR400 Review: [Specs, History & Comparison]

Looking to get a Honda XR400 but not sure if it’s the right bike for you? Whether you’re looking for your first dirt bike or your next, you’ve found the right review!

In this article, I’m going to show you what kind of dirt bike the Honda XR400R is, why it may or may not be good for you, and what to expect when buying and owning one so that you save time and money!

Why it’s so important to pick the right dirt bike

Choosing the right dirt bike is important, especially if you’re new to dirt biking. Starting on the wrong one might be the difference between you quitting after a few rides and making it a lifelong passion. That’s why I want to help you find the best dirt bike for YOU!

What is the Honda XR400?

It’s a full-size off-road motorcycle for trail riding. It has an air-cooled 4-stroke 400cc engine with conventional-style forks and a piggy-back shock, but what does that mean for you?

Honda actually made the XR400 to be a race bike for off-road, but it turned out to be a reliable trail machine with many good characteristics, but also some shortfalls that could be fixed if Honda wanted expand their lineup.

A Honda XR400 can be used for trail riding, adventure riding, and dual sport riding if you get it plated for the street

Engine – what to expect

The 397cc XR400 engine has been around for a long time (it’s also used in the popular 400EX sport-quad from Honda), so it’s a proven motor for riding off-road. It’s not high performance, and it’s definitely not a new technology – rocker arm valvetrain.

But what does that mean for you?

It makes good torque, which is great for trail riding where you’re probably going to spend most of your time riding below 6000 RPM. You can ride up hills and get over obstacles with a twist of the throttle, rather than having to shift down or slip the clutch on a smaller dirt bike.

Horsepower

The 4-valve rocker arm makes smoother power, so it’s predictable and easier to ride, which also gives you more traction than a newer enduro bike would give you. The XR400 may only have 35 HP, but it can put almost all of it to the ground with ease because of the smooth powerband, rather than making a lot of noise and spinning up a bunch of roost.

Not only is the power good, but this XR engine is rock-solid and reliable, just like the XR200 and XR250 trail bikes. Clean the air filter when it gets dirty, keep oil in it and change it when dirty, and this dirt bike will last you a long time.

1996 Honda XR400 air-cooled engine with 2-1 head pipe
A stock XR400 with kick-start is old-school but reliable

The carburetor is reliable as long as you ride it regularly. Letting it sit will gum up the jets and circuits, making it hard to start after sitting for a while.

Electric start – the missing piece?

The Honda XR400 was made just before the big boom in electric start dirt bikes, which is a shame. It’s one of the models that could’ve really used it to satisfy riders even more because it can be difficult to start if you don’t have a strong leg with good technique.

Can electric start be added?

Technically, yes, you can convert your XR400R to electric start, but it’s a lot of work and costly. According to guys on TT that have done the conversion, you basically need all of the 400EX 4-wheeler parts, and that can cost anywhere from $500-2000 for the parts.

How to make kick-starting your XR 400 easier

Before you even try kick-starting your big 4 stroke trail bike, you need to have the jetting properly tuned. This will make it easier to start it hot or cold. 

you’ll also get many other benefits from jetting the carb, such as:

  • Better throttle response
  • More horsepower & torque
  • Better gas mileage
  • Increased reliability
  • Reduced spark plug fouling

Maybe you’re intimidated by touching the carburetor on your dirt bike, fearing you might mess it up. It’s not as difficult as you might think, and I want to show you where to start by adjusting the fuel screw in just a few minutes.

Top speed

The XR400 was made to be an off-road race bike, so it’s geared a little taller for high speed potential compared to smaller trail bikes. You can reach a max speed of roughly 75 mph, but why would you need to go that fast unless you’re drag racing or out on the flats of the desert?

Maybe you converted your Honda XR400R to be a dual sport and want to cruise more comfortably at a lower RPM. Or you want to ride it for single-track trail riding – either way, changing the acceleration and top speed is easy with a different size sprocket.

Suspension

This is a trail bike, so don’t expect to be able to do big jumps without issue. For casual trail riding, though, the stock forks and shock work very well for not being “modern technology”.

You can adjust the compression and rebound clickers on the XR400 forks and shock for maximum comfort. However, you need to have the proper spring rates for your weight, and then set the sag on the shock to make the suspension balanced.

If you weigh 200+ or are an aggressive rider, you’ll find that the stock springs are on the soft side. They’re nice and plush if you’re a beginner and riding slow or on mild terrain – not a lot of bumps and obstacles.

Front forks

The stock forks are nice and plush for trail riding, especially if you’re a heavier rider. You also get some adjustability to make them more comfortable.

First, you need to make sure the fork springs are correct for your weight or else it will be too soft or harsh. After that, you can adjust the clickers.

Compression & rebound clicker adjustment

You can adjust the compression on the bottom of the fork legs, which controls how fast they compress when hitting bumps or obstacles. Then the rebound is on the top, which controls how fast the forks come back.

By adjusting these, you can make your XR400 more comfortable and easier to handle because it will get more traction when the tires stay on the ground longer instead of bouncing around.

Rear shock

The stock rear shock is also just as good for trail riding, and even more important for getting a proper handling set up. You need to start with the proper spring rate – stock is good if you’re in the 160-200 lb range, depending on the type of riding you’re doing.

Then you need to set the sag by adjusting the pre-load. This will balance the front and rear suspension for best handling.

After that, it’s down to adjusting the clickers, just like the forks. Compression is on top where the reservoir is and rebound is on the bottom of the shock where the linkage is.

Handling

The XR400 is very average when it comes to handling. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t turn or ride well, but due to the higher than average weight, it’s not as easy to lean and whip around as a lightweight trail bike.

The extra weight, however, gives you a nice ‘planted’ feeling that doesn’t allow it to get kicked around by rocks, roots, and bumps as easily as a lighter bike.

2003 Honda XR400R Honda XR400 Review: [Specs, History & Comparison]
2003 XR400 with an FMF muffler

Seat height – is it the right size for you?

Again, it’s an average size dirt bike – slightly bigger than medium, if that means anything to you. The seat height is 36.6”, which is about 2” less than the tallest dirt bikes. If you want to be able to touch the ground with one foot, then you’ll want to be at least 5’8” tall to ride the XR400.

XR400 Weight – how heavy is it?

Back to the weight, the XR 400 weighs about 276 pounds fully loaded in stock form. Believe it or not, it was built to be a lightweight mid-size XR because the XR600R was so big and heavy to handle off-road.

I wouldn’t call the 400 a pig, but it’s definitely got an extra 10-20 pounds on most other trail bikes similar in size. But if you can easily handle a 250cc 4 stroke, then the 400cc Honda isn’t that much heavier as far as feeling it while riding. When you need to pick it up, though, that’s where it’ll be more challenging.

Reliability – how long will it last?

If you prefer the simplicity and reliability of older air-cooled dirt bikes, then you’ll like the XR400. It’s about as reliable as it gets, which is common among the Honda XR trail motorcycles.

Make sure you do the simple maintenance, such as oil changes and cleaning the air filter, and this dirt bike will last a long time – hundreds of hours before needing to rebuild the engine.

Model years Honda made them

From 1996 to 2004 Honda made the XR400R with no major changes. It was then discontinued in 2004 because Honda started coming out with more high performance enduro bikes that became greater in demand.

Issues to be aware of?

There aren’t many issues with the XR 400R, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect in the used market. Since they’re so reliable, many owners neglected them. Running low or out of oil and not replacing the air filter are a common problem, leading to a rough running or smoking engine.

They can also be hard to start after sitting for a while or if the jetting is off. Lean jetting or flooding makes it hard to start.

How much is an XR400 worth today?

Since they’re getting harder to find, the value of a Honda XR400 is probably going up more than down. A good used model is worth somewhere in the 2000-3500 price range, but it really depends on your local market demand and the overall condition of the bike.

XR400 vs DRZ400

The Honda XR400 is a little more durable for trail riding because it’s air-cooled and a little more simple with better suspension. The DRZ400 makes a better dual sport bike for on and off-road riding.

XR400 Specs & Dimensions

XR400R
ManufacturerHonda
Years Made1996-2004
Engine397cc 4-valve SOHC 4 stroke
Transmission5-speed manual-clutch
Seat Height36.6” (93cm)
Weight276 lbs. (wet)
Horsepower34 HP
Top Speed75 MPH

Who is the Honda XR400 for?

It’s a 4 stroke trail bike for adults that want a simple, reliable, and smooth power curve to enjoy trail riding without worrying about any high-tech parts failing, such as fuel injection or a battery-powered electric start system.

I would not recommend it as a good beginner dirt bike unless you’re a bigger guy (6’0” and 200lbs.) because it’s fairly heavy and it has quite a bit of torque. This combination would make it hard to control if you’re new to dirt biking, so it’s best to start on a smaller dirt bike that’s easier to handle.

Is the XR400 a good dirt bike?

Yes, the XR400 is still a good dirt bike, but it’s not the right bike for everyone. Here are some pros and cons to help you make a better decision.

Pros:

  • Good torque and smooth power gives you good traction and acceleration
  • It’s easy to ride
  • Good size beginner bike if you’re a taller/bigger guy
  • Relatively affordable in the used dirt bike market
  • No electric start or fuel injection to fail (if you like old and simple)
  • Lightweight for a big-bore XR from the 90s

Cons:

  • Can be hard to start if it’s been sitting or jetting is off
  • No electric start means you always have to kick it over
  • It’s a little heavier than modern trail bikes, but not that much heavier
  • Getting harder to find in good condition

How to ride with confidence off-road

Whether you choose the XR400 or another dirt bike, there’s one thing that you can do to quickly build your confidence on any dirt bike, and I want to show you how.

It starts with your riding technique and learning the basics to stay balanced and in control. Tap here to download my free training.