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Honda XR650L Review: Specs You MUST Know Before Buying

Looking to get a Honda XR650L dirt bike? There’s a reason why it hasn’t changed much since it was first made; it’s popular “do-it-all” dirt bike. It’s not for everyone, so that’s why you’re here – to learn more about it, right?

In this review, I’ll show you what kind of bike it is, why it may or may not be a good fit for you, and what to expect when buying and riding one so that you save time and money!

What is the Honda XR650L?

It’s a 650cc single-cylinder dual sport motorcycle that is capable of riding on and off road comfortably. A dual sport is one of the most common types of off-road motorcycles because you can do a lot with it, but they’re not for everyone.

2019 Honda XR650L - this street legal dirt bike hasn't changed much over the years

Is the XR650L street legal?

Yes, it’s a street legal dirt bike right from the factory if you get it registered from your dealer or sign the title over from the previous owner if you’re buying used. This also means that it comes with all of the ‘extra’ parts/accessories to make it road legal, such as lights, mirrors, horn, electrical system, etc.

Who is the Honda XR650L for?

Want a street legal dirt bike to tour the country, or a reliable adventure bike for riding on and off-road? Then the XR650L might just be the bike for you?

But, to get a better idea, keep reading to learn all the details, because this dual sport dirt bike is not for everyone.

XR650R VS XR650L – What’s the difference?

While they’re both 650cc dual sport bikes, the XR650R is liquid-cooled with more power and slightly better suspension for off-road. The big difference is that the XR650L has an air-cooled engine with less overall power and is better for lightweight adventure riding.

Engine – is it a 650cc beast or turd?

The Honda XR air-cooled engine hasn’t changed much since the 1970s, but why change something that works so well for its intended use? The XR650L is about as big of an engine as you can get as a single-cylinder, but what does that mean?

It’s not high-performance by any means, but this 650cc 4-stroke has good low-end torque to get you moving, even with a big load of baggage/gear.

Reliability and low maintenance are two keywords I would use to describe this engine. Keep oil in it, change when dirty, and clean the air filter when dirty. A little preventative maintenance will make it last many years and thousands of miles.

With a wide-ratio transmission, it has a low enough first gear to do some single track trail riding if you really want to, although I’d stay away from any technical trails unless you want a serious challenge. Need to cruise down the highway at 65mph? The XR650L can do that with little stress compared to other street legal dirt bikes.

Horsepower & Torque 

A stock XR650L has about 40 horsepower at the crank, but it’s closer to 30 HP at the rear wheel. For a 650cc dual sport bike, that doesn’t sound like a like. However, it’s a low-tech engine and the torque curve is why it’s such a good engine.

It actually makes 47 ft. lbs of torque, which is very unique for a dirt bike – most off-road motorcycles make considerably more horsepower than torque, but that’s because they’re tuned for high RPM riding.

With such great low-end torque, it’s very smooth and easy to ride. You can ride it a gear (or two) low and still accelerate at a low RPM because it has the power to pull it.

Top speed

You can reach max speeds of close to 105 mph on an XR650L, but the final gearing can be changed to get a higher top speed. You shouldn’t need to go that fast on a dual sport bike unless you’re drag racing, and in that case, you should choose a better bike. 

Highway speeds

Being able to cruise on the highway is important if you’re putting on a lot of miles, but some dual sport bikes don’t do it very well. While the top speed generally isn’t the problem, you often have to wind the engine out at a constant high RPM, which puts more stress and wear on it. 

Well, the XR650L can comfortably cruise at 65 mph due to tall enough gearing. This is possible because it has enough low-end torque to have a wide ratio transmission. You can still ride fairly slow in first gear and have 5th gear for cruising without the other gears being spaced too far apart. 

Trail riding speed

While you can do trail riding and highway speeds on an XR650L, the transmission holds it back from doing them both well. With only 5 gears and a less than perfect gear-spacing, you have to compromise on what kind of riding you’ll be doing.

For example, if you go to a smaller rear sprocket to cruise on the road more comfortably, you won’t be able to ride tight single-track trails well. You’ll be slipping the clutch a lot, causing it to get hot.

Average fuel economy

Honda lists the gas mileage at 52 MPG, but this is most likely under conservative testing. Simply put, you have to be very smooth with the throttle, but there are many variables involved. 

For overall dual purpose riding, you can expect between 40-50 miles per gallon.
Factors that affect mpg are: 

  • Your speed and throttle position when accelerating
  • The type of terrain or road conditions 
  • Your weight
  • Tire pressure
  • Luggage/accessories/aerodynamics 

Performance upgrades to make it faster

A factory XR650L is pretty choked down, to begin with, so there are some simple things to get some noticeable power gains. A basic uncorking of the intake and exhaust to let it breathe better will give it some potential. 

Then you have to adjust the carb jetting to get the most performance gains. It’s also super important if you want your motorcycle to start easy and run better with more reliability so it lasts even longer.

Suspension performance

With some adjustability, the stock XR650L suspension can work well whether you’re a small or bigger guy (or gal). It’s definitely not as advanced as motocross or enduro bike suspension, but it works well for its intended purpose – dual sport riding with some mild trail riding off-road.

Changing the shock and fork springs are the easiest way to change the suspension for your weight.

Front forks

The forks have a compression adjustment on the bottom of them to speed up (soften) or slow down (stiffen) them as they compress. You can also add air, change the fork oil weight, as well as the fork oil height for fine-tuning the forks to your liking.

Rear shock

The rear shock is adjustable with pre-load and the compression and rebound damping clicks. This is a nice option compared to some cheaper trail bikes that have no adjustability outside of spring pre-load.


It’s a tank and it will feel like one if you plan to ride tight single-track trails. But, if you plan to use it as a dual-sport bike for casual off-road riding and some street riding, then the XR650L is a good handling bike.

It still feels like a dirt bike, so it can turn well compared to bigger adventure bikes, but the weight and top-heavy feeling are what kill the “lightweight dirt bike” handling.

XR650L Seat height – Is it the right size for you?

If you have short legs like me, this Honda 650 is going to feel big. At 37.0″ tall, the seat height is good if you’re at least 5’8″, but the seat and gas tank will also feel wider than most dirt bikes

It’s longer than a typical trail bike, which means it’s more stable and controllable at higher speeds. With that said, if you have good balance, then your height isn’t that big of a factor, especially if you’re riding on easy terrain.

Weight – how heavy is this pig?

Ready for it? A whopping 346 lbs all wet with full fluids and ready to ride. If you don’t know, an average size trail dirt bike is around 250-260 pounds, so adding another 90-100 pounds is like throwing a large kid on your bike with you. 

Yep, for riding trails, the XR650L is a PIG! But, for dual sport riding, it’s not terrible, and the extra weight actually gives it more stability if you’re riding on the highway. 

Reliability: How long will an XR650L last?

If you’re worried about reliability – don’t be. Honda built this bike to last a long time. The air-cooled engine, durable frame, and basic suspension components make it one of the most reliable dirt bikes you can get.

The XR650L can last you many years before needing any kind of engine rebuild if you just take care of it. It’s pretty common to get 20,000 or even 50,000 miles on the original engine if you’re doing dual-sport or adventure riding.

1994 Honda XR650L dual sport motorcycle with road legal tires
1994 XR650L set-up for dual sport riding

What’s the maintenance like?

Every dirt bike requires some kind of maintenance to keep it running, but the XR650L is at the low end when it comes to frequency and difficulty. The major things are changing the oil when it’s dirty or low and keeping the air filter clean.

When you run the engine too long on dirty or low engine oil, it won’t lubricate the engine parts as well, causing more heat from excessive friction. This will greatly reduce the life of your Honda XR engine, as well as not replacing/cleaning the air filter when it’s dirty – more dirt will get into the engine and wear out the internal parts. If your engine is smoking, you know it’s time to get it rebuilt, whether it just be the piston rings or a complete top-end.

Specs & Dimensions

These specifications are taken from Honda’s website:

Engine644cc air-cooled 4 stroke
Transmission5-speed manual clutch
Seat Height37.0”
Weight346 lbs. (wet)
Top Speed105MPH

Model year history & changes

1993 was the first year of the XR650L and is still being made today. There haven’t been any major changes because it’s such a solid motorcycle that’s designed to be simple and reliable

Any common issues?

It’s such a dependable dirt bike that not much goes wrong. With that said, having an air-cooled engine, it can run a little on the hot side if you ride it hard or put a lot of road miles on it. 

The easy fix is generally jetting because it comes lean from the factory. Going richer will help make it run cooler and potentially have a little bit of power, depending on your climate. 

Otherwise, an oil cooler can be added if for some reason the engine temp is constantly getting too hot (above 250F). 

Bottom Line: Is the XR650L a good dirt bike?

Yes, the XR650L is a good dirt bike, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Here are some practical pros and cons of why you shouldn’t or shouldn’t get one. 


  • One of the best street-legal dirt bikes for commuting or adventure riding on the road
  • Electric start
  • Adjustable suspension with 11″ of travel for off-road riding
  • Extremely reliable
  • Simple and doesn’t have any modern technology
  • 50+ mpg (100+ mile range depending on how you ride)


  • Not a good bike for trail riding at 346 pounds with a fuel tank of gas
  • No backup kickstart
  • It’s not very fast for a 650cc dirt bike

How much does an XR650L cost?

The price of a new model year is $6,999 MSRP, but you can find a used one for much less. Since the Honda 650L hasn’t really changed much, you can buy an older model year and not be missing out much (or anything!) as far as technology goes.

A used XR650L is worth 2500-5000 dollars in the used market. The biggest factors are your local market value, the mileage/condition, model year, and upgrades (how it’s set up).

Best XR650L mods & Adventure build

For dual sport or adventure riding, you’re going to want to add some aftermarket parts and do some tuning to be the most comfortable.
These are the best XR650L for an adventure bike build:

  • Windshield
  • Jetting
  • Headlight upgrade
  • Gearing
  • Rear rack
  • Suspension

XR650L vs DR650

They’re very similar in power, but the XL650L is taller and with slightly more suspension, making it a little bit more comfortable riding off-road. The DR650 comes stock with an oil cooler, so it will run a little bit cooler. Both 650s are great dual sport bikes, so it comes down to your personal preference and size. 

How to ride with confidence off-road

Whether you’re riding fire roads or dirt bike trails, the best thing you can do to prevent crashes is by putting a better rider on your bike…

No, not replacing the rider, but simply modifying your own riding skills to become a better and safer rider. I want to show you the basic techniques to quickly build your confidence.  Click here to download my free training.


Monday 18th of December 2023

Have had mine 15+ years, and was pre-owned when I got it ('96 bike) currrently 30k miles, bigger tank, real handguards, Seat Concepts seat, modded exhaust, jetted, MT21/D606 with 14/48 gearing, rack, subframe supports.. it's a beast! I take it everywhere.. desert, forest, hiway..heavy-sure, but once your rolling that big torque motor erases the weight..for the most part..

Kelley Fager

Tuesday 19th of December 2023

Awesome, those are some nice mods - thanks for sharing!


Wednesday 23rd of August 2023

Was a great write up for the load of D bikes out there. The pluses for me as an experienced rider far out way the thought that a person needs to have a 20K adventure bike. I see ton of riders riding their fully equipped Adventure bike that they can not handle nor manage. You can tell with the vast majority over bought and is their first motorcycle ever. So people looking to buy for their first bike, even need to go smaller bike and then transition to the XL650L. Give yourselves at least a good more then fair amount of 1 year of riding the smaller bike deep into trails way far back in the bush so you know what you can handle with a bigger longer stroke bike.

Kelley Fager

Wednesday 23rd of August 2023

Mic, I completely agree with you. What do you think is the #1 reason why people over buy on their first bike?