Honda’s had many iconic models over the years: The CB750, the Hurricane, the Fireblade, and for those who watched Dust to Glory, the XR650R.
When Dana Brown’s film came out in 2005, it showed every aspect of the Baja 1000 desert race, but it focused on the motorcycle category, especially the Honda factory teams and privateer ironman Mouse McCoy. These guys were all riding the Honda XR650R. The Big Red Pig was already a respected performer in the desert, but this film turned the bike into a legend.
Sadly, the XR650R was offroad-only; if you wanted a street plate, you had to ride the neutered XR650L. But, some enterprising R-series owners took matters into their own hands, adding the necessary equipment to make their machines street-legal. And now, you can buy one such bike off ADVrider’s Flea Market forum, located in California.
The Big Red Pig
The Honda XR650R debuted in 2000 as an all-new machine. Honda had built the similar XR600R from 1985 through 2000, with periodic updates along that production. The 650 was more than a big-bore job mixed in with some incremental upgrades, though. It was liquid-cooled, as opposed to the previous air-cooled models. with a new aluminum frame and other clever weight-cutting measures. Honda claimed a dry weight of 280 pounds; fuelled, up, it was just over 300 pounds, more than 15 pounds lighter than recent-production CRF250L dual sport models.
Combine that low weight with a claimed 60ish horsepower at the crank (more like 45ish at the rear wheel), and you had a very impressive offroad beast. It wasn’t a woods bike (well, maybe Scott Summers might have tried it), but man, did it ever rip in the desert.
This was back in the days when Honda had more budget to play with, and could afford to build machines like the XR650R for the US market. The story is that Bruce Ogilvie, from Honda’s Project Planning Department in the US, dreamed up the XR650R project as a way to end Kawasaki’s dominance at the Baja 1000; the liquid-cooled KX500 was thrashing the air-cooled XR600R every year. Ogilvie managed to convince the Japanese head office to build the much-better XR650R. With Johnny Campbell riding and then moving into team management, Honda’s riders dominated Baja with the XR650R for years.
Obviously, Honda’s race bikes were set up differently than the machines you’d buy off a showroom floor, but even in stock form, the BRP came with respectable suspension, too. The KYB forks and shock were highly adjustable, and since the bike had been designed with desert racing in mind, it worked well for many riders right out of the box.
Unless, of course, you wanted to ride one on the street.
That’s where this bike’s previous owner had to get creative. To get this machine street-legal plate for California, he had to bolt on some aftermarket parts, starting with a Baja Designs dual sport kit. Since the stock charging system wasn’t made for full-power street lighting, he added a 200-watt stator and rectifier, also from Baja Designs. For gauges, he used a Vapor computer; he ditched the wimpy lead-acid battery that came stock, and installed an Antigravity battery. Not only did this make it easier to run lighting, it also allowed him to add an electric start system.
Like some of Honda’s other big-bore thumpers (XR400R, XR600R), the XR650R was kickstart-only. That’s fine if you’re a strapping racer that rarely stalls the thing anyway. It’s not so great if you’re street riding, so this Big Red Pig got a Baja Designs electric starter.
This was all done before current owner, inmate DIYPSCM, acquired it. When he bought the bike, the PO couldn’t get it started. So, DIYPSCM went over the machine, fixing what needed to be fixed, and then focusing on reliability.
With that in mind, he added radiators from Mylars, and a cooling fan, as the big XRs have a rep for overheating. There’s a new set of silicone hoses, too. In general, the stuff that needs to be done to keep the bike trustworthy, has been done. There’s an upgraded clutch bushing, an oversized front brake, new tires, new chain, and so on.
There are a couple of practical touches as well—an aluminum rack, an oversized fuel tank, Mikuni TM40 pumper carb, and a Kouba lowering link. These bikes had a sky-high seat from the factory, and now it’s lower and easier to ride. DIYPSCM figures he’s got about 50 hours of wrenching and a thousand bucks worth of parts on it, and that doesn’t include the work done previously. There’s also about a thousand bucks’ worth of extra parts with the machine, including spare wheels, the original fuel tank and more.
DIYPSCM is asking $5,000 for this machine. For sure, that’s a lot of money, but it’s probably not unrealistic. This bike has a street-legal plate, and that’s not always easy to get. The aftermarket modifications should make it a very fun bike for both semi-serious offroad use and commuting duty. As the seller says, “The bike is a beast and will go shoulder-to-shoulder with pretty much anything it runs across on the dirt side. On the street side there are bikes more refined, but the XR will always get you there.” For some riders, that simpler design is preferable anyway. For a modern dual sport bike with similar performance, size and weight, you’ll spend much more money, and it’s much less DIY-friendly.
Plus, there’s the fact that XR650Rs are almost certainly going to be desirable collectables someday, if they aren’t already there.
So. If you’ve got $5k burning a hole in your pocket, you could at least look at the ad. If you’re in California, it’s hard to see how this would be a regrettable decision. This bike won’t turn you into Johnny Campbell or Mouse McCoy, but if you buy it, you can always take it down to Baja and pretend for a weekend.