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Gearheadz

Xl600

Adventure Modifications

DR650 and XR650L

      Televising the Paris Dakar rally spawned European desire for replicas of the Enduro motorcycles used. Honda initially offered the XL600LM and Suzuki the DR600 Dakar but the European market wanted touring machines with the butch styling of the NSX-750. Honda developed the Africa Twin and Kawasaki followed suit with their KLR650. These were liquid cooled machines with high capacity fuel tanks and half fairings, configured primarily for touring but could handle neglected pavement, gravel, dirt roads and trails. Having 20/80 dirt to street bias, this lucrative niche became known as the Adventure Bike market. The big ADVs sold well, soaking up bumps and potholes with soft long travel suspension and eating up miles with comfortable straight riding position, good visibility and modern styling. The fact that 50 specially prepared Africa Twins competed in the Dakar's production class boosted credibility with its potential customers.

The concept of recreational motorcycle exploration also captured American attention in the late eighties. Again, Honda and Suzuki used their air cooled 600cc dirt bikes as the as the platform to satisfy this burgeoning market. Displacement was boosted to 650cc to provide more torque to haul cargo and horsepower for efficient cruising. Electric start brought the bikes in line with street norms. Honda's XR650L had dirt to street bias of 70/30 while Suzuki's DR650 was 50/50. Plated XR600s had a 90/10 bias with lighter weight and better balance but lacked the everyday convenience of the magic start button.

Africa Twin

Honda's history of durability and quality earned favored status when it entered the Dual Sport niche. However, the XR650L has suffered a complete lack of development throughout its decades of production. In contrast, Suzuki has continued to develop their DR650 to satisfy the Dual Sport market and master the delicate balance between smooth street performance and nimble off road handling. The current DR650s have shed the loud graphics and white side covers in favour of subdued solid colors. This illustrates the Zook's broad range of appeal, first bike, commuter, runabout, Dual Sport and with the help of some aftermarket parts, an excellent adventure bike or even round the world bike.

Neither XRL nor DR is prefect out of the box but the DR's shortcomings are easier to resolve. The XR650L suffers from a weak sub-frame that can snap under heavy loads. The gap in the gear ratios leads to excessive shifts between first and second. The tall seat height is a problem for short legged riders and the rear location of the battery box exposes it to damage. The lack of cush drive shortens the life of bearings, countershaft, gears and sprockets. However, sometimes you're just a Honda guy and that's where the debate ends. The focus shifts to getting the desired performance upgrades. Check out the table below.

Cush Drive

A cush drive is a set of rubber blocks sandwiched between the rear sprocket and wheel hub. It cushions the drive components from the thumper's torque pulses when ridden on the street. The XR650L has still managed to sell in large quantities and has successfully completed trans-continental adventures. There are abundant aftermarket accessories that address its lack of development, listed at the bottom of the page. However, it's not the most economical route, unless you can snag a clean used example. If you want the most dirt capable bike with electric start then pick the XR650L. Unless you are desert racing, the lack of oil cooler shouldn't be a problem once the motor is uncorked.

The DR650 is not perfect either but has the least compromises and issues to resolve. Screws securing the NSU, the internal switch that activates the neutral light, have a tendency to come loose and destroy the motor. The Philips head screws need to be replaced and secured with safety wire, a photo tutorial is available. Also, remove the upper chain roller and check for dry steering head bearings.

Both DR and XRL have air cooled motors, carburettor induction, screw and locknut valve adjustment. Kawasaki's KLR650 motor is liquid cooled and fuel injected, a comparatively heavy and complex powerplant. Valve adjustment is achieved by changing shims. Water cooled engines are more vulnerable in theory but any bike can be taken out in a drop. Oil coolers are equally exposed as radiators. The real issue is weight. Dual Sports are designed for exploring trails; heavier bikes with soft suspension are less nimble and ultimately less fun. Deep mud and steep inclines penalize heavy bikes most, bogging down and difficulty recovering after each drop gets frustrating. The appeal of the KLR is its highway readiness in factory spec but adding a short fender, windscreen and seat kit to the DR will deliver equal stability and comfort with superior trail manners.

The DR and XRL can be modified to perform an adventure bike role and retain their original capabilities. The addition of some touring accessories and heavier straight rate springs is a relatively straightforward process. The challenge is knowing when to stop; modifying vehicles is an enjoyable hobby in itself. Try to make a list of what you need and stick to it, before you go shopping. It's harder to claw back modification expenditure when selling a bike on. Don't bin the stock parts, they make for handy spares after a spill. Procycle has everything needed for the DR650 and many farkles too.

DR650

DR650 Modifications

FunctionPartNotes
RuggedizeSkid plate Dedicated plates that bolt into the frame are preferred. Protects the frame and case from rocks.
RuggedizeMotor Armour Aluminum or Steel plates that prevent pedals puncturing engine case in a drop.
RuggedizeFolding Shift Lever Less likely to snag or brake.
RuggedizeFolding Brake Lever Less likely to snag or brake.
TouringWindshield Possibly the most cost effective mod available. It wasn't designed specifically for the DR but happens to fit nicely behind the fairing, giving a stock appearance. It deflects highway windblast over the torso, reducing arm fatigue. Quick release hardware enables removal in seconds but loctite the front wingnuts, which can work loose. Windshields lacking metal brackets look clean but deform at 70 MPH. Large bar mounted screens act as sails, wind gusts cause sudden direction change. A standard lid gives less wind buffeting than an MX.
TouringFront Fender Shorter universal fender is less sensitive to wind and vehicle vortex, delivering more stability on the highway. Rear vent increases cooling airflow over motor. Universal fit requires drilling model specific mount holes. Use a plastics drill bit and low speed to avoid cracking. Measure twice, drill once! Multiple colors available on main product page.
TouringFuel Tank Jumbo tanks can effect front suspension as fuel level changes. 4.7 Gal is a good compromise.
TouringRack Pro Moto Billet. DR has a steel sub-frame, no special rack needed.
TouringSaddle Bags Dirt Bagz
TouringSprings Heavier springs are needed for forks and shock when hauling extra cargo and fuel. Avoid progressive springs, they fade quickly.
TouringSeat A seat upgrade is worthwhile if long journeys are in the mix.

XR650L

XR650L Modifications

FunctionPartNotes
HandlingSmog Off Kit Removes California smog kit. Shed 4 lbs and let the motor breathe, eliminates backfiring. Installation tutorials are available on youtube.
HandlingFront Sprocket Switching from 15T to 14T lowers gearing; the motor's torque is more accessible. The rider can stay in second gear on the trail, without slipping the clutch. The XRL can still do 70 mph but at high revs. Moose brand is recommended, it has a thicker sprocket collar, which diffuses wear on the countershaft splines. Many riders carry 13T, 14T & 15T and switch out as needed.
HandlingFMF Jet Kit Stock carb setting is very lean, motor splutters and runs hot. Stock CV carb is difficult to tune. Fitting a used XR650R pumper carb and longer throttle cable is a better solution.
HandlingTail light Shed 2 lbs of top heavy weight.
HandlingHandlebars The Renthal Desert/Vintage bars are high enough that a riser is not required. The stock bars are too low for comfortable riding whether seated or standing. The Renthals are lighter, stronger and vibrate less. File index pins off controls, these bars have no locator holes.
HandlingSuspension Link The XR650L's extra suspension travel results in extreme seat height. It can be a problem for short legged riders, whether stabilizing on the trail or stopping at the lights. Link lowers the ride height by 2". Raise forks to level the bike.
HandlingFork SpringsStronger springs stop the forks diving and bottoming out for riders over 200lbs or touring cargo. Stiffer springs are shorter. They come with a length of PVC pipe to be cut to size and used as spacers. Use 12 wt fork oil to damp the additional rebound of the stronger springs.
HandlingTyresThe stock tyres have minimal off road performance. The more dirt oriented a tyre tread is, the shorter the lifespan with street riding. Kenda 270's are a 50/50 tyre with a lifespan of 4000 miles. Tyre pressure is critical to handling and wear.
   
RuggedizeSkid Plate Protects frame and engine case from rocks.
RuggedizeFoot Pegs Stock rubber pegs are slippery, metal pegs bite into boot sole for superior traction.
RuggedizeFolding Mirrors Bikemaster are the only folding mirrors that provide durability, economy, good image and stability under vibration and wind blast. They work well and look good. The controls and master cylinder can receive damage when the stock mirrors hits a branch or the ground. The Bikemasters can be folded out of the way when off road and will give under impact.
RuggedizeFolding Shift Lever Folding shift lever less vulnerable to breakage when bike is dropped.
RuggedizeThermometer The oil dipstick is located in frame neck, visible from riding position. Engine temperatures can be checked on slow technical trails or summer traffic jams.
   
TouringWindshield Possibly the most cost effective mod available. It wasn't designed specifically for the XRL but happens to fit nicely behind the fairing for a stock look. It deflects highway windblast over the torso, reducing arm fatigue. Quick release hardware enables removal in seconds but loctite the front wingnuts, which can work loose. Windshields lacking metal brackets look clean but deform at 70 MPH. Large bar mounted screens act as sails, wind gusts cause sudden direction change. A standard lid gives less wind buffeting than an MX.
TouringFront Fender Shorter universal fender is less sensitive to wind and vehicle vortex, delivering more stability on the highway. Rear vent increases cooling airflow over motor. Universal fit requires drilling model specific mount holes. Use a plastics drill bit and low speed to avoid cracking. Measure twice, drill once! Multiple colors available on main product page.
TouringGas Tank Shed 7 lbs of top heavy weight by replacing stock tank and air scoops with the 4.7 liter plastic tank. Increases range to almost 200 miles. Loctite attachment hardware. Bike must be leaned over to use last bit of fuel.
TouringCyclerack It's not pretty but it is the strongest rack out there, suitable for heavy loads and aggressive off road riding. It transfers load to the steel frame rather than the weaker aluminum subframe.
TouringSaddle Bags Dirtbagz Ranger saddle bags are designed for dirt bikes. Bags come with hardware that offsets the bags from the muffler. The stock muffler gets hot. The Dirtbagz hardware interfaces with the cyclerack for the perfect combination.
TouringCush Drive Expensive but worth considering if planning a trans-continental or overland adventure, where the majority of the action will be on pavement.
TouringSeat A seat upgrade is worthwhile if long journeys are in the mix.







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