A Vintage Rally Machine to escape Modern Life
RAMBLINGS / 09.09.2020 / Mike
Honda started building the XR650L back in 1993, which is exactly when this guy here rolled off the belt.
Built around the same chassis, It shares so many aspects with it's racey brother the XR600R. The 650L is basically a road legal version of the 600R.
And they didn't do much to it to make it less of a dirt bike and more of an Enduro.
Which is the single biggest reason why I went and got one.
Compared to it's competitors back in the day, Kawasaki's KLR650 or Suzuki's DR650 Honda's XR is less comfy, has zero fairings, no wind shield, a smaller tank and wasn't built to carry any luggage.
it's a dirt bike through and through. The ground clearance is through the roof. The seating position is much more aggressive and the suspension travel is eternal. The way a dirt bike should be. And you can feel it when you ride it. Perfect.
A Dual-Sport usually always means compromises.
But fuck that.
I wanna get the XR fit for some overlanding, but also keep that fun skinny dirt bike.
The simplest solution was to put together a Rally style outfit I could swap in and out with the stock setup.
Sure I could have bought a GS or an Africa Twin for my travels and hoot around on the XR when I'm not going far. But neither am I made of cash, nor did I want to buy another bike just for a bigger tank and a luggage rack.
There's a tonne of aftermarket parts that would give me all the function I needed. But none of them had the vibe I was after. Most plastic tanks make the bike look sad as they droop down over that beautiful engine. Racks are usually ginormous and ugly in my opinion.
And as usual – they already had it all figured out way back. 1982 for example, with the Paris Dakar winning XR500R.
Absolute thing of beauty. And with its 28L capacity it will beat my 9L stock tank 3 times. Luckily Honda didn't give this just to their top tier athletes, in 1985 they released the Dakar screaming XL600 LM to us normals, and it would carry that amazing tank.
Look. At. That. Tank.
Sourcing a XLM tank online was a bit of a gamble. I had no idea whether it would fit the XR, neither did I know whether it would look any good if it actually did fit.
But after cutting up an old down pipe from a '73 CB250, which I had laying round in the shop and the help of welding cousin Andy – we had ourselves some great little tabs that would mount straight onto the stock rubber bits on my frame.
Keeping the stock mounts on my frame was obviously super key to be able to swap back and forth between Rally and MX. In my eyes a 650cc thumper hits the perfect sweet spot. I'm 187 cm tall and handling this bike on trails isn't an issue at all. And for freeway cruising it's just fine too.
One XR – Two purposes.
A Dual Sport without the compromises.
So this little tab next to the bolt with the ground wires on the image above, is the only alteration on the frame needed. And given it's recessed, It doesn't get in the way of the stock seat or tank.
Speaking of the seat. The guy who sold me the tank, happened to have the seat to match as well. I knew it wasn't gonna fit my frame, but I was after a base that would have the right curvature to flow with the tank. In hindsight I could've just made my own pan from sheet metal, but screw it, it worked out great.
Apart from a little trip to A+E as a result of some good old fashioned stupidity.
With the hand all stitched up, I had time to think about the finish. The seat was with the upholsterer to get rebuilt from the ground up and I was looking at the amazing history of the Paris Dakar and the works bikes.
Given I was borrowing the tank from that already, and simply I really like the vibe of the early 80s Rally machines it made sense to visually refer to it some more.
And when looking on the adventure scale, Motorcycle Rally pretty much leads the charts here. So it was right up Sea of Rocks' dirty road to lean into one of the most adventurous sports out there.
But there's one problem as Meli (my wife) pointed out. One of the world's most strenuous competitive sports, doesn't really go so well with the philosophy of Sea of Rocks.
And lets face it, neither my riding skills, nor my endurance will make history. And it's also been a while since those thumpers made the podium.
So going full blown Rally on this bike doesn't just go against what we believe makes Motorcycle adventures fun – it's also kinda whack to pretend you gonna hit Dakar after your BBQ at the Lake.
This bike was built to throw a duffle bag on it and head out into the mountains for a couple of nights.
Away from all the pressures that come with everyday life. For us it's a way of exploration and discovery. Less in a geographical, but more in a personal sense. Get back in touch with Nature and ourselves in that pure way that only two wheeled travel can give you.
So yeah, there you go, that's what led to creating a Vintage Rally Machine to escape modern life.
And like I said – it had to transformfrom Vintage Rally overlander to MX dream straight out of 1987 – within minutes.