Long Distance Adventure Bikes Versus The Honda XR600R Converted For Dual Sport Overnight Trips

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These days adventure bikes are getting more and more popular especially among riders with deep pockets who have aspirations of going on long distance tours to locations where roads are either nonexistent or very primitive. Adventure bikes were originally conceived as replicas of multistage Dakar racers. Today they are mostly used for long distance mixed road and off road touring. They deliver all day comfort and can easily travel at freeway speeds with appropriate gearing and frame mounted windshields.

Full blown adventure bikes aren’t inexpensive and they are much heavier than genuine off road motorcycles or even dual sport bikes. Big multi-cylinder adventure bikes are not always  appropriate for challenging off road single track. That is not to say you can’t navigate well maintained moderately steep trails, but you will need a lighter cross country machine with better suspension for black diamond trails and going really fast through deep whoops and over challenging trail obstacles.

They can cost from $10,000 to $30,000 sold complete with luggage racks, crash bars, frame mounted wind shields, fuel injection, electric start and anti-lock brakes. A lot of the more fancy models have more than one cylinder with horse power numbers comparable with the latest sport bikes. Curb weights vary from the BMW R1200GS Adventure at 589 lbs. to a Yamaha Super Tenere XT1200Z at 594 lbs. Even the single cylinder KTM 950 Adventure weighs 527 lbs. These weights have more in common with street bikes than off road bikes. Yet rows of gleaming high tech adventure bikes (displayed on the showroom floor) are eye candy to potential customers.

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Then there are the large displacement bare bones dual sport bikes which can be upgraded with accessories like heated grips, fairings, crash bars, panniers, racks, and aftermarket alternators to power high intensity headlights along with other electrical components. These more affordable bikes include models which have survived since the early eighties and which are all listed today for under $6,7000. They have been upgraded with electric start and other modern dual sport features (some more than others).

The Kawasaki KLR650 (advertised as light weight at 432lbs and off road capable) the venerable air cooled Suzuki DR650 (365 lbs. without fuel) and the Honda XR650L (346 lbs with a full tank and ready to go) are three examples of bikes that haven’t changed too much since they were first developed for the large displacement dual sport market several decades ago. The liquid cooled KLR650 got a frame mounted fairing thereby morphing into an adventure bike to please an ever expanding demand.

Let’s face it; even the best of these ancient dinosaurs are not nearly as off road capable as the newest dual sport KTMs and Betas. The KTMs and Betas both have substantially the same engine (within the limits of EPA mandates) and suspension as their made for competition off road compatriots. The KTM EXC-500 knocks the socks of off all previous street legal motorcycles and can be lined up at the start of a cross-country or desert race in completely stock condition.

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Both the Beta and KTMs are real off road motorcycles and weigh a scant 267 lbs. It doesn’t get better than that except for the price (about $10,000) and seat height (KTM 38” and Beta 37”). They are such truly modern high tech marvels (with a street license plate) that adding all the heavy accessories appropriate for long distance off road touring seems like  blasphemy. In truth neither of them are candidates for adventure bike conversion. You can’t get that kind of superb of off road performance and still be comfortable on long distance freeway jaunts.

Honda CRF1000 Africa twin

Honda CRF1000 Africa twin

For real adventures the Honda Safari twin cannot be beat. CRF1000L Africa Twin, the new ADV model draws inspiration from the original XRV750 Africa Twin and is a lot more. It is intended to be a long-distance explorer, one that works well on paved and unpaved roads. It is powered by a 998cc parallel twin, and be available with a six-speed manual gearbox with a slipper clutch or an optional dual-clutch transmission that allows for fully automatic shifting.

The parallel twin is a compact SOHC design with four valves per cylinder and it is equipped with a 270-degree crankshaft for good traction off road. The engine is tuned for “strong and linear” power and torque, as well as instant response anywhere in the rev range. Off-roaders will be glad to learn that the bike has Honda Selectable Torque Control, which offers the rider three levels of control and, most important, ability to shut off ABS to the rear wheel. ABS and HSTC are not be available on the base model, but they are standard on the DCT/ABS version.

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The CRF1000L uses a steel semi-double cradle frame designed to balance highway comfort and rugged off-road ability. The battery is packaged right behind the engine’s cylinder head to help mass centralization. An inverted fully adjustable long-travel Showa fork works with a pair of Nissin four-pot brake calipers and twin 310mm wave-style floating discs. In back, the Showa shock has hydraulic spring-preload adjustment. The CRF1000L Africa Twin is fitted with a 21-in. spoked front wheel and an 18-in. rear, shod with 90/90-21 and 150/70-18 tires, respectively. The fuel tank, at 4.96 gallons offers plenty of range between stops. Claimed curb weight is 503 lb. (534 for the DCT model), which means the Honda is slightly lighter than the BMW R1200 GS, which has a claimed wet weight of 516 lb.

In the end, due to money constraints, I converted my 1995 Honda XR600R into an adventure bike. It is a low tech air cooled classic and like many XR600s had been street licensed before I purchased it used in 2001. The Honda XRs have been around since the end of the last ice age. Originally they were embraced  by four-stroke aficionados. This was before the four-stroke revolution which produced the high tech race bikes that we have today.

Stock the Honda weighs 282 lbs. without the street legal paraphernalia and has a seat height of 37 inches. It was sold from 1985 to 2000.  The torque filled (38.8 foot pounds) and high powered (46 Horsepower) air-cooled single has been raced successfully in both the desert and tight enduro conditions.

Since the late 1990s, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) determined that it was illegal to register off-highway motorcycles for street use unless they were CARB or EPA certified (my Honda was converted before that regulation came into effect). Now times are even tougher in California because the law was changed in 2004 to ban all conversions of red or green sticker bikes into dual sport bikes. In other words, you can’t get your off road bike street licensed in the Golden State anymore (you have to register it in a state like Nevada and then get it converted in that state).

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A modified stock muffler and stage one cam gives my four stroke single gobs of mid-range power and all without sacrificing low end torque. It isn’t super responsive and it doesn’t have the potent high rev power-band like a modern large displacement fuel injected super-bike.  However, if you like the chug-a-lug earthy power of an air cooled single, it won’t let you down especially if you enjoy the feeling of bringing up the front end with a weight transfer and  a twist of the throttle.

It builds revs in a purposeful manner and you have to keep shifting up through the gear box to stay it in the meat of the power-band if you keep the throttle pegged. Although It is geared quite high and is really cool cruising through curves on the asphalt, it will also take you almost anywhere off road. Overall my bike is a lot of fun both on road and off road commingling great handling and quick steering with stable and consistent high speed manners.

The Honda XR600 is a fairly modern motorcycle with fully adjustable cartridge forks (rebound and compression) in the front and an adjustable Prolink shock in the back. With a four valve fairly high compression head and a Keihin PD8-AF, 39 mm carburetor it made decent  power right off the showroom floor (it was discontinued in 2000). When it is modified with a race cam, an aftermarket pipe, a little head work, an oil cooler and an over-sized piston it can be a rocket ship.  Basically the chassis just needs, a firmer seat, a bigger tank, brighter lights, a little suspension work, a fork brace and a steering damper to be a competitive off road racer (only animals with the strength of the mighty Hulk need apply).

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With my basically limited modifications the bike is still pretty quiet if I keep the revs under control in populated areas. It could be made significantly faster as well as a lot lighter (and louder) with an aftermarket exhaust. The clutch is marginal. Scott Summers replaced his before every event.

A few decades ago a modified Honda XR600 amassed twelve Baja 1000 victories spanning a 12-year period and countless desert races. It often vied for top spot against the mighty Kawasaki KX500 two-stroke. Scott Summers took it to five GNCC Championships (tight eastern conditions) and won multiple gold medals in the six day international enduro on the venerable XR600. His last GNCC win was in 1997, the same year that the Yamaha four- stroke 400 was developed for motocross. Scott Summers (a modern legend) was an animal and was often depicted picking up the bike in his arms.

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I have ridden my bike a lot both on road and off road. In a tight rocky stream bed it is quick and maneuverable. It can leap over rocky ledges with a burst of throttle, head back down and make a quick turn thought the rocks at the bottom. It feels a lot lighter than it is in these conditions. Lofting the front wheel to get over obstacles is no problem in the lower gears.

On more open terrain turns can be initiated with little lean and then you can bring the rear end around with the throttle. With the right knobby tires gnarly, whooped out, choppy, steep hill climbs are easily conquered. For me going back down these vertical climbs can be a little  intimidating due to its fairly high weight and high center of gravity. I prefer my CRF 450R for steep sketchy downhills.

Jumping the bike generally results in metal to metal bottoming both front and rear. Stock it doesn’t handle its weight very well even on regular trail obstacles like whoops. Since I am in the 150 pound range I can live with the soft suspension by  just playing around with the clickers and landing on a down-slope (it doesn’t wallow at speed).  I could add more progressive valving, but since I don’t race stock is fine for my purposes. At some point I crashed and bent the sub frame which still needs straightening. The problem being that it is a pain getting the seat back on after cleaning the air filter.

A fork brace and steering damper would be nice for the desert. Overall it is a reliable bike and although it doesn’t always start first kick, it usually comes to life on the third or fourth attempt. In addition it is super reliable and easy to work on (all good traits for adventure bikes). It is a fun off road machine and with the license plate it is a winner. Now the challenge is making it into a light weight adventure bike.

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The truth of the matter is that my bike’s major purpose is never going to be long distance adventure touring. I generally take it on short  road trips and find local trails to explore. I try to avoid avoid all day freeway journeys because the seat is too soft and gets uncomfortable after only a couple of hours, the gearing is only appropriate for sustained speeds of sixty or sixty-five miles an hour,  and the knobbie tires tend to wander on freeway joints. Also, the lack of a windscreen makes it unsuitable for extended freeway jaunts. In other words, it is not a genuine adventure bike and so I have had to adapt my adventures to take advantage of my bike’s positive attributes.

The Honda XR is a decent handling off road machine and therefore I don’t see the value of weighing it down with a lot of unneeded accessories. A fender bag and a rear rack with detachable soft luggage are the only things I added to make the bike more adventure oriented. The camping gear is all second hand and slightly scruffy so it doesn’t get ripped off when we leave it behind to go riding.

We might not fit in with the high tech (and high priced) adventure bike crowd, but my buddy and I have way more fun on our lightweight street legal off road bikes. We have the luggage space for camping gear and a change of clothes which is all we really need. Before arriving at our destination we stop at a gas station to pick up supplies and to top of our gas tanks.

When we get to our overnight camping spot we take off the bags and go for a ride on the surrounding trails. Although not always feasible when having too much fun, we try to get back before dark to cook dinner over a campfire. Afterwards we have a few beers and then sink into our sleeping bags. When we wake up the next morning we heat up some coffee, cook breakfast, load up the bikes with our gear and then do it all over again. It doesn’t get better than that. For me the XR-600 is the perfect adventure bike.

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4 Responses to Long Distance Adventure Bikes Versus The Honda XR600R Converted For Dual Sport Overnight Trips

  1. Diana says:

    If you are interested in purchasing a real adventure bike pick up the March edition of Dirt Bike Magazine and check out the article called 2016 Adventure Bike Buyers Guide. They feature three Hondas from the Honda African twin (998cc) to the the Honda NC700 X to the venerable Honda XR-650L. Then of course there are a variety of the other Japanese models as well as more exotic bikes like the BMWs, KTMs, Husqvarnas, Ducati Scarmbler and Multistrada 1200 Enduro, as well as the Aprila Caponnord Rally 1200 and the Triumph Tiger 800XC. I haven’t mentioned half the models but it is enough to make your mouth drool and of course to lighten your pocket book.

  2. Harry says:

    I love my Big White Pig

  3. Tiago says:

    Prolink shock? Single cylinder 950?

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