The XR650R: Honda’s Baja Beast Reviewed in Dirt Bike’s February 2000 Issue

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In the February 2000 print issue of Dirt Bike, a review was conducted on what would be remembered as the exceptional Baja bike, the liquid-cooled XR650R. Despite its excellence, it was recognized that such a specialized bike was unlikely to succeed in the mainstream market of the USA, especially given its unfortunate timing sandwiched between the Yamaha YZ426F and Honda CRF450R, both revolutionary models. Nevertheless, the XR650R left a lasting impression on testers, showcasing its capabilities in the Baja terrain.

The XR650R was designed to be a successor to the XR600R, rather than an answer to motocross or racing bikes like the YZ426. Despite some initial disappointment from those expecting a different direction, Honda’s intention was clear: to improve upon the XR600’s shortcomings and cater to its existing market. The XR600 had long been criticized for its dated design, being considered slow, heavy, and unreliable when modified.

XR650R (Credits: Adventure Motorcycle Magazine)

Honda’s approach with the XR650R was conservative, focusing on reliability and familiar technology rather than introducing groundbreaking features. The bike retained its single overhead cam design, opting for conventional rocker arms and a Nikasil-coated aluminum cylinder liner. While some innovations, like the Husaberg-like reed valve, were introduced, Honda avoided radical changes to maintain reliability.

Despite efforts to reduce weight, the XR650R still tipped the scales at 287 pounds without fuel, a significant drawback in an era where lighter bikes were increasingly favored. However, its weight did not detract from its performance in open spaces, where it excelled with its stability and powerful yet manageable engine.

Comparisons between the XR650R and its predecessor, the XR600R, highlighted improvements in power, suspension, and handling. The new model boasted more power, better suspension, and improved handling, though it was slightly heavier. The XR600R, with its old-world comfort and ergonomics, still had its appeal, but the XR650R represented a worthy successor.

Ultimately, while the XR650R may not have been the groundbreaking revelation some hoped for, it remained true to the XR legacy, offering reliability, power, and versatility in the challenging terrain of Baja. As sales figures shifted in favor of the XR650R, it was only a matter of time before Honda phased out the old XR600R, a testament to the uncompromising nature of the motorcycle market.

Dana Phio

By Dana Phio

From the sound of engines to the spin of wheels, I love the excitement of driving. I really enjoy cars and bikes, and I'm here to share that passion. Daxstreet helps me keep going, connecting me with people who feel the same way. It's like finding friends for life.

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