Honda XL 600R


Make Model

Honda XL 600R




Four stroke,  single cylinder, SOHC, 4 valve per cylinder, RFVC radial valve


589 cc / 35.6 cu-in
Bore x Stroke 100 x 75 mm
Cooking System Air cooled
Compression Ratio 9.0:1


2 x 28mm piston valve


Solid state CD
Starting Primary kick with automatic compression release

Max Power

33 kW / 45 hp @ 6500 rpm

Max Torque

48.8 Nm / 36 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm


5 Speed 
Final Drive Chain

Front Suspension

39mm Showa air-adjustable leading-axle forks with dual Syntallic bushings
Front Wheel Travel 220 mm / 9.0 in

Rear Suspension

Pro-link with adjustable rebound damping
Rear Wheel Travel 203 mm / 8.0 in

Front Brakes

Single 240mm disc 2 piston calliper

Rear Brakes

140mm Drum

Front Tyre


Rear Tyre

Wheelbase 1420mm / 55.9 in
Seat Height 860mm / 33.8 in
Ground Clearance  274 mm / 10.8 in
Dry Weight 134 kg / 295.5 lbs

Wet Weight

145 kg / 321 lbs

Fuel Capacity

12 Litres / 3.2 US gal

Consumption Average

46.2 mpg

Standing ¼ Mile  

14.0 sec  /  90 mph

Top Speed

160 km/h / 100 mph

Road Test

Cycle 1983

The XL600R'83 was sold in 1983 in one color: Monza Red. The gas tank, side covers, fenders, headlight cowl, and frame were red. The seat, fork boots, number plate panels, and engine were black. The wheels, fork legs, and swingarm were silver. The "600R" side cover decal was solid white. The engine was a 589cc OHC RFVC single cylinder with two carburetors and two head pipes. The transmission was a 5-speed. The serial number began JH2PD030*DM000027


It came in one color: Monza Red
The gas tank, side covers, fenders, headlight cowl, and frame were red
The seat, fork boots, number plate panels, and engine were black
The wheels, fork legs, and swingarm were silver
The "600R" side cover decal was solid white
The engine was a 589cc OHC RFVC single cylinder with two carburetors and two head pipes
The transmission was a 5-speed.
Engine: RFVC radial valve, 589cc dual-carburetor dry sump
Transmission: 5-speed
Suspension: Pro-LinkTM rear suspension
Brake: Disc front brake
Wheelbase: 1420mm (55.9 in.)
Dry weight: 134 kg (295.3 lb)
Seat height: 860mm (33.8 in.)
Front wheel travel: 229mm (9 in.)
Rear wheel travel: 203mm (8 in.)
Tank, side covers, fenders, headlight cowl, and frame are red
Seat, Fork boots, number plate panels, and engine are black
Wheels, fork legs, and swingarms are silver
"600R" side cover decal is solid white
V.I.N.: JH2PD0301DM000027
Engine serial number: PD03E-5000053

Bicycle tracks. Our guest in the wilds of Mexico was puzzled. He'd been first away from the gas stop and had pushed his open class enduro bike at a good pace across the ranchlands and into the foothills. There'd been rain the previous day, so the two-rut road wasn't marked. Except that he was following some odd tracks. Obviously a two-wheeler of some sort, but instead of the normal knobby marks the tracks were narrow, nibbly, almost delicate. All he could think was that somehow he was trailing a bicycle.

The ride led onto a stretch of pavement, then a challenging sand wash. Into a small village, onto another dirt road ... and there were those bicycle tracks again. He followed them into another village, up to the local gas pump and there, its rider halfway through his second sandwich, was Honda's new XL600, skinny trials tires and all. That's the truth.

It's not the whole truth; given the usual dirt trails and fire roads, the XL600 isn't a match for a big enduro, or any true dirt bike regardless of engine size.

This ride wasn't a purist ride. Instead, it began at the edge of town, on pavement. The true enduros had to gas it and coast on the straights; can't cruise a racing two-stroke. And careful on the corners with those knobs.

But the XL600 could cruise at 75, while the universal tires held on nearly as well as road tires and gave advance warning when pushed to the limit. So the XL was first to the gas stop.

Except, being a stingy four-stroke, it didn't need gas. So it was first to the next pavement section, where it gained ground again.

Our man somehow missed (Ha! —ed.) the sand-wash and kept on the dirt road. And so it went for 300 mi. and two days of serious trail riding, during no part of which was the XL600 out of the first five.

Why on earth can't we come up with a suitable name for such machines? Dual Purpose? Humbug. This is neither an underweight road bike nor an overburdened dirt bike.

The XL600 is an excellent motorcycle, limited by its name, and a couple of physical facts.

The components are mostly familiar. Honda believes in these machines, so along with the XR350 and XR500, the new family of four-stroke Singles includes the 600, by the simple trick of giving the 500 a larger bore, 100mm instead of 92.

This was done because meeting road-legal requirements for exhaust noise and emissions, and the extra weight that's also part of the street package, reduces power and power-to-weight. The XL600 is in a softer state of tune, with lower compression ratio and bigger muffler, but by increasing displacement the 600 gets a claimed output of 43 bhp, compared with the XR500's 41.

Honda designers obviously prefer results to sales pitches. Remember the complicated, power-robbing counter balancers not fitted to the VT500 V-Twin? The XL600 has one. When the second generation XLs came out, the company said they had open-loop frames and wet sumps to lower the engine. The XL600 has a full cradle frame and dry sump, to lower the engine. And we won't even mention the 21-in. front wheel replacing the 23-incher.

Along with the really new (and effective) developments like the radial valve head and compound carbs, the XL600 has a feature that's new and unique: A decompression chamber.

Survivors of pre-Honda Big Singles know all about kicking (and being kicked by) 500-plus Singles. All the modern engines in class have some form of compression release linked to the valve gear, usually activated by the kick lever.

The 600 has a compression release, but it's worked by the left hand. The kick lever activates a fifth—yes!—valve, a tiny one packed into the combustion chamber with the other four and the spark plug. This valve leads to a cavity formed in the left rear of the cylinder head's exterior, and capped with a bolt-on cover.

This is really new. This chamber has the same volume as the combustion chamber. The little valve opens on the compression stroke. It doubles the space into which the charge is being compressed, hence the compression ratio is half what it is when the engine is running. And this means the engine is only half as resistant to being kicked through. Remarkable device.

The XL600 engine and XR500 engine are shorter (by 2 in.) in length and shorter (by 1 in.) in height and 0.2 in. narrower than the old 500 Singles. Compact is the word here, as the new ones are 5 lb. heavier than the old.

The big XL and XR also share the new frame, with chrome-moly steel for the tubes which hold the engine oil, mild steel for the rest. The XL has the dual piston single front disc brake, the Pro-Link rear suspension, 39mm Showa forks, all the XR stuff, right down to a skid plate and quick-release rear hub. The rear suspension has four settings for rebound damping and a useful range of spring pre-load. Wheel travel, naturally, is less than the XR's while the road-goer weighs more, so the springs are stiffer. The headlight has a halogen bulb, bright enough for the highway even though the light and its numberplate-like housing look too racy to be practical.

Now, the various pros and cons.

First, pros:

This thing is fast. We are so used to moaning about weight in the four-stroke playbike class we forget there's weight and there's weight. At 315 lb. the XL is a bulky dirt bike. But 315 lb. is light for a 43-bhp motorcycle.

The XL turns performance figures comparable to several Twins. A quarter mile in the high 13s is no slouch; this time we don't have to mention that it's quicker than the average $50,000 car. This is a quick time on two wheels. And the XL is a genuine 100-mph bike. (It does develop a gentle weave over the ton, by the way, to the point of alertness instead of fear, and because the wheelbase and steering head angle need to deal with trails and berms unknown to ordinary 100-mph machines, it's no big deal.)

The short (for the street) wheelbase and high center of gravity should hamper acceleration and braking, but they don't. Slip the clutch off the line, lean back and don't bother with the rear brake on full-hard stops, no problem. Nor should we forget 61 mpg, either.

The gearing was picked for the engine's power, not the supposed class of motorcycle. Again, 4200 rpm at 60 mph is the sort of cruising speed one expects from Twins and multis. The XL uses the same transmission gear ratios as the XR500, but has a higher primary gear and higher final drive, the better to work on the highway.

The real bonus here is that repli-numberplate. It's a real wind-breaker. There you sit, straight up on the tall saddle, arms out to the enduro-spaced grips and darned if you aren't comfy. The plate lifts the blast just enough to make 60 an all-day speed, with 75 live-able when other, ahem, conditions are right. Sure, at 100 you're tucked in or your helmet's halfway flattened your nose, but 100 is something for rare occasions. And the gearing, again, lets all this work. Oh, so does the counter balancer. The 600 is as smooth as the average Twin. (And while we're at it, the gear ratio in 5th is 0.840:1. The engineers snuck this past the sales office before they could inflict another OD light on us. Don't tell, okay?)

The serious points against the XL aren't so much con as they are the debit side of the compromises all designs require.

Because the 600 is so strong and can provide so much speed without being buzzed, the gearing is tall all the way up. The XL is nearly impossible to ride smoothly at less than 40 mph in top. There isn't much flywheel effect and the engine thumps, just like they say in the history books. These bangs are delivered in the form of chain snatch and wheel judder. Shift down and it's gone. But the even pulse of a big Single does have a charm lacking in this example.

Next, the engine can be pure king hell to start.

This is science versus raw nature. There's some sort of law that says there's a practical maximum for the bore of a cylinder, in a motorcycle, or car. That maximum is about 100mm.

The bore of the XL600 is 100mm. So, while we have the decompression chamber, and compound carbs so there's good air flow at low speed and at kick-over speed, and the latest in electronic ignition, we still have that vast bore across which the flame front must advance, and above which the mixture must stay mixed.

As an extra handicap, the spark would be stronger if the ignition drew on the battery instead of the alternator for its power source. But that means depending on a battery, not always a good idea on a dirt bike. Our first test XL600 fractured its battery after 300 miles of hard, rough riding. Still ran, still had lights and all that, and we were glad not to need the battery, so we vote for the factory's way.


The XL600 will fire in a few kicks, from cold. It will fire with a few kicks, when hot.

In between, it can be a pig. Lukewarm means it will flood on full choke, but won't mix right with no choke and no human being can tell just where in between is right. Warm-up takes at least a mile, sometimes two or three. Short hops thus become a gamble, and that means the bike isn't quite as handy as it would otherwise be.

Oh, and the engine sometimes kicks back. Hard. Hard enough to bruise your foot through your stout boots. Our first one kicked back. We were so impressed with the XL that we broke our rules and went riding before we had pictures, resulting in a machine too scuffed to photograph. So we borrowed another. It kicked back. And we know a private owner. Kick back? we asked. Ouch, he said.

Ease the engine past TDC, just like in the old days, is our advice. And keep your knee bent.

Several of the styling features interfere with what the XL600 is supposed to do. The sales departments of the world have learned that enduro bikes sell best if they resemble motocross bikes. So they figure it follows that a dual-purpose bike should look like an enduro bike, which the XL600 does, with its low, narrow, flat seat, short and peaked fuel tank and abruptly bobbed rear fender.

Except that the short peaked tank rules out a tank bag. The thin, narrow and square seat is fine in motocross or enduro because you don't sit on it, you pivot around on it. For a sit-down bike, which the XL should be, it's a pain. Nor is there enough room for a passenger for more than a mile or so, nor can you use even the smallest of saddle bags or strap-on soft bags. Impractical is too strong. More like less practical for day trips, which should be the XL's strongest point.

Tires don't merit criticism. They're trials universal, suitable for dirt or pavement, not the best for either but that comes with the class. And the Bridgestone Trail Wings are as good as any. So. With the XL600 we have a triple-purpose motorcycle: City bike. It's light and quick and steers and stops and because it responds instantly to any and all commands, it's good in daily use. But not any better than good, not with there being no provision for briefcase, homework, lunch pail, the day's groceries. Subtract extra points for the hazards of having the engine quit and get temperamental.

Dirt bike. Better than the above. The suspension has plenty of travel, some scope for adjustment. Power is obviously no problem at all. The limits are dictated by the tires. They don't grip like knobbies in sand or mud and the narrow front tire will knife through sand, mud or any loose cover while the rear tread packs or spins. The answer is to pick your territory. On graded dirt or gravel or hard pack, the XL won't give much away ... when ridden using momentum. The front won't stick, and the bike can't be banked off the berm or wrestled between the trees. The back won't hook up and rocket you away. But the XL will work fine if treated with respect. Coast in, feather out, make no sudden moves. Momentum. And when the track is straight, gas it. The rider, and the others in the party, will be surprised and impressed at how quickly this bike will cover the unpaved ground.

Explorer bike. Here we go. Dual-purpose motorcycles have suffered from inattention for several years, ever since research showed the average example spends 80 percent of its time on pavement, 20 percent off road. This seemed to prove some sort of lack, a strong hint that the bikes (or their riders) weren't really doing it right.

What wasn't done right was the research. These people were counting calories, so to speak. Dinner at the snack bar in the bus depot equals 2000 calories, dinner your mom cooks when you get home equals 2000 calories, therefore dinner in the depot equals dinner by mom.

Obviously, it doesn't.

What we have here is a motorcycle with the lure of high performance, hampered by the stigma of low cost.

Those who can overcome their need for back-up trucks and tune-ups by factory-trained mechanics only, who can ride dirt with craft and skill instead of letting the bike spare them the penalty for their mistakes, will be rewarded by the XL600.

Source Cycle World 1983