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The XL is a complete motorcycle. It comes with mirrors, turn signals, passenger pegs, even the little canister to store gas fumes, as required in California. Instead of a tachometer, there are shift-now marks on the speedometer. The other thing only Honda can do is make a model for its own class. Suzuki tried this a few years ago. But the Honda salesman gets to offer the traditional sizes and if the customer wants more of this, less of that, why.
Which proves the XLR looks mighty good in the brochure. Starting in the real world. Read this carefully. Take notes. Even before we picked up our XL, we were getting calls from new owners frustrated by the quirks of getting the fire to stay lit. Honda has solved the problem. And we know how they did it, and How To Do It. The solution is something of a fudge. The XL has a bore of mm, the practical maximum across which a flame front will travel. The has an automatic compression limiter, a fifth valve linked to the kick start and opening a chamber, in effect doubling the space into which the mixture is compressed and thus reducing compression by half.
And the has a manually controlled compression release. Despite that, the has temperament. The has a smaller bore, so the flame has less cold surface to cover. The does not have and does not need the decompression chamber or the manual release.
The system can feel strange. Clearances are critical at both ends of the cable. When the lifter is adjusted perfectly, the kicker meets no compression in the usual sense. There only resistance from gear and ring drag and valve spring compression.
The piston will even come to a stop under a half-hearted foot, just like the old days. No matter. At all. The XL has an enrichment circuit that includes a fast idle that provides just enough throttle. Leave it there. The engine will catch or sputter. If it sputters, do nothing. Sit there, hands in lap. If it dies, kick it again. Mostly, what it does is sputter and catch and work up to a fast idle, all with no action on the riders part.
When the engine has caught, the rider has two options. One, ride away with choke lever on. About the time you think, "Gosh! The choke! Flip the lever off and ride away. Three kicks full choke no throttle, three kicks no choke full throttle. It works. Shortcomings, the XL has. They are mostly subjective and mostly due to the nature of the class. Sales appeal requires the XL to have not just the rnotocross look, but the modern, with-it motocross look.
However: The big Harley has an unladen seat height of Good dirt bikes, which the XL is, must have lots of wheel travel. They must have more ground clearance than wheel travel.
The footpegs must be higher than the ground clearance. The XL is designed for the median size rider, so there must be a certain distance between pegs and seat. This is a dirt bike with lights.
What padding the seat has, is in the middle. The front and back sections slope toward the middle. Perforce, the rider sits in the middle. Dirt bikes are short. The back portion has the length, breadth, height and consistency of a waffle. Now that full-dress touring bikes with scads of cylinders and instruments, etc. Four valves, to be adjusted by hand.
The caps covering the threaded tips of the rockers are accessible, no special tools needed except for a feeler gauge, but the tank must come off for the intakes. So is the shock and its preload collars. Said tool roll is a light press fit in its box.
We speak from experience. The spark plug is tucked up under the tank, and the oil filler hole is a tiny little thing, with half its measly opening overshadowed by the cases.
Surely the engineer who did this has never tried to add oil from a one-qt. Hondas have earned a reputation for surviving neglect and abuse but still, they like to be serviced and doing this one right will take more time and attention than its specifications indicate. This has been a test. No, not of the motorcycle. Refer to the various figures, the objective data. The XL does the quarter mile, mph, and top-gear roll-ons with admirable briskness. No fear of traffic, no lack of passing power.
The timed speed with a half-mile run was done with rider tucked in and secure. The wide bars mean any input gets to the front wheel quick, i.
The clutch is sure if sudden. The gear ratios are fairly close while the powerband is wide. Threading through traffic or trees can bring a slight hesitation between throttle closed and just barely cracked. The exhaust pops under deceleration, so we suspect the primary carb needs a larger pilot jet.
Federal regulations prohibit professionals from making such changes, but nudge, hint theXR uses the same basic carb, and pilot jets are available for it. This message will self-destruct in 60 seconds. Yes, the bike has a high center of gravity and yes, the tires are semi-knob, no matter. Stopping distances are short, control is fine. Better than fine. Our demon crew got their best stops by using the front brake just hard enough to have the rear tire lift off the ground a few inches.
Handling on the road? They weave cars between the cones and clock the average speed. Their current best, from a Formula Ford racing car, is just shy of 70 mph.
Our fearless engineering editor ran the XL through the slalom at an indicated Fair test? Heck no. But it indicates the ease and speed with which the XL can be snapped right-left, and the incredible cornering clearance and the grip offered by the tires. The tires are nearly a chapter on their own. But the details have changed. There are knobbies for sand, knobbies for mud and knobbies for hard surfaces. There are even trials tires for the street and gumball trials tires that meet the letter of the rules but are too soft for road use.
This makes for a broader, more complex perspective. Further, we may have been looking in the wrong direction. The XL is good.
Not merely a dirt bike with lights but a competent dirt bike. The compound carbs pay off with power, exactly as much as you want, when and where you want it.
The back tire can be powered loose and drifted on the fast turns, the front can be weighted to hold the line on tight turns. When the ridged, rutted, loamy uphill can be taken with the engine just into the powerband in third gear, both wheels on the ground, the only rider effort required is remembering that this is an XL, not an XR.
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