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1983 Honda XR500R

As I’ve mentioned previously, in my family Car Lust frequently manifested itself in the two wheel form (so yes, technically not a car).  One of those lust of mine still lives in my father’s garage.  This bike is as much beast as it is motorcycle -  raw off-road delight. Honda832xr500r


I don’t even remember when the bike found its way into our garage or the circumstances thereby.  But it was in the mid '80’s that it showed up in all its glowing Flash Red glory.  The XR500R is a purpose built bike made solely for off-road riding.  It comes with no turn signals and no electric start.  Yes, it fires on the power of your right leg. 

This is a cycle for the brave or crazy, certainly not a bike you want to learn the ropes on.  First, it is quite tall making it somewhat difficult for short people to even get their leg over the back to get astride the bike – the seat height is 37.4 inches, so if you have a short inseam, good luck.  The total travel in the suspension is 11 inches of abuse absorbing range.  You’d think that would mean it absorbs a lot of the bumps and ruts as you ride (and it does) but you certainly still feel them through the bike into your body.  And while you don’t think about it if you’ve only ridden on a road bike, the hits and bumps do begin to add up and punish your body if you spend long periods off-road.  Add to that the 267lbs dry weight and it is a bike that will make you work if you are going to push it hard.

Where the beast really roars (and can get quite scary) is when you reach for a handful on that right side.  A quick blip of the throttle can quickly bring a grin from ear to ear or inspire sheer terror.  Truth be told, 498cc is a bit excessive for nearly all recreational off-road adventures.  Sure, it can go fast, but on most trail rides that is the opposite of the objective.  And without precise throttle control, that power is often wasted throwing rocks at the heads of the riders behind you.

Speaking of throwing rocks – the tires on this bike are truly amazing.  The traction they provide with their nearly comically proportions knobs is just short of amazing.  They are good for any terrain save for pavement, especially not on wet pavement.  The contact patch is far too small for riding comfortably on wet pavement.  But dirt/sand/mud and even snow and the connection between the bike and the earth is superb.

The engine is a single cylinder air cooled four-stroke that produces 36 horsepower out of 498cc of displacement.  By any form of math that is significant horsepower from  that engine, and then wheXR500rn coupled with the limited weight of a purpose build cycle with no extra frills and you can be assured that it will go in a straight line ridiculously quickly.  The limiting factor being keeping the front tire on the ground if you are going to push it that hard.  The sound the single cylinder makes is a manly “thump” at lower RPMs and a fierce roar when you give it a bit more.  While it is a pleasant tune, it does assure that you aren’t going to be sneaking up on anyone in the woods.

And while the horsepower is impressive, it really is the torque that the engine produces that gives it the scary factor.  Indeed the tires appear like they could change the rotation of the earth when they hook up.  But the torque is such that you can still quite readily over power the available grip and the bike starts to walk sideways in ways that aren’t fun at speed.  Back to what I mentioned above, not a bike for beginners (nor the faint of heart, nor the short…).

The handling is really the Achilles heel for this bike.  It is a purpose driven off-road cycle, but because of its size – both weight and length with the height not helping – it doesn’t carve the corners like you would like.  I do truly love this bike, but it is a ride to enter into a relationship with eyes wide open.

--Big Chris

The Honda Ad comes from AdsPast.com.

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I had a very similar bike, a 1983 Honda XL 200 like this one: http://m814.photobucket.com/image/recent/bajabill_photos/Bikes/Bikes051.jpg.html?src=www . It was street legal, and was also trail ready. The bike was a good size, but on the road it was underpowered.

It was a dual sport, so at least I could ride it to a favorite trail, then enjoy the woods. I wish they were still being made, or at least something similar, maybe in a 350-400cc size.

a friend of mine had one just like it in high school. he had it for all of about 3 months when he launched it jumping a rail crossing on a dirt road and came to a sudden stop in the fork of a tree. he was in the hospital for about a week. he bought a 70 something thunder-barge to replace it and he drove that into a river. ah... high school...

The horsepower figure is incorrect, but I see that the 87 hp number is out there. Bikez.com has it, even with a decimal place for added credibility. It would have been an astounding achievement for a 4-stroke single in 1983 and the actual number was about 36 hp. The later XR600R had all of 38 hp. The very recent XR650R achieved 45.2 hp with another 25 years of development and a big displacement increase.

36 does sound right CJ. When I was doing the math when writing the post it seemed unbelievable, but I couldn't find anything contrary. I'll change that.

How much does one of these go for? Hah, the only thing this post made me want to do — rather than scare me off — is want to ride one.

Carbone - This vintage is available, the issue often is finding one that isn't bent like a pretzel or thrashed within an inch of its life. Though if you are skilled mechanically, they are simple to work on so recovery is possible. Just make sure the frame & forks are still straight. Beyond that I couldn't tell you the specifics of value. Modern bikes are better, but they are also a lot more expensive. While you might not find one of these, ask around a local shop and someone might put on something similar.

I can attest to the true raw power of this bike. I ride my '81 XR500R every day commuting 1hr, one-way. My route is in Costa Rica, through twisty mountain roads and some highway on the way to work and mountainous off-road riding on the way back (to avoid police stops - mine is not legal!). The other day I roasted a dude riding a nice, new BMW. HA!! It was great!! It turns heads everywhere, usually in response to their own reaction of "wtf was that!" gone.....

i had one of these for about 10 years re-built it,it was a bit of a monster,on idle it would wobble I don't know how much hp it had?front brakes were crap(drum)but it use to hammer.i would go out of town and get on the dirt roads and tracks and give it some stick i could do 150km an hour on the dirt if i could keep the back wheel on the ground very scary at times,you sorta know if you come off it's gonna hurt,but what a adrenalin rush,i miss it,i'm want another whether it be a 500,600 or 650?i'll never forget the beast,it broke down one time and thats when it seized.a lot of people give them a bad rap mine was sensational.

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