The History of the Honda NX650 & XR650L


Both the NX650 -- the Dominator -- and the XR650L are dual-sport products of the Honda Motor Company. Although production of the Dominator ceased with model year 2010, as of February 2012 the XR650L is still a current model. Both machines combine good fuel economy with reliable road performance and competent off-road performance.

Dual-Sport Motorcycles

  • The term “dual-sport” describes a motorcycle designed for both off-road and legal on-road use. Sometimes also referred to as “dual-purpose” or simply “dually” bikes, dual-sport models are essentially dirt bikes in design, featuring high-travel front and rear suspensions, wide handlebars and knobby tires. They are different from entirely off-road bikes, however, in that they have equipment necessary for road-use registration, such as front and rear lights, a brake light, one to two mirrors, a speedometer and a fixed mounting point for a license plate. Often, their mufflers are more effective in reducing engine noise than their off-road cousins, to meet EPA-mandated emissions standards.


  • The Honda NX650 Dominator was the largest in a range that also featured 125, 250, 350, 400 and 500 cc versions. The 644 cc single-cylinder, SOHC, four-stroke air-cooled engine produced 44 horsepower and was mated with a five-speed transmission that took it to 105 mph on open pavement. Yielding an average 50 mpg, the standard 4.25-gallon fuel tank gave the machine a range of 165 miles before hitting reserve, entirely sufficient for most off-road forays. The bike weighed 370 pounds dry, and had a 34-inch-high seat -- the riding position was both comfortable and commanding.


  • Introduced in 1988, the Dominator remained essentially unchanged throughout its production run. Superficial cosmetic changes were periodically introduced to revamp base colors and graphics. Minor changes were made to the fairing in an attempt to make it more effective above 80 mph without making it over-vulnerable in the dirt -- a compromise that was never entirely realized. Honda introduced an optional electric starter, in addition to the basic kick-starter; the only mechanical changes were the deletion of the kick-start option in 1989 and the addition of a grease nipple to lubricate the rear shock in the same year.

    Change was unnecessary because the machine fulfilled all its design parameters at release; aside from being sufficiently swift to be an effective road bike, and having all the aces required for off-road adventuring, it served so well as a commuter and dispatch bike that it became a ubiquitous inner-city sight throughout the 1990s. The engine, essentially unchanged, is still in production, powering the FMX650 introduced by Honda in 2005.


  • Originally released for the 1993 model year, as with the Dominator, this machine has remained essentially unchanged since release. Inheriting the 644 cc air-cooled, electric-start engine, the XR650L matches the NX650’s balance between power delivery and fuel economy. Suspension characteristics serve well both on and off road, but it is in the XR frame design that the newer machine eclipses its forebear. A semi-double-cradle steel frame twinned with a 16-position cartridge fork at the front, and a lightweight aluminum box-section swingarm at rear offered better handling without a noticeable weight penalty. As of February 2012, the XR650L was offered with new graphics.

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