Road Tested :: Honda XR150L

Riding a motorcycle on a curated route for a few hours, as I did recently at the 2023 Honda XR150L launch, is an exciting introduction to a machine. Having one in your own garage is motorcycle heaven.

Suddenly that run to the store requires a detour over a favorite twisty road—for the fourth time that week—and errands that should take 10 minutes stretch to an hour. I’ve had the XR for a while now, ridden it each day, examined it, and changed its oil. This review reflects my time spent with it.

Small Bikes Rock

First off, I’ll admit I have a soft spot for small motorcycles. My second bike was 1971 Honda SL100 that took me camping, fire-roading, racing motocross and desert scrambles, and, with the lights and license in place, to school. It took an incredible amount of punishment and rarely failed me. When it did, it was easy to repair. I see the XR150L as an evolution of the 100—a fun, approachable motorcycle to ride around town, over the mountain, or into the wild.

One thing to keep in mind as you read the review is the XR’s incredible $2971 suggested retail price. That’s roughly $1200 less than Honda’s Trail125. Honda also quotes destination/freight charges of $300. Be sure to remind your dealer of that, as freight is a popular profit enhancer.

Honda XR150L: Everything You Need, Nothing You Don’t

For less than $3000 you get a basic motorcycle: no LED headlight shines from its small fairing (it uses a standard 60/55W bulb); ABS is absent (which helps new riders learn to brake correctly); and there’s no electronic fuel injection. Instead, a 22mm Kehin carburetor mixes fuel and air in miserly amounts for the 149cc four-stroke single. Such a small carb will require riding the XR regularly to prevent its tiny jets from gumming up.

What the 150 does have is a solid 240mm single-caliper front disc brake. Used in concert with the 110mm drum rear brake, I achieved some impressive stops. The XR’s ready-to-ride weight of 282 pounds no doubt contributes to that. Another plus for the lightweight machine is being easy for overlanders or weekend explorers to load on a rear rack.

Beginner Friendly

New riders will appreciate the 150’s 32.8-inch seat height, which becomes even lower once you settle into the cushy stepped saddle. At 68 inches tall with a 31-inch inseam, I had no trouble flat-footing the bike or comfortably reaching the handlebar. Electric start makes the XR easy to get moving, though the carbureted motor requires the manual the choke on cool mornings. Neighbors will appreciate the bike’s campground-quiet exhaust note.

The clutch has a light pull and the action is smooth. My test bike’s clutch engaged way too quickly, easily remedied with a cable adjustment. Maintaining forward momentum on Honda’s XR150L is made simple with a slick-shifting 5-speed transmission well-matched to the XR’s power band. Just don’t expect lightning acceleration from 149cc, and be ready to use the gearbox for hills.

When the need for speed arises, remember these small-bike go-fast tips: “hold it wide open,” and “don’t back off.” I did just that while chasing our ride leader along a choppy, twisting road for several miles during the product launch. Unfortunately, he was doing the same and I couldn’t catch him. For all the fun we had on that road, we may have hit 50 mph—but with the thrill of going 80. The XR will do 60-plus on flat pavement with a favorable wind, and I’ve seen 70 on a steep downhill.

Enjoy the Ride

The Honda XR150L’s suspension is nothing special, but works surprisingly well for its specifications. A 31mm fork set with 7.1 inches of travel controls the 19-inch front wheel and a Pro-Link single shock with adjustable spring preload and 5.9-inch travel soaks up bumps from the 17-inch rear. Between them they allowed spirited riding, with the CSC dual-sport tires providing excellent pavement traction right to the edge.

The tires worked well enough the dirt, except for bogging in deep sand. Mud would also be trouble. Hitting larger bumps and holes at speed will overpower the suspension, but that’s not the type of rider that Honda is courting. Most buyers interested in exploring backroads or running around town should be satisfied with the ride. However, they may not like the stubby, spring-loaded rubber footpegs. While they quell vibration, they’re too short for comfort with boots, especially in rough going. The passenger pegs are much longer…go figure.

Take the XR150L with You

The XR is a motorcycle you can tote around the globe on an overland rig without worrying about maintenance. It is dirt-simple to work on and has been sold in several foreign countries for many years as economical transportation. The two-valve, overhead cam motor has proven itself reliable and durable from Thailand to Latin America. Should your overland vehicle strand you, the 150 carries 2.8 gallons of gas—enough to ride nearly 200 miles for help at the 70 mpg that I averaged while testing (more if you take it easy). Honda claims an astounding range of 346 miles (nearly 124 mpg), but they don’t disclose the speed or terrain for their test.

Low Maintenance

The maintenance list for the XR150L is short: oil changes, chain adjustments and lubing, and a peek at the air filter are the primary tasks. An overland vehicle or suburban garage will have all the tools required to keep the bike running like a top, and the user manual provides instructions. Not feeling up to it? Since it’s a Honda, there’s likely to be someone who can work on the bike wherever you are.

If you’re caught out, unleash the tiny toolkit from its compartment and get to work. A screwdriver and 10/12mm open end wrench are the only tools, but they’re enough to take off the side panels and seat to access the air filter and maintenance-free battery. Bring your own 17 and 24mm wrenches for chain adjustments or removing the rear tire for repair. Fourteen and 19mm spanners will handle the front axle. And don’t forget a pump!.

Packing Up

The XR150L isn’t being sold in a vacuum. Whether it’s used for shopping or exploring, having storage aboard is handy. Honda’s accessory line for the XR includes a set of expandable panniers ($117) and a tank bag ($100). They also offer hand fairings to keep chilly air at bay ($55) and a skid plate to protect the engine cases from rocks ($100).

The Competition That Isn’t

The XR150L is an accessible motorcycle that won’t break the bank. You won’t find anything else like it among the Big Four brands from Japan. Yamaha’s TW200 lists for $4899, their XT250 is $5299, Kawasaki’s KLX230 is $4999, Honda’s own Trail125 is $3999, and Suzuki doesn’t have a dual-sport close to this size. Honda includes a one-year warranty with extended coverage available at extra cost.

Final Thoughts

The day before finishing this report I rode the XR150L 99 miles over twisty mountain roads, with some dirt stretches and highway thrown in. It was 3 hours of motorcycle bliss with a willing machine. And a reminder that good things come in small packages.

Read more: XR150L Adventure Tour

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Arden’s first motorcycle was a Yamaha Enduro, obtained while in high school. It set the stage for decades of off-pavement exploration on dual-sports and adventure bikes. Camping in the middle of nowhere became his favorite pursuit. As a former whitewater river guide and National Park Service seasonal employee, Arden believes in wilderness, wildlife, and being kind to the earth. A self-taught writer who barely passed English classes, he has contributed adventure stories and tested motorcycles and accessories for Rider Magazine and other outlets for nearly 30 years. In that time, he’s worn out two KLR 650s and is currently following the road to the middle of nowhere on his Ténéré 700 and an aging but reliable DR-Z 400S.