Just Right: 1972-1977 Honda XL250

The Honda XL250 defined dual-sport bikes with its groundbreaking design and became one of the most popular offroad motorcycles ever.

| September/October 2015

1972-1977 Honda XL250
Claimed power: 20hp @ 8,000rpm
Top speed: 80mph (period test)
Engine: 248cc air-cooled OHC single
Transmission: 5-speed, chain final drive
Weight: 287lb (half tank fuel)
MPG: 50mpg (approx.)
Price then/now: $850 (1972)/$1,000-$2,000

In the early 1970s, Honda had a dilemma. Off-highway bikes were selling like cold beer in July, and the sweet spot in the market was the quarter-liter class. Yet Honda could only offer their CB100-derived SL125 or the SL350, also based on a street bike (the CB350). What to do?

A fresh start was required, and Honda came up with a groundbreaking design that defined dual-sport bikes for at least a decade, anticipating as it did the demise of 2-stroke trailies.

True to the company’s heritage, Honda stuck with a 4-stroke engine, in spite of the dominance of 2-strokes in the popular 250cc enduro/trail category from Suzuki, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Can-Am, Ossa, Bultaco and Montesa. To compete, Honda created the first mass-produced overhead-cam, 4-valve motorcycle engine.

The compact and over-square 248cc engine used a 57.8mm stroke and 74mm bore with a shallow squish-band combustion chamber for its four valves. A 28mm Keihin carburetor provided fuel, with ignition to the central spark plug by flywheel magneto. The aluminum alloy cylinder was lined with an iron sleeve and the piston drove a sturdy crank running on two roller mains. A trochoidal oil pump provided pressure lubrication to the big end bearing and valve train. Engine cases were in aluminum with side covers in then-exotic magnesium alloy. Primary gears fed power to the 5-speed transmission through a 7-plate wet clutch.

The drivetrain fitted into a spine frame with a single tube loop under the engine, and the aluminum-rim, 18-inch rear wheel was controlled by 5-way adjustable dual shocks. At the front, Honda borrowed the latest fork technology from Ceriani, using a piston to control damping. Attached to the Ceriani forks was a 21-inch aluminum-rim front wheel. Fully equipped with 6-volt lighting, turn signals and paired speedometer/tachometer, the XL250 weighed in at 287 pounds with half a tank of gas.

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