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

  • The Honda XL250 sold well, despite a few niggles.
    Photo courtesy Honda
  • 1971-1981 Suzuki TS250R Savage
    Photo courtesy Suzuki
  • 1968-1976 Yamaha DT2/DT3
    Photo courtesy Yamaha

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.

7/30/2018 2:46:10 PM

i had both the TS259R and years later on a decent and original '72 XL250. I worked at a Suzuki/Kawasaki shop and rode that TS as a commuter bike from '71 til '80 and it was totally trouble free, even with some trail riding included. I coaxed it to ~55mpg with simple carb. changes and had a twin to it I rode in the Berkshire Intl. enduro in '71 getting a silver medal with it. Suzuki had gotten well enough honed that we let go of selling OSSAs as enduro machines. The XL was good also but noticed it did have too rearward weight bias for confident cornering.

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