During the early 1970s, the off-road motorcycle market was in full stride.
With models from suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha entering and leaving the showrooms like a revolving door, this had Honda completely on the back foot with their only response to these being the outdated SL125 or CL350.
Honda delivered with the 1972 XL250, a single-cylinder thumper with a trick four-valve head, upswept exhaust system and a serious off-road chassis. Unlike the previous Honda “off-road” offerings, the XL250 was not a derivation of an existing road bike but built from the ground up to tackle the trails. Sticking to their heritage, at the heart of the ground-breaking dual-sport was the world’s first mass-produced four stroke overhead-cam, four-valve motorcycle engine. A contrast to the two-stroke powerhouses of its main rivals the Yamaha DT250, Kawasaki F11 and suzuki T250.
Four variants of the XL250 were released between 1972 and 1976 with only minor cosmetic changes. The first major change came in 1978 with the release of the XL250S, with the front wheel size increasing from 21 inches to 23 inches. This signature front wheel never found favour amongst the off-road community and was finally lost in 1982 with the release of the XL250R. Along with reverting back to a 21-inch front wheel, the back wheel was reduced to 17 inches and the 6v electrical system was replaced with the more ubiquitous 12v system. The other major change the XL250R brought was a switch from a 5-speed transmission to 6-speed helping the bike tackle long hills with more ease and giving it more potential as a long-distance adventure machine.
As the “founding father” of modern day four stroke dual sports bikes the XL250 is considered one of the most important motorcycles of the 1970s. It wasn’t a race winner or a bike to pose with but what it did is what Honda’s do best, it worked anywhere and everywhere. It was also the bike, and Honda’s foresight of the market, that paved the way for the new generation of four-stroke dual sports which is still in full swing to this day. A grand legacy indeed.
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issued: Monday, December 20, 2021
updated: Monday, December 20, 2021
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