The 2nd hand XR600 Guide / FAQ
by John K. - 10/Jul/98
['85 to '87 - 600's]['88 to '90
- 600's]['91 to '98 - 600's][XR6
This Hints and Tips page, which is based on the Australian released XR's,
has been compiled by John K.
drawing upon information from Several magazine articles,Technical manuals,
Ballards, Personal experience and Information that has been relayed to
me by others. If you disagree, have any comments or want to query any of
its content Contact JUSTXR.COM
Starting with the 600's because the 500's are getting real old, and the
mid 80's seems like a good starting point. I quote Australian Trail and
Track, "....previous to the XR600 there were only a few 500 models. We
wont bother with them here, as they're pretty ancient and performed only
so so in the dirt, were hard to start, and were hot headed... ...as the
250 and 350 of the era?"
"...Dont think they were lemons - the motors were great even by
today's standards, but it was too quick for the suspension and handling."
1985 XR600RF, '86-RG, '87-RH
1985 Saw a revamp for Honda's big dual purpose thumper, in order
to show up Yamaha's TT600. The main new features included its new larger
displacement (591cc) dry sumped engine. Gasses and fuels were handled via
twin carb intake to RFVC Head (rotarty four valve combustion) and found
their way out through twin headers. With a new frame, suspension (forks
and shock), and new looking plastics, the whole package was a notch above
the other average thumpers of its day.
This model is really what handed crown of open class thumpers
to the big XR.
Known problems and Disadvantages:
This Model had the 17inch rear wheel which can be, and is getting
more so, hard to find decent off road knobbies for.
SECOND GEAR, before buying a bike of '85 to '87 era make sure you test
ride it. Shift into and out of second gear many times under varying loads.
Take note of how smoothly it shifts and whether there is any unusual mechanical
noise. Also pay attention to top gear as well as in some cases it can also
be a bit prone to damage and wear.
The electric Speedo, this item is quite trick. I have heard of failure
as being a problem, and if you smash one.... well its gonna cost if at
all still available. But here are many aftermarket speedo's around these
days to replace it.
Other Points to note:
The Rear Drum brake. These drums worked fairly well, but as with
most drums they require you to keep them clean. A good dose of water as
with most drums renders them pretty ordinary.
The suspension worked pretty well, but chances are the springs may be
sagged and need replacing. Also on the list would be fresh oil and possibly
seals. If you plan on going quick (and who doesn't) the suspension may
need a good going over. So check this out and give it consideration in
the overall price.
If the motor is in good condition It should prove to be fast enough
for the average rider. Ask the Owner of the bikes history and maintenance,
cross your fingers and hope for an honest answer on this one. Listening
to the motor can show up poor maintenance. If the bike is generally lacking
in maintenance chances are so is the motor.
1988 XR600RJ, '89-RK, '90-RL
1988 was another landmark year for the Mighty XR600. Honda put in a big
effort to bury the TT600 which had its last update in '84 at this stage.
This revamp ended up a fairly major update. This model Doesn't differ from
the current model that greatly. Which means spare parts are still very
available and performance parts are still plenty. My Personal opinion is
not to buy earlier than an '88 XR600.
The XR now scored a single 38mm KeiHin carb. Which supposedly made
starting a breeze. This kinda makes me wonder how damn hard they used to
be. It caused a slight sticky spot off idle in many bikes of these models.
This problem, the "feel" of the throttle and the flat spot off idle are
still with the later models, but it isn't that debilitating. There are
also many fixes for it. Ballards sells jets and throttle kits. Another
option is the Mikuni Flatslide, if set up right it both feels better and
gives the bike more go.
The barrel was updated the the Nicasil type, making the bike run cooler.
It also scored magnesium side cases which were lighter and looked trick
with their "gold" finish.
An 18inch rear wheel got the go ahead, and consequently makes tyres
easier to obtain for it in this day and age.
Dual stainless header pipes that ran right back to the exhaust looked
trick, but limits the choice in aftermarket exhuasts.
The ADR's (Australian Design Rules) put a clamp on this model with an
intake restrictor. Chances are however a previous owner has already removed
this. I cannot reccomend its removal for road use, but for competition
use it would be a must.
With a little work these models can still be competitive today, they
have a good strong motor with a good smooth spread of power. The suspension
is quite good for enduro work, but suffers in comparison to the later models
due to different shock and forks.
Known problems and Disadvantages:
Honda chose to still ride with the rear drum brake. They worked
fairly well, but had to be kept clean as previously. I dont mind the drum
on my '88 its nice and progressive, will lock up the wheel on both dirt
and bitumen, and hasn't caused me any hassles aside from having to adjust
it during rides. But two things point to why honda should have updated
at this stage. 1/ They are used on all decent bikes now and they wouldn't
be if they were no good. 2/ Everyone I've spoken to that has one says,"once
you get used to it you will never go back." And thirdly but less importantly
it is basically the same as the one on Hondas famous CT125 Agricultural
ADR Intake Restrictor came into fruition on this model.
Twin Stainless Header pipes can make after market exhausts hard to get
New Single Kei Hin carb may need some Jetting and throttle mods, but
this is common from these models onwards.
Other Points to note:
The '88 XR600 is in my opinion the earliest one to buy, its not
too far removed from the bikes present incarnation and is more than up
to most work thrown at it.
I have read in a manual that the '89 onwards xr's had extra seals in
the oil pump, but not having heard of any problem that this is a fix for.
These models came out before Honda started hard cost cutting and are
supposed to have more power in stock form due to this and the fact that
later models were harder hit by the ADR's.
Later model forks and shock can bolt up to this model for an instant
hadling upgrade if needed, there is plenty of aftermarket gear available
for it also. The 18inch rear wheel makes shopping for tyres much easier.
1991 XR600RM, '92-RN, '93-RP, '94-RR, '95-RS, '96-RT,
97-RV, '98-RW, '99-RX, '00-RY
1991 saw the last real atempt to refine the XR600 as we know it
now. It finally scored a rear disc brake. New cartridge forks up front,
and a shock more closely related to the one that is found at home in a
CR. '91 models are few on the ground, as Honda moved its factory in japan
in this year, and production was down because of this. Some cost cutting
dropped the motors performance slightly as they went back to steel headers
of a different design, the nicasil bore was replaced by a cast one, and
the Magnesium sidecovers were replaced with alloy ones. I'm not sure of
this but I've been told the head on the '91 onwards 600's is slightly less
performance orientated. Changes from '91 onwards were mostly cosmetic in
the form of colors and stickers. The few changes apart from these that
I know of and have been told of are:
1. Larger Footpegs than previous models (sometime after '89 model, possibly
2. Larger Headlight and higher output stator coil. (sometime after '89
model possibly '91)
3. Larger font axle ('92 model)
The Year 2000 model also included a change to Honda's newer "fighting
red" color scheme.
Hondas Big Bore Thumper Chronology
The first XR's were not readily available in Australia untill 1983.
Even though other countries had the XR's since the Late 70's. We had the
XL's which were not that different back then from what I can gather. A
big rear sprocket, some serious knobbies, a bit of a stripdown to slim
the XL, and a set of decent bars was about as close as we could get.
My '79 XL250S was a real old rocket and alot of fun. I got a set of
rear shocks off a later model twin shock XL, Rebuilt the top end more times
than I can remember untill I got an '81 XL250S topend from base up (with
better revised tensioner), a bigger rear sprocket (43 teeth I think?),
Put some spacers in the forks to firm them up. Those old 23inch "super
hoop" (nickname some people had for them) front wheels were damn hard to
find rubber for though but boy they cleared near anything!!
1983 & 1984
This was the first year of Real XR's we had in Australia. The RFVC
XR500 with single shock ProLink suspension, front disk brake, about 11inches
suspension travel both ends, and dual carbs. Despite the fact the bike
was heavy It was a good allround machine for its day.
1985 to 1987
The first year of the mighty XR600. With its new displacement (591cc),
dry sump, twin carbs, RFVC head, and twin headers the new XR600 had quite
a formidable powerplant for its time. With a quite noticeable difference
between this and the previous motors power and torque. This model also
scored new looking plastics, new designed frame along with new forks and
The '85 and '86
Engine: 591cc dry sump, RFVC head.
Carburation: Twin carbies, primary and secondary setup.
Exhaust:Twin steel headers into single steel exhaust.
Suspension: New Frame, Forks, and shock redefined the whole package.
This year was the last major ovehaul the 600 has had to date. This
model Doesn't differ from the current model that greatly. Which means spare
parts are still very available and performance parts are still plenty.
The motor received many improvements. The bore was changed to the nicasil
type. Twin carbs were tossed in favour of a single KeiHin carb for better
starting and easier tuning. Stainless header pipes were the order of the
day. An 18inch rear wheel was selected. The cable type decompressor of
the earlier models was tossed in favour of a camshaft actuated system which
depended on cam speed.
Engine: 591cc dry sump, RFVC head with cam actuated decompressor.
Carburation: New single 38mm KeiHin carburettor
Exhaust: Two seperate stainless header pipes that run seperate to the
I've also been told that the '88 (and probably '89 & '90) ran the
same head as the NX650. This is probably due to the exhaust configuration
on these models.
This bike was the same as the year before aside from cosmetic changes.
I did however find in a Technical manual that the oil pump received a few
extra seals. If this was a fix for a problem I'm unaware of it.
This year included a few much needed changes, but was essentially
the same bike. The rear brake was finally changed to a disc brake. The
forks were swapped with cartridge items, and the rear shock was changed
to a piggy back style unit more inline with the type used in CR's.
Cosmetic changes and larger diameter front axle.
1993 to 1997
Little or no changes aside from cosmetic ones.
The Big XR once again received a Nicasil bore, along with Stainless
headers. Aside from this it is once again mostly cosmetic.
1999 - 2000
Cosmetic changes only. The 2000 model came
out in the new red honda colors.
End of the Line - The XR650R
has taken the XR6's spot in honda's lineup..
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