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Test: Honda XL 500 S.

The cult bike Honda XL 500 S

When the XL came, the XT was already a cult. Despite better technology, the Honda never got past its competitor. The XL series only existed for ten years.

The 500 should be Honda’s answer. But she came late. For two years already, the Honda people had to watch as their main competitor, Yamaha, rubbed their hands over the undreamt-of success of the XT 500 presented in 1976. It wasn’t until 1978 that Honda finally followed suit with the XL 500 S, openly 34 hp, like the XT. With its four valves and two balancer shafts, the XL as the new S-Class among the giant enduros (yes, all the others were still crawling around with 185 or 250 cubic meters!) Had the higher-torque and lower-vibration engine – a steam hammer with manners. Its gigantic 23-inch front wheel was unique and guaranteed stable straight-line stability in the field, but made the 500s quite unwieldy in everyday life. The rest seems primeval today: six-volt electrics, drum brake at the front, no electric starter. Almost every children’s mountain bike now offers more high tech – that’s how times exchange.

Ztwelve volts, still sufficiently large 21-inch front wheel and above all a new chassis with progressive lever deflection ("Per link") marked the successor model in 1982, the XL 500 R. It was offered in Germany until 1985, for a total of three years, and it was difficult to assert itself.

No wonder, since Honda competed with the XL 600 R in 1983. The new one by no means only differed from the 500 by around 100 cubic meters more. Released at the same time as its main competitor, the XT 600, the XL 600 R sported two carburettors and the RFVC code on the cylinder head. It stood for "Radial Four Valve Combustion", the completely new, radial arrangement of the four valves above the hemispherical combustion chamber. The single squeezed out 44 hp, just as much as the XT 600 with comparatively conventional technology. Here, too, more torque was the argument for the Honda. What spoke against them, however, was that the stew demanded a lot of speed and under 2000 rpm had the habit of going out suddenly and with a big bang – unpleasant, especially because you still can’t kiss the Bollermann back to life with an electric starter could.

That changed only in 1985 with the appearance of the two variants XL 600 RM and LM: new frame, new and stronger fork, new piston, new crankshaft and finally an electric starter. The power remained the same: 44 hp. With a 13 liter tank and a simple headlight, the RM was the homely version of the two 600s. The LM, on the other hand, was the Paris-Dakar-style travel enduro, which started with double headlights and a 28-liter barrel.

The XLs of this world arrived at the finish relatively early, namely with the end of the series in 1988. Although the Honda XL had no notable technical flaws – on the contrary, it was always considered reliable – it was never part of the sales success of the Yamaha XT series (it still exists today). The engine concept of the XL 600 was to survive for many years to come: as a drive for the XR Crosser, later the Dominator, then the SLR, the Vigor, the FMX.

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