XRV Story
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 The Story


     The story begins, in the year 1984, when HONDA gave the “green light” to the HRC to develop, manufacture and evolve a motorcycle with racing specifications in order to get into the “long distance race” arena. This decision was not taken by chance, but in accordance to the motorcycle-market attitude of the early 80s. The long distance off-road races, were enjoying great popularity, which got spread beyond those, who were directly involved to them. The reason for this popularity was an event, which was commencing from Paris and ending to Dakar/Senegal, crossing the African desert. In a few years Paris – Dakar became a myth in the motorcyclist world and even further.




     The first Paris – Dakar rally took place in 1979 and its popularity launched the off-road motorbike sales (bigger than 125cc) to 3.8 times more, in the period 1980-1987. The motorcycles with long suspension and bulky fuel tanks, established a new fashion. The essential factor for this new fashion was based on purely practical grounds. It is the simplicity of the single or twin cylinder engine and the subsequent low maintenance cost.



(Honda Sales Manual)


     All the manufacturers, perceived the perspectives of this evolving market, pretty soon and the result was the production of several series of “Rally – Replica” models, having big tanks, various easements for the rider - like electric starter - and a fashionable appearance. Honda, as the market leader, decided the involvement of the HRC to the category, aiming to be a technological pioneer in this field, which, in return, would have a positive effect on the sales. At that time the number one in the category was the BMW, until the mid 80s, when managed to win the motorcycle world, by finishing in the first place at Paris – Dakar, at 1985 and 1986.

At the 1986 Paris – Dakar, Honda finally did brake the monopoly of BMW with the brand new NXR 750 and not only won the race, but also the advance technological impressions, due to the fact that the NXR was the first water-cooled motorcycle that ever won at Paris – Dakar.



The 1986 NXR 750 


780cc, water-cooled, V45 – 4val./cyl.


72Hp at 7,000 rpm.


80Nm at 5,500 rpm

Weight (empty)



     This advance technology dominated the Paris – Dakar for four years in a raw, 1986, 87, 88 and 1989. Of course this was also the result of having the best riders of the particular category. In the first two years the first place was taken by Cyril Neveu, who was a myth in this field and who had already won the first race in 1979, with a Yamaha of a single cylinder. At 1988 the winner was Eddi Orioki and 1989, G. Lalay.



The 1987 NXR


     The consecutive wins created the appropriate environment for the presentation of one “civilian” model, which would turn racing successes into money. At 1987 the TRANSALP (XLV 600) was presented, for “all terrain” - touristic use, but without having any special off-road capabilities. At that time the single cylinder DOMINATOR 650, it was also co-existed. It was the evolution of the XLR 600, of a more sportive made, for riding in the city and with capabilities to “play” off-road. The gap in the tourist motorcycle market – was covered by the presentation of AFRICA TWIN (XRV 650), at 1988.




     Honda attempted to incorporate in XRV 650, the lessons learned from the rally racings as well as the popularity of NXR 750. The design and the painting on the motorcycle were right out from the Paris – Dakar winner. The rest of the technical features, despite the fact that they were inferior from those of the racing NXR, they were adequate enough to establish the AT 650, as the most radical long-tour motorcycle, ever released.



The 1988 XRV


     The XRV motor was initially released in the year 1982. It had been used – basically with the same structure – at street models and later on, at TRANSALP, having in that way proven its reliability. It’s a V-twin with 52 degrees angle, 647 cc, water-cooled, with three valves and two spark plugs per cylinder and with single overhead camshaft (SOHC). The crankshaft has the pins moved at the 76 degrees angle from each other, in order to reduce the V52 vibrations.




     A motor with quite small dimensions was made, so allowing several options for the design of the motorcycle frame and for a more effective weight allocation. The motor together with the appurtenances are well protected by a huge apron made of aluminum. The torque is 6.2 Kg.m at 6,500 rpm and the horsepower 57 HP at 8,000 rpm, (factory numbers). They are both available from low rpms, providing adequate power for various demanding riding styles.



      The two radiators, made of aluminum with cooling capability of 16,600 kcal are quite efficient to carry out their job, under any condition. Two Keihin made carburetors are used for the fuel supply, inhaling through a huge air filter. The exhaust system follows the technique 2 in 1, ending in a well designed pipe.




     The perimetric frame made of - rectangular lumen - tubes, is designed to have 20% more rigidity compared to that of the TRANSALP. This is essential for the stability at the higher speeds, which the XRV 650 can achieve in various terrains. It also allows heavier loads for the motorcycle, without any problem, as it has been designed for weight carriage up to 20 kg on its tail. The suspension is providing adequate length for the off-road riding. In particular the 43mm diameter fork is directly taken from the off-road models of that brand. The robust and beautiful swingarm - made of aluminum - comes from the motocross CR. It has the Pro Link rear suspension system, an oil/gas type damper with adjustable compression and spring pre-load.



     The characteristic feature of the XRV is the 24 liters bulky fuel tank, which fits harmonically to the fairing and to the sub-construction. The deceleration is performed by two brakedisks, one 296 mm with double piston caliper for the front wheel and one 240 mm for the rear wheel. This way Honda having the market trend perceived – actually she manipulated the trend – and made a “civilian” motorcycle with an “athletic heart”, which could satisfy riders seeking a touristic style adventure, as well as those who would like to participate in Paris – Dakar rally. This was proven in action, when 50 XRVs 650 motorcycles – with minor adjustments - participated in the 1989 Paris –Dakar / (normal category), with the support of Honda/France. The adjustments were limited to the bigger fuel tanks, water tanks, improved suspensions, tires, exhausts, (not necessarily for every participant unit).




   Under those really extreme conditions for a “civilian” motorcycle, Africa XRV 650, fulfilled not only Honda’s expectations, but also those who counted on her. The 18 out of the 50 XRV 650s finished the race, with P. Toussaint at the 16th place and the first place in the Marathon category. Here it be noticed that, the most of the problems came from the fatigue of the private riders and not due to mechanical problems of the Africa Twin. It’s to be mentioned, that in a case one of the participants was denied by the Libyan authorities to enter Libya, because he was a French Army officer, so he had to get back to France.

     The year 1989 was the last year of the HRC involvement in the Paris – Dakar rally, but also the last year for the production of the Africa Twin 650. In the year 1990, Africa Twin 750 was released and stayed in the production line until 2002. For almost two years she co-existed with VARADERO (XLV 1000) and finally she was replaced by her. The XRV 750 was a motorcycle with a tremendous commercial success and a “status symbol” for many of her owners, even though the “philosophy” of the creation of this model, was much different this of the XRV 650. However the XRV 650 is still a unique motorcycle and now already belongs to the classic motorcycles pantheon.






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