I attended a Honda XR150L ride event expecting to be wholly unimpressed and bored by such a small, low-powered, and low-tech motorcycle. And I predicted a struggle in writing anything positive. I was wrong.
It is true that the Honda XR150L is an air-cooled, low-tech “beginner” dual sport bike. But for 20 years, these attributes have helped the unassuming little bike function in markets like Latin America and Thailand as a super-reliable transporter. And in cultures like these, “suggested maintenance schedules” are probably laughable. But the XR150L has soldiered on for decades and is now available as a 2023 model in the U.S.
Our group of motorcycle journalists and YouTubers rode the bikes hard for a little under 60 miles in beautiful Solvang, Calif. We rode a mixture of rough country blacktop, smooth highway tarmac, and both hardpacked and loose dirt. I had a smile on my face the whole time.
In short: The 2023 Honda XR150L fills many voids, thanks to its easy-to-ride nature and incredibly low MSRP of $2,971. It can hold its own in the garage of both new and experienced riders as a practical and reliable short-distance commuter that can also tackle easier off-road adventuring. All with proven reliability that is hard to beat.
- Engine 149.2cc air-cooled, 15-degree single-cylinder 4-stroke
- Valve train OHC, 2 valves
- Compression ratio 9.5:1
- Induction Carburetor w/22mm bore
- Ignition DC-CDI
- Transmission 5-speed manual
- Fork 31mm telescopic fork w/7.1" travel
- Shock Single w/5.9" travel
- Front brake Single hydraulic caliper w/240mm disc
- Rear brake 110mm drum
- Lowest-priced full-size dual-sport motorcycle
- Very easy to ride
- Incredible reliability history
- Limited power and suspension
- No rider-aid electronics
- Bars can be too low for standing position for some
Honda XR150L: Beginner-Friendly Features
The Honda XR150L stat sheet reads like it was custom-made for new or beginner riders. Nothing on this bike should scare anyone nor impede any part of the learning experience.
First off, it has the lowest seat height in the class at 32.8 inches, which made getting my feet down relaxed and easy.
Next, the 149.2cc air-cooled, carbureted motor revs slowly and peaks out at 12.5 horsepower (according to the EPA). It was tame and tractable by any measure. I’ve found that new riders are usually scared of the bike getting away from them, especially off road. No such fears should exist on the Honda XR150L.
And though the motorcycle is low and small, it comes with a 19-inch diameter front wheel and a 17-inch rear. These allowed it to roll over obstacles easier than smaller wheels, which can be typical on small-displacement bikes.
Finally, the front dual-piston brake caliper clamps down on a 240mm rotor while a 110mm drum brake scrubs speed in the rear. For the bike’s size, weight, and power and for a beginner, I felt this is an appropriate setup.
Dual-Sport Ride Impressions
The Honda XR150L was incredibly easy to ride. The electric start, low seat height, and gentle power delivery made for relaxed riding for anyone experienced, and I felt that beginners couldn’t ask for a better platform on which to learn. Nothing about the bike seemed inaccessible or unpredictable.
The one notable exception was the front brake. I appreciated that it had power, but it was touchy. The initial bite was aggressive compared to the rear brake by a large margin. This could have been due to the bike being new and the disc brake pads and rotor not being bedded in (a procedure that deposits brake pad material into the metal of the rotor, drastically improving braking). But I got used to it, and during our ride, the brake got bedded in.
The bike was obviously smaller than most motorcycles I ride, but the upright seated position was comfortable for my 6-foot frame for the entire day. The standing “attack” position while dirt biking was lacking, though. For my height and arm length, the bars were too low. The solution would be riser bars or taller bar clamps.
Also, the Honda XR150L was ludicrously quiet, which could be a huge plus in some off-road riding areas.
The 31mm conventional fork has 7.1 inches of travel, and a single rear shock services 5.9 inches of boing. These were fine for the roads, as long as I avoided the combination of large obstacles and high speed. For 95% of the on-road travel that the rest of the bike could handle, the suspension was adequate.
And for the new or beginner motorcyclist venturing into easy dirt riding, the suspension and motor were appropriate. Honda chose settings for comfort both on the road and off. The soft suspension and motor output were a match for the slower speeds of newer riders on unfamiliar terrain. For an experienced rider, both were limiters, but it wasn’t all bad.
While respecting the intended use of the Honda XR150L, I pushed the bike on the most challenging trail that was available. It was a chicken/egg situation; was I limited by the motor or the suspension? Either way, I had to downshift often and go full throttle to get up and over some obstacles. Or, I had to back off as I bottomed both fork and shock on occasion.
But you know what? I was having a blast. At one point in my career, all I tested was dirt bikes or adventure bikes and related gear. My skill or fitness was the limiter. Most of the time, the motorcycle could deliver more power and had more suspension than I could ever use. But with the Honda XR150L, it was the opposite.
I over-rode the bike. Instead of pulling short of the bike’s motor or chassis, the bike was making me ride within its limits. And man, it was so much fun. I was always relaxed and never had a thought about the bike bucking me off or throwing me down. I was forced to ride precisely and use excellent technique. A bike with more power and suspension allows me to let those slide.
Carrying momentum around turns was a must, as I didn’t have the power to just crawl through the turn and point and shoot. I had to take smart lines around obstacles because I didn’t have the suspension to charge through “dumb” lines. I had to brake and accelerate early, on the meat of the tire, and in the right line because I lacked the traction, braking ability, and power to do otherwise.
After I got home, I told a very experienced rider friend what I knew but haven’t practiced myself. Riding a bike with limited ability makes you a better rider. I vow to ride my two-stroke 250cc bike more than my four-stroke 501cc. And she did the same as she understood my logic. I want the same things I experienced on the Honda XR150L to make me a better rider.
As a side note, swapping the stock tires for DOT-approved knobby tires would make a world of difference on the dirt. And in a full aero tuck, I managed just shy of 70 mph with my 170-pound body, on a flat highway, in still conditions.
Honda XR150L: Who It’s For
The Honda XR150L is ideal for new and beginner riders who want a reliable and easy-to-handle motorcycle that they can take on tamer off-road adventures. It would be stupendous for a college student who doesn’t have the money or time to care for a high-maintenance ride but still wants to be able to “go anywhere.”
For more experienced pilots, the little Honda XR150L can still hold a spot. It’s an affordable runabout that can zip to the grocery store or coffee shop, on a country dirt road, or a meandering rural blacktop. It would provide a relaxed, low-stress way of getting about without the hassles of fully gearing up to ride a much larger and more powerful bike.
And as I stated, taking it out and deliberately over-riding the XR150L was both fun and productive in terms of honing off-road riding skills.
2023 Honda XR150L Review: Conclusions
The bottom line: You can get a brand new, super reliable, low-hassle short-distance transporter that can venture on easier off-road missions for less than $3,000 MSRP. This is the lowest-priced full-size dual-sport motorcycle on the U.S. market in 2023.
For new or beginner riders, or street riders new to dirt, the Honda XR150L is such a great option. It’s very difficult for me to think of another dual sport motorcycle that is so appropriate for new riders.
As a final word, my daughter is 10. She has seen motorcycles zipping around her entire life. If she were to ask for one in the near future, not knowing what kind of riding she likes, this is the motorcycle I would get for her. I can’t think of a better recommendation.