Let’s say, for a moment, that you’re a rider who has nearly 20 years of on-road riding experience. While you’ve had the occasional tip-over, spill, and/or near miss in your years of riding, so far, you’ve fared reasonably well.
At the same time, let’s also say that, along with your years of street riding experience, you have next to no off-road experience. You grew up in a city with paved roads, so even your junior bicycle-learning and roller-skating years were done on paved streets and sidewalks. You remember riding a bicycle on hilly dirt and grass in a rural area as a small child, but only once or twice—and pedal-power is a different experience than operating something that has both two wheels and an engine.
If you’ve pictured all that, then you’ve successfully conjured up the situation I found myself in when I recently had the opportunity to check out the 2023 Honda XR150L. The general concept of riding a bike you’ve never ridden before is exciting—but in this case, it was also a little bit trepidation-inducing.
Some kids grow up riding dirt, which is awesome—but I wasn’t one of them. I didn’t have those built-in muscle memories to rely on, even if I’d taken a Motorcycle Safety Foundation dirt bike course and had also taken my usual tack of reading way too much and watching too many YouTube videos to get the mental side firmly embedded in my noggin.
How would it go? There’s only one way to find out—and that’s to get out and ride.
Gallery: 2023 Honda XR150L First Ride
2023 Honda XR150L Specifications
The 2023 Honda XR150L is new to the US market, but it’s not, strictly speaking, a new model for Honda. As a matter of fact, 2023 marks the model’s 20th anniversary. It’s sold in various Latin American and Asian countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand—markets where indeed, a 150cc dual sport model has a whole lot to offer a wide variety of riders. The styling clearly derives from its larger sibling, the XR650L—which has been offered in the US market for some time.
The heart of the XR150L is a 149.2cc air-cooled, 15-degree, four-stroke, single cylinder engine with bore and stroke of 57.3mm by 57.8mm. This little thumper features an electric start and also a carburetor with a 22mm bore. It’s fitted with a five-speed gearbox from the factory.
Suspension consists of a 31mm telescopic front fork offering 7.1 inches of travel, as well as a single rear shock offering 5.9 inches of travel. Braking duties are performed by a single hydraulic front brake caliper paired with a 240mm brake disc, and a 110mm drum brake in the rear. The front wheel is a 19-inch spoked unit up front, with a 17-inch spoked unit in the rear.
Wheelbase is 53.5 inches, length is 81.7 inches, width is 31.9 inches, and height is 44.5 inches. Crucially, seat height is 32.8 inches—which American Honda claims is the lowest seat height in its class. Curb weight is 282 pounds.
What It’s Like to Ride as a Short Rider with Very Little Dirt Experience
As you’ve likely experienced by now, specs on paper are one thing, and riding experiences are another. It’s also important to mention a couple of rider stats here to further inform the mental images conjured up in this review. I’m somewhere between 5’3” and 5’4” (call it 5’3” and a half, maybe), and I have a long torso and short legs. How short, you may ask? I have a 27-inch inseam, which doesn’t usually translate to good times on a nice, tall dirt bike.
Seat height isn’t everything, though—and the thing about dirt bikes, dual sports, and adventure bikes is, you need decent ground clearance for them to do their job. If all you’re planning to do is stay on nice, smooth pavement, your needs are going to be different than if you need to go bombing down some trails, crawling over berms, and so on.
Honda worked to strike a balance between a new-rider-friendly (or new-dirt-rider-friendly) seat height and ground clearance, and it did this in part by keeping a 19-inch front and 17-inch rear wheel and not compromising that way. After having ridden this bike both on and (gently) off road, I’d have to say that it succeeded. It’s not a hardcore dual sport, of course—and the 85/15 or maybe even 80/20 (if you’re feeling generous) dual sport rubber they’re fitted with from the factory probably makes that pretty evident.
When I first threw a leg over, I was concerned about two things: How well the seat would work with my distinct lack of lower limb lengthiness, and whether I’d be able to put my one previous dirt bike course into practice and not completely eat gravel when we got to the off-road portion due to my inexperience.
Since Honda is aiming the XR150L at riders who may not have had much (or any) dirt experience, it sent an MSF instructor along for our ride to offer guidance for those of us who needed it. He calmly listened to and answered riding questions, and even offered to ride along with anyone who just needed to see how a more experienced rider handled things over the given terrain.
Our lineup of bikes sat in a little patch of hard pack gravel, ready for our group to take off. I threw a leg over, familiarized myself with where the pegs hit on my legs (a must for shorter riders, so you don’t put your feet down in the wrong place and risk an avoidable and embarassing tipover), and experimentally tried putting my feet down. I could tip-toe pretty well, and the bike’s center of gravity is low down, so it was easy to shift from side to side underneath me.
As the day progressed, I found it very easy to slide down and one-foot the bike on either side for added sure-footedness at a complete stop. That’s not a skill I’ve had much cause to use on the street, but it was extremely easy to do with the XR150L. The lack of top-heaviness, low center of gravity, and ease of handling the bike at low or even no speed all combined to enhance my confidence over time. Taller riders (or riders with longer legs, at least) probably won’t have to think about these issues—but if you’re a rider with shorter legs, that might be a reason to consider this bike.
On Road Riding
Riding in the city or even doing short, high-speed blasts on faster roads is fairly pleasant thanks to the smoothness of the engine. You might expect that little thumper to be vibey, but it’s surprisingly not—and the rubber footpegs do a good job of keeping you comfortable both in and standing over the saddle. There’s no wind protection, of course—so if you don’t like riding naked bikes at high speeds, then you’re not going to care much for this, either.
Honda says that the XR150L will do highway speeds, and I got it up to an indicated 62 or 63 miles per hour on my on-road test with the throttle all the way open. I always ride with earplugs, and I was glad I had them—but the engine didn’t seem unhappy at all with a wide-open throttle in top gear. It’s also worth noting that the saddle is surprisingly comfortable, and is neither too firm nor too soft to want to spend a lot of time in. Ergonomics are comfortably upright, at least for my stature—it's possible that a larger rider might feel more cramped, but for me, it felt neutral and pleasant whether sitting or standing.
Low-speed maneuvers were also very easy on this bike, from stop-and-go traffic to pausing (but not putting a foot down) as necessary. U-turns on tarmac, likewise, were very easy to do.
Off Road Riding
For the off-road section of our riding day, we were given the opportunity to check out easy, intermediate, or advanced loops as we felt comfortable. There was plenty of time to check out all three for the experienced riders, or to practice on the less challenging ones for those of us who wanted to build our skills. The routes were mostly gravel and dirt, with some sandy bits. (From the reports of some of the more advanced riders, the sand content increased as the difficulty level went up.)
Standing on the pegs on this bike instantly made it feel more planted, and more like I could adjust and adapt to what I was rolling over. When I hit a few sandy patches and the rear end started to get a little squirrely, I rolled on the throttle and the bike stabilized in an extremely encouraging way, as though to say “hey, you’re starting to get it!” As with any other skill, with more time and practice, I’m sure that I’d improve and be able to do better and go faster, and this bike did a lot to inspire my confidence.
It’s clear that American Honda wants to move some XR150Ls, and that’s reflected in its extremely appealing MSRP of just $2,971. It’s a full-size dual sport bike that’s accessible to shorter (and newer) riders, and it's simultaneously less expensive than even every Honda minimoto currently on the market (with the exception of the similarly-carbureted Navi).
Available accessories sold separately include both a tank bag and some totally usable, reasonable soft side bags—and of course, you could always strap a backpack or other bag onto yourself if you need to carry other things. There’s also a sturdy rear rack you can strap things to, making it relatively easy to carry items around.
Use cases abound for a bike like this. In Australia and New Zealand, it’s marketed as a farm bike—and it’s extremely easy to see why. For riders in tight urban situations, this bike sips fuel, is easy to park, and is also easy to maneuver at low speeds. Since it’s a 150, you will find yourself wringing the throttle frequently—but since it’s not extremely buzzy like some singles can be, you may find that to be kind of fun.
There are faster bikes with better suspension and brakes, as well as higher performance characteristics—but that’s almost always the case. It is carbureted, and it does have a drum brake at the rear—and those could be deal breakers for some riders. (Then again, if you want to learn about carburetors, working on a single unit is certainly less intimidating than having to worry about syncing two or more of them on a different engine configuration.)
The 2023 Honda XR150L offers good value for money, depending on the rider—and could make a solid choice, depending on what you want out of your next bike.