XL600R Suspension Upgrades

OK, so I replied to another Thumpertalk member in a pm message what my recommendations were for XL600R suspension upgrades and though it a good idea for us to get everyone's thoughts and hopefully some pictures on the topic. What follows is my experience and advice, please contribute, elaborate criticize, critique, and otherwise add to the greater knowledge for all us XL600R owners.

As a lead in, I have mentioned in other posts using XR600R and XR650L suspension parts on an XL600R to upgrade or improve the handling, feel, ground clearance, and coolness factor, and yes, a lot of it does work (works real good too). So with respect to using the XR600R and XR650L suspension parts on your XL600R, the mods are a sure way to improve your XL. Fortunately Honda uses the same size steering tubes and bearings for all of their larger dirt bikes, so an XL600R, XR600R, XR650L, and XR650R all use the same bearings and the head tubes in their frames are the same length, This means that you can use whatever front end you want. However, there are a couple hitches - first, the older XR600R and all XL600Rs used a smaller diameter axle, so if you go with an older XR600R set of forks, (I have a set for my XL), then you can simply use your original XL600R front wheel. If you go for an XR650L or later XR600R set of forks (I don't know what year the axle size changed, but I expect it was around the same time the XR650L was released in 1993), then you will gave to get a larger diameter front axle and wheel. Another thing to keep in mind is that there are two different diameter front brake rotors, so if you get one of the newer bikes, you will need the right caliper bracket to mount the caliper to the fork. You will also need an XR600R or XR650L front brake hose (either will do) as the XL600R brake hose is not only too short, but it also has that funky steel line that crosses under the lower tripple clamp that won't work on the XR triple clamps. The older XR600R with the smaller diameter axle, and the newer XR600R and XR650L all have the same diameter fork tubes, so they all work with the XR650L triple clamps, which you will want to use because they come with a place to mount the speedometer and headlight bracket. Also, you will have to rig up some kind of an adapter bracket to go between the XR650L speedometer bracket and the XL600R speedometer because they mount differently. I used an old aluminum road sign and cut out an adapter plate with a grinder and drilled some holes in it - it works great and was free.

Now the rear suspension will also require a bit of work, but it is do-able. The XL600R, XR600R, and XR650L swingarms share the same pivot bolt and you can use whichever you want. However, you will have to use your XL600R linkage, which places the rear shock in the centre of the frame where you need it to be. Fortunatly, the XR600R and XR650L swingarms have wide mounting tabs that will still take the XL600R linkage, but you will have to make up a spacer on one side or the other. You could possibly use a stack of washers, but I would recommend finding the right diameter aluminum or steel bar that you can centre drill to fit the linkage bolt through and its length will take up the extra space. This would be a no-brainer for any machinest if you give him the right measurements. The XR600R rear shock with remote reservoir is also a good call and you will need to use a hose clamp or come up with some way to mount the reservoir to the frame. Keep in mind that your XL600R rear shock spring may be stiffer because the XL was designed to be able to take a passenger - something to keep in mind if you are not a light guy. I think you might be able to interchange the shock springs, but I am not sure. Then you will also have to get another rear wheel because even though the older XR600R and the XL600R both used a rear drum brake, the XL was a cush drive, so the rear hub is too wide to fit into an older XR600R swingarm. So if you get an older XR600R aluminum swingarm (they are longer than the XL600R swingarm), then you will have to find a matching drum brake rear wheel. But, you want a rear disk, so you will need to get a later XR600R or XR650L swingarm, rear wheel, caliper, master cylinder, and pedal. You will also have to weld on a bracket to mount the master cylinder to the frame (not a big deal), and figure out how to make the brake pedal work as I am not sure if the pivot points are exactly the same. Anything can be done with enough patience, thought, and effort.

It's a good project for sure and you will definitely like the way it will improve your bikes handling and feel. I had gone down that very same road, and have tried both an earlier set of XR600R forks and a set of XR650L forks on my XL600R. I preferred the XR600R forks - they were more plush and secure feeling, where the XR650L forks felt too stiff and a bit jarring or like they were sticking a bit (I had to get an XR650L front wheel, axle, and speedometer cable mount for the larger axle). I also have an XR600R swingarm (for the older XR600R drum brakes), and an XR650L swingarm and wheel that I was going to use. BUT, in the end, I bought an XR650L frame and have been building up an XR650L with the parts I was going to use on my XL600R. It seems like an expensive way to get an XR650L (one part at a time), but I am almost there and will have both bikes and know them both inside and out.

I did a pictorial thread about my XL600R rebuild at our local dualsport site here:


Have a look and feel free to post up any comments.

Great write up and link to your build!


A few comments and a question.

All the XR650L forks are of the cartridge design. The XR600 went to a cartridge design in 1991. In 1992 the diameter of the front axle was increased. I am not certain, but perhaps the 91 XR600 forks would work with the XL front wheel.

The XR650R forks are superior to any of the XR600 or XR650L forks.

The cartridge design gives you a high speed circuit. When you hit something at speed you will notice the difference big time.

Can any of the early XR600 shocks be used with the stock XL600 swingarm so the cush drive wheel can be retained?

...Can any of the early XR600 shocks be used with the stock XL600 swingarm so the cush drive wheel can be retained?

Yes, the early XR600R rear shock with the remote reservoir can be used on the XL600R, you just have to find a place to hang the reservoir.

Great writeup, lots of information. I might add a little if I could. I have posted some of this onfo on other threads but it seems logical to post here too since it is relevant.

XR 400 forks will also fit the XL/XR 600's since thay are 43mm. They are modern cartridge forks similar to the XR650R. You can use all the same XR/XRL triple tree combos. There are two versions, early and late with the only difference is a change in the rebound dampening in 02 or thereabouts, and it looks to be interchangeable to the early fork if desired. Another feature of those fork is that both legs clamp onto the axle instead of the axle screwing into the left leg. I had a custom axle made that allowed me to use my stock XL front wheel. The stock XL caliper even bolted on the fork with no problems.

I Wanted to have another wheel for quick change of rubber from dirt to slab riding so I did research and found that early XL/XR wheels utilize a 15mm axle while later models stepped up to 17mm. After comparing bearing dimensions I found that both wheels kept the same bearing OD,(outer diameter), with different ID,(inner diameter). I purchased later bearings, 6003, later model bearing separator, seal and found a late model XR600 speedo drive on eBay. I had to shorten the bearing separator to match the XL spacing, put it all together and I had a wheel that fit the later axle. I had to space the wheel a little to the right to center the disk in the caliper, about the amount of distance I had to remove from the center spacer, one washer thickness. The wheel fit and worked perfectly, since both wheels stay bolted together with their respective axles, it makes for a truly quick change from one to the next, just unhook the speedo cable and both fork clamps and swap.

I don't see any reason why the same bearing switch wouldn't work with XR600 forks too. You have to have the larger spacer and speedo drive, which was identical except for the hole, and the larger seal. Just look up on your favorite online microfiche, I use babbits online, and see what bearing fits the wheel that the forks you want to use has, check what bearings your wheel has and compare sizes, ID and OD and use the appropriate bearing. You could probably redrill the old speedo drive too but I couldnt devise a sure way to hold onto it while drilling and I value my fingers more than the $55.00 or so that a new speedo drive would cost according to babbits, same thing with the spacer. This also opens up a whole new market for wheels on Ebay since old XL600 wheels can be had for a song now, compared with later model XR wheels, which makes for fairly inexpensive wheel swapability if you want dual rubber wheels like I have.


I was reading you thread here and was currious, if I could swap out the complete steering head assy off of a CR 500 and bolt it up to my 86 XR600r? I am interested in using the newer "upside down forks" for better handling due to the fact my forks may be bent....looks like previous owner tried to use them to chop down a tree or two.

I was reading you thread here and was currious, if I could swap out the complete steering head assy off of a CR 500 and bolt it up to my 86 XR600r? I am interested in using the newer "upside down forks" for better handling due to the fact my forks may be bent....looks like previous owner tried to use them to chop down a tree or two.



trying to clarify for self here... so the xrr , xrl and the crf forks are 43mm (?). I have an 08 xr650l and have been very interested in switching the forks. I have a set of 94 cr250r forks but, have heard they wont fit. I have found a newer set of forks from an xrr and a crf. Can the mod be done with retaining the xrl triple clamps for the odometer etc setup?

The only way to swap forks easily and retain the existing triple clamps is to find a set of 43mm conventional style forks and slip them in. According to racetech the XXR forks are 47mm, so no-go there, and the CRF and CR forks are both upside down models, although they are 43mm that is the bottom tube diameter. You could use later model XR600/XR400 forks but your later model L forks may be better due to natural evolution, I don't know the yearly improvements or lack of for the L forks. Wheel and tire mounting sometimes takes a little creativity but generally doable with a little thought when swapping different forks. If you can get forks and wheel assembly it should be a snap.

A lot of great info here Nummie! Hey Rich, any chance this could be made a sticky, either here or maybe in the vintage forum? Seems to be quite a bit of interest lately in improving the suspenders on the good ol' XL600R. :worthy:

I'll look into it.:worthy:

Thanks for laying it all out there for us, Greg. I often forget these things since I don't usually take notes, and it has been a while since I tried to put the XR600R swingarm on the XL600R. I've got an XR650L bottom end with starter motor but minus the side covers and an XR600R head (works for the XR650L) if you're interested. I'm going back to dual carbs on my XL, using the XR bottom end, boring 3mm, and adding a Wiseco piston for a total of 628cc with 9:1 compression.

Before I do that, I will be adding the XR600R forks up front with an XR650L top triple clamp to support the key ignition mount and steering lock functions, with my own fabricated brackets to support the original XL600 front headlight, fairing, and gauge cluster mounting points missing from the XR650L triple clamp. Then I have plans to raise the rear with a shorter link, thus preserving my cush drive. Here is a link to the thread started by the guy who is going to fabricate the link since he's got better machining hookups than I do: http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=423896

It should be noted that I think the upper shock mount on the frame has more to do with the height of the rear of the bike. I know on the XR600R and XR650L single- carb models, the upper mount is to the left and down, and the shock lengths are the same. So you still need a way to raise the rear when swapping front forks whether you go with the newer rear suspension arm or not.

It should also be noted that if you are lowering the front when using bigger forks to level it out instead of raising the rear, use caution since the forks could bottom out on a hard landing, causing the front wheel to lock up. If you use a fork brace, that could potentially act as a bumper to keep this from happening, while stiffening up the steering considerably.

Looking forward to some more photos of people's jacked up XLs! Here's my goal, at least for the suspension:


Hey, why don't we ever see those large METAL gas tanks on ebay anywhere?

I love the "old school" look of that bike.

It's been mentioned that the XR650L and XR600R swingarms will fit with a spacer added and a remote reservoir shock.

Will a XR650R, CR, or CRF swingarm work? Would there be the same weight or length benifit? Dunno if the swingarm pivot, linkage, or shock placement are compatible.

Anyone have access to them and can check it out?


Wow, that's some awesome info. Too bad I didn't know it when I still had my '85. That was 1 of 2 beefs... the poor suspenders and no e-start. I have a bad heart, so that XL600 had to go. Kicking would practicall kill me when it was hot. I wish I still had it, just for DS and commuting duty. I have a 450X now.



It's been mentioned that the XR650L and XR600R swingarms will fit with a spacer added and a remote reservoir shock.

Will a XR650R, CR, or CRF swingarm work? Would there be the same weight or length benifit? Dunno if the swingarm pivot, linkage, or shock placement are compatible.

Anyone have access to them and can check it out?


CR swingarm/shock will not work. Pivot different diameter, width at pivot narrower, shock offset different and linkage vaastly different. Probably could be done but I doubt it would be worth all the mods that would be needed. All 84-88 conventional and 89 CR(USD) forks are a bolt on with cr or xr triples and matching wheels. My 83 XR500 has an 86 XR 600 alum. swingarm with the above mentioned spacer installed.


Iam fairly new to the DS world but the bug has bit me, hard. My XL600R is ridden almost every day without fail (weather permitting). I am a happy owner of a fairly clean ’86 with gold rims and no mods.

I wanna change it though.

It currently has some Dunlap street tires that work very well but Im not digging on the rear drum. Ive been reading some of the posts and trying to come up with a few upgrades for the winter time. Im 6’3” and a svelte 260lbs. I will do some light/mild trail riding with a majority of my time on the street. Can you help this “newbie” compile a list of parts for me to begin ebaying?

1st Project:

Convert the rear drum to disc

2 Project:

Swap the front forks for cartridge/inverted set up.

3rd Project:

Carb jetting/Airbox mods-elimination

The main focus is that Im a pretty big dude who want to ride and not have a sore rear at the end of the day. Ive spent a few hours in the saddle and noticed that the rear shock does a decent job but could be better. Braking is ok but, again, could be better.The heightis a few inches lower than I’d perfer and if IRC there’s a longer, lighter swing arm from an XR (year I don’t recall) that would lighten the overall weight and give me an extra inch or 2. It would also afford me a perch for a caliper for a disc brake set up.

We don’t have to start an entirely new thread and I don’t mind searching but the amount of information to digest is overwhelming. Im a capable mechanic and have access to some machining if need be, just would perfer bolt on parts when available. Id like to document it and even turn it into a sticky…

Any other mods would be appreciated.

an idea for the sore back side. i got a couple of 1/2 moon jell pads for a harley seat. i took off the seat cover and positioned the pads flat side to flat side to make an oval where i normally sit toward the front because im short and marked around them with a pen. i then set the depth on my router to the pad thickness and carefully relieved the marked area using a straight bit. dropped in the pads, covered the whole thing with a layer of 1/4" foam and reinstalled the seat cover. quite a large difference, especially on the road at hiway speeds with knobs. the only drawback i found was parking in the sun on a hot day, the jell absorbs a lot of radiant heat from the sun making sitting unbearable so park in the shade or put something over the seat.

Edited by garthr

What I would like to know is if there is a fork emulator/intimidator that will fit the stock XL forks.

I value the vintage of my XL and only use it for highway or gravel roads. I like the height of the bike as stock and would just like a better ride without the need to absorb big jumps or very rough terrain at speed.

A new set of fork springs, a pair of emulators and a reworked or direct fit shock upgrade is all I would need to get rid of the stiff, under dampened feel.

On another note; someone on here was looking into using the cush drive from a XR250L on a XR650L. I never seen a follow up on that. If someone was switching to a XRL or XR600 swingarm with disc, they may be able to retain the cush drive if the XR250L one would fit.

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