These Stupid Goddamn Hondas Are Gonna Get Me Killed

Photo Credit: Honda. More old brochures and ads here.
Photo Credit: Honda. More old brochures and ads here.

I wake up to its piercing howling every morning. RAPHAEL it wails BUY THAT STUPID MOTORCYCLE AND GO BREAK ALL THE BONES IN YOUR FACE.

‘That’ motorcycle is a 1970s Honda XL, with a four-stroke single-cylinder engine and low-level off-road suspension. There was the original XL250 of 1972-’77, along with the 100, 125, 175, 185, 350 and 500, with a couple other displacements if you toe into the ‘80s. The system is the same—it’s a road-legal bike that handles rough roads and light trails but doesn’t look or sound mean or serious like all the new off road bikes or two-strokes.

Simple, reliable, usable and something near affordable. A 250 gives you 20 horsepower at 8,000 RPM for 287 pounds with half a tank of gas. The seat sits a low 32 inches off the ground. Ratty ones are mid three figures. Nice ones are three grand, everything in between is Craigslist decontextualization.

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No, these XLs all have the same simple face, an unblinking eye ahead of a flat, inviting seat. You could be taking the day off riding out to the beach, Orlove, it croons. I go off jumps, Orlove. You like jumps, Orlove. You have good healthcare, Orlove.

Maybe I never broke enough bones as a kid. Read too many books. Didn’t spend enough time watching my own red blood trickle over rocks stuck in my palms.

SCAR YOUR RIBS AND YOUR BANK ACCOUNT YOU HOMEBODY, echoes as I go to bed YOU’D FEEL BETTER WITH THE WIND IN YOUR HAIR RUSHING TO THE HOSPITAL.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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DISCUSSION

Unless you’re REALLLLLLY obsessed with looking “vintage” and “authentic” skip the 70's stuff and get something from at least the 90's. Even my garaged low mileage 90's XR needs work - replacing rubber boots/airboxes/misc stuff on a 90's bike is easy, just click it on BikeBandit and it comes to your door.

Anything old is an exercise in rolling the dice on eBay only to discover the piece you ordered is worse off than the one you already have and now you’re out $45.

I wanna ride to work without having to get my toolkit out three times and get covered in grase, but your priorities may be different. If you really want to “get your hands dirty” a newish bike will still require a bunch of chain cleaning/replacing, tire swaps, oil changes and all that annoying crap that feels “manly” or “from a bygone era” for guys that spent most of their childhood years playing an XBOX and are now smugly telling you how great they are because they learned to spray brake cleaner through a main jet.

There’s a pretty established tradition of guys buying chopped up CB-whatever as their first bike, messing with them for a year before financing a new Vulcan at the local Kawasaki dealer when they find out they actually want to just ride on a sunny Saturday morning instead of burning up an expensive battery trying to get their bikes to start after cranking it for fourty minutes tracking down a mystery electronic gremlin or carb issue - so you wouldn’t be the first.