Desert Dominator: Honda NX650 ‘Sled

Honda NX650 Desert Sled

“A lighter, more powerful, more aggressive, go anywhere version of the Dominator…”

The Honda NX650 Dominator has become one of the world’s most popular custom platforms, featuring an XR-based 644cc four-valve single-cylinder engine, twin stainless exhaust system, and a highly versatile overall package. The Dominator has served equally well as an urban curb-jumper, suburban hooligan, and B-road blaster. Said one UK moto journalist:

“The best thing about the Dominator is that, compared to other big trail bikes, it feels no more cumbersome than a 250, while keeping the grand luxury of a forty inch seat height and several metres of suspension travel. On this machine you could contemplate serious trail riding.”

Honda NX650 Desert Sled

Enter our new friend Rob Maxwell (@lucky.explorer), an architect who grew up in the Scottish Highlands, where he was into downhill mountain biking, old cars, bikes, and scooters.

“Years later my best mate Gerry from @theharrisoncollection convinced me to do my full licence and I have never looked back.”

Honda NX650 Desert Sled

Today, he has a collection of some 17 bikes, mainly 1980s thumpers and Paris Dakar bikes, including a Yamaha Tenere XT600z 1VJ, Honda XL500 Dakar, Honda XL600LM, Cagiva Elefant 900ie, 1985 Honda XR600R, and more. The 1990 Honda NX650 Dominator you see here was originally built for Sandraiders, an annual adventure raid for classic bikes through Morocco. Says Rob:

“There are a lot of Honda Dominator custom builds out there and most tend to follow the same pattern. I wanted to get away from that and build myself a proper lightweight off-road machine.”

Honda NX650 Desert Sled

Rob came up with the design, then enlisted the help of several friends to make it happen. Most of the work was done at his friend Mark’s garage in Feltham, with the wiring loom and final finessing accomplished at Jackson Motorcycles. This big desert sled now sports a lighter subframe, overhauled suspension, Mikuni flat slide carb, longer-range Honda Paris-Dakar tank, custom seat and rack, lighter instrumentation and lighting, and more:

“All in all, it is a lighter, more powerful, more aggressive, go anywhere version of the Dominator.”

We love the different direction Rob took with this “Desert Dominator,” focusing on performance and function, inspired by the 1980s rally bikes he loves so much. While the Dom wasn’t done quite in time for Sandraiders, Rob has taken the bike through the rugged Welsh countryside, where the improved power-to-weight ratio make this big trailie a blast to ride. Below, we get the full details on the build.

Honda NX650 Dominator: Builder Interview

Honda NX650 Desert Sled

• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.

Hello to all Bikebound readers, my name is Rob Maxwell. I grew up in the highlands of Scotland on the west coast near Fortwilliam. I moved to London 16 years ago where I run an architecture practice with my father. We have offices in both London and Scotland (@maxwellandcompany).

When I was younger I was into downhill mountain biking, so motorcycles were a natural progression, first with a 50cc scooter which we picked up from the scrapyard and fettled with till we got them running.  Built an MG midget with a friend at 17 for his mum, which was a challenge but really got me interested in mechanics and fabrication etc.

Years later my best mate Gerry from @theharrisoncollection convinced me to do my full licence and I have never looked back. Back then I was all about Ducatis but these days my interests have moved to 1980’s thumpers and Paris Dakar bikes. I have a collection of 17 bikes, most of which are from this era.

I don’t have a workshop as such. I designed the bike and then got the help of several friends in London to make it happen. The main build was done at my mate Mark’s garage in Feltham, just in his garage workshop. The wiring loom and final finessing was done by @jacksonmotorcycles.

Honda NX650 Desert Sled

• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?

It’s a 1990 Honda Dominator (NX650) which I imported from Germany, It was a low-mileage bike ( 17,000 KM), as I wanted the base of the build to be as solid as possible.

Honda NX650 Desert Sled

• Why was this bike built?

The bike was a personal project. It was actually built for @_sandraiders, which I did in May 2019. Sadly I didn’t finish the build in time so I ended up going on my Yamaha Tenere XT600z. As I mentioned before I have a love for Paris Dakar bikes Yamaha / Honda / Cagiva / BMW. What I wanted to create was something a little different. There are a lot of Honda Dominator custom builds out there and most tend to follow the same pattern. I wanted to get away from that and build myself a proper lightweight off-road machine.

Honda NX650 Desert Sled

• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?

Owning both a Xl600LM and Yamaha Tenere, which I love, I started to think about a bike with a similar style but with more power and a slightly different ratio. The Honda Dominator seems to be the go-to bike for customization due to its strong engine and cheap buy-in cost.

My concept for the bike was to strip as much weight from the original bike as possible by removing the body work / clocks / airbox / twin exhaust, etc. By doing this I have made a considerable weight saving, which means a better power to weight ratio.

On top of that I switched out the carbs for a Mikuni flat slide, which give a lot more low-down power for getting the bike out of the tougher terrain. The rear suspension was upgraded to an adjustable YSS shock and the front forks were fully overhauled.

Honda NX650 Desert Sled

I replaced the original tank with an XL600 Paris Dakar tank, which allowed a new seat to be formed up against the tank to give a more aggressive off-road position whilst still maintaining a comfortable seat for longer endurance riding.

You will see from the two images below that a lot of design cues were taken from the R80 GS, especially the full Dakar version in the second image.

  • Short seat / rear rack and squared off rear mud guard
  • Wide tank / round white headlight with grill / white windscreen / white front fender
  • Black frame all similar in style to the GS but on a taller, more off-road capable machine
• What custom work was done to the bike?

The frame is completely stock, nothing has been cut from it, it was just powder-coated. The rear mudguard is fabricated from sheet metal. The seat is custom made to fit on the existing mounts but rest against the new tank. The tank had to be adapted so that it could bolt down onto the original mounts and the damper at the front repositioned. The wiring loom was completely stripped out and rebuilt from scratch, and a new Acewell speedo installed in place of the original heavy clocks and subframe. All in all, it is a lighter, more powerful, more aggressive, go anywhere version of the Dominator.

Honda NX650 Desert Sled

• Does the bike have a nickname?

“Desert Dominator.”

• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?

It’s fantastic; it’s like riding a Yamaha Tenere but with more power. It bounces over the terrain with ease due to the new /reconditioned shocks and its low-down power means it’s a wheelie machine in the right hands. It hasn’t been to the desert yet but it has been to Wales and it was a blast to ride.

Honda NX650 Desert Sled

• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?

I’m just really happy with the way it turned out generally. It looks exactly as I imagined it would, which is not always possible. From the battery box hidden behind the perforated panels, to the simple headlight /shield and grill set up, I love it all.

Honda NX650 Desert Sled

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  1. Thomas Krise

    Hooray! It has a chain guard! A real rider.

  2. Lovely job!

  3. Wow! Just the gas tank I’m looking for my build. Anyone have one to sell?

  4. Kieran Farrell

    What weight is it now and what weight was it,,,, how much weight difference is there..???? How can changing The clocks save that much weight.????? The front shocks are better because you rebuilt them,,,, new oil seals and new oil have changed it into a new bike really,,,,,,, there has been more Dominators destroyed by fecking cowboys who think the are master mechanics and would be far better of sticking to their day job and stop destroying perfectly good bikes,,,,,just what you need to be riding around Knightsbridge in a suit and a tie and a rack for the brief case,,,,,,, what a waste,,,,,,totally devalued and reduced to a parts bike,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  5. Ignacio Oyarzo Rios

    It was incredible and tasteful… congratulations. just know the dimensions and weight. Hugs from Chile

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