A big-bore Honda street tracker from JuanVerde of Texas…
The Honda XR650L remains one of our favorite dual-sport / adventure motorcycles of all time. Released in 1992, it combined the Honda Dominator’s RFVC engine and the battle-tested chassis from the XR600R, which had ripped a name for itself across Baja and the Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) series. Said Cycle News of the XR650L:
“Off-roaders loved it for its above-average suspension, versatility, license plate, and its torquey, forgiving and low-compression engine that was more reliable than an anvil.”
It’s very tall (37-inch seat height) and quite heavy (348 pounds wet), but has 13 inches of ground clearance and an 80+ pound weight advantage over the 432-pound KLR650. Two of our close friends from Coastal Empire Moto own these big Honda thumpers, and it’s a testament to the bike’s greatness that it’s remained in production for 30 years now, nearly unchanged!
One man who’s drawn to these bikes is the elusive “JuanVerde” (@RotaJG) of Denton, Texas. We first met Juan at Bryan Fuller’s Forged Invitational, where he was displaying one of his incredible Honda CB750 builds, but he’s been hearing the call of the single-cylinder of late:
“Lately I’ve been drawn to the bikes I wasn’t allowed to have when I was a kid. Big dirt bikes. Flat track bikes. Just plain air-cooled fun machines.”
Back in 2019, we featured JuanVerde’s Honda XR600R street tracker, and now he’s back with a ’97 XR650L, which was originally owned by photographer, adventurer, and friend of the blog Scott Brown (@themotostudio), who bought the bike out of his preacher’s barn — handlebars bent, tires rotted — and took the bike on some serious international escapades, including a dozen trips to Mexico, the eastern half of the Trans America Trail, and even Deal’s Gap / the Tail of the Dragon.
“I pulled it out of a barn in 2006. It sat for almost 10 years. Paid $500. To my preacher at the time. LoL.”
No one likes to see a good a bike put out to pasture, least of all JV. It was time for the old warhorse to get a new lease on life, transformed into a flat track-inspired thoroughbred:
“I’ve been really into simple tracker-styled bikes lately and have always like things clean and somewhat shiny. So, it’s my take on a street tracker bar bike.”
JuanVerde says only the engine, front part of the frame, and swingarm remain stock. It’s now running some Showa forks from a CRF450, internally lowered, along with 18×3″ wheels — smack between 19″ tracker and 17″ supermoto sizes. Then there’s the FT500 tank and one-off tail section — welded into a one piece monocoque — as well as stainless custom exhaust, LED lighting, engine refresh, and more. JV even handled the paint himself.
As you can imagine, the finished bike is a blast on the street:
“It’s fun as hell to ride around town.”
Nicknamed “Ned,” it’s one of three amigos — Ned, Lucky, Dusty — which JuanVerde has in the works. Unfortunately, they’re already spoken for, so we’ll have to watch these slick-as-hell thumpers ride off into the sunset without us. Below, we talk to JuanVerde himself for the full story on the build and share more photos from Scott Brown (@themotostudio).
Honda XR650 Street Tracker: Builder Questionnaire
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
Been tinkering/building/restoring bikes on the side for about 20 years or more now. Most were Honda CB750 builds. Lately I’ve been drawn to the bikes I wasn’t allowed to have when I was a kid. Big dirt bikes. Flat track bikes. Just plain air-cooled fun machines.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
This bike is a 1997 Honda XR650L that belonged to my buddy Scott Brown @themotostudio. He’s a photographer with a lot of wander/travel in him. The bike saw some great places. He was going to give it a new lease on life and build something new out of it (after he saw the XR600 I did a few years back), but it just kinda sat after he started, so I rescued it. An old buddy I’ve known since elementary school is going to be the new owner.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
I’ve been really into simple tracker-styled bikes lately and have always like things clean and somewhat shiny. So, it’s my take on a street tracker bar bike.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Not much remains of the original bike except for the motor, front half of the frame, and the swing arm. Rear subframe is new 1” tubing to match the front tubing. Front end 47mm Showas off a CRF450, lowered six inches internally. Machined new stem to fit the frame and triples. Wheels are both 18×3” — kinda between a flat track bike and a supermoto.
Tank is off an FT500 modified to fit over the frame. Tail section is three pieces of flat steel (laser-cut from sendcutsend) hammered over plywood forms, then welded and finished. It’s welded to the tank, so it’s all one piece. Number plates are also laser-cut steel with rolled edges.
Exhaust is stainless. Headers from FMF, “muffler” is a big-mouth from Cone Engineering. In between are some pie cuts to tie it together.
Seat stitch up by Andy at Extreme Upholstery in Denton, TX.
Motor is stock with new rings, seals, gaskets. Didn’t need much since it was a good runner already — just a little freshen up. Finishes on the motor are Cerakote. Really dig their finishes. I did the paint as well in my trusty EZ-up paint booth.
All lighting is now LED — headlight, turn signals, and brake lights. Even kept the horn.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
It’s fun as hell to ride around town.
• I hear there are two more amigos coming? Tell us more!
There are two more of these coming very soon. (Speedos are back ordered, etc.). Just different colors. Both are spoken for. When do I get to keep one?
Follow the Builder
Builder: JuanVerde @RotaJG
Photos: Scott Brown @themotostudio | @scottbrownadventurer | www.themotostudio.com
The best compliment I can give on this bike: “Honda should have built this decades ago!”
How much does it cost?
Great Body work integration of seat and number plate looks factory
Honda could have used this better styling
Well done !