Honda XR628R: Street-Legal Baja Tribute

Honda XR628R

Hot Rod XR from Italy’s GPgarage Moto… 

Introduced in 1985, the Honda XR600R was destined to become one of the most successful off-road bikes in motorcycling history. The air-cooled thumper would win the Baja 1000 five times, rivaling the mighty Kawasaki KX500 two-stroke as king of the desert. More surprisingly, the big XR would also make a great woods bike — something few expected from the big 600.

“On the east side of the country, the championships flowed freely thanks to the freakish abilities of Scott Summers. He won five GNCC titles, four National Hare Scrambles Championships, 69 individual national races and earned three ISDE gold medals on the XR.” –Dirt Bike

Honda XR628R

The original twin-carb models were a bit overweight, but the ’88 model dropped nearly 20 pounds with a nikasil cylinder, single-carb, and redesigned chassis. It gained a cartridge fork in ’91 and minor engine changes in ’93, but remained relatively unchanged until 2000, when the liquid-cooled XR650R replaced it. In those 15+ years, the air-cooled XR left a legacy that would be tough to duplicate.

“The bike’s racing history really started in 1982 when Al Baker and Jack Johnson won the SCORE Baja 1000 on the second-year, single-shock XR500R. The XR500R won again in ‘84 and then the XR600R took over in ‘85. The 600 continued to win in ‘86 and ‘87. After a Kawasaki-created dry spell in Baja, the Honda XR600R again won the 1000 in ‘97 and ‘98, after which a redesigned XR650R took over.” –Dirt Bike

Honda XR628R

One of the world’s air-cooled XR maestros is our friend Matteo Gualandi of Italy’s GPgarage Moto, a former motocross racer whose workshop fields a pair of modern CRF rally bikes in the Italian Rally Championship. Over the years, Matteo has painstakingly recreated replicas of Honda’s factory Baja racers — machines like his Johnny Campbell XR628R, ’94 XR680R, and XR667 Baja Monster.

Johnny Campbell Tribute: Honda XR628R Baja!

With his stable of replicas complete, Matteo is now free to build XRs according to his own designs, though his builds are still very much inspired by Honda’s air-cooled Baja bikes. In this case, a customer wanted a street-legal version of Matteo’s XR628 Baja build — a bike he made to resemble that of a 90s privateer racer.

Baja Red: Honda XR628 Desert Racer

The bike includes most of the same upgrades as the off-road-only build: 628cc big-bore kit, custom front-mount oil-cooler to keep the air-cooled single’s temps down, special oil decanter kit, FCR carb with bespoke double-pipe exhaust and LeoVince silencers, 3D-printed front light, and much more.

Meanwhile, it has the minimum legal necessities for street-legality, including an LED headlight, longer rear fender with license plate mount, brake-light switches, and road-certified Michelin Tracker tires.

Honda XR628R

Most of the finishes have been done in highly durable Cerakote, and Matteo is duly proud of the graphics kit — a mix of OEM graphics from various years.

The result is a knobby-tired hot rod that brims with 90s flash and Baja heritage — a bike that tips its hat to Honda off-road legends like Johnny Campbell and Scott Summers while providing its new owner plenty of fun both on the road and off. This is one XR we’d love to have in the stable.

Honda XR600R: Builder Interview

Honda XR628R

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

Honda XR600, 1998.

Honda XR628R

• Why was this bike built?

Customer request.

Honda XR628R

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

It’s a street replica of our race XR628 Baja Tribute.

Honda XR628R

• What custom work was done to the bike?

Oil radiator kit, custom double exhaust, oil decanter kit, custom 3D-printed front light, cerakote paint.

Honda XR628R

• Does the bike have a nickname?

“XR P.A.M.” (The owner’s initials.)

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

Yes the graphics scheme, a mix of different years of OEM graphics.

Honda XR628R

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