The Honda XR150L dual sport bike has certainly made plenty of friends since its launch in 2014, especially since arriving unofficially in Vietnam. This small capacity adventure bike sector, however, is almost as tough as the terrain it’s expected to traverse.
It’s hard not to love Honda. They are a company with a history of sticking their neck out, breaking the mold and taking motorcycling along a different and less travelled path.
Let’s explore if this bike is up for the job on Vietnam’s often mixed-use routes and roads. It’s one thing being beginner-friendly, but is the XR150 up to the job in hand for long distance adventure or daily commute on some of the roads Vietnam has to offer, its ride ready pilots?
They literally are the most sold brand in Vietnam, due mostly to the massive scooter market. Locals refer to any bike as Honda in general conversation, Honda is likely the most trusted brand for the Vietnam population to date.
The company’s dirt bike heritage goes back a very long way. At a time when all the major manufacturers were pushing buzzy, smoke-belching 2-strokes, Honda went down the thumper route. It is fair to say, this move is typical of the Big H.
In 1972 they launched the XL250 Motorsport, a dual-purpose bike that would become a bestseller for over 15 years.
Five years later, saw the launch of the XR model range and the rest, as they say, is history. The Honda XR150 has some serious heritage in its DNA, so let’s take a closer look at what makes it tick. Especially the models introduced to Vietnam riders in recent years.
Quick Look Engine Spec
|Engine Size||Gears||Bore/Stroke||Horse Power||Max Torque|
|150cc||5||57.3 x 57.8||12.1||12.5 N.m|
150cc may seem like a strange engine displacement, but in far eastern countries such as Vietnam, the A1 license covers engine sizes from 50-175cc. These engine sizes also represent the largest sector of the motorcycle market in the eastern hemisphere.
Strangely enough, it was never Honda’s intention to import the Honda XR150 to Vietnam officially. Instead, they aimed it at the Latin American, South African and the Southern Hemisphere markets where it was advertised as the ‘’ideal ranch bike.’’
The fact that independent dealers are bringing the diminutive adv bike into Vietnam in significant numbers does speak volumes for its dual-sport potential.
So what’s the Deal with the Engine?
With a bore and stroke of a mere 0.5mm difference, the 4-stroke overhead cam engine, in theory, gives the best of both worlds in terms of torque and rev-ability. This fact doesn’t convey the full story in terms of performance, though.
Maximum horsepower of 8.72kW is delivered at 8000rpm while max torque of 12.1N.m comes in just 2000rpm lower. On paper at least, the Honda appears more orientated to higher road-based cruising than low-speed, dirt trail plods.
Honda has also made an allowance for the potential of extra engine buzz by upgrading to an offset crank with balance shaft and the introduction of roller rockers.
Also, the piston has a few grams shaved off, and a rethink of the oil cooling channels all go towards lowering vibes and increasing reliability.
Keeping Things Off the floor
The engine unit may be comparatively lightweight, but for the Honda XR150L to handle any off-road duties, Honda has gone for a tried and tested single down tube, full cradle frame.
The sub-frame is a welded, non-removable unit with a braced, box section, steel swing-arm and mono-shock suspension.
The telescopic front forks appear a little spindly at 31mm. Remember though, this is a bike that tips the scales at a mere 130kg wet, so they shouldn’t be overly taxed.
More importantly, they give a good 180mm of travel and with the rear shock adding 150mm, ground clearance benefits to the tune of 245mm.
Although the ground clearance is decent, the Honda XR150L’s seat height of 32.5” (825 mm) shouldn’t give too many problems for short riders either.
Quick Look Cycle Parts
|F Suspension||R Suspension||F Brake||R Brake||Frame|
|31mm Tele||Monoshock||240mm disc||Drum||Full cradle|
The Devil’s in the Detail
With the Honda XR150 being a dual-sport bike, it’s good to see that Honda has finally paid attention to previous gripes in at least two major categories. These being the seat and the gas tank.
The seat is a one-piece unit. Unlike its two-piece counterparts popular on most dual-sport bikes, it won’t get mud, rain or road gunge trapped in the front/back split. More importantly, it’s a decent width and has enough contouring to hold the rider in place. It also gives a good-sized flat perch for the passenger or pillion riding comfortably in Vietnam.
it won’t get mud, rain or road gunge trapped in the front/back split.-XR150 seat-
The second tick of the box concerns the gas tank. With a 12-litre capacity (approximately 3 US gallons), tank range is going to give you a full day touring on one fill-up.
While on the subject of fuel, the Honda XR150 doesn’t come complete with a fuel gauge as standard. So you’ll have to go old school and either use the trip to calculate your fill-up times or master the ancient art of opening the gas cap and rocking the bike.
Quick Look Weights And Measures
|Weight||Length||Seat Height||Clearance||Fuel Capacity|
Fashion over Form
As for its looks, the Honda XR150L designers have kept the bike pretty sleek with the exception of tank spoilers. In theory, these are supposed to drive air down towards the cylinder head and/or air intakes as well as adding bulk to the gas tank, giving your thighs something to hug.
In the real world, riding in a group where you get hit with the front riders rooster-tail or plow through muddy puddles, that recess is going to get full of crud. Such a high front mudguard doesn’t help matters much either.
The Bottom Line
Overall, the Honda XR150 bike is a very competent motorcycle. Honda 4-stroke engines are historically bulletproof and fit, and their finish is second to none. It is, however, not without its limitations.
The engine power characteristics appear more biased towards road use. Also, with just a single rear rack, all your luggage will be placed past the rear wheel axle, meaning the front end could become very light.
In the right conditions in Vietnam, the Honda XR150L is a very competent bike, provided you make sure it’s set up right to the job you have in hand.
When it comes to riding in Vietnam, the challenges facing any motorcycle are numerous. On roads alone, cities are traffic heavy and very stop/start, calling for a narrow profile, a high degree of maneuverability, and good brakes.
Outside of town and the situation is equally as demanding. Everything from fast highways to peg-scraping bends, debris and the occasional herd of cows are all looming around the next corner, anything and everything is possible to keep your eyes wide open on Vietnam roads, not so much the throttle.
Move on to the loose stuff and you’ll experience everything from rain forests to coastal plains and mountain passes. Not to mention all manner of terrain passing beneath your wheels.
TV programmes including ‘Top Gear Vietnam Special’ portray traversing the country on two-wheels as a non-stop laugh a minute road trip. It probably is, when you have an entire production team, sound and camera crews along with back-up vehicles and a huge budget.
To discover if a bike like the XR150 is up to taking on Vietnam though, ask someone who has clocked-up 20,000km in just such conditions.
Here professional motorcycle tour guide and Vietnam riding veteran, Hawk Moon gives us his take on the Honda XR150L.
Read on, and discover Hawk’s Eye View of Clocking-Up 20,000km on a Honda XR150 through Vietnam.
Love at First Sight?
Like for Like
‘To be honest, when I first saw the XR150 arrive in Vietnam it didn’t impress me, it just wasn’t a good-looking bike. But then you take a step back and consider what you’re riding, things become a lot more interesting.’
Before the Honda XR150L began popping up on the scene here in Vietnam, four or five years ago, standard choices for off-roading were ancient battered XT250’s. Plus, the curse of eco-warriors the world over, the Minsk also readily wondering Vietnam trails.
Unburstable Yamaha XR’s need no introduction, but the Russian built 125’s were introduced to Vietnam by the USSR back in the 1960s.
During the 80’s Vietnam imported Minsk 125s by the cartload. These two-stroke terrors can still be seen wobbling around the countryside belching smoke.
‘The two-stroke terrors can still be seen wobbling around the countryside of Vietnam belching smoke.’-The Neval Minsk-
Is it any wonder that Hawk quickly re-assessed the Honda XR150L potential for Vietnam routes? A brand new bike with in-built reliability, decent suspension and a reasonable price tag suddenly looked very attractive,’ he recalls.
People tend to go on first impressions and Hawk remembers the first time he threw a leg over the XR150. ‘I remember thinking, it’s not a bad size, the seat height is reasonably low and the footpegs in a decent position.’
‘Even the suspension felt good when it was new, so yes, I was impressed at first, but look what I had to compare it too, here in central Vietnam ’ he laughs.
Twist and Go
Traffic Light Drag Strip
‘For urban conditions on Vietnam roads, I’d have to say it has great performance. The traffic and roads mean that anything with high performance is just way too risky to ride, so the Honda XR150L feels about right.’
‘It has just enough acceleration and power to overtake, but don’t worry, you won’t look down and see 100kph on the speedo.’
According to Hawk, it’s only when you head into the Vietnam countryside or venture off-road that the flaws begin to show. ‘It’s really comfortable cruising between 70–85kph, which is plenty for here, but it’s certainly gutless in the lower gears,’ he says.
‘Hit a steep hill and it really struggles, and as for thick mud, you can forget it. The lack of low down grunt means they get stuck very easily. I’ve seen plenty of fails on both these accounts all over Vietnam tracks.’ he reveals.
The Good, the Bad and the Bouncy
Now for the Good News Vietnam story
It’s not all bad news on the loose stuff and according to Hawk, the lack of bulk on the Honda XR150 is a huge factor in the way it handles. ‘The weight and small frame are the biggest advantage,I found on Vietnam trails’ he says.
‘You can really throw it around and if you make a mistake and lean it over, you can easily stick a foot down and correct. ‘
‘There have also been plenty of times on tour in Vietnam, when we’ve literally carried one over an obstacle or lifted it out of a ditch. When you’re riding in a group and someone dumps it, three guys and lifting it feels like nothing, even with two, it’s not terrible.’
‘Three guys and lifting it feels like nothing, even with two, it’s not terrible.’-Man-handling the XR150-
‘The only problem that makes itself known very quickly’ adds the experienced Vietnam tour guide, ‘is the back shock. It starts off way too soft and just goes downhill from there as you clock-up the kilometers.’
Loading the back end up with kit apparently also noticeably upsets the handling. This factor says the Vietnam tour guide, is why you’ll see a lot of these bikes with custom made side racks to bring the weight more central.
Weighty Issue on Vietnam routes, no problem
‘Whenever I’ve had to carry anything on a tour in Vietnam, I always put the weighty stuff like tools and spares on the back of the seat or even on the tank.’
As I said, though, the handling problems and poor load carrying capacity are all down to the cheap Chinese-made soggy suspension.’
The biggest recurring problem with the Honda XR150L for Vietnam revolves around the fact that they were never officially imported into the country.
Apart from bringing into question the legality of some bikes, it also means that parts are tough to come by. Understandably repairs get bodged and spares from other models swapped around the Vietnamese spanner men.
‘It’s a real pity,’ says Hawk, ‘the engines are super reliable and easy to work on. By now,’ he says, ‘the majority of bikes will have low-quality changeable parts all over them, so the bulk of XR150L bikes over here in Vietnam, are in a poor state.’
Quick Look Positives and Negatives
|Overall weight and size||Rear drum brake too small no feel|
|Decent riding position||Rear shock too soft|
|Long travel forks||Lack of low down grunt|
|Good fuel tank range||Bars too low for standing work|
|Easy roadside repairs||Seating position not suitable for tallies|
|Reliable engine||Lack of quality spares|
‘Don’t get me wrong,’ says Hawk’ on reflection; the Honda XR150 is not a bad bike. Yes, it’s got its flaws and limitations, but if it fits you physically and suits your needs, it’s a good tool. It’s like I’ve been saying all along, though. It all depends on what you’re comparing it to in the first place, or what’s been available in Vietnam.’
Why Onyabike Adventures ride, Royal Enfield Himalayan 410 in Vietnam tours
We all know how difficult it is to get a bike that ticks all the boxes. Very often it’s a case of finding enough plus points to help ease living with the downsides. Occasionally though, a motorcycle comes along, that feels like it was tailor-made for you.
For this reason, we decided on the Himalayan 410 as our tool of choice for the beautiful yet challenging roads and trails of Vietnam.