The Honda XR650L is one of those big, bulletproof dual sport bikes that never seem to change. It’s tough and simple to fix, just like its evergreen competitors—the Suzuki DR650 and the Kawasaki KLR650.
With a 21-inch front wheel and a 37-inch seat height, the XR650L is not exactly custom-friendly. So this retro-inspired revamp from Joe Tessitore of Digital Directiv caught my eye.
“I’m not a big fan of commissioned builds,” says Joe, “but every once in a while someone proposes a project that sounds like fun. That was this bike.” It started life as a 2007-model XR650L, minus the generic red bodywork: the owner had pulled off the plastic in an attempt to find cleaner lines.
Known for its easygoing, torquey engine but far-from-fantastic looks, the XR would need a lot of massaging to reach the end goal—a Bultaco-inspired custom with a vintage supermoto flavor. “We wanted it to look like it could have come from the factory,” says Joe. “If supermotos existed in the 70s, we this is what they would have looked like.”
Joe replaced the ugly asymmetrical subframe rails with fresh, straight tubes and gussets to give an open and clean rear triangle. At the same time, he added a kicked-up hoop to support the abbreviated rear fender. The rest of the frame was smoothed and de-tabbed and under the seat is a custom-fabricated battery box, replacing the big plastic factory unit. The refinished engine stays with the vintage theme, thanks to a healthy dose of polished aluminum.
This XR650L lives mainly on the street, so the long and somewhat sloppy suspension travel wasn’t good enough. To tighten things up, Joe has braced the forks, lowered the ride height an inch and a half, and fitted Progressive Suspension springs. New wheels help the handling too: aluminum rims laced with stainless spokes from Buchannan’s and hooked up to freshly powdercoated hubs. The tires are Pirelli Scorpions.
“To say she handles the road better than her stock siblings would be an understatement,” Joe reports. “As for my favorite part: we removed two feet from the wiring harness, relocated the ignition, and tucked all the electrical components into the battery box and under the tank.”
Tony’s Customs and New Church Moto came through with vintage-styled paint and upholstery. And small but important details helped to complete the look, like CNC brackets from Motofactory and a reproduction Bultaco taillight from Spain.
It’s a beautiful, one-of-a-kind bike that Joe had a hard time letting go. “Almost every piece received personal attention, and there are more one-off mods than I can count,” he says. “I think Honda would have been proud to roll this one off the assembly line.”