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Avoid Honda XR650R Motorcycle Engine Damage—Use the Correct Main and Pilot Jets!

dirt motorcycle off-road motorcycle dirt bike discussion dirt bike how-to dirt bike troubleshooting thumper motorcycle Honda XR motorcycle backcountry riding

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#1 Moses Ludel

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Posted 31 December 2013 - 01:22 PM

The magazine recently purchased a 2000 Honda XR650R motorcycle with less than 1000 original miles on the bike. An honest and forthright previous owner could not start the engine, and given the mileage, we agreed that the problem was stale winter (ethanol) fuel—which had eaten up the plastic tank screen! I trailered the cycle home and looked forward to restoring the fuel system and completing the dual-sport conversion process. The motorcycle will be an HD video shooting platform for remote backcountry documentary filming and off-pavement event coverage, so the XR650R's low mileage seemed a huge asset.


After 20 hours of prepping the cycle for a Nevada dual-sport inspection, including some minor tuning and checking out the bike's general condition, I discovered that the 650 thumper engine would not start. Consulting two friends with XR650Rs, I assumed that my starting technique was the culprit. A heavy cardio workout later, it was apparent that the compression was lacking. I did a quick compression gauge check and discovered a 95 PSI cranking compression issue. (To assure an accurate reading, make sure the auto-decompression mechanism is not holding the valves open when performing a compression test!)

Attached File  Cylinder Leak Down Test-7.JPG   97.49KB   0 downloadsAttached File  Cylinder Leak Down Test-8.JPG   96.97KB   0 downloadsAttached File  Cylinder Leak Down Test-11.JPG   101.44KB   0 downloadsAttached File  Cylinder Leak Down Test-12.JPG   98.15KB   0 downloads

My next step was a cylinder leak down test, which I have covered in detail with an HD video how-to feature. (Click here to view the HD video how-to procedure and results!)  The leak down test pinpointed leaking intake and exhaust valves; a look inside the cylinder (through the spark plug hole) also indicated scoring at the upper wall of the Nikasil cylinder plating. Time for an upper engine tear down, which I cover as a step-by-step HD video: Click here to see the how-to series at the 4WD Mechanix HD Video Network's freshly launched "The Off-Road Motorcycle Channel".


So, how did a "bulletproof" Honda XR650R motorcycle, with less than 1000 miles since new, end up with a worn out set of valves and leaky piston and rings? The answer is two-fold: 1) the motorcycle had an incomplete "uncorking" job with a partial "Honda Power-Up Kit" installed and 2) a leaking aftermarket air filter had seeped abrasive dirt into the air stream and through the engine's intake system. The air filter issue is notorious for pitting valves, scoring an upper cylinder and damaging piston rings on motorcycle and automotive engines. An incomplete uncorking calls attention to an ever important problem for any motorcycle engine modification: the need to re-jet the carburetor to compensate for improved intake flow or a less restrictive exhaust system!


The "Power-Up Kit" opened up the exhaust cap on the muffler and reduced exhaust backpressure (basically an HRC end cap). The cycle is a non-California model, so there was no restrictive "D" molding in the intake manifold grommet. (The non-California intake manifold is considered the unrestricted air intake, often sold as the upgrade for better breathing.) The pilot jet had the Power Up Kit's #68 sizing, though not the specific "68s" style. However, for some unfathomable reason, the main jet in place was still the ultra-lean, original 125 main jet!  The most important ingredient in the uncorking process for a Honda XR650R motorcycle engine is the unrestricted rubber intake manifold and a jetting change to a 175 main jet and 68s pilot jet (base line at sea level). Exhaust modifications help further, the stock OE muffler's exit flow and end cap are ridiculously small for a 650 thumper!


How important is the 175 main jet and 68s pilot? Important enough to be the OEM jet sizing on all Honda XR650R engines sold outside of North America! The U.S. engines were leaned to the limit by E.P.A. requirements, and California models (XR650R AC designation) were even more restricted by a draconian reshape and air flow restriction in the rubber intake manifold and the intake air box. So, this uncorked, non-California model had its exhaust opened and uncapped—plus the removal of air intake box restrictors. The EPA regulated (non-California) cycle already had the open, round intake manifold. It was in severe need of the 175 main jet, however, which the dealer neglected to install with the power tuning!

Attached File  Honda XR650R Engine Teardown-6.JPG   115.19KB   0 downloadsAttached File  Honda XR650R Engine Teardown-7.JPG   94.12KB   0 downloadsAttached File  Honda XR650R Engine Teardown-8.JPG   92.29KB   0 downloadsAttached File  Honda XR650R Engine Teardown-10.JPG   88.79KB   0 downloads

The result is clear. Despite the low mileage, this engine was busy overheating its upper cylinder and valves. Upon tear down, which you can follow in the HD video linked above, the engine's upper cylinder looked more like a Baja 1000 Race finisher than 1000 miles of reasonable recreational riding. Fortunately, the previous owner had used quality lubricant and changed oil filters regularly. The XR650R's unique liquid cooling (the only XR to ever offer it!) also helped minimize damage and isolate the wear to the cylinder plating, piston skirts, rings and valves. The main engine assembly is still in near-new condition.


I'm now in the process of rebuilding the upper engine. The head and cylinder have been sublet to L.A. Sleeve Company. My approach will likely be an alloy iron/chrome/moly, patented L.A. Sleeve liner in place of the factory Nikasil. Though many are fans of Nikasil, I'm not thrilled that's its only a "plating" thick. This Honda XR650R has a lot of work ahead, and it must be ultra reliable.


I may consider a Stage 1 Hot Cams alternative, mainly to eliminate the auto-decompression mechanism on the OE camshaft. Compression ratio will remain the stock 10:1 with the new upgrade piston, enough squeeze for higher altitudes and the limit for kick starting and long piston ring life! Quality machine work, a fresh cylinder and upgrade piston choice, renewed valves and proper assembly technique will have this motorcycle living up to its legendary reputation—with a 175 main jet and 68* pilot jet in its Keihin carburetor!  Follow the rebuild how-to coverage at the magazine's The Off-Road Motorcycle Channel—in 1080P HD video!


*Note: The carburetor had a straight 68 jet installed, and I will see if the 68s is necessary. There is a difference in the flow between these two varieties. Honda's Power-Up Kit does call for the 68s and also a needle change if necessary. I will fine tune as needed, though that would be anticipated at northern Nevada. Our home base is 4,500 feet elevation and high desert; the average/mean elevation at Nevada is 5,500 feet!



#2 RareCJ8


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Posted 31 December 2013 - 02:13 PM

very interesting stuff moses.   my 650 was already uncorked and unplugged when i bought it, so i have no idea about condition or jetting, etc.  the manual start is a real bugger.  sometimes i get pretty winded just getting it to start, not counting all the times right foot slips off kick start lever  and right foot peg jams into the shin...ouch.  that said, it can sit for months and months and after about 7-8 good kicks, starts right up.  My latest project is to install the front brake re build kit.  seems sitting for a length of time allows air to get sucked into the system leading to no or nearly no front brake.  yikes!  tired of constant bleeding.


in other news, took delivery of the uber-cool dual voltage gauge for jeep.  the instructions show it simply hooked direct to the batteries, but i am concerned parasitic draw may pull down those batteries.    will advise and best to all in the new year.


#3 Moses Ludel

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Posted 31 December 2013 - 04:19 PM

RareCj8...A leak down test is spot on and conclusive (see HD video for details). The damage source for my engine was clear when I discovered the 125 OEM main jet in place and dirt around the edge of the air filter.  This cycle had been ridden primarily in Texas (lower elevations) on the lean mixture.


Generally understood is that "uncorking" involves a list of changes, which includes the 175 main jet (selection is a no brainer, this is the OE main jet outside the U.S. for engines identical to ours). All of the XR650Rs with the OE main jet are under duress, especially non-California models still running with the original main jet. Uncorking without changing the main and pilot jets becomes the death knell. Here is the "official" Honda Power-Up Kit list of parts plus the removal of the air box restrictors. (This list is third party info and somewhat dated; confirm current part numbers available at your Honda dealership.) The list:


 16211-MBN-640 (Insulator, Carburetor, which gets rid of the California "D" shaped restrictor manifold)
 18317-MBN-640 (Exhaust Tip without the tiny outlet and restriction)
 99105-MBN-0680 (68s Pilot Jet)
 99101-357-1750 (Main Jet 175)
 16012-MBN-641 (B53E Needle Set, this is based on tuning needs; at our altitude, try without the needle change first)


Also expected is the removal of the "user removable" air box restrictions. A Power Up Kit should not be confused with the Honda Racing kit for the XR650R. The HRC kit adds a warmer camshaft, improved piston and rings with bumped compression (11:1, really?) plus other racing nuances.


The OE Keihin pilot and main jet are each accessible with the float bowl removed, and the Keihin carburetor can be carefully rotated to access all four float bowl screws. They are Japanese Phillips head and vulnerable to rounding if not careful, but most of us who have owned Japanese motorcycles have been there and own a hand impact driver for that purpose. 


You can access and remove the main jet by simply unscrewing the drain plug at the bottom of the float bowl and accessing the jet with an appropriate 1/4" drive metric socket. This lean issue is serious enough to warrant looking at the installed jet if you're unsure of its size/flow. You and I live at nearly the same altitude, and I opted for a 172 main jet for the 4,500-7,000 foot elevation range that I typically ride. 175 would likely be okay if you want to play it safe for sea level, you should be able to readily run to 6,000 or so feet without fouling a spark plug. When you read the jet change charts, even from Honda, there's a wide range of adjustment for ambient temperature and altitude. My cycle's pilot had been changed to a 68 (not 68s), which I'll try and go from there. I haven't pursued the needle position or type, would bet it's stone stock since the carburetor's top looks unopened. We can discuss fine tuning and carburetor staging later...For others, keep in mind that tuning is altitude and temperature sensitive.


As for the voltage meter(s) for the CJ-8 Jeep, I totally agree. We're back to my suggestion that you simply route the lead wire to the voltmeter through a standard Bosch-type relay that is key-on activated. The relay would close the circuit on the wire lead when you turn on the ignition key and open the circuit/lead when you turn off the key. This would deactivate current flow of any kind with the key off. Refer to my primitive drawing (earlier exchange) for ideas.


Have a safe and very Happy New Year! We'll ride the Big Red Pigs (XR650s) at the desert when I get this beast plated, I'm looking forward to that prospect!



#4 DavidEasum



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Posted 02 July 2014 - 06:13 PM

Hi Moses, have you got an idea about what jets and needles the Euro version of the XR would have come with stock? I'm going to open my carb for maintenance and will be doing some thinking about what should or shouldn't be in there. As you know, my motor (Euro model) is fried from overheating/dirt ingestion/bad maintenance...



#5 Moses Ludel

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Posted Yesterday, 04:41 AM

Hi, David...I've been very busy with Michelin T63 tire testing on the Honda XR650R, you'll enjoy the road testing and also the addition of TCI Products racks and Nelson-Rigg bags...


As for jetting, here is a PDF with Euro and Australia specifications:


Attached File  Honda XR650R Specifications.pdf   3.71MB   1 downloads


You should have a 175 main jet, a 65 pilot jet and the needle clip in the third groove from the top.  You'll see this listed by market in the specs.  Also, I included many of the other detail specs that you might find useful to your project.


Thanks for posting, I'm back from the tests and HD video filming, so my responses will be timely.  You'll get a real kick out of the off-pavement and on-pavement testing.  Stay tuned, I'll be doing the post production video edit work this week!





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