Compared with the current gang of razor-thin, lightweight, firmly suspended, electric-start race bikes with lights, the kick-start XR feels fat, front-heavy and soft, but it's still a classic trail bike that appeals to a lot of riders.
Why? Because the XR is simple to work on, cheap to run, and its unsophisticated air-cooled, single cylinder engine has a reputation for longevity. There's nothing fancy or glamorous about the XR400 and a lot of riders like that (though they wouldn't mind electric-start). You change the oil every other ride, make sure the chain, sprockets and tyres are in good nick, and you ride it. A well-maintained XR400 is the kind of bike you can leave in the shed with the daddy long-legs for four months, then wheel it out and take off.
There's another reason trail riders like the XR400. It's five grand cheaper than the glamorous bikes. Five grand is a lot of money. If you save that much buying a bike, you can spend it on riding to cool places on your XR. When this was being written, some dealers in NSW were offering $500 cashback deals if you bought any Honda XR.
What kind of people buy XR400s? Anyone who wants to trail ride with his mates, or plonk around with the kids, and doesn't need a bike that costs $5000 more. Not everyone can afford the latest Euro-missile and not everyone wants one. The XR has the lowest seat height of the bikes discussed here, but because it's quite heavy it's best suited to blokes who can pick up a dropped bike by themselves, then kick-start the engine after it's been flooded.
Even with the extra on-road costs of owning a 400cc machine, the XR is great value for money and fun to ride.
What we liked: Familiar and comfortable; Deadset reliable; Good value. Not so much: No electric start; Insufficient ground clearance; Heavy. Basic Specs: 397cc air-cooled four-stroke, 5-speed, 117kg, 930mm seat height, 9.5lt fuel, $9190 plus ORC.
By Barry Ashenhurst
Published : Friday, 19 September 2003