The XR600R

Going Bush


As you’ve probably read in his bio, Steve is no stranger to flying over the handlebars of a motorcycle and doing himself injury. He started riding road bikes in 1997 and since then he’s written off a couple in big smashes. Naturally, there have been other smaller bingles as well. In recent years, however, the frequency and severity of Steve’s get-offs has decreased. Some people might speculate that experience has engendered some small measures of skill and caution, but we know the truth. Steve has become bored with crashing roadbikes. The large areas of bodywork, exposed engine covers, frequency of roadside obstacles and high speeds attainable on a roadbike makes it pretty easy to write one off. Steve had gained a fair bit of experience in doing just that, and the challenge had worn thin.

In the early months of 2004, Steve decided to take up a new hobby – dirtbikin’. It was the perfect choice for a mobile disaster area like him. His riding skills would come in handy, but off-road bikes are slower, simpler and much tougher than roadbikes, and hence harder to destroy. We encouraged him desperately, ‘coz he’d have to try a lot harder to write off a dirt squirt, and there’s a good chance he’d write himself off too. We live in hope, anyway.

Once he’d decided (with our urging) to expand his stable and buy a chook chaser, the right bike had to be found. Steve doesn’t have a car, and has no intention of buying one. No car means no trailer, so the dirt-squirt had to be road registrable. This narrowed the number of possible bikes down immediately - only diesels (4-strokes) need apply. There are registrable two-smokes, but they aren't very reliable on the road. All high-performance two-smoke motors blow up regularly (if they don't, they're not being thrashed enough), but smoker dirtbikes on the road are worse than most. Steve doesn't mind thrashing the odd glorified whipper-snipper, but for reliable dual-purpose grins, he just had to go diesel.

The other factor Steve had to consider was price. Being a lowly-regarded and even lowlier paid gumbynut employee with a crippling mortgage and three kids by different mothers (two of whom may discover his identity any day now, damn these DNA tests!), his funds were severely limited. Waltzing into a dealership and forking out big bucks for a flash newie was most definitely not an option. What Steve was looking for was an old 4-stroke snotter that had been well thrashed but was still reliable. That reliability requirement pretty much limited his scope to two manufacturers: Honda and Yamaha. Steve owns two Suzuki roadbikes, and he reckons their build quality leaves a bit to be desired. Krappysakis are simply a joke. Who’d want to ride a snot-green bike anyway? Nope, Steve was after something blue or red, and that meant a TT or an XR.

Through his nefarious underworld connections, Steve heard rumours of a mythical XR600 that had been seriously tweaked. Apparently, the mod list read like a catalogue of go-faster bits from the best in the hot-up business. This legendary beast was currently in the hands of a Pommie tourist who was gently puttering around Cape York on it (probably in search of a decent cup of tea and someone to listen to his whinging…) before heading back to South-East Queensland. He’d have to sell the bike to scrape together enough cash for his plane ticket back to the rain, sleet, hail and cold of a Pommie summer, and Steve arranged to be first in line to buy. Unfortunately, he missed out on the deal by 15 minutes and was forced to watch the bike he could have bought for $2,500 being advertised in the Trading Post for three straight weeks by different people at escalating prices before it finally disappeared, presumably sold for the final asking price of $5,000. It was definitely the same bike. ’93 XR600R, 630 big-bore kit, race cam, Ballard’s pumper carb, RaceTech forks, Ohlins shock, Goodridge braided lines, Acerbis 24l tank, alloy bash plate, et cetera, et cetera, et bloody cetera. There aren’t too many around like that, especially for less than three big ones.

Dejected, Steve went back to phoning dishonest imbeciles from the trading post and listlessly surveying tired TT350s and overpriced XR400s. Then he heard about a bike from a co-worker. It wasn’t anything flash, but the price was good and the seller was open to negotiation. Steve wandered around to have a gander, and initially he wasn’t too impressed. The XR600 was old, having left Japan in the year of Australia’s bicentennial (1988, for those too young and/or drunk to remember). It had been well thrashed and pretty much neglected. Most of the external steel parts had surface rust. Steve started to feel a bit sorry for the poor thing, ‘coz it was propped up next to the house and half-covered by spare building materials. Once it was dug out, the Ballard’s big-fin head was revealed, along with a plethora of “630cc” stickers. A Ballard’s pipe was also present, and the seller confided that the bike had refused to run properly until he’d operated on said pipe and removed all those nasty power-sapping, thump-stifling baffles. Both pipe and head looked fairly recent, and despite obvious disuse the bike fired up on the third kick. Brakes and suspension were stock, both front and rear, and although it didn’t look too bad for an ’88 model bike, Steve mentally compared it to the deal he had missed and wrote it off even before the test ride.

As soon as Steve hoisted a leg (damn, that seat is HIGH!) over the XR, however, his opinion changed. The long stroke, high compression and non-existent exhaust baffling created a thump that rattled windows, set off car alarms, and knocked over little old ladies at 30 paces. The throttle action was short and touchy, and the torque was prodigious. The front wheel refused to talk to terra firma in first gear, and tended to take flight in second as well. The clutch was light and progressive, and the gearbox was sweet. Although the frame showed evidence of plenty of hard landings on rough surfaces, the wheels were in line and the bike didn’t exhibit any handling problems, even at speeds over 160kph (on a private road, naturally…). The suspension didn’t sag and still had plenty of damping. It may have been old, but it went like stink and had handling to match. Steve came back from the test ride with his tongue hanging out from under his helmet and his hand in his wallet. He wasn’t intending to buy a 600 as his first dirtbike, but after sampling big-bore torque and wheelstandability, he was hooked. He bought the bike for a nice price, went shopping for off-road riding gear and then headed for the scrub on one wheel and with a huge grin.