Lately the 175s have been getting very good. Yamaha's DT175E, with its monoshock frame not only is a pleasant road bike, but come very close to being an acceptable 175 enduro. Kawasaki's KE175B has a rotary disc valved motor that pulls strongly low down as well as rev out easily. Suzuki's updated TS185 learnt a lot from the RM series and also comes out a strong all round trail bike.
Meanwhile Honda's XL175 has seen small but important improvements since it won our first 175 trail comparo 3 years ago. None of the changes have been complete new frames, or motors that the other three have undergone.
Instead the XL175 has been content to stay with its proven low pulling motor, and to refine minor things year by year. In doing so the XL has remained the truest dual purpose bike in the sense that it is an excellent small road machine.
The Honda's engine is a reliable, economical 4-stroke of 173cc capacity. Its proved itself to us, both in this test, and many times in the past as being a solid, if not over-powerful motor. The redeeming feature of this type of engine in a 175cc trail bike is its low down pulling power, and its wide powerband. Unlike its faster 2-stroke competitors in this class the Honda can be ridden easily by experienced and learner. rider alike. It idles over smoothly, and can be ridden very slowly for long periods without fouling up, or coughing and dying when the throttle is snapped open.
The long 4-stroke motor accounts for the XL having to give away about an inch of ground clearance to its competitors. Wisely, Honda has fitted an excellent sump guard that is strong, and big enough to do its job.
Breathing is via a 26mm Mikuni and a well sealed airfilter box which is waterproof to seat level. The wet-foam element can be reached by pulling off the right hand sidecover and undoing 3 wing nuts. This air box lid holds the tool kit and 3 fuses in a very tidy arrangement.
The motor is a basic 2 valve, S.O.H.C. wet sump. The gearbox and clutch run in the same multigrade oil that is pumped around the engine. As with any wet sump 4-stroke we would have liked to have seen an oil warning light to let us know if anything goes wrong down below.
The exhaust has been remodeled along later XL lines, and is very quiet.
The gearbox, to our knowledge, hasn't been altered. This means you still get the excellent ratio spread, and you still get the false neutrals. On the trail we struck one continuously between 2nd and 3rd gear when we failed to change up forcefully enough. Even after the run-in period the gearbox was still a little tight when changing up or down without the clutch.
The primary rear sprocket is held on the spline with two 10mm head (6mm shaft) bolts. This is an excellent idea which has the double advantage of making sprocket changing easier, and doing away with the chances of the sprocket working loose.
The frame is a single down tube, becoming a double cradle below the engine. It’s quite a straight forward sort of frame with no big surprises, except that the geometry of it all seems to work very well on the trail under harder riding conditions.
The amount of rake is just under 30 degrees, with a trail of 132mm (5.2in.). This gives a wheelbase of 1,360mm (53.5in.), which isn't short, and so contributes to the good steering and tracking characteristics of the machine.
Front suspension is standard oil damped and, we felt, a little on the soft side for off road work with an average rider. It could use a bit heavier damping, as we got the forks to top quite a few times.
Rear suspension isn't too bad for what the bike is. We ran a medium setting on the 5 way adjustable units. Double rate springs are used.
Kept within the obvious limits of a 175 road/trail machine the XL 175 handles remarkably good.
The front brake is a full width hub, and these days looks a little out of place. A long brake activating arm makes sensitive brake action even more so, and the end result is an excellent stopper. The rod operated rear brake is also very good.
Honda has replaced the cork seal under the petrol tank cap with a rubber one. The cap still dribbled a bit however. We found that with a full tank and a bit of rough riding, petrol soon began to leak. A breather is fitted, and pokes down the steering stem. The petrol tap is a bit small and fiddly we thought. We'd prefer something bigger.
While running the bike in, cruising at 60 kph, we found we could get about 35 km per litre, which would mean a full range of around 234 km. On the trail however the actual consumption dropped to less than half that. Honda claim the tank holds 7 liters , and we thought this to be a little optimistic.
Wheels are 350 x 18 and 275 x 21, and give the Honda a "full size" feel. Rims are steel, and no rim locks are fitted, although the rear rim does have the holes for them. Rubber plugs are inserted instead. Both tires are Nitto 4 ply trials universals and as usual we weren't too fond of them. A good compromise admittedly, but on the trail they tend to skip around a bit too much, and give us a few hairy moments. In fact they were the first limiting factor on our speed. Everything felt like it wanted to go faster, and it was only the tires starting to drift out, especially on damp or wet ground, that kept us in check. Street pressures are 21 psi, and with no rim locks we ran around half that in the dirt.
The front mudguard we thought was much too small. In fact it's tiny. The rear half doesn't extend much lower than the fuel tank, while the front half is too narrow by far. Added to this its reinforced, as is the rear one, by a long, wide metal bracket. In the case of the rear one, as nearly as big as the mudguard itself. So the unbreakability, and lighter weight advantage of plastic mudguards are completely negated. Preston Petty must be laughing himself silly.
Starting was always easy. Honda, however, have insisted on keeping the key under the petrol tank, and the XL175 must be one of the few remaining current models to have it there.
Cold, a little choke is needed to start the bike, while hot the engine will fire up with an easy kick. Anyone can kick the engine over as its capacity presents no problems.
Vulnerable parts for trail riding include the mudguards, the taillights, and the indicators. It's to Honda's credit that the lights can be removed easily.
Honda must give their employees a bottle of Saki everytime one of them comes up with a new design feature because the XL175 is positively loaded up with little doo-dads. Metal plates are screwed into the ends of the handlebars to protect the grips. The owners manual is put in a plastic wallet which is held under the sidecover by that stick-on material stuff used on body belts. The lever covers need an instruction book to get them undone. Throttle cable tension can be adjusted by hand. Every wire or cable on the bike is covered with a mass of metal holders, or plastic ties, or some other little cleverly integrated gizmo. Some are a good idea. Others are just plain unnecessary.
Being a road bike as well as an off road bike-we put a few miles up on the bitumen. Actually it was more than a few, because Honda manager Greg Fayer supplied us with a brand spanking hew XL175, and so we had to promise to run it in before seeing what it would do in the dirt.
Using the XL175 as a run about for a week we soon found things to like about it_ Number one was its incredible economy. Filling up from reserve cost around 80 cents (depending on where you get your petrol) and this was usually good for at least 170 km of commuting.
The bike is a joy to ride in traffic as it maneuvers so easily in and out of the cars. The brakes are powerful enough for two or three panic stops in a row, and are certainly adequate enough.
Cruising speed is not very high. Once run in we found the Honda sat comfortably on 85 kph with vibration beginning to tickle the feet. Acceleration from this point is very slow.
Our overall impression of the bike on the street was that of an excellent commuter, especially from the economy point of view.
Before taking it in the dirt we did the normal things. -Took the indicators and mirrors off. Let some air out of the tires and took the valve stem retaining nuts off in case the tires crept. Why Honda put these nuts on (two lock's nutted together on the rear wheel) we don't know.
The rest we left exactly as was to see what if anything was going to come loose. We were particularly suspicious of the sidecovers, which simply press in, and aren't held by either a screw of clip. In the past we've had this type of sidecover fall off. Perhaps the XL175 was too new, and the rubber grommets not worn enough, because the sidecovers stayed put.
In fact everything stayed put, and after moderately difficult trail rides of 70 km, 180 km and 120 km respectively the XL showed little more than the usual scratches in the way of damage.
Riding position in the dirt is very comfortable. The handlebar grips are Honda imitation of the popular Doherty type, and are comfortable enough after 4 hours of riding even though they are made from hard rubber.
The seat height isn't excessive as wheel travel at both ends isn't long. The seat itself has a rounded shape, and plenty of padding. Short bursts around town, or in the bush won't be easy with a pillion because the seat is not really long enough, and there is no provision for rear footpegs.
In tight stuff the Honda really feels a bit long and low. It can handle most situations the typical road/trail bike can though by virtue of its tractable motor which lets the rider get out of tight spots because in the first couple of gears it will pull from very low down. But by no means is it a trials bike, or the kind of trail bike you can ride in the most rugged places. It won't turn sharply for one, and when you snap the throttle open the 4-stroke won't respond as quickly to get front wheel up, say, as a 175 2-stroke will. Also at its very slowest we felt the XL could have been geared down a little more, and anyone intending to ride one on the trail all the time could go down a tooth or two at the front sprocket.
Where the XL is most at home off the road is medium pacetrails. Where 2nd, 3rd and 4th are the gears most used, and it has a chance for its excellent steering and tracking characteristics to come into play. It will slide easily when the back is forced out, but is better off being ridden straight through corners rather than slid because the acceleration isn't as startling as other 175s, and ripping open the throttle after you've squared off isn't the quickest way to get around. Smooth riding is the way to go fast on the Honda, changing down two or three gears under braking so you come out with the revs around the upper middle range. A top end power band like the T.S. or D.T. the Honda definitely does not have. When you've adapted your riding style to this you can get about on the Honda almost as quickly as you can on any of the other 3 Japanese 175 road/trails, all of which, of course, have less economical 2-stroke engines. Also on this point the Honda gives away about 10 lb. in weight to the others which doesn't help its out and out dirt performance either. But the Honda can't be called a heavy bike by any means, and anyone serious about their off-road work could lighten it considerably by taking some of the unnecessary fixtures off.
So after 3 weeks of commuting and trail riding the XL175 we thought it proved itself to be an excellent dual purpose bike. If you place importance on good road handling and economy, as well as its trail ability, then it ranks above the other 175's which for the last year or so have progressed further and further towards being all out dirt bikes
Source Cycle Magazine