4Strokes.com Honda Technical: Stuart's XR200 Hop-Ups & Mods by Stuart Watson
I bought an XR200 new in 1983 to play around on as a second bike. This was the last good year before the weird engine in 1984-1985. Before I even rode it, I had the dealer install White Brothers' engine performance package for the 200, most of which is still available from them today. It included a racing cam, bigger Mikuni carb, aluminum airbox, and oversize header pipe. This mod gave the bike enough power to lift the front wheel in second gear pretty much whenever desired. I raced it in a hare scrambles in this form in 1985 and trophied in 4th or 5th place. The suspension was the bike's weakness, but pumping the air-assist forks to 10 or 12 pounds helped a great deal, and putting the shock on the firm setting with extra preload on the spring made the rear almost tolerable over most bumps, but if I got more than a couple of feet of air over jumps, I paid for it on the landing!
In 1988 I installed a high-compression piston (12:1, race gas only) and a better aluminum SuperTrapp muffler. This added a little more power, to lift the front wheel in third gear over slight bumps, but I was expecting more and was disappointed. However, I rode trails a lot with a friend on a 1987 Kawasaki KDX 200 with a FMF pipe, and had no trouble keeping up with him. When we tested the bikes in a rolling drag race, down a road, I only fell behind about two bike lengths from second gear to fifth gear.
Last year (1996) when my 1995 KTM 440 was out of action, I raced the trusty old XR200 in a hare scrambles near Houston in the Over 40 C class against a field of about 20 other bikes, most of them 250 two-strokes and about 10 years newer. I thought I would be buried in their roost on the starting line. But in the dead-engine start, my sweet-starting baby XR roared to life with half a kick and I nailed them all with a terrific hole-shot! Then, I led the entire first 9-mile lap. At the end of the lap, a guy on a WR250 I had been dicing with all year for second place passed me. At the end of the second lap, the guy who had been winning all year on a YZ250 passed me. At the end of the third lap I got the checkered flag in third place, beating a whole flock of fancy new two-strokes.
Also last year, I rode the baby XR in the Sidewinder Enduro just for fun in the cross-country class (no timekeeping, just gas it). The XR handles so well in the woods, I was keeping up with B class riders on 250 two-strokes, and even passed a couple. When following these hot-shots through tight woods, I observed their technique. Typically, to get through a turn fast, a two-stroke has to lock up the rear brake and slide partially through the turn before getting on the gas coming out of it, again causing sliding through excess wheel spin. This looks and feels very impressive, but it's really just wasted energy. While harassing these guys on the XR, I rarely had to use the rear brake at all. When I saw their rear wheel lock up and slide going into a turn, that was my cue to simply down-shift one gear and let my engine compression slow me down enough to motor smoothly through the turn, with minimum wheel spin and maximum acceleration. Granted, I was having to flog my engine, staying in the upper part of the rev range, but I was smoother than the two-strokes and giving them fits. At the next checkpoint, a guy I passed on a new KTM 250 eyeballed my ancient red-orange XR200 and said "Damn! That little bike is quick! What have you done to the engine?" I leaned over conspiratorially and said quietly "Everything that CAN be done to it". Nodding his head, he said in relief, "Yeah, I just knew it had to have a killer motor!" I was grinning inside my helmet, and my 200 was idling like a purring kitten. That really made the little XR's day! We went on to trophy in fourth place.
This year I plan to bore the XR out to 220. Powroll has a bore and stroke kit that takes the 200 all the way to 240cc, but I don' t want to stress the engine that much. However, there is a guy in my club who put the 240 kit in a XR200 engine and custom fit it into a CR125. I can't even come close to keeping up with him. He races hare scrambles in the A class with it and trophies regularly. But I rode his bike and it has less low-end power than mine, though it really scoots at high revs. It must be the difference in the cams. I got the White Brothers "all-around" cam.
I have just put new fork springs in the XR, from Progressive Suspension. They should improve the fork action. Later I will get the shock spring from the same company. If anyone is interested, I will post the results from these mods later.
All of this is to say -- you guys with XR200's out there, take heart! It is possible to breathe enough fire into the little bike to race it and even kick a little two-stroke butt! Thumpers rule, two-strokes drool!
Update - January, 1998: I have a suspension update and I will be riding the XR200 in the Sidewinder Enduro this year. I had the rear shock completely re-valved and re-sprung by Scotts Performance, with great results. This will be the first time I have raced it since the story, because I got an XR400 and have been racing that in the Texas hare scrambles series, with some success, when I can get it to tart on the starting line, that is. The 400 is not a consistent starter, and I have never really gotten comfortable with the way it handles. It is OK, but I prefer the way the 200 handles. And with the rebuilt shock and improved forks, the 200 should be even better. I will race it in the B class this time in the Sidewinder Enduro, a popular enduro held in March near Bastrop, Texas, an area that hosts many enduro and hare scrambles races, and has a good motocross track, too. It is popular because it has a nice sandy soil with few rocks, and pine forests with pecan tree bottomlands.
Update - November, 1998: This time around the Sidewinder Enduro brought mixed results to me and the little XR200. I thought I would really thrash with my newly rebuilt rear shock and stiffened front fork. But this time I was riding the B class instead of the C class, which means a longer course and a tougher course after the course splits at about 40 miles. The total mileage was about 60 miles.
I got off to a great start. The first half of the course was really tight and not too rough, with the trail mainly twisting through sandy pine forest at slow trail speeds of 10-20 MPH. This is where the XR200 rules, and we did! I caught and passed lots of 250 2-strokes with twice the horsepower, but no place to use it. I passed my buddy John who rides a 1997 KTM 250, and I kept up with my buddy Stan who rides a 1994 YZ250 and is generally faster than me. At a checkpoint at about 20 miles, Stan said for me to go ahead of him on the next section of trail. For a while the trail stayed tight and slow, and I pulled away from him, until I couldn't see him behind me any more. I was lovin' it! Then the course slowly changed (not to mention the rider, with my butt getting a rash and my tongue hanging). It opened up, it got faster, the gullies got meaner and the sand whoops got bigger. My poor 15-year old suspension got tapped out on the whoops, and my poor 44-year old muscles couldn't take up the slack. The rear shock I thought was great a few miles before started clunking as it constantly bottomed out, and the fork was joining in for a clunker duet. I pounded my way over the bigger whoops and slid my way around the faster turns, with the front wheel washing out worse, the faster the turn. I dropped the XR in a powdery loose sandy turn, and took forever to get the bike up and restarted. Despite my efforts to totally block the trail during this time, several bikes got by me, including my buddy Stan, who gave me a rousing jeer as he roosted me with his YZ250. In my fatigued daze, it took me a minute to realize it was him who had passed me. I shook my head clear, got the XR200 lit, and took off after him. Big mistake. The trail had forsaken me, turning from 4-stroke domain into 2-stroke territory where horsepower and foot-long suspension rule. I finally realized this about 5 crashes later. I was careening through big whoops that swallowed the poor little XR like ocean waves, clipping trees and busting bark as I went. I could use the first whoop to wheelie to the second whoop, but then the third and fourth whoops really clobbered me, reducing my legs to noodles for the fifth and sixth whoops. I was wobbling through fast sandy turns with the rear wheel starved for power and the front wheel slipping out from under me at the slightest excuse. The worst get-off was a frantic brake slide which slammed me to the ground on the low-side, which was much preferable to slamming into the big oak tree I was heading for on the outside of the curve!
As I struggled valiantly through hostile 2-stroke territory, the blasted ring-dings I had passed on the first half of the course picked me off one after the other, although they passed my wobbling XR200 at their own peril! Even I didn't know where I would wobble next. After I limped the little bike through the rest of the B-class course and back to the truck, all my buddies were sitting there with cold drinks, wondering what happened to me, constructing amusing theories for their own enjoyment. But when the results were posted, I found out I placed in the middle of the pack in the B Cross Country class. So I still beat a few 250 2-strokes! Even on a bad day, the XR200 doesn't come in last!!
Credits: Article written by Stuart Watson, submitted by Jeremy Hansen, and edited by 4Strokes.com.
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