So there are a lot of different 2 wheeled bikes out there that will take you anywhere you want to go. As with most choices, there's going to be some give and take when it comes to bike selection.
Although I've owned a few different sport bikes, my pedigree has always been in the dirt. I was living in Texas at the time and didn't have my old California DMV to contend with. No surprise then that when I decided I wanted to try a dual sport, I narrowed my sights on dirt bikes that had been made street legal. Specifically, I went with a rock solid, stupidly reliable, 1996 XR400r.
This is my XR as I got it in 2009
"Whoa man, that's already an old bike, why not get something that's less of a dinosaur?"
Well first, the XR400 production ran from 96-03 until it was replaced with the very popular CRF series. Very little changed during those years, so really a 96 is almost no different than an 03. The engine is air cooled and built like a tank. Honestly these things have a reputation for lasting forever.
Second, I knew that whatever I got I was going to modify the hell out of, so why spend more money for shiny parts that I'm just gonna take off when I get home?
Lastly, it was free. Not free as in ONE MILLIONTH CUSTOMER free, but free as in I got it by trading the guy an old Yamaha R1 that was cursed. Sure he probably got the better end of the deal on paper, but seriously that R1 only ran right for about 3 weeks of the 3 years that I owned it. It was suffering from a complete electrical meltdown when I traded it over to him. In exchange I got an ugly, but running dual sport.
At this point it's going to become obvious that I'm playing catchup with this blog - just in case you didn't notice the entry dates. Had I started writing all this in 2009 then there'd be a steady chronological progression of how I built the bike to my liking. I'm not going to bother trying to recreate all that. Eff that noise! So instead, here's the bike as it stands now:
Rather than break it down piece by piece I'll just summarize with my two favorite mods. First is a Mikuni pumper carb. Seriously this bike was horrid for the first month I had it before I got this gem. If you've ever heard anyone ever say they didn't like their XR400, it's because they didn't have one of these.
Second, I really enjoy my amusingly controversial CRF front end. There are two schools of thought on stock XR forks: Half the people on the forums scoff at anyone that would want to swap them out because they're potentially very good. The other half can't be bothered with polishing a turd and would rather just put some nice CRF forks on there. To be honest, both sides are right. Stock XR forks can be made to work at least equally well as the inverted CRF forks - but they're still going to be ugly as sin and look, well, aged. I find that my CRF forks work great, and really update the aged look of the bike.
The testament of any vehicle is, in my opinion, if the owner would still buy it now knowing what sort of history they'd have together. To be honest, the XR has been a good bike for me but I can't say that I fell in love with it. It only stranded me once (my own fault), and it works well with my riding style. I miss not having a 6th gear, and being air cooled can be a bit annoying in traffic sometimes, but otherwise it's a great bike for what I use it for. I can't promise that I won't change to something else down the road, but for now, it works.