The Honda XR600 has a cult following across the globe, and for good reason. As the original king of the Baja 1000, it’s one of the best big singles to ever tear across the desert. And while it might look outdated against modern machines, it’s still a great bike to own—and customize.
The Australian custom shop Ellaspede has a particular soft spot for the venerable XR. One of the first custom motorcycles they ever built was based on a 1998-model XR600 [below], way back in 2011. And now they’ve dragged that very same scrambler back into the workshop for a makeover.
“It’s always hard to let go of first loves,” says Ellaspede’s Hughan Seary, “so this XR600 was ridden around and used for promotional duties and shows throughout the years, until the motor was due for a refresh and pulled from the frame. But as customer builds come first, it then sat stagnant for the following years, waiting in the wings for its second lease on life.”
When their tenth birthday rolled around last year, the Ellaspede team decided it would be the perfect time to revive the Honda. Around that time a customer, Tom, serendipitously decided that he wanted a custom XR600 of his own. He already had a suitable donor and a specific direction in mind—but then he visited the workshop, and his plans quickly changed.
“We took a walk with him down memory lane about our original XR600 that we still owned,” explains Hughan. “It seemed like a perfect match to get him behind the bars on this renewed build.”
One of the big ideas for the second pass at the XR involved a bigger electric start motor. Tom hopped onto Facebook Marketplace and found a dismantled NX650 Dominator, complete with an engine rebuild kit. With that, the project was officially underway.
The Dominator engine went off to Wayne at All Carts & Cycles, who rebuilt it with a larger piston, a solid porting job and a whole handful of unnamed internal upgrades.
While that was happening, Ellaspede tore the XR600 down to its nuts and bolts to prep it for its remake. “We’ve learned a lot in the last ten-plus years of building bikes,” says Hughan. “There was plenty we wanted to update or upgrade based on those learnings, to ensure the XR600 was once again the best it could be.”
High on the list was a complete overhaul of the Honda’s suspension. Ellaspede sourced a pair of well-worn Honda CRF forks, then stripped them, cleaned them up and anodized them black. They shortened them by 100 mm too, then mated the XR600 stem to the CRF yokes to fit them to the bike, and turned a new set of spacers to reinstall the original build’s 18” front wheel.
The rear shock was upgraded to a beefier unit with an external reservoir, but it was far from a straight swap. Ellaspede had to rebuild the shock and shorten its stroke, plus they had to modify the upper suspension mount on the frame itself.
The rebuilt Dominator mill was popped back in the frame with a 42 mm Mikuni pumper carb. Ellaspede kept the two-into-two exhaust that they built for the Honda the first time around, but added new baffles and re-coated everything.
Next up, they fabricated a new battery box to make room for the new air filter placement, and to accommodate the extra electrical bits that weren’t there with the older kickstart-only engine. And since neither the XR600 or Dominator wiring looms would have been suitable without substantial mods, they built a new system from scratch too.
Other small upgrades included a Daytona Velona speedo, a Koso Thunderbolt LED headlight, and a Hawkeye LED taillight. Ellaspede wedged the taillight into the same recessed housing that they had built before, and kept the original Posh turn signals. There’s also a USB charge port up front now.
The rest of the work focused mostly on refreshing parts that weren’t up to par, and making small tweaks, like lengthening the side stand. But for the general aesthetic, Tom was happy to keep things mostly the same.
“I really loved the look of the original build, and still to this day,” he says. “Even with the excessive amount of XR builds that are scattered across the web, I haven’t seen an XR quite like it. I put it down to the textbook slender XR600 frame, the unusual color scheme, the 18F/18R wheel combination, and fat tires that really set this bike off.”
With that in mind, Ellaspede kept the original build’s Honda XL500 fuel tank, but added new fenders at both ends. The original seat had large ‘630’ numbering on it in reference to the engine capacity, so that had to go. The crew stashed it away for nostalgia’s sake, and built a new unit from scratch with matching green stitching.
With new Heidenau K60 tires spooned on, Tom’s refurbished Honda XR was ready for delivery. “Now that the bike is finished, it continues to grow on me,” he tells us. “Cheers to the legends at Ellaspede for holding onto this fine machine for me for the best part of 12 years!”
“One thing is for sure, I’ll be holding onto this bike for many years to come—I’m sure it will outlive me!”