Tanshanomi's Snap Judgments

Honda Transalp

Fri, August 12th, 2011

1990 Honda XL600V Transalp motorcycle
NOTE: This version of the Transalp was sold overseas from 1987 until 1993.

1989–90 Honda XL600V Transalp
The Transalp's 583cc engine was a little down on power, considering the bike's 400+ lb. dry weight, and the EPA-choked carbs desperately needed some tweaking the stock jetting to keep the engine from stumbling at low speed or surging at steady highway speeds. The motor's character perfectly suited the bike's mission, however, both on the road and off. Overall, it was a smooth, willing, tractable engine that was jazzy enough to keep riders smiling.
As top-heavy as the Transalp looked, it was flickable and easily maneuverable. The long-travel suspension worked remarkably well in the curves, and off-road manners were excellent at the sort of casual trail-riding speeds the bike was designed for (higher speeds would quickly overwhelm the rear damper). The demerits were the skinny front rim, the so-so stock tires and a little too much fork flex. Brakes get a neutral score: the rear drum and single front disc were only adequate.
Nobody would call the Transalp elegant, but there is nothing objectionable about its appearance. It has improved with age, especially in the more subdued 1990 colors. Over the years the Transalp has comparatively gone from extreme to conservative; it's much better looking than many of the more outrageously styled Paris-Dakar/adventure-style bikes that came after it.
The only common issue is failure of the electronic ignition module. Internally, the engine needs only regular oil changes to run practically forever. Good, clean, low-mileage examples still turn up from time to time.
The Transalp is two decades old, and you are likely to find chassis and drivetrain parts unavailable from your Honda dealer (many internal engine parts went to to be used in the long-lived VLX600 cruiser). If you're comfortable with the age of the bike and the extra hassle of chain drive rather than a shaft, you'll find a Transalp is a wonderful partner for just about any type of riding.
I really like the Transalp, and if I learned for an especially nice one for sale locally, I might snag it. But I am not sure it would ever percolate up high enough on my want list to actively search one out to buy.
There are very few bikes that look this exotic and yet are so easy to live with day to day. Unfortunately, they're getting less exotic and less practical with time.