The Honda XL250 defined dual-sport bikes with its groundbreaking design and became one of the most popular on/off-road bikes ever. In spite of its competitors going the two-stroke route, Honda stuck with four. The compact and over-square 248cc engine used a 57.8mm stroke and 74mm bore with a shallow squish-band combustion chamber for its four valves. A 28mm Keihin carburetor provided fuel, with ignition to the central spark plug by flywheel magneto. The aluminum alloy cylinder was lined with an iron sleeve and the piston drove a sturdy crank running on two roller mains. A trochoidal oil pump provided pressure lubrication to the big end bearing and valve train. Engine cases were in aluminum with side covers in then-exotic magnesium alloy. Primary gears fed power to the five-speed transmission through a seven-plate wet clutch.
The drivetrain fitted into a spine frame with a single tube loop under the engine, and the aluminium-rim, 18-inch rear wheel was controlled by five-way adjustable dual shocks. At the front, Honda borrowed the latest fork technology from Ceriani, using a piston to control damping. Attached to the Ceriani forks was a 21-inch aluminium-rim front wheel. Fully equipped with 6-volt lighting, turn signals and paired speedometer/tachometer, the XL250 weighed in at 130kg with half a tank of petrol.
Testers raved about the XL250, finding it smoother than the two-stroke competition and more tractable at low revs. Cycle World summed it up like this: "The XL250 is destined to become one of the best off-road motorcycles ever."