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ADV NewsHonda 650 Paris Dakar: Classic Dominator Build That’s Ready to Rip

Honda 650 Paris Dakar: Classic Dominator Build That’s Ready to Rip

 An NX650 build that celebrates Honda's Paris Dakar racing history.

Published on 08.20.2020

There is something very right about this Honda Dominator-based Dakar tribute, built by Italian custom builder Mauro Gessi. Maybe it’s the tall suspension, or the classic look of the hulking, air-cooled thumper. It could be the retro color scheme. Whatever it is, this blend of old and new hits the target. We want to admire it as much as ride it.

Honda NX650 Dominators are so favored by custom builders that you’d be excused for not knowing what a stock one from the production run of 1998 to 2003 even looks like. Most tend to end up as street fighters or cafe bikes. Gessi took a different route, deciding instead to pay tribute to Honda breaking KTM’s 18-year winning streak at the Dakar Rally in 2020. Dubbed the “650 Paris Dakar,” this bike celebrates American Ricky Brabec’s historic win by combining ‘80s-era Honda looks with modern goodies lifted from the formidable CRF 450.

Much of the bodywork comes from a Honda XL 600LM, a rare beast styled to resemble Honda’s Dakar racers of the ‘80s. That bike featured a monster 7.4 gallon fuel tank, blue seat and a Honda-red engine on some models. It was an eye-popping bike but a sales flop that only lasted two years. 


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Gessi borrowed the XL 600LM’s tank, shaved down the seat to lose about 1.5 inches of height, and used a headlight mask and front fender from an XR 400. The inverted forks, shock and swingarm are all CRF 450 parts, bringing the suspension up to date. New aftermarket FaBa spoked wheels and Continental TKC80 tires bring the rolling parts into this century, allowing brakes to be adapted from the CRF 450. That has to be a big improvement over the Dominator’s stock setup, which featured a small single front disc and a drum brake at the rear.

The cockpit is freshened up with a digital dash unit, adjustable billet Zeta levers, a new handlebar on 65mm bar risers (needed to clear that super-sized tank) and folding mirrors. A stainless steel rack and Arrow exhaust complete the look out back.

Finishing it all off is a classic graphic treatment from Italian designer Oberdan Bezzi, inspired by the Africa Twin, right down to the words “Paris Dakar” on the tank in the style of the original Africa Twin logo — A graphic treatment that would look good on a showroom floor right now.

You probably won’t be seeing a modern, air-cooled, 650cc thumper in dealerships anytime soon, but this kind of styling would move some units if it were applied to an updated XR 650L. Take note, Honda.

Follow Mauro Gessi’s custom builds on Facebook and Instagram.

Photos by Stefano Romagnoli

Author: Bob Whitby

Bob has been riding motorcycles since age 19 and working as a journalist since he was 24, which was a long time ago, let’s put it that way. He quit for the better part of a decade to raise a family, then rediscovered adventure, dual sport and enduro riding in the early 2000s. He lives in Arkansas, America’s best-kept secret when it comes to riding destinations, and travels far and wide in search of dirt roads and trails.

Author: Bob Whitby
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2 thoughts on “Honda 650 Paris Dakar: Classic Dominator Build That’s Ready to Rip

  1. One of the best looking conversions i’ve seen so far of the Dominator. Not a big fan of the black rims and the rear sits too high, but it sure looks like it came right out of the Honda factory! However, it kind of saddens me that such a good looking, reliable and practical bike like the Dominator is the popular choise for customisation. They were a rare sight back in the day (at least here in the Netherlands, where the roads are practically made for the Dominator), and they’re even more rare now, and i think they’re going to be a future classic.
    Got to agree with the author; Take note, Honda!

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