Why The Honda Tornado Is Great Light Weight Adventure Bike

20171008_115018I’ve owned 5 Honda Tornados in 3 countries…


Because they are a great lightweight adventure bike out the box (unlike a Honda CRF300L).

Honda Tornados are not particularly good at anything, which is what makes them ideal for our purposes because they can do a little bit of everything.

Motorcycle touring is always a compromise. Any bike that is strong on the tarmac will be weak on the tight single-track trails. Any bike that is great on tight single-track trails will struggle at speed on the freeway.

Our little Tornados are only average at both road and trails.

But, they have many things in their favor:

  1. 134 kg dry – light enough to pick up easily and ride tight trails.
  2. 11.5-liter tank = 250km range out of the box. Our best was 350km on a tank high up in the Andes. When we need 500km, we carry 10 liters strapped to the back seat.
  3. They can cruise at 100 km/h all day long and yet ride through waist-high rivers without skipping a beat. Where we ride, we rarely go faster than 80 km/h and regularly get wet crossing rivers, stuck riding in deep sand and fall off climbing loose, rocky single track. I think of these bikes as the mechanical equivalent of small donkeys. ?
  4. 24 horsepower – This might be seen as a benefit because power (in a 250cc) comes at a price – weight and service intervals measured in hours instead of kilometers. Given that we are on the road to ride, not to constantly service our bikes, low power might the price we pay for long service intervals (3000km oil changes that take 15 minutes) and rock-solid Honda reliability.
  5. They have a strong sub-frame with pillion handles, which makes attaching soft luggage a breeze (unlike most dirt bikes). The pillion handles keep the luggage slightly away from the exhaust and are great for locking the bikes together.
  6. They are found everywhere in Latin America, so spares are easy to source. Even outside Latin America, most of the parts can be found on other Hondas.
  7. The suspension is plush out the box, and is stiff enough to carry luggage without needing expensive suspension work.
  8. They are reliable. Honda mechanics told me that they regularly see these bikes do 180,000km. One mechanic told me he has seen one with 240,000km on the clock.
  9. They are bombproof. In the terrain in which we regularly ride, we sometimes drop our bikes more than 10 times (each) in a day. All these bikes have to show for it are scratches. Nothing has ever snapped off – even the OEM indicators are still in tact. The only thing we always replace with aftermarket before we go riding are the handlebars, as the stock ones bend quickly.
  10. They are simple to fix for a YouTube trained mechanic like me.
  11. They come with a low seat adjustment so that my wife’s feet can touch the ground.
  12. They don’t have fuel injectors so we can use the shitty gasoline often found in 3rd world countries. If the carb gets blocked up, I can remove and clean it in an hour. If a fuel injector gets blocked with bad fuel, we’re hitchhiking. The only downside to a carbureted bike is riding at altitude. In the Andes, I carry (high altitude) jets which make riding tolerable.
  13. Tornados are cheap on the used market. We picked up both of our Chilean bikes (with 500 km and 5500 km on the clocks respectively) for $6000. We sold them 2 years later for $5000 having put 48000km on them. Compare that to renting a bike at $100/day and these bikes are almost free!
    I’ve used this strategy of buying and selling slightly used bikes all over the world. In South Africa, I bought a Tornado with only 8000 km on the clock for my wife to use on a 3-week trip for only $2000. We sold it 3 weeks later for $2100! We did the same with her KLR 650 – also for a profit. As long as you buy slightly used bikes that are popular, buying and selling the bike is not difficult. Some very common bikes that are easy to buy and sell without losing money are the Kawasaki KLR 650, Suzuki DR650, BMW GS650 and the Honda Tornado. All these bikes have an avid following and are always in demand. To find the bikes, I generally use the equivalent of Craigslist or Gumtree for whatever country I’m in. I negotiate with all the sellers before landing in the country and by the time I land I’ll often have 20 potential bikes to buy.
  14. You can buy one and begin touring the same day – very little modifications are required before hitting the road. All I did was install aftermarket handlebars (because we crash a lot and the originals bend), a stronger headlight bulb and a cheap windscreen (for chilly Andean rides in winter time).

I could have chosen larger engined bikes, but that would mean an extra 50kg in weight which would mean an extra two years in the gym just to build enough muscle to pick up my bike a few times a day.

So, in conclusion, our Tornados are definitely not the best tool available, but the best all-round tool for our purposes – having a long, happy off-road, adventure.

UPDATE (2022): I’ve sold my 2009 Tornado in the Dominican Republic and bought a new one (2022) for $6000. The only difference (from what I can tell) is the new speedo cluster and speedo drive. Honda quality control has definitely worsened in the 2018+ models. Paint on the engine cases is peeling off in places. The countershaft seal started leaking almost immediately (probably because the Dominican Honda mechanic gave me the bike with zero slack in the chain). The rear axle seized because it was installed with zero grease (as was the front). Rust seems to be forming a lot faster on this Tornado than on my 2009 one. If you can get a pre-2018 model, that might be better.

Also, we bought 2 KTM 500s in South Africa to use as our trans-Africa bikes. They are XR250 Tornados on steroids.

14 thoughts on “Why The Honda Tornado Is Great Light Weight Adventure Bike

  1. Thanks for your blog, I love your content! I’m in Costa Rica and these bikes are very popular.

    Could you please advise me on how many kilometers are acceptable when buying a used Honda Tornado?


    • Hi Roberto. My wife and I got our Tornados serviced in Ecuador last year at a shop that has the contract to service all the Police Bikes in Quito. Most of the police ride Tornados there and the owner ofthe shop said that he regularly sees Tornados with 180,000km on the clock if looked after. He said that the highest mileage one he had seen was 220,000km.

      My wife and I bought ours with less than 5000km on the clock and have each added 45,000km to them without any issue. We adjust the valves every 20000km and change the oil every 3000km and that’s all. The engines are bulletproof.

      I would buy with less than 5000km and with as many accessories as possible included (windscreen, hand guards, aftermarket exhaust etc).


  2. Hey thanks very much for that short and awsome review/article!

    As im in mexico right now I was thinking to buy a klr650 to travell arround with my girlfriend and 30kg of luggage! Since its been hard to find an acceptable bike, im looking into the honda tornado, do you know whats the maxweight that I could load on one of those? I guess we will be arround 170kg with luggage!

    Thanks in advance!


    • Hi Noah. I’ve seen it done, but it didn’t look comfotable. The Tornado suspension handles a passenger and luggage just fine, but it’s still only a 250cc engine, so the pulling power is compromised with 2 people on board – and it’s a small bike, so it’s going ot be cramped long distance.

      In your situation, I’d pop over to California and buy a KLR there. But, if you decide to do it on a Tornado, send me photos!


  3. Hi. Your blog is immensely helpful for someone like me who is looking to get a used one. I could only find ones with 20,000 km or more already under them. Do you think that should be fine to go for?


  4. Hi just found your blog while searching for parts.I recently bought two 2011 tornado 250 at an auction .got both of them for 1000usd.one has 9400 km and the other has 23000. the cdi box and carburetor was missing off one so I have started both already by swapping carb and cdi box.the lower mileage one is what I am getting ready to use.runs very nice so I am just checking online for carb and cdi box for the other one.I live in Belize and cant wait to get thesebikes out on the trails.thanks again for the helpful info


  5. Hi Bruce. I live in Maryland and retiring to my native Nicaragua next month. I have been riding large adventure bikes in the US for decades. However, I decided to get a XR250 Tornado to ride rural roads and off the bitten path places in Nicaragua. Thanks so much for really being a key factor why I chose the Tornado. I got a new 2022 as they are still being sold new over there (built in Argentina I guess), as I intend to use it for long. I will pick it up early June and start exploring the country and enjoying the bike. Your website has been of immense help, so resourceful. Much appreciated. If you ever come to Nicaragua, happy to ride together.

    Safe ride,



  6. Hello Bruce! Great blog. We recently rented a couple bikes in Mexico (first time riding in Latin/Central America) and had Tornados. They performed fabulously. But as you stated, renting gets $$. How easy is it to navigate getting tags for the bikes that you buy? I suppose it depends on the country? Thank you!


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