There are two jobs I have right now. One is as the editor of this fine publication and the other is as Rallymaster of the Fundy Adventure Rally. As with just about everything in my life, if I can do two or three jobs in one, I do, and with the FAR rally that means integrating all riding with some project, long termer or test bike.
With the Rally scouting season well and truly upon us, I needed to find the best steed for the job and quickly. I had three choices:
- The BMW R1200GS long termer
- My personal KLR650
- The Honda CRF250L long termer
Although BMW had sent a set of wire wheels for the GS, I still needed to source a set of knobby tires for it, and besides it would simply be too big to go into the unknown trails that a scouting involves. Ever try to turn a bike around in a tight muddy trail, or navigate an increasingly brutal rock field? No, it would be great for checking known trails, but not what I needed for this phase of scouting.
The KLR would do though. I had just finished the motor rebuild (over a shamefully long period of time I’ll admit) and though it was theoretically ready to go, I’m old enough to know you don’t take a freshly rebuilt bike into a project like this until it’s been thoroughly tested and checked closer to home.
That left the Honda CRF250L. Zac was enjoying the little Honda but when he was required at CMG HQ, he would often arrive late, complaining about the three-hour commute from his hovel in Saint John. I figured that proposing a swap with the big GS would be akin to taking candy from a baby and replacing it with a gin-impregnated soother.
Sure enough, he was all toothless smiles at the suggestion, leaving me with just enough time to fit the off-road parts from CRF’s Only that the handy USPS tracker had already promised were in Montreal “and on its way to the destination”. As is the CMG way, the next day it decided to return to Los Angeles for no apparent reason, so I had no accessories and no choice but to hit the trails with the CRF in totally stock trim.
CMG is on the wrong side of the Petitcodiac River for accessing the Rally’s trails, which means I have a good chunk of Trans Canada to grind through to get there. But that proved to be not a problem for the little CRF. Well, not if you don’t mind riding pinned at 120 km/h or so.
Granted, it may be an issue on the 401 around the GTA – though Zac has ridden one there and says it’s doable if you hang with the slower trucks, but a good headwind will make it tougher. IMHO, the CRF has just enough power to hold its own on the multilane, though you’ll have to learn the fine art of wheel to bumper slipstreaming, tucking in and hugging the side of big trucks if you want to have a hope in Hell’s chance of passing one.
Even sitting bolt upright at those speeds, there’s only smooth linear air flowing at the rider and I’d say no need for a screen at all. I would say that the seat is a little on the hard side as I did start to squirm after 70 or so highway kms, but once in the trails, the constant standing and sitting meant that it was a non-issue (hell, even the bars are tall enough for me to stand up without looking like some crestfallen orangutan).
My usual partner in grime, Brad Crossman, joined me on his KTM 450, kitted out with all the protection a bike would ever need, making me ponder the wisdom of putting the CRF through the rough trails and water crossings in essentially naked trim.
However, it appears that the Honda is a happy nudist as the basic suspension and stock tires guided the bike through rocks, ruts and submerged trails like a pro. Yes, very muddy sections saw Brad disappear into the distance as my tires were overwhelmed, but their all-round usability has put IRCs onto a respectable level with me as a result.
The CRF’s first foray in the woods was an astounding success. I wouldn’t normally ride a bike without adding some sort of protection, but in doing so it has really showed how out-of-the-box ready it really is. However, it also highlighted its limitations.
Number one is the range. Predictably this varied depending on usage, the pinned highway session seeing the worst and a relaxed putter in trails being the best. Average fuel consumption turned out to be 20.8 km/l, dropping down to 18.9 km/l on the highway and up to 22.0 km/l in the trails. This translated to a best range of 169 km or a worst of 145 km – a bit low when in the middle of the trails. The standard 7.7 litre tank is pitiful, so the IMS 12-litre unit we ordered from CRF’s Only should boost the average range up to 250 km, which is much more useful.
Number two is crash protection. Even something as simple as handguards will help prevent broken levers from a tipover (I tweaked the clutch lever in a 5 kph spill) and a bash plate would have prevented the lower frame scratch when I had to traverse that steep downhill section covered in baby heads (as in rocks, not real baby heads). Still, the CRF has excellent ground clearance so you only need this if you venture beyond the easy gravel and fire roads.
Oh, and being an KLR650 owner, I’m always nervous about radiators getting squished in an epic fall or punctured by a flying rock off someone’s roostering KTM 450, so a rad protector would be good too (ordered).
Number three (and I would say it’s a lowly number three) is suspension. I was very impressed by the stock setup despite having no real adjustments on offer. We did order a rear shock and fork internals from CRF’s Only so we’ll switch them out at some point. What I’ve often found with suspension is that you don’t know how much better it can be until you try upgrading it (my KLR was a fine example of that).
NEXT UPDATE – Putting all that stuff on that I just mentioned.