Long-Termer Update: RaceTech fork upgrades for the Honda CRF250L

As part of our ongoing series of upgrades for the Honda CRF250L, we lined up a Race Tech Fork Spring Kit and Gold Valve Fork Kit through project sponsor CRF’s Only, and now we’ve got them on the bike.

Cunningly, we avoided installing them ourselves. Editor ‘Arris managed to blow a fork seal on the Honda while hooning about on the trails, requiring a visit to the dealer for repair (covered by warranty). While they were in there, we decided that we’d ask them to install the fork upgrade as they would have the front end disassembled for the seals. Why do the same work twice?

The kits themselves come with nine pages of instructions, so they’re a little more complicated than some users might be comfortable dealing with themselves. Indeed, the instructions for the Gold Valves warn that “If you are unfamiliar with this process, STOP! Do not proceed. Seek out a qualified suspension technician to complete the installation.”

There are pages and pages of instructions for installing the Race Tech bits. They don't recommend inexperienced users try it.
There are pages and pages of instructions for installing the Race Tech bits. They don’t recommend inexperienced users try it. Photo: Zac Kurlyk

While ‘Arris used to be a qualified technician over twenty years ago, the most modern forks he’d had apart were circa 1991. Thankfully, the staff at local Honda house Toys For Big Boys are an off-road-savvy bunch, thanks to their ties to the local MX track. They also gave us a healthy discount on time and parts, taking the Honda tech about three hours to do the job (you can read the note we got from the guy who installed the suspension bits next).

There are a few interesting aspects to the installation. For one thing, like many modern bikes,  although there’s fork oil in each leg, the different fork legs of the Honda focus on different tasks; in stock configuration, the left fork leg contains a damping cartridge, and the right fork leg contains a fork spring. The Race Tech kit changes out the shims in the damping side and adds a spring, so that there are now one in each leg.

Installation

(comments from Darren, who installed the Race Tech kit)

L-R: The kit includes a spring for the left-hand fork leg, and a set of shims and valves. The left-hand leg is where almost all the modifications take place.
L-R: The kit includes a spring for the left-hand fork leg, and a set of shims and valves. The left-hand leg is where almost all the modifications take place. Photo: Ron Boudreau

As far as the installation of the kit, I don’t recommend the install to be done by anyone who is not really familiar with suspension concepts or working on motorcycles in general. If you look at the pictures, the left fork tube disassembled in order shows the new gold valves located beside the valves that they will replace. This is the difficult part of the job. You cannot get the order wrong and everything has to be very clean.

I had to go online to Racetech to give the rider weight, type of riding to be used mostly for and rider capability level. Then race tech gives a series of codes which indicate what shims to install and where, according to the sheets supplied with the kit – this can be confusing and intimidating for a lot of people. Then each shim has to be measured by thickness and diameter and installed in the proper sequence.

The left fork leg, disassembled. The Race Tech kit modifies this assembly considerably.
The left fork leg, disassembled. The Race Tech kit modifies this assembly considerably. Photo: Ron Boudreau

After the shim stacks are assembled, they are reassembled into the fork damper tube and the bottom compression assembly, and the fork is reassembled with new seals and a different weight oil (5wt) as well as a different oil level height.  The oil level height changes the size of the air chamber in the top of the fork and acts as an air shock when the fork is compressed hard and tries to bottom out. 

The new valving in the forks noticeably increases the effort required to move the fork through its travel compared to the stock valving which is the biggest reason for installing the kit – the stock forks are too soft for aggressive riding.

After the left fork valving is done, they also add a spring — which it does not have at stock level — offering additional stiffness to the front end for better control.

Even though the right side fork only has a spring and no damping in it, it is also disassembled to change the oil to 5 weight and increase the oil height in the fork tubes which helps resist shock loading.

 After all is reinstalled, the rider should notice a big difference in how the forks work. The good thing is, if it is not stiff enough or too stiff, you now have the tools and supplies to change it to the way the rider wants – it just takes time.

Impressions

These Gold Valves are responsible for much of the improvement in handling, although Rob still finds the setup a bit harsh. Photo: Ron Boudreau
These Gold Valves are responsible for much of the improvement in handling, although Rob finds the setup a bit hard. Photo: Ron Boudreau

Initial impressions for the fork upgrades were quite positive; the bike’s front end now seems to float over bad pavement. Even the technician who installed the bits says the front end now feels like his old CRF450 that he used to race.

After a few days of riding around locally, we hit the trails on a final scout for the Fundy Adventure Rally, giving us a chance to see how the upgrades performed off-road.

There’s no doubt the front end tracks far better with the new suspension installed. The front wheel doesn’t bounce around; it remains planted, making it much easier to steer through the bumpy stuff. Instead of constantly adjusting every time you hit a rock or rut, you’re able to take a much smoother line. It feels very much like the upgraded suspension I put in my Suzuki DR650 – you spend less time wrestling the bars and making corrections. Even as the speed picks up, your front end remains easily controllable.

The trouble with this upgrade? ‘Arris finds it a little harsh and misses the softness of the original a midgen. This is most noticeable on slightly corduroyed gravel where the original soft set up would take the edge off them, the Race Tech kit transmits more to the rider (we’ll see if it’s possible to soften it up a bit without having to redo the whole job and report back to you).

The other surprise conclusion was that after you fix the front, you realize how much room for improvement there is with the rear shock. With the front forks planted, you realize how much the rear end is bouncing around. Thankfully, Race Tech also gave us a rear shock that should solve that problem … once we have time to install it.


GALLERY

Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.

7 thoughts on “Long-Termer Update: RaceTech fork upgrades for the Honda CRF250L”

  1. I am so pissed when I see articles like this. My CRF 250 is in the garage 6 weeks no word from dealer or even a courtesy letter from Honda Canada re starter relay switch. At this point I would take it back if I could.

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