It’s been a great season for adventure at CMG as we secured two dirty long-term bikes for the summer, a BMW R1200GS and a Honda CRF250L. The GS’s dirt life was restricted somewhat by a lack of available knobby tires that didn’t come in until late in the season, but that just meant that the CRF got a mouthful of mud right from the get go.
Now that the season is done as our CMG world is now covered in snow, it would seem like the right time to admit that our testing is also done and so a wrap up is appropriate …
There is one thing we need to emphasize before going on; in standard trim the CRF is a very capable machine off-road. A delay in the accessory mods meant that we had to ride it sans any protection and were surprised just how well it all worked – even in standard trim it can venture quite capably off-road!
Being so capable, increased fuel range and bash protection were the main focus of our modifications. We’d struck a deal with CRFs Only, who predictably have a tendency to focus on accessories for Honda CRFs, and promptly received a Flatland Racing bashplate and radiator guard, a pair of Acerbis X-Factor handguards, and Double Take mirrors. To increase the fuel range from the CRF’s piddly 7.7 litre tank we also got an 11.75 litre IMS tank and a CRF’s Only rear rack so that we could carry a bit of gear.
Fitting was surprisingly straightforward, and once we’d fitted the bash protection we stopped worrying about putting a rock through the engine and took the little CRF into ever increasing difficult terrain.
Next up was suspension. CRFs Only had also shipped up a Racetech kit for the front forks and a new shock for the rear. The standard Honda set up was definitely competent, especially for the casual off-road rider, but with a few rides under our belts in standard trim we were eager to see how the upgrades would compare.
First up was the front fork mods which included a new Race Tech spring set and Gold Valve set, the work being done at local dealer Toys for Big Boys as it was in for a fork seal replacement anyway. It took about three hours and stiffened up the front as well as gave better damping characteristics. This meant that the rider got more feedback (something ‘Arris was a little bereaved at as he liked the softness in corduroyed trails) and enabled us to push it more in the technical stuff. However, it also highlighted the weakness of the stock rear shock.
Shortly after the front mods we fitted the rear shock (much easier to do BTW) which bought the standard up to match the front and gave a much taughter and competent machine. Yes, the cushiness if sacrificed in the process, but for those wanting a more professional ride, the Race Tech suspension upgrades will give you what you’re looking for.
The CRF250 proved to be a resilient puppy. In typical CMG fashion, we did not baby it and there was some damage sustained as a result. Rob managed to blow a fork seal which can be put down to one of those things that happens when riding hard.
In similar circumstances, Zac managed to return the bike with a goodly sized ding in the front rim from hammering into a pothole while riding full-throttle in low visibility down a gravel road. Rob made it disappear courtesy of his neighbour’s press, but if you don’t hit things at speed, your wheels should be fine. Apart from that there was no other damage to wheels or indeed, the bike.
Rob did experience a few slippages out of gear, but only when he was hoofing it in the dirt, so the jury is out as to whether it’s an engine or ham-fisted gear change issue. And, although not a fault per say, for some reason Honda put the horn where the indicator button should be and vice versa, meaning that every time you wanted to turn you hit the horn, until you eventually got used to it – only to do the same thing once you got on another bike!
Dat’s it, dat’s all. That’s all she wrote. One heart-breaking October day, I delivered the Honda CRF250L, aka the Little Red Pig, back to Editor ‘Arris. She’s gone now, out of my life without even leaving a note.
We had an up-and-down, off-and-on relationship. I started out riding her this spring, then traded with Editor ‘Arris for the big Beemer. The R1200 GS was fun, but once I got my hands back on the Honda late in the summer, our romance was rekindled. Every time I had the chance to take her out on the trails, she made me remember all that is fun about small-displacement dual sports.
This bike is a blast on tight pavement, and even more fun off-road, as long as you don’t want or need knobbie-shredding torque. It’s a manageable, forgiving ride, and if you get stuck, you don’t need a Jeep or a team of horses to extricate yourself.
That’s what happened on my last big ride of the summer. In a pre-emptive attempt to do some scouting for the 2016 Fundy Adventure Rally, Editor ‘Arris, Charles Landry, and myself headed out to trail ride through New Brunswick’s interior on our respective 1200GS, KLR650, and CRF250L. It was a great ride, but eventually I had to split off when we neared my house and chose to try out a new trail in the process.
It started off with nice easy gravel with the occasional shallow puddles — not a big deal. Then it turned to mucky, deeper puddles. Not fun, but manageable. Then it turned into unnavigable morass. No problem, I muscled the Little Red Pig out of the trailway and pushed it along the hill beside the road, threading it through the trees before the trail completely disappeared into waist-deep bog. There was no way around it, and no way through it and not something to try on your own. Reluctantly, I decided to return the way I came.
But something funny had happened along the way – all those mudholes seemed deeper on the way back, and I was unable to find the same hard bottom I’d found on the way through. I had to resort to physically lifting the bike out of water and mud that was well past the axles, and carrying it out of a slime pit that could swallow a moose. Eventually I found a bypass that led me around some of the muck, and back towards sweet, sweet gravel.
And that experience, to me, sums up the best thing about a Honda CRF250L. The bike is something just about anybody can handle – easy power and light enough to manhandle when required. If you’re riding solo, and you get stuck, you don’t need to hike out and hire a farm tractor to come to your rescue. It’s a package that works well, and after a summer of riding it off-and-on road, I highly recommend it.
Every fall there’s always a day where the thermometer gets to double figures and the sun actually shines. For us in the Maritimes, that day was Saturday the 7th of November and it proved to be a good excuse to get the CRF250L out for one last ride.
It was a vivid reminder to why I like the CRF so much. Despite only being a 250, the CRF can go so much deep off-road and is perfectly capable on road too – even the highway. Yes, the motor lacks zip and any semblance of power, but it is enough to be usable and I rarely found myself wishing for more.
I regularly found myself looking down a trail that I would normally turn around from and giving it a shot. The CRF’s lightness compared to the bigger dual sport options means you can usually get it out of a bad situation or turn it around when stuck between rock and a hard place.
Fuel economy regularly returned a little more than 21 km/l (4.5 l/100 km or 50+ mpg US) when used in the trails or backroads. However, that did seem to drop rather dramatically on the highway — which usually meant the throttle was pinned — with a resulting 10-20% drop in efficiency.
Even in standard trim it’s a capable machine and at $5,299 an affordable one from the strapped student looking for an all rounder to the multi bike aficionado who’s looking for a bike to throw around.
I would happily trade in my modded KLR for one. I love that bike, but the CRF is so much more capable in everything but a long slog on the highway. Even then, it’s not too far off.
IT AIN’T OVER TILL …
We’ve had so much fun with the little CRF that we put in a proposal with Honda to extend the long-term test to two years. They’ve let us keep it till the spring which doesn’t give us enough time to do anything with it , but it does mean that it remains in the CMG garage and so the next step is to come up with a proposal.
Here’s your chance – is there anything that you’d like to see us do to the CRF in 2016? Current favourites include souping up the motor (big bore kit, pipe, fuel injection programmer, etc) and maybe making it more tourable (seat, screen, bags). We’re open to suggestions …