Honda CBR250R – track impressions

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Words: Costa Mouzouris. Photos: Kevin Wing

It didn’t take long on Honda’s new CBR250R to realize that we’d scored highly by asking for one as a CMG long termer for 2011. The bike has lots going for it, but not much can beat it’s potential to usher new riders into motorcycling — something that really needs addressing, and now.

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At $4,449 without ABS and $4,999 with, it certainly won’t cause sticker shock and even embarrasses pretty much all of its competition to boot.

For comparison, Kawasaki’s 250 Ninja demands $4,999 (and that’s without ABS or EFI), Suzuki’s retro and very simple TU250 is asking a hefty $5,299 and even Honda Canada’s website still lists the 2009 CMX250C Rebel at $5,299.

The bike also looks great – better proportioned and sleeker-looking than the VFR1200F from which it borrows much of its styling. And, it has a jewel of a little engine, a sophisticated 249 cc four-valve single with liquid cooling, EFI, a counterbalancer and lots of patented new design features that reduce weight and friction.

It’s hard to find any fault.

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VFR-inspired styling works just fine in a scaled-down version.

I finally had a chance to sample the CBR250R during Honda Canada’s annual media event a couple of weeks ago, and left highly impressed with
the machine.

You won’t read a full review here yet (we’ll provide that after we’ve spent more time in the saddle on our long termer), but I did ride the machine at Georgia’s Roebling Road Raceway, so how about a teaser of what the bike is like on a racetrack for now?

OFF TO THE TRACK

Now, I know the closest that most CBR250R owners will probably get to a racetrack is the parking lot during a race weekend. But to get so close and yet not fully explore the CBR’s track capabilities they’d be missing out on an opportunity to have tons of fun, while honing in their riding skills.

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CBR250R owners might not consider it a track-day bike — they should.

Don’t be fooled by the small price tag and capacity of the little CBR, it handles like a real sport bike. It’s stable at speed, brakes remarkably hard (though admittedly on Roebling’s flowing course there were few places that required braking) and its relatively roomy riding position is conducive to riding hard.

Unlike the CBR125R, the 250 actually has enough power to attain entertaining speeds (I saw 155 km/h on the front straight). The extra cubes means that it has a healthy bottom end and accelerates with relative gusto from about 4,000 rpm, at least in the bottom four gears.

As a result, a rider has to learn to use the bike’s midrange to their advantage, and I found the best result for a quick lap was to upshift at about 2,000 rpm before the bike’s indicated 10,500 rpm redline, to maximize it’s peak power.

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From this angle the small CBR could be mistaken for a middleweight sport bike, well, except for the single exhaust pipe. Lower exhaust shield touches at extreme lean angles.

This was particularly advantageous going through the circuit’s fast, right-hand sweeper onto the front straight, where I shifted the bike into top gear just getting into the turn (at an indicated 128 km/h) and left it there all the way into Turn One.

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EFI, roller rockers, offset cylinder bore, counterbalancer; the CBR’s little single is pretty high-tech.

Although it felt more natural to let the engine rev higher, using top gear in the last turn got about five km/h more speed out of the CBR along the front straight than riders shifting into sixth along the straight.

Where fifth gear just maintained a constant speed through the turn, sixth actually accelerated the machine (unlike the CBR125R, the 250 can pull its top speed in top gear).

SPORT-BIKE HANDLING

But what’s truly remarkable is the bike’s handling. Steering is neutral, providing just the right amount of steering effort and feedback to make the bike feel like a real motorcycle.

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Maybe Honda Canada should consider a CBR250R Challenge series to follow up from their successful CBR125R series? Rumours abound.

The suspension easily handled the racetrack’s smooth pavement and the bike maintained an assured line through sweepers, though the front end felt too soft for aggressive riding on tighter, point-and-shoot type racetracks that we have in Canada.

For a low cost machine you’d expect to at least have to change the stock tires, but the IRC Road Winners (now there’s a name) provided a remarkable amount of grip, allowing peg-scraping lean angles without any hint of losing traction – and the bike has tons of cornering clearance.

We also had some 250s shod with Pirelli Super Corsa DOT race rubber, but those tires had a very soft carcass, and I believe the pressures being used (26 psi) were too low, causing the rear of the machine to wallow. I stuck with the stock tires, which provided more confidence-inspiring feedback, as well as ample grip.

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Optional ABS: Choose it if you don’t expect your CBR to do track duty.

I also stuck with a non-ABS machine, because the front lever provided slightly better feel and I preferred non-combined braking at the track (ABS comes with linked braking). For the street, I’d definitely choose the ABS model.

MORE TO COME

We have yet to pick up our long-term CBR (I’m waiting for the remainder of the snow here in Montreal to melt, and as I write this it’s still below freezing out), but you can bet that soon after I do, I’ll take it for a good long street ride, and I’m even planning a tour of New England on the bike. I did spend some time spent on the road in Georgia, and it revealed it is a highly capable street bike.

I’ll probably ride it to a local track for an early-season track-day session, too. And I won’t be embarrassed showing up on a little 250.



SECOND VIEW


By Steve Bond

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Throw an exhaust on there for a little more sound and the quarter-litre CBR has everything it needs to make a track excursion fun. Cornering speeds would put 600 riders to shame.

There was a time when the 250 cc class was the most competitive, fiercely contested segment of the motorcycle market. Everyone built a 250 cc motorcycle. Why? Because they were among the best-balanced bikes available – great performance, stellar handling, exceptional economy of operation and a huge “giggle” factor.

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CBR250R + racetrack + challenger = good times!
Bondo and Fraser duke it out.

I spent the better part of a day in Savannah, Georgia riding Honda’s latest addition to the small but growing stable of 250 motorcycles available in North America, the new CBR250R.

It was really good in around-town conditions and, even during a short stint on the freeway, it maintained a Georgia-legal 70 mph quite easily. So I went into the track day with an open mind.

I’ve always preferred middleweight bikes and figured the CBR250R would be fairly decent, but during my first session, the little CBR surprised me all to hell.

It steered like a modern sportbike, there was no chassis flex, it had ample ground clearance and the single cylinder engine performed like a champ. It pulled hard and didn’t get all wheezy and breathless up top.

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Keep it pinned and the CBR won’t disappoint.

Into a strong headwind with my two hundred and never mind pounds aboard, the CBR consistently showed 140+ km/h at the end of the straight, although I noted 152 once while drafting Costa and Colin Fraser. Those boys punch a pretty big hole in the wind!

When Costa told me he was going through the first corner flat out, without shutting off, I was sceptical, but the next session, I took a deep breath and went for it. I didn’t like it, but I did it … just a bit too “on the edge” for me.

Still, the little CBR didn’t complain, it just steered where I pointed it, leaned where I wanted and happily plugged away all day. I’d like to try the CBR250 during a track day at Shannonville’s Nelson Layout – I’m betting it would surprise a lot of riders on modern 600s.

On the track, Honda’s CBR125 feels too much like a toy, but the CBR250R is a bona-fide, quarter-liter sportbike. Just like the CB72 Hawk in its day.


SPECIFICATIONS


Bike
Honda CBR250R

MSRP

$4,449 ($4,999 with ABS & linked brakes)

Displacement
249 cc

Engine
type
Four-stroke dohc single,
liquid-cooled
 Power(crank)* 26 hp @ 8,500 rpm

Torque*
17.5 lb-ft @ 7,000 rpm
Tank
Capacity
13 litres

Carburetion
EFI

Final drive
Six speed, chain drive

Tires,
front
110/70-17

Tires,
rear
140/70-17

Brakes,
front
Single 296 mm disc with dual-piston
caliper (non-ABS model)

Brakes,
rear
220 mm disc with dual-piston
caliper (non-ABS model)

Seat
height
780 mm (30.7″)

Wheelbase
1,396 mm (55 “)

Wet weight*
161 kg (355 lb); 165 kg (364 lb) with ABS

Colours
Ruby red/silver metallic or black

Warranty
12 months
* claimed

1 COMMENT

  1. They are here in Vancouver. I was allowed a little test ride yesterday and I am picking up a black with ABS in two weeks. Really liked your review – helped me make the decision.

  2. What is the meaning of these negative comments about Powerhouse dealers?
    While answering, please explain what a Powerhouse dealer is.
    Is this a Canadian thing?

    Thank you.

  3. Anyone can name a specific delivery date on this badboy from their dealer? The dealers went from March, to April, and now May. Some dealers in States already suggesting June (ABS though). Honda officially went from “March” to “Spring”. When you email them they are clueless. I would imagine it has to do with the Japan disaster but why won’t Honda just admit it or at least give some more details, like is it on the boat yet?

  4. As a Honda Powerhouse product demonstrator and being riding for 54 years, I know a winner when I see one. I pre-ordered one for myself today. Except for many, many years ago, I’ve always owned big displacement bikes like Harleys, Hayabusas, Hondas, Suzukis, Kawis, etc. This little bike is going to rekindle the great basics of motorcycling for me – great handling, light weight, affordable, and FUN, FUN, FUN!! Oh, and did I mention half the insurance premiums?

  5. Unfortunately, that tooling might be paid for but it won’t do a whole lot of good. Those old models have zero chance of meeting current emission standards, which means they would have to be re-engineered from the ground up (emissions compliance nowadays has to be designed in, the standards are too stringent to achieve via simple add-ons). It also costs just as much to make a 250cc or 400cc 4-banger, as it does to make a 1000cc 4-banger. Same parts count. Bit lighter, but the cost of the materials is insignificant.

  6. not to rain on the cbr250r parade, but all of the honyamsuzkaw oems had terrific 350-500 bikes a few years ago and all gave them up. are we reinventing the wheel here? why not bring back the bandit400, fz400, vt500, ninja 500, restyled.
    I love singles, but the small multis were pretty good bikes.(and the tooling is paid off!).

  7. What no comparison to the Hyosung GT250?

    But seriously how can you compete with the price and every town dealership of the Honda?

  8. Great article. Nice to see some information on how the CBR250R handles at the limit on a track. And thanks for the most stunningly beautiful photography of the CBR250R in action I’ve seen anywhere (in magazines and online). Impressive.

    Mike

  9. Honda has a home run here. Some will bemoan its slightly lower power and top speed compared to the Ninja 250 … and that’s fine; the market is big enough for both. Hopefully, plenty of others will discover the joys of a small, light, simple bike. The CBR125R benefits enormously from the CBR Cup treatment (sticky tires, sort out the fork preload, better rear shock) – I’ve done this to mine, and it becomes a silly fun bike despite not being able to go fast enough to cost me my driver’s license … the lack of power just becomes part of the challenge. Sounds like the 250 is pretty close to being right, straight out of the box. Good article.

  10. Hmm, could be a worthy replacement for the old VF500. Light weight and smooth power delivery. Looking forward to the long term test.

  11. There’s million and one comparison on the net and never seems to be a ending debate. Just read it, ride both make a payment and enjoy. I know which one I’d be buying if I was in a market for one.

    I also find it hilarious that there are still people who wouldn’t buy a quality Honda product they like only because it has something to do with a Powerhouse dealership. Who cares, really?? You can service it yourself or at a mechanic of your choice, no need to build a relationship with a Powerhouse if you don’t want to …

  12. Am glad to see this new CBR250R arrive in Canada … seems like an awesome little Bike! As the owner of a 2007 Kawi ZZ-R250, I’d love to see CMG do a comparo between the new Honda and the Ninja 250R!

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