One of the more interesting machines that I’ve been itching to get my hands on this year is Honda’s new CBR250R.
Yes, we got a long termer for the mag, but was holed up with Costa in Montreal and despite a grand scheme to try and get it (or equivalent) over to the east coast during the Shubernacadie Superbike round in August, I had until recently been unable to try it out.
My first opportunity arrived unexpectedly at the recent Dusk till Dawn ride in the Maritimes when Larry Northrup at Toys For Big Boys in Moncton very kindly offered us a CBR250R demo to take along.
The second opportunity came just last week when I was in Ottawa for a recent Honda CBR250R press do. Honda had invited the Canadian press, giving each attending journalist a CBR250R to ride from Gatineau to the track at St Eustache in Quebec, where we’d all duke it out in a race.
The idea was that the person who got to the track using the least amount of fuel (the bike’s fuel was measured before we set off) got pole position during the heat races, after which an all out race would determine which journalist was the fastest.
The last time I ride a bike on a track was, coincidentally, during Honda’s CBR125 launch down in the States a few years back. That time I was the only one to crash, and since then I’ve been quite happy avoiding making a bike go fast around a track.
Being the biggest (and heaviest) journo in attendance I figured that I was destined for the back of the grid anyway (which was actually fine by me), so I did what any self respecting CMGer would do – I took the long scenic way round and tried to fail in style by using the most fuel.
Unfortunately, it was a rather wet and cold day and once I lost the feeling in my hands I gave up on my original plan to detour towards Mont Tremblant in favour of a short cut, which promptly led me through a collection of slippery Quebec dirt roads.
My plan to use lots of fuel was going smashingly, and the CBR’s low fuel light started flashing with 50 km still to go. With no choice but to admit utter and humiliating defeat (and claim that coveted last spot on the starting grid of the race) I pulled into the nearest gas station.
However, to prevent cheating Honda had swapped out the lockable gas caps between bikes, meaning that my ignition key wouldn’t open the tank. Feck, calling Honda to come collect me and an empty CBR was not part of the plan.
So I spent the last 45.8 km to St Eustache at a steady 80 km/h, while trying to compress my lanky frame behind the CBR’s svelte fairing, holding my chin just above the tank with my left thumb, so that I could see through the screen.
It’s probably what Honda had in mind for the whole (shorter) ride, but there’s nothing like the threat of absolute embarrassment to get a journalist to play ball.
Suffice to say, I was impressed by how far reserve on the CBR will get you (especially when adopting the right attitude), as I pulled into St Eustache, two hours later than everyone else — and with a lot less gas.
ON TRACK FOR AN EMBARRASSMENT
The bikes we were ‘racing’ were waiting for us, prepped for the track (lights, fluid, etc), with the addition of an Elka shock and the suspension set up by tech guru John Sherrard from Accelerated Technologies.
Since it had been three years since I was last on a track my track skills were, well, shit. There’s nothing less sexy than a middle aged guy, squashed onto a bike one size too small trying to adopt a racing posture while being passed at a high rate of knots by everyone else.
Sadly I even failed to make the back of the grid, that honour going to the super fast Bertrand Gahel who omitted to take part in the fuel economy challenge altogether (clever man).
I was surprised to find myself with a good start and passed one guy only to be passed almost immediately by Gahel who joined the two front guys and were promptly out of view by the end of the first lap.
Okay ‘Arris, all you have to do is stay in front of the really slow guy and not get lapped by the really fast guys and your job would be well done. With the pressure off, after a lap of actually trying to get some semblance of cornering technique I settled back and realized that for someone who is relatively competent on a track a CBR250R is actually a lot of fun.
The bike is well balanced, taking the super scary “fuck up and it’ll land on your head and break all your bones” attitude of the larger sport bikes down a few notches but offering up enough power to remove the “time to sit back and work on that to-do list” of the CBR125 while on the back straight.
In short, the CBR250R should not only become the ubiquitous bike at the track day but it may be the most fun to watch during the upcoming Canadian race series, especially since an age limit will mean it won’t be populated by middle aged lanky gits who can’t remember how to race.
Talking of which, my race ended with me finishing how I started (fourth out of five) and with a smidgen of pride in tact for not having been lapped. It also meant that I had failed to qualify for the final (oh damn) but could now come away from a track session sans limp and a mangled machine.
Still, there was a small part of me that was somewhat disappointed — about missing the final, not the crash.
The final pretty much went as expected with Gahel getting top spot, mainly thanks to Pascal Bastien (a man who is light enough to float away doing the helium balloon gag at parties) running wide and doing a very entertaining mini highside in a muddy patch of grass (dix points, do it again please!).
Post race was filled with general lapping, joined by Bodhi Edie and Stacey Nesbitt who were in attendance to get a first track ride on the bikes in readiness for the new series next year. Of course, they made the journalists look rather sad, but then they’re skinny, flexible and bounce well, so they should.
And finally, the “and then it all went CMG (even if you’re not part of CMG)” honours went to Mojo’s Uwe Wachtendorf, who managed to lowside into the bales and mud at the far end of the track making a good impression of a scarecrow, only with less hair.
So what did we learn today? Well, if you didn’t already know, the CBR250R is very economical with fuel (unless you’re a big fat bastard who sits bolt upright on the highway with the throttle pinned), and maybe more importantly, on the track it’s a perfect balance between fun and frightening yourself shitless.
And that’s a good thing.