Almost everything is new on this machine, except for the motor.
Excitement started to build quickly in the fall of 2011 when Honda announced its new CRF250L street-and-trail on the show circuit. Honda’s been building dual-sports in the 200-250cc range for decades, but many riders were underwhelmed with 2008’s CRF230L. That bike’s motor traced its roots back to the 1970s, and didn’t have the performance of previous quarter-litre street-and-trails, like the XL250R.
Riders hoped the CRF250L would have a little more snap, thanks to its CBR250-derived DOHC engine, and on paper, it delivers. The liquid-cooled motor puts out a claimed 23 hp at 8500 rpm; max torque is a claimed 16.2 ft. lbs. @ 7000 rpm; the 230 put out around 14 hp and 11 ft.lb of torque.
Honda didn’t just drop the CBR’s engine into the enduro frame; they made a few minor changes first. The six-speed gearbox and EFI were tweaked for trail work (36 mm injectors instead of the CBR’s 38mm injectors).
The CBR’s conventional forks were replaced with 43 mm USD units with single-sided spring, tucked in behind plastic fork guards. There’s 250 mm (9.8 inches) of travel in the front forks, and 240 mm (9.4 inches) in the rear; that works out to a 875 mm (34.7-inch) seat height. The bike runs on a 21-inch wheel in front and an 18-incher in back. The tires provide a decent compromise between dirt and pavement handling.
Like the CBR, the new bike has a steel frame (it’s painted to look like aluminum, although the swingarm is actual aluminum). That keeps the cost down, but not the weight. The CRF250L’s 145 kg (320 lb) wet weight was the source of a lot of grousing from the interwebs, but it’s still 17 kg (almost 40 lbs) under the CBR250’s weight.
Cost-cutting measures are visible elsewhere as well, especially with its suspension; the front is non-adjustable, and the rear shock is only adjustable for preload.
The new CRF has a 7.7 litre fuel tank; thanks to its EFI, the bike has a ridiculously conservative digital fuel gauge in the dash, which is much more convenient than the classic method of relying on your petcock’s reserve setting.
Aesthetically, I think the new bike is a winner, except for the seat – it’s a very, very light shade of red, and after a few months in the sun, I suspect it’s going to fade into a lovely shade of pink. Aside from that, though, it’s refreshing to see a machine with little extraneous plastic bolted on; the muffler guard could perhaps be a bit smaller, but this is a bike with a gas tank, a seat, and a headlight; it’s the same layout your grandfather’s motorcycle would have had!
In a time when dual-sport motorcycles seem to have been replaced by bigger and bigger adventure bikes, the CRF250L is a true street-and-trail machine. It doesn’t have the high-strung snap of true enduros like Husqvarna’s TE250, but it gives you a wide range of power that works smoothly in the dirt, and on the pavement.
Speaking of which – one of the CBR250R’s greatest surprises was its smooth ride; vibrations from the motor were minimal, even at high (for a single-cylinder 250) speeds, and the CRF250L is the same on the street, unlike many budget buzz bomb dual sports.
Of course, top speed on the CRF250L is lower than the CBR250R, thanks to gearing differences and reduced aerodynamics. Still, as long as your roadway doesn’t have a lot of extreme elevation changes, you should be able to cruise along around 110 km/h in sixth gear, which is as fast as you can legally ride anywhere in Canada. If you have to pass someone, bang down to fourth and twist the throttle – you’ll get by, it’ll just take longer than it does on a bigger machine.
Really, learning how to take these machines as fast as they can go down the highway is half the fun. Instead of twisting the throttle to accelerate, you’re going to be working the gearbox and drafting semis; some of the most fun I had on the bike was tucked in behind a big transport on the 400, north of Markham, Ontario.
I even dared the 401 on the machine, and I wasn’t stuck in the slow lane, though I was beat around by crosswinds most of the day. The CRF250L is a light bike; combine that with a heavy rider and in this case, some luggage, and you’re going to feel it when the wind picks up. It’s not much fun.
Honda says the new machine is pretty fuel efficient (claimed EPA rating is 77 mpg!). I didn’t get the chance to measure consumption in normal around-town or off-road riding, but I did 493 highway kms on this bike on 20.84 litres of gas. That works out to 23.65 km/l, or 66 mpg, which should take you a little over 180 kms, so you’ll have to keep an eye on the gauge on road trips.
That’s not bad, considering I was carrying a week’s worth of luggage, pretty hard on the throttle and fighting wind the whole time. I reckon the bike would be capable of far, far better mileage with a lighter rider aboard who was less heavy on the throttle.
Ergonomically speaking, the bike is certainly going to fit small riders better than large ones. A tall rider would likely want to fit handlebar risers. The seat isn’t terribly roomy; a tankbag pushed me far enough backwards that my butt was sitting on the seat strap. A couple of bigger adults would have a hard time fitting two-up on the seat, although smaller folks could likely manage.
In town, the CRF is a joy to ride. You can dart through holes in traffic that just aren’t open to larger bikes and hop curbs that would bottom out many larger bikes. Bigger bikes quickly leave you behind on the open road, but in in-town congestion, that’s not as big an issue. This is a bike that would make commuting fun.
While you may have to wring the engine’s guts out from time to time on the street, at least you have liquid cooling to ease your mind. That’s also nice if you get bogged down while off-roading, although it also adds another level of complexity; there are more parts to break, which could ultimately make this an expensive bike to learn off-roading on.
Buyers who are interested in taking the new 250 into the woods would be wise to find an aftermarket rad guard, when they become available.
The biggest limitation for this bike off-road, in stock trim, is the tires. Like all dual-sport rubber, even though these are more aggressive than most, they’re still a compromise; if you take the CRF250L for a rip after a day aboard a purpose-built dirt bike, you’ll notice the difference. You just can’t push the stockers as hard in the dirt.
The bike doesn’t have the power and low gearing of the bigger enduros, either; slippery climbs might require more thought and a couple more tries than on a more powerful machine. This is more of a beginner bike, designed for easier work, not a wheelie monster.
I found the suspension a little on the soft side as well, but that’s expected – Honda had to build these to a budget, and besides, I weigh around 95 kgs, likely much heavier than most people buying these bikes.
Ultimately, though, when I had the 250 in Ontario’s Ganaraska Forest, it went all the same places as the full-blown dirt bikes did. Loose, rocky downhills, slippery clay, soft sand, tight single-track, gravel roads – I took my time and did it all in stock trim, though, it’s not a hard-core off-roader.
Of course, I’m not a hard-core off-roader either, but to ride this bike in the dirt, you don’t need to be. It’s still a fairly light, easy-to-ride machine. Even if you drop it off-road, you should be able to pick it up without much trouble and throw your leg over the seat. This machine won’t scare you, but it can do it all.
The frame protects the bottom of the engine fairly well, but a decent bash plate, along with tough handguards, would also be wise investments. Honda says they should have a few accessories available for this bike, but don’t expect a big lineup of OEM add-ons. Tom Miller at TCI Products says his company is going to outfit these bikes as soon as they get their hands on one for measurements, so we can likely expect luggage racks and hopefully engine, headlight and brake cylinder guards from them.
Honda made this bike with ergonomics, performance and a price accessible to the masses, and I think they’ve succeeded. Could this be the machine that the “nicest people” are riding for the next few years?
I think the answer is yes. With a $4,999 MSRP, it comes in cheaper than Kawasaki’s KLX250S ($5,799) and much more so against Yamaha’s WR250R ($6,999). It’s priced the same as Yamaha’s TW200 and Suzuki’s DR200SE, but gives you much more motorcycle for the money. It’s even cheaper than the CRF230L it replaces – at the moment, that bike is discounted on Honda’s Canadian website to $5,199.
This bike has also likely killed the Chinese motorcycle market in Canada, for the most part. The cruisers will continue to be imported, but the cheap dual-sports that country sent over here simply won’t be able to compete on pricing; the MSRP for those bikes has been rising steadily the last few years, and most consumers would likely rather pay a little extra and take the reliability and access to service and parts of a Honda.
Second View – By Rob Harris
Someone had to test this bike in the extremes and I had the opportunity to do that both on road and in the dirt.
My on-road ride came in the form of the CMG Dawn to Dusk rally, where I was loaned one courtesy of Moncton’s Toys For Big Boys to thrash about for 12 hours and 600 kms, throttle pinned.
The CRF performed amazingly, relatively spacious for my 6’4” carcass, with enough oomph to keep me leading the ‘fast’ group sans complaint. I found that it would generally hold an indicated 120, though as Zac pointed out, you’d have to drop cogs and tuck in if you wanted to pass anything at that speed.
Then at last week’s Honda launch at Trail Tours in the Ganaraska forest in Ontario I managed to convince them to lend me one that had been fitted with more aggressive tires, dirt bars and bar bashers for an extra day after the journo hoards had already left. Honda’s two day launch was a little tame in the trails to say the least, but then the experience range of the journos was diverse to say the least.
I was joined by Gimpy Jimpy on his WR250 and Zac on a CRF230 with the plan to switch to one of Trail Tours CRF250X dirt specific bikes after a morning wresting the L model through the trails. However, I had so much fun on the L that I rode it all day, keeping up with the leader for the most part through tight single track and hard trees.
It’s amazing what a good pair of tires will do, as I’d gotten quite weary of the L the previous day as it regularly washed out the front wheel in the Ganie’s soft sand. The Dunlop D606s allowed me to push the bike pretty hard (she likes it better if you stand up in the soft stuff) and although it lacks the bite of a more dirt-orientated machine, it rides dirt very well with a broad ability spectrum that the newer and intermediate off-roader will appreciate.
The only issue I found was that the jump from 1st to 2nd was a little high, but feathering the clutch in 2nd proved to bridge the gap well, though I’m not sure how long the clutch will last if you ride the bike in trails on a regular basis.
The motor’s not exactly sharp in its power delivery, the brakes are similar – they work fine but lack bite, and the suspension is a tad soft without any adjustment, but that about sums up the CRF250L; it’s not a KTM, it’s a Honda, and for 95% of the riding public, that’s a very good thing.
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.
|Bike||2013 Honda CRF250L|
|Engine type||Chain-driven DOHC, four valves|
|Power (crank)*||23 hp|
|Tank Capacity||7.7 litres|
|Carburetion||PGM-FI EFI, 36 mm throttle body|
|Tires, front||3.00 – 21|
|Tires, rear||120/80 – 18|
|Brakes, front||256 mm disc with dual-piston caliper|
|Brakes, rear||220 mm disc with single-piston caliper|
|Seat height||875 mm (34.4 in.)|
|Wheelbase||1,445 mm (56.9 in.)|
|Wet weight*||145 kg (320 lb)|
|Warranty||1 year, unlimited mileage, freely transferable warranty; extended coverage available with Honda Plus|