First ride: Honda CRF250R

When Honda invited Canada Moto Guide to come to California and ride the new CRF250R on a true motocross track alongside pro riders, we knew such a bike was beyond our rusty skills and doddery knees, so we asked Kate McKerroll to go give it a good thrashing for us. She packed her boots and helmet and headed for the Zaca Station MX facility on California’s Central Coast.

Kate is a former professional women’s motocross rider. She held the 2012 Canadian Championship from Walton Transcan as well as multiple top 10 finishes at the AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn’s. She spent most of her youth traveling from coast to coast to line up against North America’s most talented riders. She’s since retired from racing and now gets her two-wheel fix from riding her supermoto in Toronto.

What did she think of the bike? Here’s Kate.


PHOTOS BY JASON ZINDROSKI/HIREV PHOTOGRAPHY, COURTESY HONDA CANADA
The Honda CRF250R is totally redesigned for 2018, with a new engine and chassis.

I was sitting at my desk at my 9-to-5 when I first got the call from CMG. “Do you want to go to California to test out the all-new 2018 CRF250R?” said the voice on the phone. “Hell ya!” I said. Although I ride my supermoto to work everyday, it’s been way too long since I’ve really ripped an MX bike on a world-class track.

Needless to say, I was psyched. I’ve been hearing good things about the all-new 2017 CRF450R and how it performed this season. I was dying to put this new CRF250R through its paces and see if those same impressive upgrades would be brought to the 250 class.

We’ve witnessed the CRF250R evolve since its introduction in 2004. Over the years we have seen fast bikes, slow bikes, carbureted bikes, fuel-injected bikes and much more. Riders are hoping this model will be the fastest yet. With technology being the name of the game in modern motocross, we can see why the 2018 CRF250R is the most anticipated dirt bike of the year.

Can’t you just hear them crackling away on a fast idle? No blue smoke like the other MX bikes Kate’s been riding recently though.

We arrived at Zaca Station at 7:30 am. The sun was just peeking over the hills. The track was perfectly groomed and the track owner was doing his rounds with the water truck. A few of the rancher’s cows were running free beside the track. The landscape was absolutely stunning. I felt like I was getting a taste of what it’s like to be a factory rider. There was a semi truck parked trackside with brand new CRF250Rs parked under the tent just waiting to be ridden. It was a scene out of any rider’s dream. I was itching to get my gear on and feel the power of this new machine.

It’s not going to be cheap, though. Canadian pricing hasn’t been released yet, but American pricing has and the 2018 lists for $7,999 U.S.. before a $330 destination charge and taxes. That’s an increase of $400 U.S. over the 2017 model. Since the 2017 bike sold for $9,199 in Canada, it’s  reasonable to assume the new bike will be about $500 above that — a bit less than $10,000 MSRP, anyway.

The first thing I noticed when I threw my leg over the bike and tried to start it was the lack of a kick-starter. I knew the 2018 model was equipped with electric start but there was no kick-starter at all! I expect some riders would be concerned about placing all of their trust in an electric starter with no back-up, but Honda seems very confident that the bike’s new lithium-ion battery will be durable and reliable.

Both the CRF and Kate look nice and clean – must be the beginning of the day.

The battery is one of many things new about this bike, which is unlike any four-stroke I’ve ever ridden. Technically, this 250 is a bit heavier than previous models, weighing 108 kg (238 lbs) now compared to last year’s 105 kg (231 lbs), and this is mostly thanks to a complete redesign of the engine and the new battery. It is also a bit taller with a seat height of 960 mm (37.8 in.) compared to the 2017 model’s 950 mm (37.4 in.). The new gas tank is made from titanium, which is stronger than last year’s steel but lighter, dropping more than half a kilogram from the weight of the bike.

Previously known for its unicam design, the 2018 CRF250R now has a dual overhead cam (DOHC) that creates extra horsepower and a good breadth of power across the entire range, pulling all the way to 14,400 RPM. The previous single cam model topped out at 13,400 RPM. Honda says the larger bore, shorter stroke, and rocker set-up on the DOHC contribute to a 9 per cent power increase for 2018. The finger rocker arm with Honda’s Diamond Like Coating maximizes valve lift, and the redesigned downdraft intake layout increases power and improves throttle response by reducing air friction and improving air-charging efficiency.

There are three adjustable mapping modes for the engine, which are easily changed with the click of a handlebar button: Standard, Mellow (or smooth) and Aggressive. I expected the aggressive to be the most powerful performer at the top of the revs, but instead, it gave more bottom-end power and quicker revving. Some riders also describe Standard as ‘flowy’ and Aggressive as ‘stop and go’, which has more torque to drive out of corners. The ‘flowy’ vs. ‘stop and go’ performance of the modes means riders with different riding styles can feel more comfortable in different settings.

Now that’s more like it. And this is why we sent Kate to thrash the CRF instead of trying to do it ourselves.

Personally, my favourite setting was Mellow. It was a great balance between the two modes. I was able to carry momentum around the track without having to over-shift and I had lots of power to pull me out of corners. My favourite part about this bike was the cornering, because it cornered like a dream. It stuck in the rut with minimal effort, as if the bike was a train and the rut was the track. It felt light enough that I could throw it down into a berm, but stable enough that I knew I would ride out of it. The ergonomics of the chassis made the powerful bike feel easy to handle, and the comfortable seat had me feeling like I was riding a bike I had already broken in.

“It’s like the bike’s a train and the rut’s a track…”

An added bonus that came with testing this bike at Zaca Station was having some professional racers out on the track: the experienced riders were cutting amazing lines that gave the track a smooth flow. Dylan Wright from the GDR Honda Team was there to get a feel for the bike that he will race in the MX2 class next year. Dylan placed 2nd in the MX2 class in 2017 and from how he was riding at Zaca Station, my bet is we will see a championship from Dylan in 2018. Ryan Hughes was also on the track. He was wearing 17-year-old vintage Fox gear and the MX helmet that he wore at the 2000 Motocross des Nations. It was as if I was witnessing Back to the Future MX edition.

Kate, on the left, takes a break with Dylan Wright (Honda Canada/GDR/Fox Racing team rider, second in the 2017 Rockstar Energy Canadian Motocross Nationals in the MX2 class), Doug Dehhan (recently retired after 18 years as a professional motocross athlete, who represented Canada at the MX des Nations in 2005) and Chis Pomeroy (1989 Rookie of the year and former nationally ranked pro racer).

In all honesty, it’s been a few years since I’ve ridden a 4-stroke MX bike (I have a lot more seat time on my trusty 2-stroke), so when I hopped on the new CRF250R, I felt slightly out of my element. Luckily, this bike is extremely rider-friendly. It only took me a few laps to settle in and feel comfortable on it. Its all-new chassis and the lightweight, slim frame made the bike feel nimble and agile.

And she’s off again!

Like the larger CRF450R that was redesigned last year, Honda is calling this bike the “absolute holeshot CRF250R” thanks to its redesigned chassis. Honda’s claim is that the bike will stay on the ground and drive forward during holeshots, rather than pop up. The redesigned frame has a shorter wheelbase, shorter swingarm, extended rake and a lower centre of gravity. All of these changes help the bike stay on the ground and help the rider be in front to the first turn!

Go ahead – try to catch her. Kate gives new meaning to “eat my dirt!”

We didn’t get a chance to race or mock race the bike, but I did pull off to the side of the track and practice a few holeshots. The claim Honda makes for the bike to stay on the ground rang true, and I felt the power of the bike drive forward with ease. It was even tough to get the bike into a wheelie while we were messing around on it in the pits. This is mainly caused by the slacker rake and the lower centre of gravity, which decreases front-end lift.

Not quite so clean now, bike and rider, after a few laps at Zaca Station.

The suspension is also upgraded for this new bike, which has a Showa 49 mm spring fork, compared to the 49 mm inverted Showa SFF-Air TAC fork from 2017. This follows the example of the new CRF450R but with a softer spring rate and valving to match. The suspension is also a bit stiffer to compensate for the added weight.

Considering I am at least 20 lbs lighter than the average rider, I could definitely feel the difference in stiffness as soon as I got on this bike. I felt more comfortable after the techs set my sag, but I still needed to slow down the rebound to avoid bouncing if I cased or overshot any of the jumps. Talking to some of the pro riders at the media day, most said they had to make only minimal adjustments to the stock setup in order to feel comfortable. Riders at all levels are really going to love this new fork.

The all-new 2018 Honda CRF250R makes for a formidable package and will be a bike to be reckoned with next season.

As a complete package, Honda’s done a remarkable job building this new bike from scratch. The decision to switch to the DOHC engine is going to give 250-class riders what they’re looking for: added top-end power and more pull all the way to redline. The suspension is a great combination of comfort and performance, and the Dunlop Geomax MX3 tires will have this bike ready to rip all conditions right out of the crate. Plus, that electric start gives riders an extra edge when recovering from a fall mid-race. One blip of the starter button and you’ll be back on your way, fighting for the front.

Okay – now YOU be the one to tell her she’s got to give it back now…

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