Honda’s CBR250RR muscles up, to keep pace with Ninja ZX-25R

There’s a war brewing, although we haven’t seen any effects in North America—yet. In overseas markets, there’s a new face-off between Honda and Kawasaki, in the high-spec 250 sportbike segment, with the Honda CBR250RR having upgrades announced this week.

The CBR250RR was the machine that kickstarted this segment back to life, after the OEMs let it stagnate for years. Once upon a time, the high-performance 250 market was red-hot overseas, as laws restricted some countries’ riders to sub-400 cc motorcycles, especially in the Japanese domestic market. In the late 1980s, two-stroke and four-stroke 250s might not have been cool or popular in North America, but they were Big In Japan. And now, that market’s spreading to the rest of Asia.

Kawasaki’s been teasing the ZX-25R as its own competition to the CBR, so Honda’s firing right back with some updates to the quarter-litre rocket. It’s unveiling the updated version of the bike online this week, as a replacement for the original planned Tokyo Motorcycle Show launch.

The updated bike will have a wide range of high-spec bits, including ride-by-wire throttle and electronic engine management with three riding modes, an optional up-down quickshifter, and updates to the engine, bringing it all the way to 40 hp output.

However, its parallel twin engine only revs to 12,000 rpm, and the ZX-25R makes an alleged 46 hp, revving to 17,000 rpm. That’s a big difference in this bracket, so unless Honda’s got better pricing, it’s going to struggle against the quarter-litre Kawi.

Not that it’s our problem. Or at least, not yet; there’s been no announcement of plans to bring these bikes to Canada. Perhaps emissions testing is the issue, or it could be that the Big Four just don’t think enough Canadians would be interested in a small-capacity sportbike (far more likely). If you’re interested, then you need to talk to your dealer. Eventually, this COVID-19 crisis will end, and we’ll be getting new bikes sooner or later. It would be cool if some of those bikes were interesting machines like this.



  1. I emailed Kawasaki Canada and their response was “never know what the future holds”. I will definitely be putting my deposit down if they announce its coming to Canada . Please bring the ZX-25R here !!!!

  2. I credit Honda for kickstarting a renewed interest in small displacement street bikes in Canada by bringing the CBR125 here in 2007. After thirteen riding seasons I still enjoy riding mine. Last summer I sold my 89 GSXR250RR and regretted it immediately. That little four cylinder was the most intoxicating bike I have ever rode. So, Kawasaki bring the ZX250-R to Canada. Please.

  3. Travel back to the eighties and Honda had a 250 inline 4 with a valve train that operated on 2 valves per cylinder until a certain rpm, then the magic genie would switch it to 4 valve operation. Really high tech stuff then and 15-17000 rpm to boot. I believe all four JDM manufacturers had a true sport 250.
    The Kawasaki looks awesome and the gull wing swing arm is a real nice touch. Honda is missing the boat bring the “B” team, like it’s current CBR 300 single as compared to the Kawasaki and Yamaha 300 twins. I hope this spawns a new trend in 250-400cc sport bikes.

  4. It’s nice to dream but I think Kawasaki should focus on a replacement for the hole left by the KLR and maybe even a real adventure bike, seeing that they are the only manufacturer that doesn’t make one.

  5. A few more numbers from Wikipedia. It’s been in production for a couple of years now so its safe to say its not coming to Canada. The 0–100 km/h is just OK anyway. It doesn’t have the torque the KTM RC390 has The RC does 0–100 km/h in just over 5 seconds. It’s in the under 400cc licensing group, so you would have cheap insurance and the RC is cheaper so you could eventually do upgrades. The same goes for the Kawasaki ninja 400 twin that’s available in Canada. Do some upgrades and it’s great value. The Honda is pretty, though. Real pretty.

    0–60 km/h (37 mph) 2.8 s
    0–80 km/h (50 mph) 4.2 s
    0–100 km/h (62 mph) 6.2 s
    0–100 m (328 ft) 6.1 s @ 98.6 km/h (61.3 mph)
    0–201 m (1⁄8 mi) 9.3 s @ 122.3 km/h (76.0 mph)
    0–402 m (1⁄4 mi) 14.7 s @ 144 km/h (89 mph)
    Top speed (on speedometer) 179 km/h (111 mph)
    Top speed (Racelogic) 167.4 km/h (104 mph)
    Fuel consumption 24 km/L (68 mpg‑imp; 56 mpg‑US)

  6. Maybe Honda could do a limited run of higher spec, higher revving bikes to match the Kawi…
    Call it the CBR-RR-R-R RRR or something.
    Either way, if it came to be that I’d have to choose between the two, it would still be a good day.

  7. “However, its parallel twin engine only revs to 12,000 rpm, and the ZX-25R makes an alleged 46 hp, revving to 17,000 rpm. That’s a big difference in this bracket, so unless Honda’s got better pricing, it’s going to struggle against the quarter-litre Kawi.”

    Struggle in what way? In terms of performance? It would certainly seem that way, though we don’t know the curb weight of the ZX25R yet. In terms of sales? That is more debatable. Of course manufacturers need their products to remain competitive in the marketplace (unless you’re Suzuki…teasing…teasing…). And price is always a critical variable. And on paper, you would expect horsepower to make a difference too – if you are comparing apples to apples.

    Yet – in this case – as much as I would love to ride Kawasaki’s new ZX-25R, I think the Honda could still be competitive for a variety of reasons.

    1. In the markets that these bikes are available – fuel economy is probably an important consideration. Parallel twins generally get better fuel-economy than inline fours (of the same displacement). Constantly revving an inline four to 17,000 RPM to get to the power, while tons of fun, isn’t likely to net favourable fuel economy numbers…

    2. The twin is likely to cost less to maintain – this might be an important consideration in these markets too.

    3. What will the torque curves look like? I am willing to bet that the Honda will produce better torque figures at lower RPM. Maybe even a flatter torque curve. So the Honda may be easier to live with and easier to ride in most situations.

    4. It is normally more cost effective to make a parallel twin. So in terms of pricing – this should give Honda some flexibility to adjust the price as needed to stay competitive with Kawasaki.

    5. Where Honda could really make some in-roads in this case – is to focus more on weight. It appears that the CBR250RR is about 370 lbs. If Honda put it on a diet like they did with their CB300R (313 lbs) which lost 35 lbs from the CB300F (348 lbs), Kawasaki would have a hard time matching that kind of weight with the ZX-25R while also keeping it price competitive.

    Trimming weight off a motorcycle can be costly though. But so is adding 2 more cylinders (and all the high end components that the ZX-25R is supposedly going to feature). Honda could keep the CBR250RR competitive with the ZX-25R this way with respect to power-to-weight. And clearly – weight loss can also yield other benefits, like those related to handling and braking.

    Of course – I’m largely playing the devil’s advocate here. I love the burble of an inline four. And I love the sounds of 17,000 RPM. Please bring it over here….


    • Mostly reasonable points, Mike. I don’t think that any of these singly would make a sales difference, but if overall, the bike is seen as more affordable, that will help. Although, there are plenty of more affordable sportbikes on the market, too, and Honda didn’t build this to service entry-level consumers, even in Taiwan or wherever.

  8. These machines are crazy! Many parts of Canada give a really useful insurance break for bikes under 400cc, but the market isn’t for 17,000rpm racers. The market is riders going to school or work, not racers. 17,000rpm is nuts! How about instead giving us a 250cc bike that will last for 100,000km?

    • One of my favourite bikes growing up was my Kawasaki 250 triple two stroke. That bike did everything, I even road raced it in basically stock trim in the 250 GP class in the 70s. That bike placed last consistently but I had the best seat in the house when being lapped by the leaders. No GoPros back then.

    • Hi James, I have a 2014 Ninja300 with well over 20K km. Runs perfectly, does not burn a drop of oil. I don’t see why it would not go 100K km. The issue is more with usage for me. I am not going to do long sport touring rides on the Ninja, that would be my R1200RT, which I have put 70K km on in 4 years. If I had to choose between a new Ninja 400 or the ZX-25R, I would want the 250, I would buy the 400 and upgrade suspension and brakes over time. I could actually see light sport touring with the 400, I would buy the 250 if I was a track day guy, which I am not. On another note used Ninja 300’s are incredibly cheap, if you were a commuter, just buy a good used one, bulletproof. C

      • True enough, but the new buyer has no way of knowing. I tried a 300 Ninja a while ago, nice enough, but the gearbox was really clunky when shifting. Didn’t inspire me to spend my money. The point is I (the buyer) have no way of knowing which bikes are a better buy. Most reviewers, like here, are emphasizing the 0-100 acceleration or the red-line, neither of which means anything to me, the average commuter. Thanks for the comment!

  9. I’m not sure how much sway I have these days ( my wife says zero) but I did send a note to Kawasaki about bringing the ZX25 to Canada. Let’s hope we see it down the road.

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