BY THE TESTING STAFF OF TWMX
In recent years, Honda has been the class leader when it comes to 250cc four-strokes. Since its introduction in 2004, the CRF250R has undergone a few changes and managed to remain at or near the top of the class when it came time for the annual TransWorld Motocross 250cc Four-Stroke Shootout. As a package, the bike was powerful, handled well, and had comfortable ergonomics that pleased even the most particular riders. But with the constant pressure to improve, and the age of fuel injection in the 250 class upon us, Honda is now the first of two manufacturers this year to introduce a bike equipped with EFI. With a laundry list of changes other than EFI, this CRF250R is one of the most anticipated bikes of 2010.
Looking nearly identical to the CRF450R and actually sharing numerous parts with its larger brother, the CRF250R boasts an all-new chassis, motor, and suspension. Beginning with the motor, Honda’s primary objective was to maintain strong, usable power even when incorporating the Electronic Fuel Injection, which on the 450cc four-strokes has been known to mellow out the power delivery—not something that is desirable in a 250F. While the motor may look similar to previous years, upon closer inspection you’ll actually find much more, as nothing carries over from the previous model—not even the engine cases. A new piston and lighter crank have made it possible for a higher compression ratio and a longer stroke. The position of the cylinder was also changed, tilted back five degrees to improve mass centralization. Up on top, the head features all-new Moto-GP inspired valve spring materials, longer valve springs, and new cam timing. All with the goal of making the CRF pull further and rev higher with stronger power and better durability.
The clutch was also updated and given higher capacity plates for improved bulletproofing and a Kashima coating on the inner and outer clutch hub. Feeding the new motor is an all-new air intake system that incorporates a shorter, straighter funnel design for maximum airflow. As for the EFI system, it’s a 50mm throttle body specifically designed for the CRF250R— not shared with the fuel-injected CRF450R—and it features a 12-hole injector that is fed by a 50-psi pump. Completing the new motor package is a new single can exhaust system that, thanks to the new chassis, has been moved forward to improve handling and further centralize the mass of the bike.
The new twin-spar aluminum chassis is modeled after the CRF450R, and just like the past few years, comes equipped with Honda’s popular steering damper. Overall, the chassis is lighter and more stable than the previous design, and is intended to improve both straight-line handling and turning.
When creating this new CRF, Honda did all it could to move the main mass of the bike to the center, and everything from the motor to the gas tank to the airbox is positioned inside the new chassis to accomplish this. By centralizing the mass of the bike, handling is improved immensely. As a small side note about the new bodywork, all of the plastics can be shared with the CRF450R, making it easy for racers who might ride both bikes in different classes and are in need of a spare part. Complementing the new chassis design is all-new Showa suspension. Just like the CRF450R, the rear shock is much smaller and more compact than previous. Up front are new Showa forks and, like the shock, they are re-valved to improve initial harshness and mid stroke.
A DIFFERENT ANIMAL
Out on the track, the new CRF feels completely different than its predecessor—this new bike is much lighter and nimbler with completely different engine characteristics. The new chassis gives the CRF a lower center of gravity that produces a bike with very predictable handling characteristics. Down rough straights, the bike tracks straight and inspires confidence in nearly every situation. Unlike the 2009 CRF450R that saw the first generation of the new chassis with a much steeper, more aggressive steering head angle, the new CRF250R comes with a more conservative rake. Honda managed to find a happy medium with the angle, as the bike corners very well without having any ill-handling effects elsewhere. Mid-corner directional changes are done almost effortlessly, as the front-end weight bias provides plenty of front wheel traction.
On both the front and rear, the new Showa suspension was given new valving to complement the new chassis. In spite of that, though, many of our faster or heavier testers felt that the suspension was overall a little on the soft side. While the new valving did give the suspension a plush initial stroke, the fork and shock still bottomed out off larger jumps or G-outs. On rough chop, however, the fork and shock work very well together to inspire confidence in the rider and keep the bike tracking straight. Overall, even though it might be on the soft side for some riders, the suspension is a well-balanced package that will likely work just fine for the average rider.
As for the new fuel-injected motor, it has both its good and bad characteristics. Throughout our testing we found that the EFI seemed to be both a blessing and curse for the little CRF. Previously, the CRF250R has been a notoriously difficult bike to start both hot and cold. With the new EFI, the bike now starts very easily with only a couple kicks. Another blessing of the EFI is the instant throttle response—the infamous Honda bog that the bike experienced before has officially been eliminated.
But while the fuel injection does smooth out the power delivery, making it more linear, we’re not too sure that’s a good thing for a 250cc four-stroke. The CRF produces very anemic power down low, forcing copious use of the clutch in some instances. Further up in the powerband, however, is where the bike begins to shine. From the mid- to top-end portion of the power, the little CRF rips. The new higher revving engine allows skilled riders to carry the bike further in every gear, thereby carrying more speed down straights, off jumps, and into corners. Simply put, the top-end overrev of this bike is amazing. For less-skilled riders, more downshifting and use of the clutch might be needed to keep it in the meat of the power. We’ve already tested a Yoshimura slip-on muffler on the bike and have found that the low-end power was boosted significantly, proving that all it takes is a new exhaust system to broaden out the power and give it more low-end punch. Furthermore, our past experience with EFI has shown that by simply re-mapping the ignition, more low-end hit might be gained as well.
As always, the fit and finish of the CRF250R is second to none. Everything from the Renthal bars to the Excel rims screams top-of-the-line. And throughout the course of our testing, we haven’t had any major faults in the bike that have caused us to worry. Like previous Hondas we’ve tested, this bike is built to last.
WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?
Honda took a gamble when leaving the tried and true design of the 2009 CRF250R, but we think it paid off. Even though we have some complaints about the power delivery, as an overall package, the new CRF truly shines. It handles well, has a fast high-revving engine, and has a refined build just like we’ve become accustomed to with Hondas. Will it yet again be a threat come shootout time? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain, it won’t go down without a fight.
Originally posted in the November 2010 issue of Transworld Motocross
See 2010 CRF250R