By: Steve Atlas
There’s no two ways around it. I’m a road racer. I’ve always dreamed of being an uber-fast motocross rider, throwing flat whips and having great style and speed (if I could only ride a dirt bike like I can a street bike)… But it’s just not in the cards. At least not with as little as I ride off-road these days. It’s been a good seven or eight months since I’ve purposely taken flight on anything with two wheels, thus when I realized I had to fill in for our normal moto guys at the 2010 Honda CRF250R press intro, let’s say I was a tad gun shy. That was until I actually rode the bike: Flat-out couldn’t have picked a better machine to make my sudo-MX comeback on. But while it’s all good that my slow self got back to riding and liked the Honda, we brought our hired gun, former professional-level SX rider Matty Armstrong to really put it through the paces and breakdown how the CRF250 performs in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing. And while I typically don’t give this away up front, what the heck… The verdict: “Best 250F I’ve ever ridden!” were some of the first words out of his mouth after only a few laps on the new Honda. And it just kept getting better…
Truly Totally New
Let’s start with the nuts and bolts of things, as they say. According to the PR team at Honda, the 250 shares “nothing but the tires with the old bike. It’s all-new from the ground up.” And it’s also the first truly full-bike updated since the model was introduced in 2004. There have been changes along the way, but this bike shares virtually nothing with the previous model, which hasn’t been done before in the Honda 250F-range.
Starting in the engine, the overall size is down compared to last year’s model, reducing weight in the process as a result. It retains the ‘Unicam’, or single-cam cylinder head, which is now even smaller in size for reduced weight. Inside, valve springs are now “derived from road racing MotoGP technology.” Speaking of right up my alley. By this they mean the springs, while still steel in material, feature a different winding procedure, longer length as well as a tougher coating and new manufacturing process, allowing the engine to still reliably rev to 13,500 rpm. This was needed as they made the bore smaller and stroke longer, measuring 76.8 mm x 53.8 mm (78 mm x 52.2 last year), which typically results in a reduced rev ceiling. Not in this case.
Piston-top thickness has been reduced to lighten the single aluminum unit without sacrificing durability “due to newly developed high rigid aluminum application”, as Honda’s PR so directly puts it. The crankshaft center is now 10mm lower as well, the result of the crankcase Reed Valve being positioned horizontal as opposed to vertical last year. The crank itself is also lighter and the balance of weight changes the angle of inertia. Combined with a cylinder angle that is tilted back 5-degrees, both aid to further centralize mass.
Valves are now a hair smaller at 30.5 mm intake and 25 mm exhaust (31 mm x 26 mm in ‘09), though remain titanium on the intake side and steel on the exhaust side. Other changes internally include a compression ratio bumped up a hair to 13.2:1 from 13.1:1. Internal gearing of the five-speed transmission sees a reworking to keep as close of a ratio as possible while the final-drive gearing goes from 13/51 to 13/48 on the new machine. Some of this three-tooth drop is undoubtedly due to the added power as well. The clutch also sees some minor updates, including stronger, or “higher capacity” plates and Kashima coating on both the inner and outer clutch baskets for improved strength.
But the big news comes from the fueling side of things. Once again first to market, Honda has adopted their PGM-FI fuel injection system to the quarter-liter ripper. Farewell to the carburetor people, FI has officially taken over the world of MX. And it’s for the better. We’ve had it on street bikes for well over a decade, thus it’s time for the off-road world to catch up. Fuel is fed is a single 50mm throttle body and 12-hole injector into the updated, smaller cylinder head, allowing for more instantaneous throttle response and less need for personal tuning.
Further ease of use comes via a new automatic decompression assembly and pre-programmed PGM-FI that eliminates the use of a hot-start lever. It does feature a cold-start button on the side of the throttle body to aid when first starting, though isn’t needed beyond that. The idle has also been bumped up 100rpm for improved running.
Spent gasses exit via an all-new single-sided muffler, departing from the dual-exit of the last four years, saving just shy of a pound in the process as well as lower the CG (Center of Gravity). Pulling air into the engine is a new airbox with larger opening and more direct, funnel-design path to the throttle body. Rounding out the powerplant and keeping up with the added power are slightly larger aluminum radiators.
Chassis wise, an updated twin-spar aluminum frame now features a new under carriage and subframe taken directly off its big brother, the 450R. In fact, quite a bit of the chassis comes from its elder sibling, allowing riders who race and own both to be able to swap parts and save money on spares. The plastics all the way around are exactly the same right down to the last nut and bolt. The fuel tank is now smaller in size, at 1.5 gallons, to lower CG and give a more ideal riding position by lowering the gas cap height. This is possible due to the improved fuel efficiency using FI.
It also gets the high-end, triple-adjustable shock from the big CRF, though redesigned to fit the 250’s needs, featuring both hi- and low-speed compression as well as rebound and spring preload adjustability. Rear suspension travel is also a hair longer at 12.6 inches as opposed to 12.4 inches.
Up front one finds a big 48mm Showa fork, up from 47mm last year, which is totally revamped internally, featuring an all-new dual-bleed-off system. The standard air-bleed sits atop the fork as it has before for easy access, but now under the top triple-clamp sits an additional bleed screw that is connected to the internal reservoir system for further fine-tuning.
Chassis geometry sees quite the change, with the rake and trail now 27.15-degrees/116mm (4.56 inches) as opposed to the previous 27.9-degrees/125mm (4.9 inches). This reduction in rake and trail is designed to speed up slow-speed handling and offset the slightly longer wheelbase of the new bike (58.8 inches versus 58.2 inches).
But the real best part of all this new technology? The price. It only costs an additional $200. Retail goes from $6,999 to $7,199, available in Honda Red only, and bikes will hit dealers in September of this year.
To the Test
As a former pro-level SX rider, Matty Armstrong is qualified in every way to push a racing-bred MXer of any kind to its limit. After piling on laps for an entire day, Matty had plenty to say about the new machine, so I’m going turn it over to MotoUSA’s go-to test pilot to give you a real breakdown of 2010 Honda CRF250R.
The first thing I noticed was that it looked exactly like the Honda CRF450R. In fact, we had some number plates and graphics made to exact measurements of the 450 and they fit spot-on. This is a great feature, especially to those racing both bikes as it’s easy to see much of the parts are going to be interchangeable. One may not think this is a big deal, but as a former racer I know how much it will help.
Once riding and underway, the biggest thing with the new bike was the motor. Kinda strange with the fuel injection was not having to turn the gas on or choke it (though it does have a ‘cold start’ if needed), but the bike started extremely easy even without the ‘cold start’. The power curve is a significant difference compared to last year. The bottom pulls a bit harder than the '09 bike, but mostly the mid-range and up to the top-end excels far beyond that of last year – and that’s saying a lot as the previous Honda 250F was no slouch.
Another area of major improvement is the engine no longer bogs when bottoming the suspension. On the old bike, when one would come up short on a jump or over shoot it, as the suspension compressed to the bottom of the stroke something would upset the carburetion and it would noticeably bog or hesitate. Not the case at all anymore. I flew well past several jumps today and even came up short on one or two and the fuel injection doesn’t miss a beat. No matter the situation it’s always spot on and right there when you need it, which is a big help if you get into situations where you made a mistake and need some power on tap to keep from crashing. If only my SX bikes had this a few years back!
As for the suspension, we hardly had to touch a thing. Set the levers up for me, checked the bars and went. And overall it was awesome right out of the box. Through the small chop is tracked straight and felt planted. The track didn’t get too rough today but there is a good whoop section and the bike was extremely balanced front to rear through those. It’s also noticeably lighter feeling than last year’s, both from corner to corner and in the air.
Initially we had some issues with the front brake; it was a little spongy. The Honda guys cleaned the rotor off for me and it didn’t really seem to make a difference. I came back in and they replaced the brake pads and it turned out we just had a bad set of pads. Once they put the new set in it made a world of difference – not spongy at all with loads of feel and ample power. Same could be said for the rear as well; just an overall strong and great braking package.
But while all off the detailed stuff mentioned above are improvements, what I really think is cool and going to be appealing about this bike is how broad a range of rider it will fit. It has an extremely smooth and unintimidating power delivery off the bottom but an aggressiveness on top that any pro racer will love. You can hammer on it at the track and it’s amazing and then if you want to go out trail riding it’s light, docile and easy to use. It’s just a great all-around machine.
As for how it compares to last year’s competition, well, there really is no comparison. If we were to put this up against all the bikes we had in our 2009 shootout this thing would straight-up, hands-down smoke everything. It’s indisputably the best 250F I’ve ever ridden.
The Final Word
There you have it ladies and gentleman. Honda has not only made a better CRF250R, but it would appear they have just raised the game for everyone in the quarter-liter four-stroke class. Only time will tell how it stacks up against the new 2010 Yamaha YZ250F we just rode and the rest of the returning field in our shootout later in the year, though all signs point to the Honda once again being the class benchmark.
2010 Honda CRF250R Technical Specs
Engine Type: 249cc liquid-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke
Bore and Stroke: 76.8mm x 53.8mm
Induction: Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI), 50mm throttle body
Ignition: Full transistor with electronic advance
Compression Ratio: 13.2:1
Valve Train: Unicam®, four-valve; 30.5mm intake, titanium; 25mm exhaust, steel
Transmission: Close-ratio five-speed
Final Drive: #520 chain; 13T/48T
Chassis / Suspension / Brakes
Front Suspension: 48mm inverted Showa cartridge fork with 16-position rebound and 16-position compression damping adjustability; 12.4 inches travel
Rear Suspension: Pro-Link® Showa single-shock with spring-preload, 17-position rebound-damping adjustability, and compression-damping adjustment separated into low-speed (13 positions) and high-speed (3.5 turns); 12.6 inches travel
Front Brake: Single 240mm disc with twin-piston caliper
Rear Brake: Single 240mm disc
Front Tire: Dunlop 742FA 80/100-21
Rear Tire: Dunlop D756 100/90-19
Rake: 27.15° (Caster Angle)
Trail: 116mm (4.56 inches)
Wheelbase: 58.8 inches
Seat Height: 37.6 inches
Curb Weight: 226 pounds (Includes all standard equipment, required fluids and a full tank of fuel—ready to ride)
Fuel Capacity: 1.5 gallons
Ground Clearance: 12.8 inches
Available Color: Red
HRC Kit Parts For All...
Remember all those trick HRC kit parts that Honda would fancy all their hot factory race bikes up with but never sell to the general public? Well, for 2010 they will be putting a lot of them on sale – and you don’t need a factory-backed race team to buy them. Much like they have done recently on the road race side of the pond, these low-volume highly-trick parts will now be available through authorized Honda retailers and dealerships.
A variety of them were displayed on a ’10 Honda CRF250R at the intro and the white-colored side covers and black triple-clamps garnered quite the attention. Other parts such as a full titanium carbon/Kevlar exhaust, fuel injection tuning kit and handlebar highlight a range of other small parts that will be available come September of this year. They will initially be available for the CFR250/450R as well as a few parts for the CRF250X/450X models. While no prices have been announced, this will be the start for a much-expanded future line of HRC-branded accessories.
Originally published in the August 2009 issue of Motorcycle USA.