By: Chris Denison
Like the motorcycles that we test, the modern magazine shootout is constantly evolving. It used to be that Dirt Rider’s role was to gather a particular class of bike, test each machine until the knobbies wore off and then print a best-to-worst ranking that praised the winner and mocked the loser. Not anymore. These days, we still conduct our shootouts by testing each bike until the knobbies wear off, even then we’ll swap tires and ride them some more on different rubber, just for grins. We also still do our best to pick a distinctive winner, but this is becoming incredibly difficult to do as each successive model year is introduced. As you know, any motocross machine with “2010” stamped next to its VIN is a highly developed, thoroughly tested piece of equipment that has been built on lessons learned and feedback provided by legions of loyal customers, sponsored racers and well-trained test riders. Given the enormously competitive market and each manufacturer's relentless yearning for your hard earned money, modern motocross bikes have gotten good. Really, really good. So good, in fact, that we can hardly decide on the “best” of the bunch, much less determine an overall ranking. Because of this, Dirt Rider’s function as shootout conductor has developed from that of decision-maker to information-giver. Our job now is to tell you everything there is to know about these bikes, describe who we think they would be best for and then let you make the final call. We still pick a winner for old time’s sake based on our personal opinions and those of our test riders, but at the end of the day there’s only one person who can tell you what the best bike for you is. Dig in.
How We Tested
As is usually the case with a Dirt Rider shootout, our 250F comparison began with five race-ready, equally ridden machines with approximately 12 hours on the engines and fresh tires (Dunlop Geomax MX51) on the rims. Prior to the official start of the shootout, two of these very bikes—the Yamaha and the Honda—had appeared on Dirt Rider’s cover, and all had received first tests or riding impressions in the magazine and on our website. Although we knew these bikes well before the comparison we had never ridden them all on the same day, and dawn of shootout morning at Adelanto’s Racetown 395 was the first time that all five of these machines had been together in the dirt. For test riders, we had an extremely solid group of proven evaluators provide opinions on the first day: Longtime DR testers Tyler Ruiz, Nick Foister and Alfredo Contreras, Supercross regulars Ricky Yorks and Tye Hames, staffers Chris Denison and Jesse Ziegler, Mini Rider graduate Chris Plouffe, local fast kid Daniel Van Der Ziel and X Games whipper-snapper Myles Richmond. The rest of the DR staff—along with veteran test riders Chris Barrett, Ryan Orr and Kris Keefer—provided additional opinions. Following the main portion of the shootout, the bikes were tested further in order to confirm our opinions and see how they worked in different conditions.
The 2009 CRF250R didn’t exactly knock our socks off, but its well-rounded package almost earned Honda the overall ’09 shootout bragging rights. This year, the mid-sized Red Rider was completely transformed into an all-new, CRF450R-inspired package that features a surprisingly strong lineup of improvements over the previous year’s machine to make it the most wildly altered bike in this shootout. A totally revised engine, single-muffler exhaust, redesigned frame, new front and rear suspension and—wait for it—electronic fuel injection are among the main features to grace the Honda. The CRF looks great on paper and received rave reviews in our first test, but in a comparison this close it’s hard to predict how anything is going to fare until you go back-to-back with the rest of the class.
•The only EFI-equipped machine in this shootout, the CRF250R enjoys flawless throttle response and instant, crisp delivery.
•“Broad” and “smooth” were two of the most commonly used words by our test riders to describe the CRF250R’spowerband. The entire range is exceptionally useable for both novices and pros.
•The CRF’s power pulls well into the mid-range and beyond to the hugely powerful, extremely healthy top end. Throughout all of our testing, not one rider complained about this bike flattening out!
•A few of our heavier test riders commented that they wouldn’t mind if the Honda had a bit more low end pull, though they also pointed out that they wouldn’t want to sacrifice the bike’s stellar mid-range and top end, nor did they want to alter the engine’s smooth behavior down low.
•As far as gearing is concerned, the Honda has the highly coveted ability to either be short-shifted and pull a gear high or be revved-out in a lower gear. Only one rider—not long out of the 85cc class—felt as though he had to shift it a lot to stay in the power.
•The Honda has great clutch pull and shifts very well. This tranny rarely fights going into gear under a load.
•The CRF250R’s chassis is comfortable for riders of all sizes, and the handlebar has a good stock bend to it.
•On the track, the Honda has a maneuverable, fairly lightweight feel compared to some of the other machines in its class. From carving up jump faces to switching lines, this CRF is certainly compliant.
•With minimal vibration and just enough flex, the all-new 2010 frame has made the bike, in the words of one tester, “easy to ride.”
•Of all the 250Fs, the Honda is one of the easiest to lean over in corners. It tracks well upon entry and does a solid job of putting power to the ground, even when the tire is leaned over on the shoulder knobs.
•For some, the CRF250R has a slightly tall feeling, meaning that the center of gravity feels a bit higher than some of the other bikes. It does not have the stinkbug feeling that some felt on the 2009 CRF450R.
•The adjustable steering damper is a great touch. We hovered right around the stock settings, and found that tuning it makes a difference in front fork feel as well as the expected stability.
•Not everyone is a fan of the CRF’s plastic. The side panels don’t offer a ton of room for numbers, and some think that the shroud and front fender make the entire bike look “stinkbuggy”. Also, it’s possible to catch your boots on the radiator shrouds.
•All together, the Honda’s “shorty” rear shock makes for a very stable ride in bumps and chop. You can typically plow the bike into some of the bigger bumps on the track without having to worry about any kicking or swapping.
•Both the fork and the shock have a compliant initial portion of the stroke that lets the machine settle into ruts and turns without blowing through or bouncing out of the line.
•Slower or lighter riders may find that the front Showa fork feels a little stiff with the stock settings. At higher speeds and through really rough sections, this can translate into a busy feeling in the front end. Stiffening the steering damper helped to diminish this feeling. On the other hand, fast pros may find that the front end dives on abrupt deceleration.
•Only our heaviest (and, coincidentally, fastest) test riders wanted to stiffen up the shock on the CRF205R. In stock form, they simply described the suspension as “plush”. •Bottoming resistance is great on both ends of the Honda. Mistimed jumps aren’t an issue, and the bike soaked up some pretty hard hits with fantastic results.
Why The Honda CRF250R Should Win
•This bike is lightweight and maneuverable without being unstable.
•The smooth, strong power is a favorite among riders of all sizes and abilities.
•Fuel injection. Need we say more?
•A great stock suspension platform complements the well-balanced frame.
•Did we mention how great the top-end power is?
•You can now share parts with the CRF450R!
Why It Shouldn’t Win
•Heavier riders wanted more hit off the bottom.
•This is the most expensive bike in our shootout at $7,199.•Front fork can seem stiff for lightweight or slower riders and slightly soft for high-level pros.
•You either love the plastic or you don’t.
Should I take a deal on a 2009?
•If you’re thoroughly afraid of FI tuning or have an unnatural fondness for jetting.
•Remember, the 2010 frame gets rid of the ‘09’s nervousness.
•Are two mufflers better than one?
With full tanks and placed on our certified digital scales this is how the pounds are placed. Interestingly enough the Honda is the only machine with a front-heavy weight distribution. We’d bet that the steering stabilizer lets them get away with that.
For your bench racing pleasure we bring you the top speeds these bikes can achieve on our flat dirt straight. The three MPH difference is not as much fun as hearing the rev limiters pop when trying to obtain these numbers.
Our lap times are done in the most consistent way possible. All of the bikes are on the track running in motos at the same time switching between the same ten riders so track conditions and rider fatigue are spread out evenly. More so than in the past, this comparison really showed that the Honda was getting the job done with riders of all ability levels. On the other side of the spectrum, the KTM was tough for all of our riders to feel comfortable on so lap times suffered.
The third gear roll on shows how the bikes pull when lugging in third gear and then having the throttle applied as quickly as the bike will allow, without the clutch, till each hits the rev limiter. It is about as practical of an outdoor dyno run as you will get and puts traction into the picture as well. The Kawasaki is the most impressive here with the Yamaha and KTM right behind in pulling feel. Our Honda was right in the middle but the least picky about having the throttle slammed open since it is fuel injected. The Husky takes its time and had a top end pull that really goes on forever.
RADAR MX START
This is a full-on MX start to top gear. The surprising thing here is how slow the Honda is. Yes, slower that the “slow” Husky even. The powerhouse Kawasaki is just a tad ahead of the Yamaha and KTM (line mostly hidden under the Yamaha) until later in the straightaway, where at about eight seconds in (or near 65 MPH) the blue and orange bikes pop out on top.
Human Impression: Suspension
This chart shows how good the Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki suspensionis. And by being so good it outpaces the Euro brands, especially when the big hits come into play.
Human Impression: Power
This is not a dyno chart but instead what riders feel in different parts of the powerband. Most 250Fs are not super strong on the bottom but the Kawasaki is.
Chris Real of DPS Technical, Inc. did our sound testing and did it to a very high level. We sampled the bikes in the most common way: A 20-inch stationary sound test to the AMA recommended RPM. Then we did the new two meter (2M) test which the bike is held wide open for a brief second to maximum RPM with the sound meter two meters away. We also took a reading during the bike’s radar runs to show some real world figures so you can see the difference in practical applications and compare them to test numbers. For much more information and help on sound issues, go to www.chemhelp.com.
When all of the opinions, lap times, radar charts and manufacturer bribes (just kidding) were sorted out, this shootout was a close one. However, all of our data pointed to one machine as being the all-out favorite: the HondaCRF250R. With its potent engine and redesigned chassis, the red racer gets our official nod as the 2010 250F shootout winner. Is this because the Honda is the only fuel-injected bike in the test? Not necessarily, but it sure helped. Several of the carbureted machines are fiercely competitive without hiccups, proving you can get a lot of performance out of those “old” carburetors. But as an overall package that was a hit with Vets, novices, intermediates and pro riders, the CRF250R simply pulled away from the pack (as evidenced by the lap times, contradicted by the radar runs). Still, we can’t discount the other machines in this class, as they are all great bikes. The Kawasaki is a great all-around package, and if it weren’t for the overrev issue Team Green very well would have come a lot closer to taking our shootout cake for the third year in a row. The KTM is an insane race bike with tons of potential, and if you can dial in a few handling and cornering issues the bike is simply a speed demon. The Yamaha power plant didn’t blow any of our test riders away with performance even though it shined in the radar runs, but all liked the cornering characteristics of this machine. Finally, we’ve got to give credit to Husqvarna for entering the TC250 in the shootout. This bike surprised a lot of riders—both those who had previously ridden Husqvarnas and those who hadn’t—and many came away from the test with a much-improved opinion of the bike. Sure, it might not set the track on fire just yet, but given a few more years of development and the right settings and the TC250 will be a serious competitor. Of course, the Suzuki RM-Z250 could also shake up this final order, but given the late arrival of the 2010model we just weren’t able to include it in our testing. But even without the yellow machine, the 2010 250F lineup is themost solid group of mid-size MX four-strokes we’ve ever tested.
Originally published in the April 2010 issue of Dirt Rider.