By: JC Hilderbrand
We waited and waited, first for the big bikes and then for the holidays, and still we waited. Why? What could possibly justify delaying our 250 Motocross Shootout to such a degree? Nothing, as it turns out. Originally it was the promise of a major breakthrough with Suzuki’s all-new fuel-injected RM-Z250 – a bike that left us out to dry. As they say, the show must go on, so we piled up our gearbags and strapped in the 2010 Honda CRF250R, Kawasaki KX250F, KTM 250 SX-F and Yamaha YZ250F. (Currently on limited availability, Suzuki has since acquired RM-Z units for testing. Although it escaped our shootout, we’re getting one right now to put up against the winner.)
Last year saw the Honda emerge as the best 250F motocross bike in our 2009 shootout. Those results mean squat for this season with a brand-new CRF from top-down, a heavily revised YZ-F with shiny new chassis and updated models in the KX-F and SX-F. Once again we enlisted a top female racer from the professional ranks for test riding duties. Elizabeth Bash finished the 2009 AMA WMX series in fifth and brings a long-legged feminine perspective. The rest of our crew is a mishmash of skill and size, though none topped 180 pounds, which is getting pretty heavy for targeted riders in this class. Some are closer to retirement, and others to puberty, but they all spent time with factory technicians getting to know these four machines.
One of the most striking comments from our testers was how close the performance spectrum is for these 250F machines. Half of our crew had sampled the enlarged versions in the 2010 450 Motocross Shootout, and all agreed that the small bikes are harder to rank. Each stands out in its own right with traits and quirks we’ve come to expect, but overall performance is extremely competitive meaning our testers had to bear down and make some tough decisions once the fun part was over.
We hit three of Southern California’s premier motocross tracks following a week of torrential downpours. That equals excellent conditions in SoCal, and once the bikes were loosened up from riding and collecting hard data with our V-Box at Piru Motocross Park, Glen Helen and Racetown 395, we headed off to Mickey Cohen Motorsports with some street tires for a stint on his dynamometer. We also used a standard stationary sound test and digital scales to measure what kind of numbers these quarter-liter monsters are putting out.
Finding ways to objectify motocross testing is much harder than it seems. Maybe a couple hundred bucks on the sticker price doesn’t make a difference to you, but it does to someone. Sound testing is critical - quiet bikes let us ride more. Weight obviously makes a difference, but so does having enough fuel to ride long motos - which is why we measure the bikes without fuel so as not to penalize them for holding more gasoline.
The same goes for our subjective reasoning. We’re visual creatures, and to say a person would buy an ugly bike as long as it runs well isn’t necessarily true. It’s the reason manufacturers spend so much effort on styling their machines. The point is, we put the full results of our findings out here for you to utilize. Criticize or celebrate it, depending on your loyalties, but take this information, factor in personal needs, and make your own decisions. The undeniable truth about the 250F motocross division is that it’s chock full of awesome machines.
Honda hasn’t completely redone its 250F since it was conceived in 2004, but Big Red didn’t mess around once the decision was made to start fresh in 2010. Fuel injection is the catalyst behind this massive overhaul, and we were blown away with the precision and effectiveness of the new electronic fueling. The chassis looks identical to the new CRF450R and the new shorty muffler completes the look, replacing the dual system that has defined the 250R for several years. Honda put emphasis on compactness, mass centralization and a chassis to match the new engine’s physical dimensions and increased performance.
Absolutely no lag from the Unicam engine is the CRF’s best attribute. With these smaller bikes, hesitation is a killer, but the 50mm throttle body and 12-hole injector feed the more compact motor with perfection. A shorter bore (longer stroke) and higher-compression cylinder transform the air/fuel into power that is only rivaled by the Kawasaki. The Honda uses a massive midrange with decent over-rev and a solid bottom-end as complements. Our testers consistently named this delivery as the smoothest of the four while taking advantage of the fact that it’s constantly available.
“The Honda has a good all-around motor,” says Bash. “It doesn’t really have the hit of the Kawasaki or the top-end of the KTM. The Honda has a solid motor that should work well for beginners as well as pros, and the EFI is phenomenal!”
Testers love the option of tuning the fuel injection with a calibration tool rather than swapping carburetor jets. The PGM-FI also negates the need for a hot-start lever which makes the starting process easier. Aiding the bike’s power output is a well-designed five-speed transmission which has massaged internal ratios and allows the rear sprocket to drop three teeth to a 13/48 combination. Sciacqua was especially pleased with the gears for pulling second/third/fourth on the relatively tight, hilly Piru track. It goes to show that the increased power output, which generated the highest horsepower and torque numbers, is capable of handling any race setting.
Showa components handle the shock absorption with a larger 48mm fork. A new air-bleed circuit allows the dual-chamber fork to release built-up pressure from the internal reservoir as well as the standard valve atop the fork tube. The Pro-Link shock offers a little more travel this year. Our fastest riders really loved the CRF springs, and it was edged into second place behind Kawasaki’s Showas by only a single vote.
“The Honda’s suspension worked perfectly,” says pro-level lightweight, Armstrong. “It never felt unstable or twitchy. I felt like I could ride this bike forever and not get tired.”
Our oldest and youngest riders alike zeroed in on the way this model settles into corners, part of which can be attributed to the softest shock spring rate of the Japanese bikes. Kyle Smith is a thin intermediate who also preferred the action of the CRF. “The Honda’s stock suspension felt the best out of the 2010 bikes,” says the 18-year-old. “It is smooth through braking bumps and doesn’t feel stiff in tight corners.”
Stock Fork Settings:
L. Comp: 7
Spring: 50 N/mm
Race Sag: 102-105mm
A reflexive nature and nimble instincts combine with the CRF's super-thin layout to let the bike get manhandled. “This bike is so light that it whips and scrubs itself off jumps – unbelievable,” says Waheed. “When you’re riding the new CRF you feel like you’re a pro.”
So we asked our resident pro, Armstrong: “This bike was very easy to get into those tight ruts, and also felt light and nimble which made it easy to throw around from corner to corner." However, several riders noted that the Honda sacrifices some high-speed stability whereas the Kawasaki offers more security in the fast, rough stuff. Our faster, heavier riders were the ones to notice that the 250R is reluctant to settle down at high velocity.
Steering geometry on the new twin-spar aluminum chassis is more aggressive than 2009, with less rake and trail, and the result is a wickedly fast turner. Its compact stance can sometimes catch a rider off-guard. Honda utilizes the Honda Progressive Steering Damper (HPSD) as standard equipment. This was big news when it was introduced a couple years ago, but the component still plays a major part in the CRF’s handling. We’re very glad to have it because at times the CRF is just too quick. It'll knife the front in tight sections if the rider isn’t careful.
Garcia attributed his problems with the front end to the aggressive chassis and ergos. “My first issue was that the Honda’s ergonomics gives its front end a really rigid feel,” he says. The CRF has a headshake problem. Whenever a good size bump gets hit at high speed, the bike gets a lot of shake.”
Lightening the crank and dropping the crankshaft center 10mm help minimize the effect of rotating mass on the chassis - while also contributing to the fast-revving engine. The cylinder head was also tilted five degrees rearward to further neutralize handling, and switching to a single muffler brings the weight closer to the center of the bike. Rough, long courses will take a little effort on the Honda, but its instant power and tight handling make this bike a perfect weapon for smaller tracks.
Honda’s brakes are always at the front of the pack. KTM’s Brembo units are seemingly unmatched at times, but they are also a bit grabby and overbearing, especially on slippery hard-pack. The Honda brings a perfect blend of power, feel and modulation, prompting our two fastest riders to call them the best. “It doesn’t feel spongy at all and it’s not too grabby where it’s like an on/off switch. It’s really controllable on the
lever,” says Armstrong about the 240mm front rotor and twin-piston caliper.
CRF machines are always intuitive with their ergonomics, making many riders to feel immediately comfortable. The red racers are also known for being slightly shrunken, and the ’10 model definitely carries on the tradition. A miniscule 1.5 gallons of gas are available from the new fuel cell, which is a direct result of FI and Honda’s ongoing search for compactness. After days of testing, Waheed had this to say, “The best way to describe the new CRF250R’s overall performance feel is to that of the nearly extinct 125cc 2-stroke. It has every single performance benefit that I love about that class of bike - extremely lightweight, flickability and powerful, over-rev rich top-end. But, the Honda takes it to the next level by removing every single unwanted 125 trait, including their matchstick-narrow powerband and finicky jetting.”
It was that best-of-both-worlds attitude with our testers and strong performance data that earned the Honda its much-deserved rank. Even though it’s the most expensive machine in the test, considering the technology involved and performance threshold, that extra $200 seems like a bargain.
The 2010 Honda CRF250R makes a compelling case with strong results in the performance and track testing.
2010 Honda CRF250R – 1st – 115 points
All the new technology paid off this year as Honda hit the ground running with its CRF250R. The red bike was close to the Kawasaki in rider impressions. Between the two, they accounted for all the first-place positions. Kawi edged the CRF in the engine, suspension and handling, but Honda demonstrated the importance of a refined package with high marks across the board, never placing lower than second in any subjective category. This is the fourth-consecutive MotoUSA 250 Motocross shootout victory for the CRF – an undefeated streak dating back to 2007 when it stole the title from Kawasaki. Make sure to see this year’s winner in its first title defense against the only other fuel-injected 250F, Suzuki’s RM-Z250, as that bike becomes available in the immediate future.
Originally published on February 17, 2010 on www.Motorcycle-USA.com