By: CN Staff
Honda filled a large void in its dual sport line by re-entering the 250cc-class market with the all-new CRF250L. Up until now, the CRF230L was the company's closest thing to a middleweight streetlegal on/off-road bike, but the scaled-down, small-framed 230 didn't really fit the bill for full-size entry-level, or first-time, buyers. As a result, they had to go shopping elsewhere, perhaps over to Kawasaki with its KLX250S or to Yamaha with its WR250R and XT250.
Honda returns to the 250cc dual sport market with the all-new CRF250L.
So why bring back the 250L now? Because, according to Honda, prospective buyers are more reluctant than ever to part with there harder than ever-earned cash these days and when they do they want to get the most for their money. They want a bike that's inexpensive, economical, multifunctional and, of course, fun to ride. And Honda feels that a middleweight dual sport bike, like the CRF250L, provides all these things. If not a lot more. And it can do so without breaking the bank. So, Honda felt the timing was right to bring back a full-size yet very affordable 250cc dual-sport machine into its fold again.
It has 2013 CRF450R-inspired styling.
Honda's last 250cc dual sport was the XR250L, which took over from the original XL250 that made its debut in 1972. The XR250L was discontinued in 1994.
But first, we have to make things perfectly clear - the CRF250L is not a CRF250X with a license plate. (We still want that bike, however.) Even though "CRF250L" sounds a lot like "CRF250X" or "CRF250R," and might even look like the new 2013 CRF450R motocrosser, it isn't at all intended to compete with the more dirt-specific and higher-performing street-legal dirt bikes on the market – like KTM's EXCs or Husky's TEs. No, this bike is aimed at the first-time or returning motorcycle buyer who wants a lot of bike for not a lot of dollars. The CRF250L's main competitors are, as mentioned, the Yamaha WR250R (not to be confused with the off-road WR250F) and the Kawasaki KLX250S. But it has one big advantage over both right off the bat - its price. The CRF250L sells for a very attractive $4499, which is significantly less than the $6590 asking price of the WR250R and the $4999 MSRP of the KLX250S.
The new CRF250L shares the same motor as the CBR250R but is tailored for dual sport use. Power is focused more in the middle and the transmission is beefed up.
Despite its eye-popping price tag, the CRF250L still has lots to offer. It has modern CRF-R/X looks and is powered by a modern, low-compression DOHC four-valve single-cylinder water-cooled motor that is fuel-injected. It's pretty much the same motor that propels Honda's CBR250R street bike, but with a few modifications to make it more suited for off-road use. Instead of a 38mm throttle body, the CRF250L is fitted with a smaller 36mm throttle body, and the ECU is tuned differently. The airbox is larger, too, as is the exhaust system.
Like the CBR's motor, the cylinder is off-set by 4mm, which eliminates side-load on the piston for less friction and improved performance.
With an estimated 73 mpg and a two-gallon fuel tank, the little CR has the potential to go a long ways between fill-ups.
Transmission is six-speed with a cable-actuated clutch, which now incorporates a judder spring to help absorb drive-train shock. Plus, the transmission has been beefed up to handle the harder pounding of off-road riding. The gears themselves are also wider and stronger.
The motor is nestled in a steel twin-spar frame specifically designed for the CRF250L and suspension consists of a 43mm inverted fork up front and Honda's Pro-Link single-shock design in the back. Wheel travel up front is a generous 9.8 inches and in the back 9.4 inches. There are no suspension adjustments up front and only spring pre-load adjustability in the back.
The 43mm forks are inverted but non-adjustable. The single Pro-Link shock has preload adjustability.
Disc brakes are used. Up front, you'll find a single 256mm disc with a twin-piston caliper and in the back a single 220mm disc with a single-piston caliper.
CRF250L rolls on full-size wheels. The rims - 21-inch up front and 18-inch in the back – are aluminum and are fitted with on/off-road Dunlop rubber.
You'll also find some nice touches like a modern-looking and powerful headlight, locking side cover, cargo hooks, and a very useful and clean-looking digital instrument meter.
Honda introduced the CRF250L to the media recently, giving us the chance to spend the day tooling around the hills above Santa Barbara, California, which included a little bit of everything - dirt (mostly fire roads), street and some around-town riding.
There's a small locking storage area on the left side.
Fun. That's what the CRF250L is really all about. There's nothing intimidating or scary about this bike. You just get on it and go. At 34 inches, seat height is a tad on the high side but everything else about the CRF250L is ultra user-friendly. It has a relaxed riding position and a very comfortable seat and, once you start moving, a very easy-to-manage motor.
Meter is informative and functional.
It fires right up and since its fuel-injected there is no choke to worry about; just turn the key, touch the starter button and you're off. You really don't even need to let it warm up.
The bike is very quiet. You definitely won't offend anyone while you're exploring the backcountry on this bike. They won't even know you're there, and that's exactly what you want.
The CRF250L is not a CRF250X with a license plate but it's still a pretty capable off-road bike.
Less experienced and beginner riders will love the Honda for its smooth and extremely manageable and electric-like motor. It's not fire-breathing horsepower machine, of course, but there is just enough get-up-and-go to keep both newcomers and experienced riders smiling. Getting the front wheel off the ground is no easy task but can be accomplished when everything lines up just right (rpm, clutch, throttle, body position, terrain etc.). Throttle alone won't do it.
Unlike the high-revving CBR250R, where most of the power is positioned from midrange on up, the CRF250L's power is positioned more towards the middle portion of the powerband, though it's geared just enough to enable it to keep up with traffic flow on the highways. But the L's power is tailor-made for stop-and-go city use, as well as for casual off-road riding. There's enough power to break the rear tire loose on dry ground when the urge to slide strikes, which for us, happens a lot on fire roads. But, again, you have to work at it a bit.
The tires worked surprisingly well on the hard-packed and dry dirt that we mostly rode on, especially up front. For more hard-core off-road riding, we'd still swap them out for more aggressive DOT knobbies, but the stock rubber is pretty darn good for 50/50 tires.
The CRF250L is perhaps most at home on backcountry dirt roads.
Suspension is soft. Very soft. Riders over 170 pounds will want more spring at both ends for anything more than casual, sit-down riding. Damping seemed okay but rebound felt a little fast up front. The front end had a tendency to "bounce" back up after a good jolt. Otherwise, the overall suspension package is pretty darn good. Our experienced tester said that he could actually push the bike fairly hard over small chop with a fair amount of confidence and that the suspension does a fine job resisting bottoming, despite being so soft.
The bike also turns well and is just plain easy to ride both on and off the road. It's fairly agile and maneuverable but doesn't feel particularly light. Scanning the bike's specifications confirmed our suspicions. At a claimed 320 pounds (curb), the CRF250L isn't, in fact, light by any means. It weighs at least 20 pounds more than the claimed curb weight of the KLX250S and the WR250R, and even the XT250! But, on the trail, it's not really a significant issue since it handles so well and is so comfortable. Just don't drop it.
For aggressive riding, the CRF250L's brakes are soft and spongy feeling, but for more tentative newer riders, they're good in that they're very forgiving. Grab too much lever and you probably won't end up on your head. There's room to work with. Either way, they are powerful enough to get the job done - both on the street and on the dirt.
The user-friendly motor will appeal to new riders for its smooth and unintimidating power delivery.
During our 90-mile ride, we did stop for fuel once, but not because we had to, just to be on the safe side. But even with a hyperactive wrist, the CRF250L should be able to cover over 100 miles on a tank. Theoretically, a thrifty commuter should get well up to 140 miles in between fill-ups.
Our ride ended all too soon. Usually a 90-plus-mile ride will leave you feeling fulfilled and perhaps a little tired and ready for the hot tub, but not after riding the CRF250L - it just leaves you feeling fresh and wanting more. It's that fun and easy to ride. And for just about $8 for a day's worth of riding, that shouldn't be a problem.
The CRF250L is a welcome re-addition to the Honda family and should be a big hit for the company. It's fun, economical and a great-performing machine. And you just can't beat the price.
Originally Published in the September 2012 Issue of CycleNews.com.