Best Firsts: CRF230L

    Cycle World
    Aug 30, 2010

By Ryan Dudek

Enough is enough! It's time that the motorcycle take back its rightful place as one of the Greenest, most-economical vehicles ever to burn petroleum byproducts. Let the eco-elites prattle on about their hybrid autos saving the polar ice caps and lowering the oceans, but the fact is that a Toyota Prius' carbon footprint—what it takes to produce the car and bring it to market–is positively King Kongsian compared to something like the Honda CRF230L. With its simple internal-combustion engine hung in a lightweight steel frame surrounded by recyclable plastic bodywork, the CRF treads lightly on Ma Earth—to say nothing of our cities' crumbling infrastructures or overcrowded parking spaces. And it does all this while costing one-fifth of what a Prius does and returning almost 100 miles per gallon! That's an honest mileage figure, too, attained on a test loop that included freeway sections (at an indicated 65 mph), two-lane roads and lots of stop-and-go; no attempt was made to milk the mpg numbers. Like the eight other motorcycles tested here, the CRF230L would make a great first bike. Likewise, they're all natural commuters; our “fleet average” was 69 mpg, and none got less than 50 mpg. And unlike the poor, practical Prius, they all peg the Fun-o-Meter, maybe none more so than the CRF. That's because it started out as an off-road playbike, the CRF230F. Surprisingly, the 230L is produced on a different continent than the 230F. The L is made in Japan and the F comes from Brazil. We were told the reason is that durability tolerances are different for street and dirtbikes. Still, the two CRFs are almost twins. A few parts are different between the two, the most notable being a larger, 30mm carburetor on the 230L. After the first fill-up, it's clear the bigger carb isn't hurting mileage. We averaged an amazing 92.6 mpg on our test loop! Commuting on the 230L is quite entertaining; the little 223cc, single-cylinder, air-cooled four-stroke launches briskly from stoplights, keeping just in front of traffic. Clutch use is easy and acceleration is good, though it helps if you slam through the six-speed gearbox. On SoCal freeways, the engine can get vibratory if you insist on keeping up with the flow of traffic. Comfort is found in the right lane cruising at 60-65 mph. Suspension travel has been shortened on the 230L, which sinks seat height to a workable 32 inches, ensuring that all but the shortest inseams can plant both feet at stoplights. Off-road, even with the shorter suspension, the 230L didn't have any harsh bottoming problems over bumps and jumps. Treaded Bridgestone dual-sport tires don't offer the best grip on dirt but are a fair compromise for road use. With the combination of a low seat height, light chassis and torquey motor, this little Honda will take you almost anywhere, from back alley to boondocks to ballpark. It's proof again that whether you're trying to save gas, save money or save the planet, simplicity in all things works best.

Honda CRF230L

  • Price: $4499
  • Dry weight: 261 lb.
  • Wheelbase: 52.9 in.
  • Seat height: 32.1 in.
  • Fuel mileage: 93 mpg
  • 0-60 mph: 12.7 sec.
  • 1/4-mile: 17.92 sec. @ 67.49 mph
  • Horsepower: 14.3 hp @ 6650 rpm
  • Torque: 11.7 ft.-lb. @ 5630 rpm
  • Top speed: 71 mph


  • Playbike for the street
  • Noob-friendly seat
  • Easy to ride, simple to operate


  • $800 more than dirt-only model
  • Bi…bi…bit buzzy on the freeway
  • Could cut into gas companies' meager profits


Copyright © 2009 Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., Inc. All Rights Reserved. For more information about reprints from CycleWorld, contact Wright's Reprints at 877.652.5295.

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