Learn to go fast on a Honda CBR250R

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So you want to go fast on a motorcycle, huh? Well, you could do what all your peers did and buy a brand new liter bike, crash it and either hurt yourself badly or never ride again. It’ll probably end up being both. But what if we told you there was a third way? Instead of looking for the bike to do the speed for you, learn to speed yourself. Do that and a whole new world will open up to you, you’ll be faster, safer and have more fun. You’ll probably even end up riding your whole life. Sound good? In that case, start right here with a Honda CBR250R.

Photos: Ashlee Goodwin

A 600 or 1000cc sportsbike is a professional level tool for going fast. It’s the motorcycle equivalent of a professional DSLR camera — a lot of people spend too much money to use them for everyday activities. Out of the box with little to no skill, you just can’t use either one to anywhere near its full potential. Sportsbikes and pro cameras are amazingly capable, but they’re not so great to learn on. For that, you need something a little more user friendly, a lot less complex and a lot cheaper. You need accessibility.

The CBR250 is about as far from a proper sportsbike as you can get. It offers the bare minimum of power necessary to putt around on the freeway. An old-school steel chassis and swingarm, spongy brakes and the dirt cheap suspension make for a very, very slow bike. But, they also make it affordable — $4,000 brand new — for just about anyone that wants to start riding. So how the hell is a very, very slow bike going to help you go fast?

On this bike things happen slower. A straight that would be a stress-filled five seconds on a 600 is eight seconds of time on a CBR250. Those are valuable extra seconds to contemplate the corner you just left, find the right line, shift and think about braking for the next turn. You’ll be able to refine the technical skills used to operate the bike and learn about cornering without the stress of speed.

Limited lean angle and suspension that never quite settles can also be used to your advantage. Go into a corner too hot and adjusting your line isn’t a big deal. If the pegs aren’t dragging, just muscle it over a little further and you’ll be fine. Since cornering forces aren’t nearly as high as they would be on a larger, heavier bike, it’s unlikely you’ll break traction and crash.

If you accidentally go from closed to wide-open throttle in a third gear corner, the motor won’t have enough power to induce a slide or worse, a highside. The punishment for braking too much (thereby losing momentum) is harsh: you’ll go through the next three corners slow while you work to build up momentum again.

You might think full leathers are overkill if you’re just cruising around the canyons on a 250, but if you want to learn to go fast, the opposite is true. Aside from the important stuff like reducing your chances of injury or death, full racing leathers are really the number one thing that is going to allow a newer rider to push the limits of this (or any) motorcycle. Wearing all that protection does wonders for confidence, but you don’t need to go out and spend thousands of dollars to feel like a superhero. Ask your friends, check eBay and endlessly troll Craigslist. Someone else’s sweaty old rashed leathers could be yours for under $100 if you look hard enough.

Instead of wondering about road rash if you crash at 40mph in jeans, you’ll be focusing on lines, looking where you want to go and having fun. It’s also pretty hard to put your knee down corner after corner if there’s no puck there.

Master riding a bike like this at the limit and you’ll be ready to have fun on a real sportsbike. The 600 and 1000cc bikes of today have to be ridden extremely fast before they start to feel good at all. You don’t even begin to get useful feedback until you are trail-braking and putting your knee down so they just won’t inspire confidence unless you’re riding at a very high level of ability. Every job has the right tool.

If you ask old slow guys, they’ll tell you that it’s always more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow. A lack of both engine and braking power encourage you to carry momentum when riding the CBR250, the budget suspension makes learning to muscle a bike around easy and versatile ergonomics allow for both bolt-upright and proper racing body positions. The CBR 250 begs you to stretch its throttle cables, avoid the brakes at all costs, be mindful of your lines and more than anything else, have fun. Motorcycling is the lifelong pursuit of greater skill; the CBR250 is the perfect place to start developing those skills.

  • Coreyvwc

    But are there actually tires available for this thing that are safe for a newby to “go fast” on? I can only assume that the oem’s are rock hard commuting garbage…

    • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee (Ninja 250)

      Yup. Should be same tire selection as for the Ninja 250, so that means Pirelli Sport Demons, BT45s and GT501s.

      • Coreyvwc

        Guess I was thinking more hypersport tire-ish. Pirelli SC’,Q2′s, 003rs, and the like…

        • Dan

          Great article – I couldn’t agree more! Its nice to see experienced riders endorsing these bikes as proper learning tools rather than just a “budget option.” Now if only dealers had some incentive to pass this message on to new riders that walk through the door..

          Tire selection is somewhat limited in the bicycle tire-like widths the 250s use, but I doubt you’d need rubber like you’re talking about before you’re doing club races. I took a ninja 250r to the track on the (admittedly terrible) OEM tires and didn’t have a problem.

          • doublet

            Yea, you don’t need any more tire than the bike can use, and if you can’t even push the bike to the limit…

            There are some pretty good tires out there these days. I have a set of sport demons on my Kz550. I took the 16″ rear wheel with a 130 and swapped it for an 18″ with a 120. There’s no reason to have a wider tire than you need either. First bike, and I still have it, and it’s still a hoot to thrash.

            This article basically applies to alot of older, cheaper bikes, though it makes sense to focus it on a currently available model.

        • http://respectthetrade.tumblr.com/ KR Tong

          Arrowmax GT501′s are old school 250 race tires. They’re still pretty bad ass.

          • Sean Smith

            I learned how to drag my knees on those back when I was commuting on a beat to shit ninja 250.

      • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

        BT45s are good step up from the OEM tires grip-wise, but have decent lifespans and warm up quick. Cheap, too.

        • dux

          I hate them! Bought some cheap crap IRC Roadwinners and I get way better grip and confidence than my old, squishy BT-45′s

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      You don’t need anything crazy on a light, slow bike like this. The oem tires heat up quickly and stick just fine. Tires designed for fast, heavy bikes isn’t applicable, different tool for a different job. They’d actually be worse as they’d never warm up.

      • Coreyvwc

        I totally understand what your getting at, but the 250R isn’t really all that light weight… 360 pound 250R with an american sized rider still weighs the same as myself and my 675. Just my thoughts though.

        • nick2ny

          brakes, power, and cornering heat tires up. This bike only has brakes and cornering…

          • Sean Smith

            The brakes are almost negligible. If I owned this, I’d buy better pads and a stainless line immediately.

            • Justin

              Just got a CBR250R/A with the ABS. The brakes are serviceable if not overpowering, if they were any better you’d be tempted to use them! The pads and caliper are different than the non-ABS, and I suspect slightly more powerful. Tires are OK only because the suspension is so soft that I can’t use them. With some suspension and rearsets I think Dunlop GT501′s would work great. I already use them on the rear of my plated XR600R and it’s hard to break that tire free.

  • Brendan

    The amount of shit I got away with cuz I rode a Ninjette is ridiculous.

    Especially when I think back to the time when even downshifting was a potential wheel screeching adventure for me.

    The hundred dollar leathers I bought were real crappy though. Didn’t even have support for knee pucks. I didn’t know what a knee puck was then. Use the money you’ve saved not buying a literbike to get some nice kit.

    Especially if you’re hard to fit like me.

  • oldblue

    “Buy slow to go fast.” Nice piece.

    A year ago I had to decide which track/race bike to buy … litre bike, 600cc, or a bike that fit the less-than-enticingly named “Limited Class” where I race … an SV650.

    I thought long and hard, and decided the SV, although it handles like a pig on stilts and weighs a ton compared to my Daytona 675, would be the way to go, because all the speed would have to come courtesy of me. I’d have to learn some skills.

    Best choice I ever made.

    I am now getting around the track faster on my SV than I ever did on the 675, and I am learning constantly. With just 70bhp to play with, I have to carry corner speed or take forever to get it back.

    I have learned to respect the SV and see it as my ally … a friendly, Golden Retriever bike in amongst the pit bulls and the greyhounds on the track.

    I can’t tell you how much satisfaction it gives me to stuff it up the inside of a zx/10R through Turn 2, get passed again on the straight, undertake again on Turn 3 and finally make it stick.

    If you are willing to put your ego aside for a moment and admit that you need to learn, slow bikes rule.

    • Alex

      Thought process:
      “I thought long and hard, and decided the SV, although it handles like a pig on stilts and weighs a ton compared to my Daytona 675″

      Me: Huh, this sounds a lot like OB.
      *Looks at username*
      Me: Oh.

      -Knolly

  • Plotts

    I hear all of this article applies to a 600 with Pirelli race rubber too. No?

    • Sean Smith

      Trying to say pirellis make a 600 as easy to man-handle as a 250 single or that they make one as slow as a 250 single?

  • Terry

    Like any red-blooded mammal that has evolved to wear things like “pants” and “helmets”, I love the idea of having a Japanese Death Rocket at my disposal, but honestly I get a lot of satisfaction out of riding my Japanese Not-Death, Not-Rocket, Ninja 250R.

    I’m not at the stage where I’ve started to flex speed muscles (track days take money I don’t have) but I keep hearing from people who have been there, that it’s good to learn on a 250…

  • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

    Crap, thanks for reminding me I really ought to get some race leathers. Oh, and some fresh, not-completely-squared-off tires.

    Then I get to study conservation of momentum 102! (I passed 101 with a gentleman’s C, but I swear I’ll work harder this time…)

  • David

    Awesome!

    I’m keeping my VTR250 next to my Wee-strom precisely because next season I want to go to buy race leathers and go to track days to keep improving my skill. Oh and better, grippier tires. I lowsided last month and that has damaged my confidence somewhat, I want to get better.

    • Gregory

      Crashing sucks.

    • Sean Smith

      I hate to be the guy to blame when you crash learning to drag knee on the street, but man is the street a nice place to learn. Corners are tighter, you can go as slow as you want to, the food is much better and there’s no admission price; just gas.

  • Tony T.

    Soooo… anyone have some old sweaty leathers for sale? 5’9″, 180lbs on account of my fat head.

    • Wereweazle

      +1 6’2″ and 175 lbs here. E-bay shows some promisingly cheap options that don’t look horrible, I just have no idea what the quality or safety would be like considering I’m hard-pressed to find an actual brand name. I really just want some sliders so I can stop freaking out when I lean into a turn and have my knee hanging down.

      • Sean Smith

        If you already have riding gear, it might be time to see a tailor, cobler or other person capable of adding a large patch of velcro to some armored pants.

        • Restless Lip Syndrome

          Two jackets, a set of leathers, and a protective jersey are at a tailor right now. I bought all of them second-hand for less than $500 total and none of them fit quite right. It is costing me $280 to have everything fit perfectly. Use the resources on the net and around you to make the best of your limited resources.

    • John2

      Tony, I have a 1-pc older Dainese suit that might fit you (not Wereweazle, though), though they’re not very sweaty. I don’t know how to do this privately on HFL, so email if interested: jbbishop2 at yahoo dot com.

  • jason McCrash

    That’s why at 6’3″ and 290 one of my bikes is a Honda Hawk GT. Pure fun. As they say, it’s better to be quick that fast.

  • Toby

    Great article. The CBR250 is so much fun to throw around the twisties. Just please, if anyone does this, replace the stock IRC tires with some Sport Demons the first day. Zero feedback and total garbage in the wet.

  • raphmay

    Does America have the CBR250RR from the late 80′s early 90′s? If you want to start riding sports bikes that’s where most Australians start. 250cc inline 4, 19,000rpm redline with decent brakes and suspension.Tthere’s a whole lot of revving and not a lot of going, but it teaches you to be smooth and there’s a lot to be said for the feeling of coming through, and out of a 2nd or 3rd gear corner with it wide open the whole way through! try that on a 1000 and you’ll be picking pieces of fairings out of roadside trees!

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

      That’s like waving bits of steak in your dog’s face and then making the poor thing watch you eat. Jerk.

      • resonance

        ha that’s exactly what I started out on. good times I must say

      • Roman

        I actually see these pop up every now and then. Way overpriced because of their rarity, but I’ve given it a thought a couple times.

    • Sean Smith

      That bike is why I have a really hard time calling this one a CBR.

  • Trev

    Is there any way to disable the linked brakes? Not saying I am against technology, but I can see where that would be a bit much at times.

    • nick2ny

      linked brakes != technology (!!!!)

  • mathew

    Great article. I been using a klx250 as my daily ride here in Los Angeles for 3 1/2 years now. My gear cost almost as much as that bike.

  • Devin

    The CBR250 will be great in a few years when you can buy them used. If it is really your first motorcycle, why not buy a used Ninja 250. Cheaper to buy, cheaper to fix (parts on ebay), very similar bike.

    My friend rode it at the Honda demo days and said it was a riot, where on the 600 he kept having to mantra to himself “just a little bit of gas” because he kept accidently doing 30 foot burnouts.

    • Craig Hall

      Absolutely. Parts on EBay and tons of how tos with pics and videos on forums like Ninjette.org. I was on there all the time. Pretty friendly community! The Ninjette is an easy bike to work on. Great fun.

  • SamuraiMark

    So buying my ’06 FZ6 (and intentionally going with the ’06 since Yamaha de-tuned the engine in ’07 from 97bhp to 70-something bhp) as a first bike was not the smartest move? Crap. I haven’t killed myself yet. But I have tweaked the throttle a little once or twice.

    Good article. I so want to go get one of these bikes now. I keep thinking the Ninja 400R would have been a good place to start (but it weighs 450lbs?! Heavier than my FZ6) after taking my MSF course. The CBR250R only produces 5bhp more than the 200cc enduro I used on the course.

    Nothing wrong with having two bikes in the drive, ya? We’ll see what the Spring brings.

    • Zach

      What market are you in? I believe the 400R is just a sleeved down version of the 650R, right? I dream of a modern, ground-up performance 400ccish twin in a package weighing less than my 06 Ninja 250. You might be surprised, though, at the size of the smile you get just riding one of these things around town.

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        Yeah, just a sleeved 650, so you don’t get the light weight. Only sold in markets where some bizarre twist of license/insurance regs has that big weight/little power making sense.

      • SamuraiMark

        I’m in the frozen wastelands of Eastern Ontario. The FZ6 was completely an obsession. Guy around the corner has one. I’d see it every day as I walk/bicycle commuted to work. So I got some FZ6 one-itus and found a low mileage ’06 in London (Ontario). Took the trasin out there and drove it home about 650kms. My first long ride, and my first ride, other than my MSF course. I’ve considered getting a smaller, more sensible newb ride as well. Something my other half could use after me. I think I’d be more interested in the CBR or Ninja 250 than the 400R. For that matter I’d go for a TU250 or Enfield. I love those bikes.

        • Wereweazle

          +1 on the TU250x. Nifty little bike with large potential for customizing.

        • Tony T.

          Find yourself a used TW200 and you’d be set for the winter, too. Funky buzzy little bike.

          • Mr.Paynter

            +1!

  • Craig Hall

    Great piece. I couldn’t agree more. Although I would still go with the Ninjette over the Honda. I think it’s just a better bike. I also suited up in full leathers with the money I saved! The 250R was tons of fun and I still daydream about it. That bike would really put up with a lot from me. Never any problems. Would love to have kept it when I upgraded but needed the money. At least it went to a friend. Would’ve made a crazy fun beginner track bike for sure! Wait, why did I sell it again???

  • sluglog

    Bring ‘em on, but 300-350 just for icing. Learner in UK 1981 on the z250 twin was momentum stupid; tt100 dunlops taught us grip limits, all the rest was wide eyes and outbrake the cages. Can it all repeat? For fun’s sake I hope so.

  • Matt

    Glad to see the CBR250R coverage making a comeback! I just got mine today. This being my first bike, and going to Brooklyn being a higher priority than going fast, I opted for the ABS. I’m curious if I can someday keep the benefits of ABS but de-link the brakes… but someday probably isn’t this year!

  • jonoabq

    excellent article. Learn the fundamentals until they become second nature, slow/deliberate, smooth inputs, fluid transitions, conserve speed. Once you can focus on all the bits that make you go fast you’ll usually find that not only has your comfort level increased, but you are now going fairly fast without actually trying…if that makes any sense.

  • tears

    Wouldn’t it be a better idea to get a used bike vs getting a new one if you are a beginner?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Used = no warranty, no easy finance payments and a pre-abused bike. That means a lot to most people.

      • Devin

        I would say some, not most. The cost difference plus fear of dropping a brand new bike send a lot of people to the used market.

        Another reason is because many people see it as a stepping stone to a larger displacement bike and not as a lifelong friend.

        • SamuraiMark

          Tons of used CBR125′s out there for peanuts. Someone should open a leasing service for them, since the owners only seem to keep them for 6 – 12 mos. tops. Lease small displacement (more accurately low-power) bikes to new riders for 6 – 12 – 24 mos. New rider service tie-ins. Build yourself a new rider training area for practising MSF skills. Post-MSF skill courses.

          Damn … I gotta quit my job.

  • http://respectthetrade.tumblr.com/ KR Tong

    I’ve always wanted a 150 or 250 ever since I went to paris and saw these guys practically getting their knee down in cross town traffic. It was one of those life altering moments where the whole world crystalizes and somehow your future revolves around a 20 hp motorcycle….

    Also I gotta say I love when HFL writes stories just about the ride. Every other news group has panned the CBR250R saying it’s underpowered, no clutch feel, dangerous ABS, etc, and yet when you just write about the most important tenants of motorcycling, the CBR seems to glow.

    • Sean Smith

      Ha, no reason you can’t get your knee down in cross-town traffic on a 600. There’s a reason my ‘stich has pucks ;)

  • Gregory

    My 2CV taught me how to drive fast. Same concept.

    • nick2ny

      I see so many people in Lambos around here who have no idea what skillful driving is. Give em deux chevaux!

  • rohorn

    Articles like this make me miss my Kawasaki AR-80.

  • http://www.ClevelandCycleWerks.com scottydigital

    A bit of self promotion here, but our Cleveland CycleWerks 250cc Ace just got 3rd place on the dirt track against machines with 3X the amount of power. Check it out below if interested.

    http://youtu.be/COoP7PdwzJc

    Small bikes are a TON of fun!!!

  • doublet

    “If you accidentally go from closed to wide-open throttle in a third gear corner”

    That happens to people? Period? No wonder these kids are killing themselves on 600cc+ bikes!

    • Sean Smith

      Ha, I’ve even seen it in person. Guys hit a bump mid-corner and since they’re supporting themselves with their arms, the jerk the throttle wide-open for a moment. Instant high-side.

  • Bryan Burnett

    Great article! More people learning to ride need to read articles like this.

    I started on a ninja 250 rode it for 2 years dropped it a couple of times, learned a ton, and missed it when i sold it. Rode a friends 2011 Ninja 250 with some 600′s and they couldn’t keep up at all.

    A good rider will always triumph over mediocre riders with better hardware and have more fun!

    Some self promotion but this is a video i made of what the new 250 ninja can do if anyone is interested

    http://youtu.be/wd7vWaJny6E

  • taba

    Just signed up for two days (Levels I and II) with the California Superbike School on my CBR250R. If I don’t get run over by the BMW S1000RRs, I expect to learn something.

    • Damian

      I just competed CSS levels 1 and 2 down here in New Zealand. Yesterday whilst performing the ‘pick up’ drill rounding a double apex corner I scraped my right peg for the first time – it was a surreal moment and not at all unnerving