The surprising thing about the Honda CBR250R

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The first surprise came not on the little CBR, but on a Daytona 675R. Chasing Sean from my place in Hollywood to his in Inglewood, it was Sean on the Honda that kept leaving me behind in traffic. The 675 makes 124bhp, the 250 18. The second surprise came in the Santa Monica Mountains. In tighter corners it was again Sean (this time with Ashlee on the back) that would pull ahead in the tighter corners. Maybe it was time I kept making him ride the smaller bike. The third surprise was riding the Honda CBR250R. It’s amazing.

Photos: Sean Smith

First Impressions
And I really was making Sean ride the CBR250 while I played with fancier machinery. Somehow, choosing between a Triumph Daytona 675R, an Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC SE and the CBR, the decision seems obvious: make Sean take the little bike. But, that decision left me with numb hands on the freeway and on bikes with virtually zero steering lock in gridlocked traffic. It left me worrying about power and cops and slides and getting thrown out of the seat over bumps. It had me worried about where I parked, even during the day.

Eventually, for the purposes of testing, and because I needed to pick up the girlfriend at her mechanic’s and the RSV4 isn’t wearing pillion pegs or seat, I grabbed the keys to the CBR250R for the weekend.

First impressions weren’t great. Afraid to snap the cheapo pressed-steel gear lever, it took me approximately 19 tries to find 1st. Then, riding home, I kept annoying a guy on an R1100S by leaving him for dead at every light…for the first 10 yards, only to make him pass me right back.

The next morning wasn’t much better. Parking outside the Bourgeois Pig, I felt a bit like a dunce for not showing up in usual style. At least they couldn’t hear the pitter patter of the overly-muffled engine inside.

Consequence Free Motorcycling
But, each new time I hopped on the CBR250R, the more I learned to love it. Partially because it was just so easy to hop on. Know how, when you’ve got a big, fast motorcycle to ride, you question the merits of using it for the journey? Is a short trip going to be bad for the engine? Will the battery have enough time to charge between here and there, so it starts on the other end? Am I too hungover to manage 180bhp right now? Am I really ready to accept responsibility into my life just to run to the store for some Sour Patch Kids? The CBR250 doesn’t ask you those questions. It’s just all cuddly, light, extremely easy to ride and there waiting for you to hop on and use it like a tool whenever you need to get somewhere. The nearest equivalent I can think of is a little scooter like a Vespa or a Ruckus; there’s a psychological barrier that’s not breached by hopping on it. Just here, there’s gears to play with, 17-inch wheels that don’t get sucked into potholes and you straddle it rather than sit in it. Seriously, it worked out that it takes less effort and less stress to split lanes on the Honda than it does on my bicycle. Something about tire widths and braking ability I won’t bore you with here.

That cheerful, friendly usefulness extends to faster riding too. Lose the front tire in a pothole leaned way over mid-corner? No worries, you’ll catch it. Come into a blind corner way too fast? Again, don’t worry, you’ll make it around. That corner just needs to be really, really tight. Need to change line while absolutely committed? Just graze the front brake lever a little more or push on the outside bar to pick it up a bit. There’s really not much you can do wrong while riding the CBR, which isn’t something you can say about riding a really fast, really focused performance bike.

In fact, the only time the CBR suffered the consequences of motorcycledom while in my care was when I clipped with wing mirror of an irate Saab driver. The CBR may be little in capacity, but it’s not any narrower than other bikes. And riding it, you may be thinking of it as a cute little puppy dog, but non-riders still see it as a motorcycle. That Saab driver saw enough of it to flip her shit, but not enough to roll down her window so a badass biker could apologize.

Flat Out Everywhere
I’ve been riding that RSV4 for about two weeks now. Know how many times I’ve given it full throttle? Three times, all out in San Gabriel Canyon on a quiet weekday afternoon. Know how many times I gave the CBR250 full throttle? It’s impossible to count because I was at full throttle literally every second I wasn’t on the brakes.

Redline in every gear. Screeching the tire on downshifts. Tucking in. Hanging off. Backing it in. Wildly exaggerated arm movements as you go off the throttle and fully back on between every gear. Riding the CBR250 is never not fun. And all the above can happen between here and the grocery store.

Comfy, Comfy, Comfy
I suggested to Sean one day that we go ride 33, up north of Ojai. About an hour and half or two hours away. Make it a six hour day if we go through Frazier Mountain and come back down the 5. He wasn’t in to it, claiming that it was just too far to go on the little Honda. He’s crazy, that wouldn’t have been a problem at all. He’d have gotten pissed off having to ride the slower bike all day is all.

Low pegs, high bars, a supportive, well-padded seat and not much width between your knees. Hell, even a fairing that actually keeps the wind off. Both Ashlee and Brittney report happy vaginas after riding on the back, too.

Two-Up
Surprisingly, in town at least, the performance doesn’t really seem to suffer. The little single-cylinder is more limited by top-end rush (or total lack thereof) than it is by low-end grunt and the gearing is low enough that it still seems to pull pretty much the same. The overly soft suspension still handles just fine, the relatively weak brakes don’t get any weaker. There’s big grab handles. We don’t get yelled at for wheelying.

Filling Up
The second biggest disadvantage with having an employee that you don’t really pay enough (feeling bad about not really paying them enough being the first biggest disadvantage) is that they have a great excuse for never, not once, putting gas into a bike. I actually have a theory that Sean might have a side business selling HFL’s gas on the black market, he’s never, not once, brought a bike back that had more than enough gas to barely get to the first gas station.

Fearing the worst, I set out on the CBR for the first time fully expecting to stop at the first gas station. But, with two of the six bars on the gas gauge (yes, it has a gas gauge!) showing, I headed off home. When it went down to one, I stopped. It actually took significant effort to put enough gas into it to hit the $5 minimum credit card payment at the ghetto gas station. The CBR gets 77mpg according to Honda and the tank is a pretty reasonable 3.4 gallons. Guess one bar isn’t really empty.

Filling up was made an unnecessary pain though, there’s a cross bar occluding the hole just under the neck, meaning you can’t just shove the nozzle in and squeeze. Instead, you have to hover it over the tank, lift the vapor shield with your other hand and drizzle the gas in squirt by squirt. At least you won’t be filling up very often; tank range is a ridiculously high 260+ miles.

Riding the 24mpg-ish RSV4 right now, my wallet misses the CBR250.

Keeping Up
Spoiled by cheap credit and too-fast bikes, American riders tend to be under the misconception that a “little” 250 isn’t enough to keep up with traffic on the freeway. Are you kidding me? So long as you’re prepared to use full throttle, you can still be the fastest thing out there. 0-60 feels like it’s in the high 4, low 5 second range, meaning you’ll be faster than any car not wearing a Porsche badge.

Absolute top speed is a little over 90mph and it’ll take you a long time to get there. But you’ve still got pretty decent acceleration on up to about 85mph. I never felt unconfident, even in LA’s occasionally very, very fast moving traffic.

Out with other bikes, they’ll all leave you for dead away from traffic lights, of course, but the handling is good enough that a skilled rider will still show squids their taillight on mountain roads.

Learning to learn
Free of the consequences of power and weight, but still on a responsive, fun bike, you can take the time to practice skills you’re too busy to on faster machines. My downshift throttle blips had gotten rusty, but after a weekend on the little Honda, they’re perfect again, something the Street Triple R appreciates.

Lower speeds meant I was also able to take a long look at things like trail braking, body position and all the other little things that make up good riding and make sure those were on point too.

As Sean points out in this article, the CBR250R is essentially a perfect tool for a newer rider to learn how to ride fast on. All the big bike inputs are there, they just happen at lower speeds with lesser potential for disaster should you cock something up. If you’re on a larger bike and struggling to get faster, trade down, spend a year trying to beat your friends on the CBR, and you’ll be much, much faster when you trade back up.

The Burden of a Name
Find anyone who knows the littlest bit about motorcycles and do a word association with them.

CBR

Fast. Race. Powerful. Scary. Knee down. Superbike, etc.

So, when they see the little CBR, its Shamu-alike styling and its pretty low power and torque figures, things don’t really add up. But, forget all that R nonsense for a second and imagine if I whispered “CB250” into your ear. Aside from being a little turned on, you’d gain an immediate understanding of what this bike is. It’s a fun, practical, affordable little bike that punches way above its weight. The CBR name is an unfortunate burden, creating unrealistic consumer expectations.

The Freedom of Simplicity
You know what? I miss the CBR250R. As I write this, I’m about to run to the Valley, pick up some vegan Thai (tastier than regular Thai, promise), then head over to Brittney’s place to watch movies. It’s been a long week and I’m exhausted. I’m not really looking forward to taking the RSV4 or the Street Triple R. I know, that’s not a bad problem to have, but it’s indicative of the CBR’s appeal. I’d much rather just relax and ride it tonight.

You already know this would be a great bike for a new rider. You already know it’s cheap and frugal and whatnot. What you don’t expect, unless you’ve ridden it, is that the eagerness and the size and the light weight combine to create a two-wheeled experience that’s pretty much unique in today’s big bike dominated market. It’s genuinely fun and not in the typical run-from-the-cops kinda way. I’m struggling to put words to exactly what it is that makes the this bike unreservedly amazing, but it’s something that motorcycling hasn’t really seen since those old “You meet the nicest people” ads. The Honda CBR250R is the friendly face of motorcycles and the surprising thing is that, sometimes, it’s nice to be friendly.

  • Coreyvwc

    It pains me to agree with any part of this article, unfortunately I agree with most of it. Dammit…

  • ike6116

    I don’t want to be one of those guys but I think I want to send my fiancé to the MSF and then if she takes to it make this the route she goes. I don’t at all mean to paint this a “chick’s bike” either.

  • stefano

    “Am I too hungover to manage 180bhp right now? ”

    you guys are the best

  • M

    excellent article

  • Alex

    Hmm, at some point in the last month my HFL subscription expired… Renewed it to comment, so well played!

    Excellent, EXCELLENT read, thanks! My first bike was a Ninja 250, which I sold after a year and moved to a Triumph Daytona 675. Now, I love to death my 675, and have a blast at track days, but I really wish I had kept my 250 longer. I graduate from college in December, and if I have the space, I’m definitely buying another 250 once I start my job/career. Thanks for making me seriously consider the CBR!

  • 1

    Oh yeah, I’ve bought some of that HFL gas, Still not that cheap, but delivered to your door, and quickly. So convenient.

    • mike

      +1

  • nymoto

    I call bullshit on the vegan Thai – not the article.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Check our twitter feed :)

      • contender

        There’s a vegan soul food place in Inglewood that while not better than regular soul food is worth checking out. Name of it is ‘Stuff I Eat’.

        • Sean Smith

          What? How do I not know about this place?

          • contender

            Go. Enjoy.

  • craha

    Guess I’m not the only one, but I too graduated from a Ninja 250R to my Daytona 675. I had the 250 for a couple years after MSF and loved it!

    I felt so comfortable and happy on that bike by the end that it was really hard to sell. It could definitely keep up in the canyons and splitting through traffic was a breeze.

    Although I adore the Daytona, I agree with your comments. Small bikes are fun to ride and I wish Ii could’ve kept it! My preference for 250s is still the Ninja but I’m sure this little CBR rocks too. Great article.

  • Liquidogged

    Oh man, I remember the days when you guys had to pimp hard to get any test bikes at all. Now it’s all, oh dear will I take the [EXOTIC GORGEOUS AWESOME BIKE], the [GODLEY MIDDLEWEIGHT BELOVED BIKE], or the [THE BEST 250 IN THE WORLD SINCE THE NINJA 250]? Spoiled rotten, you are.

    That said, I really dig the in-depth discussion of just how much more useful small displacement can be in urban environments. I’ve ridden and owned a range of bikes over the years, but 9 out of 10 big bikes just aren’t as good around town. I have a soft spot for ninja500s but the 250 bikes are great too, and it’s nice to see more competition in the segment.

    Hey kawi, when are USA ninja250s getting FI?

    • Liquidogged

      I might add that these modern little bikes also have great paint, fit and finish compared to the old days. Guy down the street from me has a ninjette and the thing looks great in person. I hear similar things about the Honda.

    • craha

      +1 on the FI

  • FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF

    Dude, lotus vegan is in my neighborhood. I love that place.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      it’s the best. Sun cafe on lankersheim makes a mean kale smoothie too.

      • Denzel

        It’s official, Wes has done turned Californian…

  • http://pics.zenerves.net/index.php?gallery=vehicules tropical ice cube

    Why does it makes so much sense to buy/ride/enjoy a bike that you can use at 100% for 100% of the time, and yet everybody on earth spend so much on figures pushed by marketing departments? Yes if you want to be faster, just be better, that will make you the man. Cheers from that alien who owned a ’76 CB400F SuperSport, a ’93 Monster 400, and currently a ’84 VF500F2.

  • http://www.cdavisdesigns.com Chris Davis

    I learned to ride (street) on a Ninja 250. I only bought it because my wife insisted on getting her M license at the same time and we figured it was a bike we could both ride. Plus it was about all we had funds for. She got her license and rode it about twice thereafter in the year we had it. I figured it was time to move up to a “man-sized” bike and for a time had the two. Of course I parked the little Ninja, put it up on craigslist, and didn’t ride it until it was time to sell. And that last ride was the best I’d ever had up to that point. It would remain so until my first track day a year or so later. Funny, but it’s hard to appreciate the merits of a light weight bike until you’ve gotten used to something relatively heavy. True though, it really is a shitload more fun to ride a slow bike fast than it is to ride a fast bike slow.

  • Tim

    I have never been one who searches for the most power but the power that can be used. I ride a fairly well tuned Buell XB9 and have no problem keeping up (except for long straights) or even leading the group on street rides. Horsepower is funny thing, it lets you go fast but it never made anyone fast.

  • Chris

    As I posted in another article the other day, I have 3 scooters – one of which is a Ruckus and you nailed part of why scoots are great. I have been lusting after the CBR250 since it was announced for the US, I think it would make a great addition to my scoots and Duc. Still trying to convince the wife that I need a 5th bike.

    I should add that I’ve never ridden a 250 anything outside of the MSF training. I started on scooters, rode a few mid size cruisers that belonged to friends, and my first motorcycle was my current Monster 696. That said, I really love wringing out small engines, and being able to really enjoy throwing bikes around. I imagine it much like riding a scooter, just more stable & with a lot more lean angle. I really have a feeling that the CBR will be bought next year without even a test ride. I think my garage can handle one more bike.

  • 2ndderivative

    1. Would toy rather have this or a scooter?

    2. Would you rather have this or a Ninja 650?

    ” It had me worried about where I parked, even during the day.” – a bright red Specialized Allez is my only bicycle, and I can’t leave it anywhere. Wish I had room in my tiny basement apartment for a beater.

  • SamuraiMark

    That’s it. I’m buying one of these next spring and sticking the FZ6 in the shed for a bit.

  • Myles

    You don’t specifically mention top comfortable speed with a passenger – this would be a huge factor for me.

    My bike currently makes 82whp (dyno tested y’all!), and is noticeably slower with a lady on the back. Can the CBR250 handle going up a slight grade at 80mph two-up?

    • Toby

      80mph two up? Yeah. Up a grade? No way. It takes a pinned throttle and a flat road for mine to hold 130kmh (81mph) two up. And that’s indicated, not GPS verified.

      • Myles

        Thanks, dude – appreciate it.

    • Sean Smith

      I hit 90+ with Ashlee a few times and had no problem cruising at 85. Just uh, avoid the hills. Top speed can drop as low as 68 two-up with camp gear on a long, steep grade.

  • Brian

    This is the reason why I’m getting rid of my Ninja 636 which I just got a few months ago. It’s brilliant on the local beltway at 2AM, but pales in comparison to my SV650′s for commuting. I’d rather comfort and torquey asskickery where I twist the throttle like mad and still remain at the approximate speed limit, over peaky horsepower and going twice/thrice the speed limit whenever I rev it up.

    However, my huge torque preference has been leading me to look at Tuonos as my next bike. Will I learn and realize that smaller bikes can trounce even the Tuono?

  • Thom

    Proof of the old adage that ;

    Smaller and Lighter is Faster and Better when it comes to riding on the Streets .

    Bet a lot of Bigger is Better folks are choking on this article

    But ….. Vegan Thai ???? Really ???

  • John2

    Very good article, Wes. Y’all can laugh away, but one of my bikes is a 2003 MZ 125, which I use for a 60-mile round trip commute (and drive-time freeway use, don’t tell the CHP…), especially in wet weather. Six speeds, 65 mph top speed, 77 mpg (would be better if the thing wasn’t wfo nearly all the time) and as a friend says, “nobody else knows you’re racing!” Fun, and, it makes me a better rider on everything else.

  • http://www.muthalovin.com the_doctor

    I am pretty interested in this bike, but the article sold me on it. I have a M600 Monster right now, but would like to have something with a fairing for commuting. Plus, I could see buying this CBR a little used, and sock away “Big Boy Bike” money for a few years till I graduate from CBR250R school.

  • Ceolwulf

    There’s so little in between, and that could possibly be such a fertile middle ground now. Now that litrebikes are at or near 200hp, what would be wrong with a, say, YZF-R5 with a half-an-R1 parallel twin 500, putting out 70hp or so, and weighing no more than this CBR250? Such a 500cc twin class could and I’d say should take over for the 600 fours as the go-to sportbike once you’ve learned the ropes. And for most people, it’d be all you’d ever need.

    • nick2ny

      For some reason people wouldn’t buy it, probably because it wouldn’t be styled as well the R1 (dont want to cannibalize sales), and because people take light-beer commercials too seriously.

      • Ceolwulf

        You’re probably right and it’s a shame. Back in the day the 500 parallel twin was the pinnacle of fast bikes. True that tires and handling have gotten a great deal better since but somehow I doubt that modern riders are that much better on average than those of forty years ago that they all need four times the horsepower.

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

          EX500s are still great cheap, light beater bikes. Twice the kick of a 250 with half the maintenance of a 600.

          • Sean Smith

            An EX500 is actually 20lbs heavier than most 600s. If they tried, they could build one that comes in under 300lbs.

    • 80-watt Hamster

      Ninja 650, except for the weight. They need to figure out how to make that thing lighter.

  • Gene

    I’m too fat for a 250, but my SV-650 is perfect for commuting. I’m so pissed at Suzuki for not making them anymore, and everybody else for not making a lightweight v-twin.

    • Kirill

      Suzuki still makes it, they just named it after a Roman sword for some dumbass reason

      • Gene

        Nope, they no longer make the Gladius, either, as of this year.

        • Kirill

          Wow, that’s dumb. Hopefully its just a year or two lull because there’s a massive overstock at dealers.

    • Scott-jay

      Maybe lots in warehouses now?

  • John

    I’m surprised this hasn’t gotten into a debate about light beer yet.

    • ike6116

      Keystone Light is better than PBR.

    • The other Joe

      All light beer sucks!

      • Dan

        Lite Beer is not beer,for the the last 40 years I have done extensive testing in this area and have come to this conclusion based on actual experience. A good cold lager or stout will set you youngsters straight.Drink Up!

  • Charles

    I wonder if they’ll try to bridge the gap between the CBF250R and the CBR600RR with a light-pressure turbo version. 40 horsepower, 110 mph or so on the top end, maybe 15 lbs heaver?

    • Chris

      OK, now that would be amazing Charles. I’d buy that in a heartbeat.

    • http://www.lgdm.fr stempere

      I’m amazed at the lack of 400cc bikes. It’s the maximum most licensed riders can legally ride in japan AND the minimum for your insurance experience to be acounted for in france.
      I don’t even know about other countries…

      They should bring back the VFR (or RVF) 400.
      (they were 53~59 bhp !)

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

    Amen, bruddah.

    Much of the reason I’ve kept my 250 so long is that I know I’ll miss hitting redline (multiple times) from every stop, ripping open the throttle past cops and generally feeling like a wild man without constantly risking my license. 250 is small enough to hoon around safely, yet big enough to tour on. I love it.

    I’d realllly love to own a YZF-R125, though. Not so much for the commute, but it might be the bike I’d most want to rip through the Santa Cruz Mountains to Alice’s.

    Also with you RE: the misnomer “CBR.” Ditto with my “Ninja” 250. Funnily enough, I recently wrote a blog that commented on the topic–people ask me what I ride and when they hear “Ninja” they think I’m a speed freak.

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

      P.S. The light-hearted nature of the bike seems to have seeped into your writing. While reading it, before I got to the byline, I was thinking, “This sounds nothing like Wes, but who else could it be?”

  • Kyle

    Not big on the shamu styling, it looks okay in black tho, I’d just have to matte the exhaust cover. Really looking forward to the KTM 350Duke however.

  • Campisi

    “… forget all that R nonsense for a second and imagine if I whispered “CB250” into your ear.”

    That’s exactly why I bought one a few months ago. I wish it had a luggage rack of some sort, though.

  • http://www.ClevelandCycleWerks.com scottydigital

    simplicity will keep you free

    • Devin

      Yes, but simpler would be better. Why so much plastic on a 250? I’d rather have it naked and lose even more weight.

  • jason

    Little bike with good tires: Every trip to the store becomes the TT. Nothing like seeing people’s expressions when I can scrape my pegs in town full throttle. Not possible on big machines. Long live the 250s!

    • http://www.lgdm.fr stempere

      “Every trip to the store becomes the TT.”
      Stick that on a poster, a nice picture of the bike and a half naked hottie for good mesure.
      Why don’t marketing people get it?

      • Sean Smith

        Because they don’t ride. Duh. They drive their SUVs to work and do 2 track days a year.

  • contender

    Great. I just rode my Buell home to L.A. from Seattle and now I think I need a bike that is almost an impulse buy. This subscription is getting expensive. I’ll wait for such impulse buys until my plated ‘motard is finished, even though a high strung two stroke NEVER seems like the logical choice for any errands.

    • Scott-jay

      Expensive!?
      Just this week we have: CBR250R release info, compare & contrast riot gear with moto-gear; scooter men; WTB sugar-momma; retro-Rudge; TMAX commercial; road-kill at end-of-road; moto-GP crash; scooter with traction control; adventure-Shamu release info; Aprilia auto-trans variant; Chris & Ryan doing tricks; automatic Aprilia; recap of Italian m/c industry; H-D marketing choices; and perhaps most significantly this week: introduced KTM Freeride.

      • contender

        I meant expensive because of what it does to my shopping/wish list. I also need a Roland Sands jacket now too.

  • jason

    Yup. nothing like half-cheeking around corners and seeing leather pirates looks of envy…

  • Joey

    It is always much more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow! Take that to the bank…

  • Dani Peral

    “nobody else knows you’re racing!”

    “Every trip to the store becomes the TT.”

    Im totally in for a 250 as my first bike…this articles do nothing but help!! Now you should get a test ninja 250 and compare! :D

  • Scott

    This is why in SoCal, with our traffic, twisties and apparently Thai food….
    Duke 690 > any 600, 1000, 1200, etc. Flame graphics and Ed Hardy jeans wearers be damned.

  • Albert

    Yeah along with everyone else, couldn’t agree more. I know I always preach about my drz400sm on here but honestly it echoes these sentiments. Way more fun than the liter bikes, and since I live in a city, and not on on Isle of Man.. I will shit on the liter bike every time in my decrepid, pothole ridden, taxi/bus/jaywalker populated home turf. It’s no fun being Goliath if you only shine on the track or vast expanses of pristine asphalt.