The next great Honda in action

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At lunch on Saturday, Sean said he couldn’t understand why I was being so positive about this Honda CRF250L. His argument was that it weighs over 300lbs and makes only 23bhp. Therefore we should dismiss it as irrelevant; it just won’t be capable off-road. My argument in return? CBR250R. If Honda can bring that kinda quality and that mix of performance to a dual sport, at the same price point, then this is going to be a great bike. Now with more detailed photos and action videos, it looks like that’s exactly what’s happening.

YouTube Preview ImageBy international trade agreement, rock this cheesy can only be used on motorcycles destined for American shores.

Couple quick points that we should get out of the way:

1. Ever on-message American Honda won’t comment on future models, so there’s no firm commitment that they’ll import it to the US. But, the bike is equipped with a spark arrestor, indicating it was built with this market in mind.

2. The CRF is priced identically to the $4,099 CBR in Japan, down to the last Yen.

3. That CBR isn’t utterly fantastic because of an on-paper performance number, it’s a complete, holistic package of quality components and clever solutions that combine to create a motorcycle that’s at once intuitively easy for a beginner, yet also totally enjoyable for an experienced rider. Sean likes it as much as Ashlee as much as me as much as Michael Uhlarik, as much as Sean MacDonald, as much as everyone we know who’s ridden it.

It’s those last two points that add up to my excitement for the bike. If Honda can pull another CBR250 in a dual-sport, then this thing’s going to be awesome. No, it’s not going to be the fastest or best handling or most capable dirt bike ever, but signs point to it being an astounding mix of accessible price, accessible performance, broad capabilities and an applicability to a wide range of riders and a wider range of terrain. The CBR250 is a blast on mountain roads, is totally comfortable on highways, rules on city streets and can even manage a trackday. The CRF should be a blast on fire-roads, be a great city commuter and will even manage highways.

Let’s address the immediate problems that Sean identified: weight and power. The CBR250R weighs 317lbs because it uses a simple, strong steel double-cradle frame. Making a bike that needs to be equally applicable to commuters in Southeast Asia as it does to leisure rides in SoCal, all at that incredibly affordable price, rules out the use of lightweight aluminum. The factory in Thailand, which also makes the CBR, is already tooled to produce steel frames. A little more weight equals a little less cost and increased ruggedness over years of ownership in parts of the world where bikes are actually repaired instead of replaced. Weight is also added by that ginormous exhaust can. Blame politicians around the world who like polar bears and votes more than they do hacking up particulates and loud bikes. This needs to be a road-legal motorcycle in a lot of places for a long model life.

Then there’s the power. You’d have thought Sean would have known better, since he finds the CBR’s engine to be so much more useful than the more-powerful Ninja 250’s. The CRF uses the same motor, albeit detuned from 27 to 23bhp in the name of more low-down torque. The CBR’s liquid-cooled, DOHC 250 is already extremely flexible for such a small motor, the CRF’s should be even more so, at the expense of some top end. Again, there’s also cost. The 31bhp Yamaha WR250R costs $6,590 for a reason.

Despite all that, the CRF still weighs less than the CBR. 317 vs 357lbs (wet). I’ve never heard anyone call the CBR heavy.

Bargain basement?

I hope this doesn’t sound like Honda has cut corners because, by all appearances, they totally haven’t. A monoblock-cast aluminum swingarm looks the part and should help reduce unsprung weight along with the aluminum rims. The rear shock is a Pro-Link design and front-suspension is by 43mm (ie big and chunky) USD Showas. Both front and rear discs are wavy and the four-piston front caliper appears similar to the effective item used by the CBR. Clocks are digital, there’s plenty of practical features like tie-down points and lockable tool storage and fancy stuff like a digital dash too. Uniquely, there’s 45 degrees of steering lock in each direction, which is part of what should make this lightweight, simple motorcycle so easy to use on city streets and tight trails alike.

  • http://www.TroyRank.com Troy R

    Hah cheesy rock not cheesy techno, must be an american bike! If it is as truly refined as the CBR250, I’ll be seriously considering it. 43mm forks are very lagitt for a 250cc four stroke…

  • paul redican

    Off to wash my ears out.

  • wwalkersd

    Interesting that the video is copyright 2011, not 2012, by American Honda. Video from a dealer meeting maybe, too see if dealers were interested? Weren’t you guys saying before that it wasn’t clear if this bike was coming to the US?

    And what’s happening with the Zero, Wes?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Who knows on that copyright…

      Working on a zero update now. Been slammed the last few days.

  • Kevin

    I can pretty well predict that I will buy this bike. I’ve been considering having a bike that I can trail ride in Southern California… fire roads and 4×4 roads in the desert. Something that I can ride there rather than have to tow in a trailer. Something that isn’t 1990′s technology with a 36″ seat height.

    Me like this. A lot.

  • DoctorNine

    Perfect second bike for someone who already has a sport bike in the garage. Perfect first bike for any kid starting out. Perfect base bike for a cheap urban assault custom machine. There’s just so much you could do with it.

  • Kyle Walters

    Every time this bike is mentioned I smile and think that I already have this AND Yamaha reliability. My WR250x is a fantastic machine that weighs less, has more power and (arguably) looks better. I just wish they made it in a 450!

    Maybe I’m missing something, but how is this better?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      $4k v $6.5k.

      • Kyle Walters

        That is a significant premium. I bought mine used for $3800. I agree that $4K is a sweet spot. I hope it comes to market at that price… the more bikes the merrier.

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

      I’m in love with the Yamaha, but it’s about 50% more expensive. Which is a lot. If they got the WR250X to $5k new…

      (On that note, did Yamaha kill the supermoto X variant?)

    • http://vtbmwmov.org Eben

      I had said that, for the same money, I’d buy a used WR250R over this. Now, however, I’m thinking that owning a brand new Honda with a warranty is worth the minor performance trade-offs. I prefer the gauges and the styling of the Honda and it just looks like it’s put together better than the WR. We’ll have to see it in person, I guess. Hopefully this summer?

  • Justin [CBR(s):250&F2/3,K6 GSXR1K, XR600]

    This bike will be awesome. A 320 lb isn’t that bad off road, and you guys pretend that 580 lb is dirtable. This will go anywhere you have the skills to go, it’s light enough and the motor’s not a POS unless they kill that CBR250 magic that I’ve grown to love over the last 2 weeks. If I had space for one I’d consider it, but I want more of a pure dirt bike since I have one that’s better as a dual sporter and it’s plated. :)

  • go gonzo

    Cheaper than a(my) KLX250S, no?

    • ike6116

      A 2012 KLX250S goes for $4,999 MSRP according to Kawa’s site.

      So yes. And If you get a Kawasaki you get Carburetors! Nothing like paying more for yesterday’s technology.

  • Filippo

    Huge fan of the cbr250r. I’ve been trying to justify owning it, but I already have my Sportbike. Now a dual sport, fuel sipping commuter play bike would fill in the gap that I have. I just hope Honda comes out with this soon as I’m about to snag a WR250R.

  • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben W

    Could be the bike to get me to try off-road riding!

  • Jeff Berry

    Speak it, Wes.

  • noone1569

    Wonder how this compares to CCW’s Hooligun, if it is every coming out.

    • bluemilew

      ^This.

  • moshaholic2

    really hope this does come here. Perfect trail bike and around town ripper. Anyone notice the “DOT” approved brake lines? Unless every hose in every foreign market is marked as such also, “DOT” is a US standard… *might* be a small remote clue?

  • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub Sean MacDonald (the other Sean)

    seriously though people. can we just talk about how amazing the CBR250R is one more time? it’s just mind blowing how much fun it is to ride.

    if Wes is right and this thing is the CBR250R for dirt, i can’t wait to ride it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben W

      And the painful choice between CBR250R and the Misfit with exhaust and jet mods? Survey says?

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        Such a hard choice. The CBR250R is objectively the better motorcycle, but I detest the way it looks. The Misfit is awesome and lots of fun, but a little slower.

        • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben W

          Yeah. That’s what we’re running into, as well. The lady finds the Misfit more desirable, but they’re almost the same price (after the mods) and there’s the issue of resale value after 1-2 years. The CBR250R will maintain the majority of it’s value, like a Ninja 250, but the CCW is a huge question mark.

          Then again, I consistently make practical choices with my motorcycle purchases and there’s always part of me that wishes I hadn’t. Then, there’s the other part that knows I made the right call.

          These are wonderful problems to have.

          • BMW11GS

            Plus the CBR has ABS.I wouldn’t get a car without airbags, neither would I get a bike now without ABS. Especially for a newish rider.

      • http://www.twitter.com/wessilerfanclub Sean MacDonald (the other Sean)

        my vote is the honda.

        but i can only say that after buying a bonneville because i cared more about looks than performance and riding it for a year and wanting to move up to something that performed better. we all gotta find our own route to deciding what the best bike for us is, i wouldnt have been happy listening to advice and always would have wondered if i made a mistake if i didnt get what i wanted most.

        so i dont think either is a mistake. both bikes are cool. you will learn to ride better on both bikes. both bikes will resell for a decent amount should you decide you dont like it or want something that meets a different need.

        but i have to tell you. having the confidence in the machine beneath me to ride PCH as hard as possible and not really breaking too many speed laws was one of the most fun experiences i’ve had on a bike.

        • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben W

          Wise words – thanks, Sean. I’m hoping she goes for the Honda. Last night, she listened to exhaust sound from each bike and has a strong preference for the Honda – though the look of the Misfit still tugs at her.

          We’re going to hit a dealer up this weekend to see the Honda in person. Seeing a Misfit requires a four hour drive to Austin. Unless I convince her to move there.

        • Justin [CBR(s):250&F2/3,K6 GSXR1K, XR600]

          The CBR is pure motorcycle fun. I’ve spent a lot of time on Ninja 250s and the CBR is a far superior machine. Pure riding fun with no practically consequences. It’s really sharpened my form, hanging off is so easy on this little bike. Also you don’t have all the power to cheat with. Poor form really punishes you on a low power bike.

  • Holden and Annette

    That 34.5-inch seat height is a bummer. I wonder if it can be lowered by a big amount — like, 5 inches?

    We’re looking for a beginner’s bike for a shorty woman. Even the CBR250 (stock) is a bit high. If the CRF250L is easily lowerable, and Honda offers it in the States this summer or early fall, this could be The One.

    I believe I read on ADVRider that the older, air-cooled CRF230L is a popular beginner’s bike in Australia.

    • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

      CBR250 will be a much better choice for a short beginner than a dual sport. If the height is still a factor, the Honda Rebel 250 is actually a competent and fun little ride, as is the Suzuki TU250X, and it sounds like the Cleveland Cyclewerks bikes are all rad. Any of those will be nice and low.

      • David Dawson

        It’s a dirt bike, kinda. You don’t need to put both feet down, even as a newb, and the sooner you get over that the better off you’ll be.

  • Holden and Annette

    Thanks, fasterfaster! Yeah, a Rebel looks like the most likely first bike, and there are tons on Craigslist. We watched the RideApart about CCW yesterday but didn’t get a good sense of the standover height of those bikes. The Misfit looks really nice.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      I think you’d like the CCWs, they’re really, really low.

  • JMcMahon

    Welcome back Honda, we have missed you!

    First gear (Honda Honda) it’s alright (go faster faster)
    Second gear (little Honda Honda) I lean right (go faster faster)
    Third gear (Honda Honda) hang on tight (go faster faster)
    Faster it’s alright

  • Eric

    Little Hondas and commuting….just made a lowtec video about a commuting detour after work today. dont know if its cool to paste link here…let me know ;-)

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Go for it.

  • Campisi

    Needs more supermoto.

    • http://twitter.com/tacotv69 Taco

      Agreed. How hard would it be for Honda to throw some street tires on this bad boy, Supermoto style?

    • Kyle Walters

      Completely agree!

  • Eric

    http://youtu.be/gc4XZ6gqqok

    still uploading…should be up in two hours…

  • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

    Weird that the fork end was one of their press shots. That is almost certainly a prototype part. No way Honda goes to market with billet fork ends, especially on an economy bike. Check the shot without bodywork – production parts are almost certainly forgings (which is stronger and cheaper, but less blAng).

  • David Dawson

    I bought my first WR250R new in March 2009, stolen in January 2010 with 18k miles on it. Its replacement WR250R was bought new as well in January 2010, currently sits at 39,000 trouble free miles, just rode it from Maryland to Alaska and still mostly completely in love with this bike, but if the Honda had been available back then there’s no way I’d pay $2500 more for the WRR over the damn near identically spec’d CRF250L.

  • scooterdad

    This may well be my first motorcycle if it comes to the States. I am a 40 year old first time rider looking for something fun for around town, commuting just a few miles to work, and perhaps going on an adventure now and then if my wife ever lets me. I also like the CBR250R though I am on the taller side , and I suppose this one will fit me a little better.

    • Bullwinkle Eats Vegemite

      You will definitely have fun on this bike.
      I rode both the 250l and 230l today back to back. The 250L is clearly the better bike.