RideApart Review: Honda CRF250L

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CRF250L-top

The Honda CRF250L is smaller, lighter and simpler than most other dual-sports. That means it captures a purity of experience more complicated, faster, more focused bikes lack. In short, it’s clean, simple fun in an era of excess.

Photos: Kevin Wing

What’s New
Ride the CRF back-to-back with the Honda CBR250R and you’ll be hard pressed to tell both bikes use virtually identical, 249cc, single-cylinder motors. Where the CBR is all mid-range and top-end, the CRF is all bottom and mid.

That’s reflected in the numbers. Where the CBR makes 26bhp and 17lb/ft, the CRF lags behind on power (23bhp), but surprisingly, loses a pound-foot too. That’s surprising, because torque is the overriding impression kicked out by the engine, allowing you to be lazy with gearshifts and drive up climbs or out of corners virtually from idle. That’s a neat trick for such a tiny engine.

The CRF doesn’t feel slower on the road than the CBR either. A lot of that is probably down to weight. Where the CBR weighs 357lbs (wet), the CRF is just 317. 40lbs is a big difference on bikes of this size.

What’s also surprising is how little Honda changed inside the motor to make it feel so different. Cam profiles are changed, the throttle body is a hair smaller and the exhaust diameter shrinks while length grows, that’s it.

The CRF then houses that motor in a steel cradle frame fitted with USD forks, a Pro-Link monoshock and an aluminum swingarm.
Seat height is 34.7 inches, which may sound tall for you small folk, but the entire package is pencil thin and the weight is carried both low and centrally, making it utterly simple and natural to hold it up with merely the point of a toe.

The Ride
The first time I sat on a CRF250L, at Laguna Seca, I was able to bottom the preload-adjustable rear suspension by heavily bouncing my 172lbs on the seat. Not a positive sign. But, riding it through rocky fire roads in the Los Padres National Forest, it didn’t bottom once. The 9.8 inches of travel through the non-adjustable, 43mm USD forks and 9.4 inches at the rear was instead soft, but well-damped and positively plush.

The biggest limitation, at least for this novice dirt rider, was instead the tires. Understandably biased towards road safety in stock form, the dual sport tires are limited in their ability to really grab the dry, loose gravel, rocks and shale. More experienced riders were able to develop confidence in the front despite that and were carrying some impressive speeds, but even scooting all the way forward above the 2.0-gallon gas tank had my front sliding instead of gripping.

Still, the CRF otherwise provided an easy, confidence-inspiring ride. I was free to make mistakes and pick bad lines and the little Honda would just walk me out. Climbs that should probably have been taken at the top of 2nd gear could instead still be made at the bottom of 3rd, the engine wouldn’t bog or cut out no matter how ham-fisted I was.

Basically, it’s the easy, fun, un-intimidating experience you’d think it would be. More aggressive tires and you could really fly on this thing.

On-road is where that tire compromise pays off. Riding along the kind of single-lane mountain roads that’d be scary as hell on a big sportsbike, which would be unable to get out of 1st gear, you can simply fly on the little CRF. The tires grip all the way to their edges, the long-travel, plush suspension provides excellent feedback and simply soaks up huge bumps There’s just a ton of fun to be had.

Steering is predictably lightning fast, but also very stable. Feel through the brakes is excellent, leading to some very late, impressively heavy trail braking and the wide bars mean you can just flick it side to side without even trying.

On these roads, the only thing faster would be a full-on supermoto, but one of those would take considerably more skill to ride, where this knobby equipped Honda is the picture of simple operation.

When things straighten out, it’ll reach an indicated top speed of 86mph, which is feels impressively smooth and relaxed. There’s no wobble or instability at that speed.

A 7-hour day showed not a single sign of discomfort. Not a tight leg muscle or sore ass or stiff arms; nothing.

What’s Good
So much fun to ride, you’ll forget the spec sheet and the top speed.

As much consequence-free fun for an experienced rider as it is for a total newbie.

Fuel bills just disappear. The 2.0-gallon tank costs ~eight bucks to fill completely from empty and lasts nearly 150 miles.

Torquey motor can walk the 320lbs (wet) bike up virtually any hill, even at low speed.

Nearly as easy to ride as a mountain bike.

Surprisingly comfortable on the highway, I commuted from Hollywood to Irvine on the 5 (over 50 miles) with total confidence and never felt that I wasn’t fast enough to ride in the fast lane.

As good in town as it is in the middle of nowhere. You’ll be at full-throttle and laughing inside your helmet no matter if it’s boulders or traffic you’re passing.

Build quality is Honda-perfect.

What’s Bad
The tires are a little too on-road focused when you’re off-road.

At 6’ 2”, the bike was just a tad too small for me to stand on comfortably. Taller bars would help, sure, but the only place you can grip with your knees when you’re tall like me is from the gas gap forwards. That’s not much real estate. Stomp Grip will help.

The bike lacks crash protection and the radiator pokes quite far outside the frame, protected only by a thin piece of plastic. I’d want bars on that before I handed the bike to a complete n00b.

The Price
The big rival here is going to be the WR250R. We’ll make this simple: the Honda CRF250L is 100 percent as capable as the Yamaha WR250R and costs $2,000 less. Yeah…

Sure, the Yamaha makes a staggering 28bhp to the Honda’s 23, but you have to really work the WR to find that performance where the CRF does all the work for you. The Honda 250’s torque defies its capacity and makes the bike easy, fun and capable.

The Verdict
CBR250R, NC700X, CBR500R, CB500F, CTX700 and now the CRF250L. What we’re seeing here is a major return to form from a brand that once defined the idea of affordable, fun, friendly motorcycles. No components on any of these bikes are terribly innovative and their overall concepts are convention defined. Instead of more power or lighter weight or better handling or carbon gew gaws what all these bikes do is work with an overall cohesion that elevates them far above their relatively humble spec sheets.

Pick any of those bikes and, no matter what your skill level, no matter what kind of riding you like to do, no matter how small or fat or tall or tiny you happen to be, you’ll have an absolute blast riding them, you’ll be comfortable doing so, you’ll get great fuel economy and you’ll be able to afford to buy them.

Every bit as good as the competition for $2,000 cheaper. Dual sport motorcycling distilled to its versatile, awesome essence. $4,500, 74mpg.

Gear
Helmet: AGV AX-8 Dual ($400, highly recommended)
Suit: Aerostich Roadcrafter Tactical ($897 before custom work, best suit in the world)
Gloves: Alpinestars GP-Pro ($240, Worth Considering)
Boots: Aerostich Combat Lite ($317, Highly Recommended)

  • Piglet2010

    Makes the Suzuki DR200SE, Yamaha TW200, and Yamaha XT250 look very dated and over-priced.

    • Mr.Paynter

      Yep, but you can go all Japanese custom with the TW when you’re over it and get one of these.

      • Piglet2010

        If I was buying a dual-sport now and paying full MSRP, I would be getting the CRF250L – when I got my TW200 I was fortunate to find a 2-year old but new bike for just under $3K. For the $4.5K Yamaha wants, they need to update the bike with the 250cc engine used in the home market, add fuel injection, a 6th gear, more modern gauge cluster, and better brakes and suspension.

        I hope the TW sticks around, since it is the only “inline beach buggy” available in the US (since Suzuki does not import the equally dated Van Van).

        • Mr.Paynter

          Yeah, I have a soft spot for the Tdubs too, but agreed!

          I’ve never looked at these kind of bikes, until I read this review, now my idea of urban assault to work and back is shifting! This is a cool little bike for the money!

  • Ben Bacon Kester

    Maybe I’m playing devil’s advocate but it probably doesn’t need radiator protection unless you plan on taking it over some obstacles. Did you try to lay it on it’s side and see if the shrouds make contact on flat ground? I dropped my husqvarna 125 hard a couple time my first time out on a hare scrambles course and the radiators didn’t get insulted.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      It might be ok in a low speed drop. But if you’re learning to ride dirt, I’d like to know that the bike could survive multiple topples, unscathed. Figure bark busters for that too.

  • Charlie

    Great review, great bike. Amazing at $4.5k. Sum is greater than parts. Simple and fun. Less is more is a great antidote for our times

  • Jason 848

    This bike is so affordable I toyed with buying one just for trails (no plate) since motorcycle insurance is so expensive here per bike to plate it.

    • Tyler 250

      There are cheaper and MUCH lighter trail bike options if you’re not going to plate it anyway.

      • Jason 848

        Agreed – the weight was the nail in the coffin. I flip flopped between a low maint air cooled 230 and a high strung 250 motocrosser converted for trails. Went with an rmz 250 – Iets see how long this grenade of an engine lasts lol.

  • http://instagram.com/real_jason_ip Jason Ip

    Timely reviews, I’m cross shopping this with a the WR250R and while I’d prefer the WR250R, I’m 5’6… does the CRF250L have any lowering like the Yamaha? And, the ~20lb weight difference between the two, did you feel that?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      It’s light and easy enough that height doesn’t really matter. Just scoot a cheek off the seat to flat foot it.

  • Mark D

    Looks great for city commuting, too.
    Also, GREAT idea on the short blurbs about your gear. I like the look of those Aerostich boots.

    • Piglet2010

      There are two aftermarket things I would want for the CRF250L to make it a good commuter – aftermarket locking hard bags and a locking gas cap (not sure why Honda did not include the latter). Nothing better than a dual-sport for really poor pavement, where you cannot avoid all the potholes.

      • Rob

        Why the locking gas cap? There’s only $8 worth of gas in there to begin with

        • Chris McAlevy

          Because whether you had $8 or $100 of gas stolen from you, you’re still out of gas.

        • Piglet2010

          A locking gas cap will keep ill-behaved children from using your gas tank as a trash can.

      • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

        It has a locking gas gap as standard.

    • Sean Tempère

      About that, why only “Worth Considering” regarding the gloves? They where my track and summer gloves before they got stolen (along with my nexx xr1r carbon) and loved them. Is it the price? What would you recommend instead?
      I bought a pair of rimfires for the city (they’re great by the way) but still need something more protective for longer rides…

      • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

        I’m not a huge fan of the Astars race gloves. There’s a ton of plastic in all sorts of places, which tends to pinch and bind your fingers and hands and they just don’t seem to last very long either. Figure one riding season.

        • Sean Tempère

          Thanks for the explanation, i’ll try some others before buying my new pair then.

  • Cockroach

    Hmm… Think I just saw you on Silverlake about an hour ago. Anyway, I’m beginning to regret going with the DRZ over this one. Can’t say the extra few HP I get really compares to a bike with such an MPG advantage, and what I’m assuming is also a build quality advantage. Do you have a preference for one or the other?

    • Chris McAlevy

      I am also interested in the Rideapart guys’ opinion here.

  • Piglet2010

    “Aerostich Roadcrafter Tactical ($897 before custom work, best suit in the world)”

    And if you do have problems with your suit, Aerostich has the best customer/warranty service in the world.

    But no Aerostich outfit is complete without the Mr. Happy hand puppet. :)

    • Afonso Mata

      The only problem with the Roadcratfer is pretty much the price. ;)

      • Piglet2010

        The price of the Roadcrafter is quite low when you consider you can use it for 20+ years (as Aerostich will repair unless the cost is more than 50% of a new suit), while lesser gear will wear out in 5 years or less, and you are on your own for repair.

        Life-cycle costs are more important the initial purchase costs.

  • Dustin Edwards

    I bought one, it is currently my only vehicle so I ride it daily. It’s tons of fun, it’s practical and it won’t bit back. I recommend it to anyone who’s first starting out.

  • Regder

    Any review coming on those boots? They look great

  • John

    No one ever compares this to the KLX. It’s like everyone pretends the KLX doesn’t exist. It’s very interesting.

  • Mark Vizcarra

    Wait I thought you guys reviewed this already before it turned into RideApart. Maybe Im thing about something else. But great review nonetheless

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Yeah, we’ve reviewed it in the past, but I figured the time was right to put it into RideApart’s new review format and whatnot. We’ve got a TON of new readers now.

  • alex

    the engine only feels stronger because of the gearing

  • markbvt

    Wes, how does the suspension compare with the WR250R’s? And is the WR any friendlier for tall guys (I’m 6’4″)? I’ve been tempted for a while now to replace my XR650L with something lighter and more fuel efficient.

    • DaveDawsonAlaska

      The WR250R is taller and has a longer seat to peg length, making it more comfortable for taller riders. Its a pretty roomy bike.

      The WR’s suspension is higher spec and better out of the box, but at your height and presumable accompanied weight you’ll be best off getting either bike’s suspension worked on.

  • TP

    Will we ever get this bad boy in the US of A?

  • Nathan Haley

    Love the review! More people need to know about this magic Honda.

    Just a quip: I have both a WR250R and a CRF250L and I feel you haven’t explored the comparison as much as it deserves. For one thing, you can pick up older WR250Rs (they haven’t really changed) in great condition for $3,000 – that’s how much my ’08 was with 5k miles, including $1,200 in exhaust and power programmer upgrades. Since they just came out last year, CRF250Ls are harder to find and you’d be hard pressed to find one for less than MSRP. If you don’t care for showrooms, the CRF is effectively more expensive than the WRR.

    The CRF250L is most definitely not “100% as capable as the Yamaha WR250R”. Based on my experience (I’m 6’2), the CRF250L is too short (peg-to-seat distance too small to grip with the knees) and the suspension, while plush in trail-riding, is too easily flustered going over anything bumpy at speed. The WRR isn’t exactly an enduro bike but its ergonomics and engine are far better suited for riding off-road at speed. The WRR will charge through rocks and sandy whoops where the CRF will become unstable and wallow.

    If you’re new to the scene (or if you’re short), you don’t like used bikes and you plan on riding slowly off-road, the CRF wins. However, a used WRR with a few simple common mods will get you far more smiles per dollar. Everything is a compromise but there’s definitely more to these two bikes than one being 100% as capable as the other.

  • isaragusti

    Hi – can I ask you exactly where you’re riding? I live here in SoCal and would love to know how to get there – Thanks in advance

  • Von

    This will be my first street legal bike. Grew up racing motocross. Tempted to buy a CB500F, but being able to ride in the dirt is too much fun! My only reservations about this bike is that it’s heavy, under-powered and horribly suspended for aggressive off-road riding. It is amazing how despite all of this, every review I read still calls this bike things like ‘fun’, ‘great commuter’, ‘best buy’, etc. I would love to buy the WR250F, but I’m only 5’6″ so I know tip toeing around town would get annoying and fatigue would set in. The low seat height of the CRF250L is key for me, as is the much lower price. I see that for around $1,500 I can make the CRF250L become leaner and meaner, almost on par with the WR250R and still cheaper. Race Tech can redo the suspension and Best Dual Sport Bikes has a power kit. All of this will add 6hp, lose 15 pounds and make the bike off-road worthy for someone heavier than 100 pounds or advanced in dirt riding. There’s still 2013 models around for $4200, I’d like to try to get one for $4k later this year, add the $1500 in mods and still have a bike worth only $5500 that can hang with a $6,600 WR250R and commute comfortably for me all day long.