Test: Honda CRF250L

By: Shane Solomon, Photography by: Rachel Pratt


Honda CRF250L Honda CRF250L
Honda CRF250L The beartrap-style, off-road footpegs are broad and sharp enough to deliver the purchase you need in rough going Honda CRF250L
Honda CRF250L Nissin stoppers — a twin-piston caliper gripping a 256mm wave rotor at the front complemented by a single-piston caliper and 220mm wave rotor at the back Honda CRF250L
Honda CRF250L Its light weight and nimble handling make for one easy-to-manage package on the trails and in the paddocks Honda CRF250L
Honda CRF250L Honda CRF250L
Honda CRF250L The LCD instrumentation is clear and easy to read, and the fuel gauge works well Honda CRF250L

If you’re looking for a two-wheeler capable of rounding the stock up during the week and hitting the local trail rides at the weekend, look no further than Honda’s new CRF250L.

Test: Honda CRF250L
Work hard, play harder

Honda has been on a value-for-dollar kick as of late, introducing several models such as the new range of learner bikes like the CB500F, R and X models giving plenty of bang for your buck, and more middle-of-the-road bikes like the NC700S and X. Big Red hasn't forgotten the farmer, with the release of the new CRF250L to join the likes of the XR125 Duster, CTX200 and the CRF150F.

Produced in Honda's Thai motorcycle production facility (see sidebar), the $7825 (ex GST) 2013 CRF250L is an all-new machine from front to back, except for one part — the engine. The very same powerplant propelling Honda's small-bore sportsbike, the CBR250R, also resides inside the CRF's steel double cradle frame. Honda doesn't put forward any power and torque figures for this 249.6cc, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, DOHC, four-valve, single-cylinder unit, but with a claimed kerb weight of 143kg it doesn't have to produce much to spell fun. The modest amount of grunt is dished out via a six-speed gearbox and the bike rolls on spoked alloy wheels — a 21" item up front and an 18" rear. Internally some changes were made to beef up the CRF's motor for the rigors of off-road use and abuse. Transmission gears were widened (physically, not ratio) and a judder spring was added to the clutch to absorb the shock put on the drivetrain during dirt duty. The CBR's 38mm throttle body was swapped out for a 36mm unit that breathes through a larger airbox. Additionally the ECU settings and exhaust pipe diameter and length were tuned to give the CRF more mid-range grunt. The CRF250L's frame is suspended by a 43mm Showa upside down fork offering 250mm of travel in the front, and a Pro-Link rear end strokes through 240mm.

The new CRF250L is also fully road legal, the bike coming with compact indicators on flexi-stalks, a headlight, a horn and an LCD display, the latter with a clock, digital speedo, fuel gauge, odometer and two trip meters, should you decide to use the little beast for a weekend trail ride or two. There's also provision for two-up riding, thanks to diminutive, fold-out footpegs, and there's a lockable toolkit at the base of the rear guard. Our beastie was fitted with a lower gear ratio and a set of knobblies, which can be specified when you order one from your local dealer.

Straddle the Honda CRF250L, and its 875mm seat height feels less daunting than it looks on the spec sheet — mostly because its soft suspension easily compresses and allows most riders' boots to reach the dirt. If you weigh more than 80kg, be prepared to add a few turns on the preload, so with my lardy arse aboard we cranked it up. With fuel injection and electric start, firing the bike up is a one-push-of-the-button affair, the bike immediately settling into an even idle with a mellow put-put-put sound, and clicking into first gear reveals a low effort clutch and a shifter that moves with precise, light, positive action. There's no tachometer to indicate engine rpms, but the motor offers enough auditory and vibrational clues to make it clear when it's time to shift. Twisting the throttle pushes the CRF forward with little fanfare. The engine character can be best described as user-friendly, especially for less experienced or less spirited riders.

Shifting is solid and precise, clutch effort is light and the feel is positive. The 256mm front disc and twin-piston caliper slow the bike with decent power, whilst the rear brake is forgiving and easy to modulate both on the gravel and the tarmac.

The CRF250L has been targeted to the dual-purpose crowd and as such isn't too shabby when you go for a blat up the rural highways, or even take the bike for a quick commute into town. The fear with any dual-purpose motorcycle is its suspension will be too soft and wallowy for the road, but the CRF didn't disappoint on the twisty stretches of tarmac around the farm we were graciously loaned in Glenbrook, south of Auckland, to use as the backdrop for our review. Though there's no hesitation when throwing this 143kg bike into turns, there's also no hint of instability or overly light steering feel. Stability reigns supreme in the corners, which can at least partially be attributed to the bike's generous trail figure of 113mm. Despite its knobby tires, the CRF feels grippy while leaned over, and the communicative — if, slightly soft — suspension encourages relatively quick corner speeds for such a small-engined bike.

In the gravel and paddocks around our test location, the CRF really came into its own. The suspension does a much better job than expected, eating up ruts and bumps with a controlled smoothness. The beartrap-style, off-road footpegs adorning the CRF aren't exactly works of art but they're broad enough and sharp enough to deliver the purchase you need in rough going, while the physical dimensions of the bike will suit a majority of riders. At 178cm (5ft 10in), I'd personally throw on a set of handlebar risers for a comfier stance when standing up on the 'pegs.

Big hits such as I found at the bottom of a gully started to tax the non-adjustable forks quicker than the rear, and the rebound damping suffers when the fork returns from being pushed to the bottom of its stroke. But for 95% of the riders considering this bike, there'll be no complaints in the dirt. I rode the CRF well beyond its intended usage and not once did it get out of shape to the point I was concerned for my safety. It will take the abuse and ask for more, but it does let you know you are beating on it. As our test bike was fitted with the lower gearing, I did find myself changing up quickly to get to the bikes' power spot in order to punt it along at a decent clip, but with the gearing set up the CRF was incredibly easy to lope along in first at stock walking speed, making it an ideal tool for mustering.

As far as bits and pieces go, it's all good. The headlight has a good beam, the mirrors offer a clear view, the horn is effective and the standard bashplate offers decent protection.

For a smidge under eight grand, the CRF250L represents a lot of practicality, convenience and fun. Cheap to run and cheap to maintain, this smart and nicely assembled model could be a superb farm hack during the week and a fun off-roader come the weekend. It's also an easy-to-ride mount that's bound to introduce many more people to the joys of motorcycling.

Specifications

Honda CRF250L

Engine type

Liquid-cooled, four-valves-per-cylinder, DOHC, four-stroke, single-cylinder

Capacity

249.6cc

Bore x stroke

76mm x 55mm

Compression ratio

10.7:1

Fuel system

Electronic fuel injection

Transmission type

Six-speed

Final drive

Chain

Frame

Steel semi-double cradle

Front suspension

43mm inverted Showa fork, non-adjustable

Rear suspension

Showa Pro-Link monoshock, non-adjustable

Front brakes

Single 256mm wave disc with twin-piston Nissin calipers

Rear brake

220mm wave disc with single-piston Nissin calipers

Claimed kerb weight

143kg

Seat height

875mm

Wheelbase

1445mm

Fuel capacity

7.7L

Max power

17kW (23hp) at 8500rpm

Max torque

22Nm (16.2ft/lb) at 7000rpm

Price

$7825*

Colours:

Red/white

*Manufacturer’s list price excluding GST

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