All-new from the ground up, the new baby CBR features a 249cc single-cylinder and is fuel injected, something the more dated Kawasaki is not. It features a four-valve DOHC cylinder head with a compression ratio of 10.7:1. Because it’s a single cylinder engine, which is inherently vibration prone, a gear-driven counterbalancer reduces vibration and sits as close as possible to the crankshaft so as to reduce overall engine size and centralize mass.
Other features include a six-speed transmission and twin-spar steel frame. A 37mm, non-adjustable conventional fork graces the front and Honda
’s proprietary Unit Pro-Link and single shock setup handles rear bump absorption and is adjustable for spring preload only.
Braking is handled by a single 296mm disc up front, gripped by a dual-piston caliper; out back a single 220mm disc and single-piston caliper further aids in stopping the CBR. Seat height stands at 30.5 inches with a short wheelbase of 53.9 inches. The new entry-level Honda is also one of the manufacturer’s first worldwide production sportbikes. Made almost entirely in Thailand, the new Honda meets all U.S., Euro and Asian emission and sound regulations and will be the same bike for all markets, the only variance being different color combinations.
The Honda CBR250R serves up just enough performance to be deemed fun while cornering even by experienced riders.
Coming to America in Metallic Black or a Red/Silver color combination, the CBR250R retails for $3999 (exactly the same as Kawasaki’s Ninja 250R
). ABS is also available as an option adding an extra $500 retail price. The new bike will hit dealers this spring.
Swing a leg over the CBR, turn the key and thumb the push-button starter and the first thing one notices is how easily it comes to life. Unlike the Kawasaki
, the fuel-injected Honda doesn’t require the use of a choke and starts up reliably while the carbureted Kawi takes some throttle finessing and struggles some when first fired in the morning.
Pulling in the clutch lever requires almost no effort. Usually a light-action, left-hand lever is a plus, but if you go too far and make it this effortles, it can become difficult to find the engagement spot. This is one area where the Kawasaki and its excellent clutch hold an advantage.
“It definitely helps that the thing has a bit of torque off the line. It makes it a little more friendly to get off and running as compared to the Kawasaki,” adds Road Test Editor, Adam Waheed.
Get the new little CBR moving and you will instantly notice how dialed the fueling is at low rpm. The throttle response is right on the mark and initial pick-up straight off the line is slightly better than the Ninja. This makes the bike easier to use when navigating traffic-laden city streets. The six-speed transmission is also geared noticeably lower than the Kawasaki, aiding in the initial jump off the line compared to the Ninja which requires a bit more clutchwork to get it rolling from a stop. The short gearing comes at a prce, starting with a fairly quick shift into second gear, though thankfully the CBR features one of Honda’s trademark seamless transmissions, that is both positive as well as easy to use.
“The fuel injection was perfect on the Honda,” said test rider Justin Dawes. “The Honda also starts up far easier and just plain runs better at lower revs. It’s feels like a better bike for bombing around town and short trips to run errands than the Kawasaki.”
Easy, rider-friendly handling is what the 2011 Honda CBR250R is all about.
As for measured gas mileage, the more modern technology of the fuel injected Honda makes for a noticeable difference over the green bike. When averaging a mixture of canyon roads at full-tilt and freeway commuting, the trusty Honda recorded an astonishing 64.7 mpg. As for the Kawasaki, the more dated carb setup mustered an average of 49.1 mpg, giving the CBR the nod in the lightened-pocketbook department.
And while the fuel injection both gets better gas mileage and propels it off the line a hair quicker, this didn’t translate into quicker performance numbers – quite the opposite turned out to be true. The Honda 250’s best 0-60 mph time is 8.5 seconds, but the Kawasaki trips the lights with a best time of 7.7 seconds. This is backed up on the dyno, at least in terms of top-end horsepower, as the Honda produces 22.66 hp at 8600 rpm, while the Kawasaki twists the drum to the tune of 26.34 hp at 11,000 rpm. However, the Honda takes top honors in terms of torque, boasting 15.23 lb-ft at 7100 rpm compared to 13.42 lb-ft at 9900 rpm for the Kawi. This comes as no surprise, as both sets of numbers back up our initial seat-of-the-pants feelings exactly.
Our CBR was equipped with Honda’s Combined ABS brake system. It adds a little to the price, but Kawasaki doesn’t even offer ABS. Regardless, the two machines were identical when stopping from 60 mph, getting the job done in a very respectable 143 feet.
While the mechanical C-ABS system may be safer for some newer riders, it was a point of contention for some of our testers. The system is linked, meaning the front brake lever operates the front caliper only, but stomp on the rear pedal and both front and rear calipers engage. Due to the amount of linking power the system has: When actuating the rear brake with substantial force the softly-sprung front-end dives excessively. It’s enough to startle someone not accustomed to the system, especially when used at any kind of lean angle. The setup also reduces rider feel and feedback more than we expected.
Still, the Honda excels when it comes to ease-of-use for newer riders. It feels lighter when picking it up off the oddly long kickstand and the seating position makes for a very comfortable riding position for riders of all sizes. Add to that a more comfortable seat and the result is a bike that is all-round ergonomically superior.
The CBR250R features a much more contemporary instrument display than the Kawasaki Ninja 250.
“The Honda is a lot more comfortable than the Kawasaki,” Editorial Director Ken Hutchison said. “The bike is smaller but more roomy and doesn’t cramp the rider as much. The seat is also way more comfortable than the Ninja perch.”
Motorcycle handling is a very subjective thing. Some prefer a machine that’s planted and stable, while others like the knife-edged, turn-on-a-dime feeling that machines like Yamaha’s R6 has made popular. Honda’s new mini-CBR definitely leans toward the latter, turning with the slightest input. Simply think of turning, look through the corner the Honda follows like a well-trained Labrador, mirroring one’s intentions without hesitation. As a tradeoff the front-end of this bike has a tendency to feel flighty when pushing along at a good pace, and doesn't feel quite as planted at the Kawasaki. That's a trade-off we are willing to make given how nimble it feels in the city though.
“The Honda steers quickly, quicker than the Kawasaki, but it also feels much less connected to the pavement when you are hauling butt around canyon roads,” Hutchison adds. “I think because it’s so light the front end feels a little vague compared to the Kawasaki, which carves up the faster roads better.”
When it comes to outright engine power and acceleration the single-cylinder Honda still has some way to go to catch the Kawasaki Twin. It’s nearly a second slower to 60 mph and up top it hits a wall shy of 90 mph whereas the green machine will almost nudge 110 mph with the right conditions (downhill, no wind). In side-by-side roll-ons the Ninja was also noticeably quicker.
The biggest difference is the cruising speeds on the freeways. The Honda has to work harder in order to keep pace on the freeway once you reach that 55-65 mph range, running near top speed and vibrating more than the Ninja 250. This makes it tougher to pass when the time comes, as one isn’t left with much breathing room to get around the faster cars ahead. The Kawasaki isn’t exactly a high-speed racer, but it does give a few thousand more rpm to play with when overtaking slower traffic.
“The vibration, especially between 5000-7000 rpm, is much more on the Honda. It feels rough,” Dawes states. “The Honda just struggles more when the speeds increase, making the Kawasaki a far superior bike on the freeway. It just feels safer.”
The Honda CBR250R offers a little more bottom-end engine power compared to the second generation Ninja 250 which makes it easier to get off and running.
But while the Honda may not have the top-end of the Ninja, the bottom-end and spot-on fueling, plus ease of use and agility makes for one of the best beginner bikes on the market today. Not to mention the styling, which garnered more looks from passing motorists than the look-at-me-green Kawasaki.
Dawes summed it up well, adding that he “would pick the Honda if I was a beginner rider because it’s a little bit easier to ride and feels smaller. Plus it’s more comfortable ergonomically and while the Kawasaki is better for high-speed and freeway runs, most new riders will be doing more short rides and staying around town, which is where the Honda excels. Though that doesn’t mean it would be my pick as a more experienced rider.”