With all the attention doted upon Honda's all-new 2009 CRF450R, it can be easy to overlook its smaller, Lites-class relation. But then again, all it takes is one moto on the new and improved CRF250R
to think, "gee, who needs an extra 200cc's, anyway?" That was my thought after a morning blasting around Piru MX Park.
With its snappy powerband, and super-light clutch, getting out of the corner couldn't be easier on this years CRF250R.
After thoroughly annihilating the competition in last year's 2008 250F Motocross Shootout
, we were surprised that Honda even bothered making any changes to such an over-achieving platform. But for 2009 the CRF250R is back and its going to take you around track faster than ever.
The first thing you notice on this year's quarter-liter CRF is its white and red plastics. Besides the new colors, however, other changes inside are a bit more difficult to notice. A discerning eye might observe the reshaped 240mm braking discs with matching vented plastic guards, darker colored magnesium engine covers, and even the 3mm wider handlebar grips. What you won't see though is the reshaped cylinder head combustion chamber and the longer exhaust header, which function together to improve low-to-mid-range engine performance. You're also going to overlook the four new transmission gears and updated shift drum and arm designed to improve shifting feel and action - that is until you ride it for a few laps.
As you move through the bike's five gears you can notice how much tighter the gearbox feels. Complementing the positive transmission mesh is a shift lever that is more sensitive when your foot dabs for a gear. Gone are the days of missed shifts or transmission hang-ups when you're trying to clear that jump in front of you.
Rap the throttle for a minute and you'll be amazed how much power Honda engineers have managed to extract between those petite aluminum engine cases. As with all 250F engines, the name of the game is rpm; fortunately this Honda engine spools up incredibly fast. Mid-range performance is snappy, but keep holding the throttle pinned and you'll be rewarded with a strong top-end that never signs off.
"The Honda's engine rips," said our resident pro-level tester, Matty Armstrong. "There always seems to be plenty of power. Mid-range is snappy and up top it just keeps pumping out power - it's a really strong motor."
This year's CRF250R comes in at a claimed 227 lbs. fully-fueled and ready to ride. MotoUSA's test rider Matt Armstrong demomstrates how easy it is to get it sideways.
However, the Achilles heel of this almost-perfect power package was a persistent bottom-end jetting issue. Although fueling was nearly spot-on through the majority of the rev range, it did have some hesitation down low, especially when grabbing a fistful of throttle in low rpm. With the revs high one might have a hard time noticing it, but as you short shift, then take a big stab of the gas, occasionally the CRF will bogâ€”even when the engine is good and hot.
Fortunately, the CRF's clutch has an exceptionally light pull so all it takes to get the engine zinging again is a quick slip of the fingers.
One of the biggest attributes of last year's CRF250R was its well-sorted chassis and accommodating ergonomics package. This year is more of the same. In the saddle you'll be amazed at how slim the CRF feels. While the stainless-steel footpegs could be a bit wider, the Renthal 971-bend aluminum handlebars are placed at a reasonable height to accommodate a wide variety of riders. Case in point: both our 5-foot, 8-inch test rider Armstrong and my 6-foot tall self fit without complaints.
Out on the track the CRF exhibits cat-like agility. Very little rider input is needed to get it pointed into that deep inside rut, and once inside it tracks through with incredible precision. A dirt bike that turns in this sharp tends to be a little flighty when the track gets rough, but with the CRF250R that's simply not the case. In fact, it can get away with its aggressive steering geometry though the use of Honda's Progressive Steering Damper (HPSD). Tucked away behind the front number plate, the damper attaches between the lower triple clamp and the steering head and helps resist handlebar deflection in the rough stuff. At low speeds you can't even notice it, but as soon as you charge through some chop, you'll be thanking the Honda chassis engineers.
"The Honda's engine rips!"
Although Showa suspension components front and rear haven't been touched for '09, the suspenders are still a sound choice. While action isn't the smoothest, suspension is balanced front-to-rear and the harder and faster you load it the better it seems to work. There's also a wide range of adjustment and even a small spin of the clickers makes a noticeable difference on track.
In the tire department, Dunlop's versatile 742 medium-soft compound is shod up front while a 756 medium-hard terrain rear tire handles things out back. Both tires worked well throughout our day at Piru, offering excellent grip in the morning when the track was damp and in the afternoon when it dried out and was slightly hard-pack.
While action isn’t the smoothest, suspension is balanced front-to-rear and the harder and faster you load it the better it seems to work.
Despite the fact that both front and rear brake rotors are new, stopping power doesn't feel much different from last year's bike, though it has never been an area of concern. There's still plenty of power to get you slowed down, and the front brake lever has a good deal of adjustment for riders with different sized hands. After a day of blasting around Piru, the biggest thing that stands out isn't its ripping engine or nimble, responsive chassis. It's just how easy the bike is to ride. This year's CRF250R is so smooth and refined that when you're out doing laps at your favorite track, you'll lose track of time. A 20-minute moto turns into 30, a 40-minute moto turns into an hour, and that in essence is the splendor of an excellent motocross bike.
Will the new CRF have what it takes to hold on to the crown of best 250F motocross bike in next month's shootout? Stay tuned...
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