I’ll come clean, I’m not the fastest off-road rider in the world. Hell, I’m not even close to being the fastest rider in the office. I’ll even go as far as to admit that the Honda CRF450R and its competitors are too big for me when we head up into the tight and twisty trails of John’s Peak in Southern Oregon.
The power of a big-bore thumper is nice in certain situations, but truth be told, the power gets me in more trouble than it gets me out of. When we tested the Yamaha WR250F last year, I instantly fell in love with the high-performance, small-bore, off-road machine. And when it was announced two years ago that Honda had a 250cc motocross Thumper on the way with an off-road version following shortly thereafter, I damn near peed myself.
The arrival of the next generation 250cc 4-strokes is a breath of fresh air for individuals like myself who want to experience the latest technology without getting their arms ripped out of their sockets. Let’s face it, not everybody can truly manage the power of a hi-po 450cc Thumper, and not everybody wants to.
Earlier this year, MCUSA’s Cameron Coatney took the latest 250cc 4-stroke motocrossers and put them to the test in a head-to-head comparo and found that despite the diminutive displacement, the little moto machines rip and rip hard. Honda’s CRF250R edged the competition in that test so I was stoked at the possibility of trying out the 250X version.
Ultimately, Honda waited a year after the release of the CRF250R to introduce the newly developed 250X to the public. After spending the better part of two weeks aboard Honda’s new Thumper, it was well worth the wait.
Contrary to popular belief, the 250X isn’t a repackaged CRF250R with a headlight and bigger tank. In fact, the delay in releasing it to the public wasn’t Honda withholding the goods, but rather the company taking the necessary time to refine the handling and performance of this off-road specific machine.
A stroll around the competition-inspired enduro reveals the most obvious differences like the headlight, low-profile LED tail-light, 18-inch rear wheel and, of course, the little magic button that fires the electric starter. And much like its motocross brother, the CRF250X just looks good. The stock graphics combine with the twin-spar aluminum frame to form moto eye candy.
But we’re not talking cruisers here; this is a genre that holds function in higher esteem than form, and nothing on a performance 4-stroke says utility like an electric starter (there’s a kick starter, too). Pull the choke and depress the black starter button, and the 249cc liquid-cooled single-cylinder burbles to life. The first time I fired up the X, I damn near thumbed the starter twice because the exhaust note sputtering out of the USFS-approved spark arrestor was barely audible.
Throwing a leg over the 250X reveals a bike that, despite its small bore, is not built for people with short inseams. With a seat height of 37.9 inches, the 250X saddle is taller than the 450R, and that makes the electric start seem less like an amenity and more like a necessity; especially while balancing precariously on the side of a hill.
Ergonomically, the 250X sports a comfortable on-top seating position, which suits my six-foot frame almost perfectly. Even with a 2.2 gallon fuel cell, the 250X feels very narrow at the knees as a result of Honda’s implementation of slim-line radiator shrouds. Also, the CRF250R-derived non-slip seat includes more padding than the R model but is firm enough to suit the tastes of our test group.
The CRF250X tips the scales at 241 pounds, 24 more than its motocross brother the CRF250R. However, when up to speed and on the trail, Honda’s competition enduro seemingly sheds the weight like Anna Nicole Smith on mega-dose ephedra.
The 249cc machine shares some internal hardware with the CRF250R, such as a four-valve Unicam design with a slipper style piston that is heaved to-and-fro inside a Nikasil-lined cylinder. The technical component that piqued our interest most is the CRF’s internal auto-decompression system that makes hot starts, both electric and kick, a breeze.
A twist of the throttle elicits an immediate response from the little Thumper, but certainly not the same low-end pop that its big-bore cousin the CRF450R exhibits. That’s not to say the 250X has nothing on the bottom. For a 250cc thumper, it has plenty of giddyup thanks to wider ratios inside the 5-speed transmission. It has a lower first gear and taller third through fifth ratios, something our group of riders quickly appreciated.
“I was impressed at how slowly you could crawl through the tight stuff, lugging it way down without any stumbling,” said VP of Graphic Design and Honda CRF450 owner Brian Chamberlain.
The 250X feels relatively strong on the bottom, but to get the most out of the 250X it’s best to keep the rpm up. And when we’re revving the piss out of this trail-eating machine, the power delivery and carburetion are flawless thanks to the Keihin 37mm flat-slide with throttle position sensor.
As much as this bike is usable and fun for more experienced riders, those without the skills of Larry Ward can still jump on this bike and ride it without getting caught with one wheel in the air after grabbing a handful of throttle. That being said, the riders who are big-bore Thumper aficionados in the office heaped the most praise on the 250X, lauding it’s short low gear and 125-like revving capabilities.
“The 250X is fast,” said Motorcycle Superstore Manager Jeff Bailey, who currently owns a Yamaha YZ426F. “I found myself coming out of corners dancing the front end about 6 inches off the ground. Ride it like a 125 on steroids and it can climb anything. The nice thing about the X is that if and when you blow it going up hillclimbs, first gear is so low you can calmly ride it out.”
Steep climbs are a cinch on the CRF-X, and coming down is surprisingly easy as well; there’s little engine braking for a bike whose genre is known for loads of compression-induced stopping power.
The Honda CRF250R pumped out 9 more horsepower than the X version which topped out at 24.29 horsepower.
But the 250X isn’t perfect. Many of our riders from beginner to expert felt the 250X lacked a little open-road prowess, especially in the motor department.
“Even for an advanced rider, the 250X is a great bike in the tight and technical trails,” said Software Engineer and CRF450R owner Joe Wallace. “But once I hit a fire road or any trail that’s a little more open, I was bangin’ the rev limiter like it was Jenna Jameson. It just wasn’t as fast as I would have liked.”
Our tester’s feeling that the bike was down on power was validated when we put the 250X on the dyno at Hansen’s BMW/Triumph/Ducati/KTM. The X cranked out just 24.3 horsepower at 8750 rpm, which is almost 9 horsepower under the 33.3 at 11,500 rpm that the CRF250R churned out. Torque numbers were a bit closer, with the X pumping out 15.5 lb-ft at 8000 rpm while the CRF250R topped out at 17.5 at 9000 rpm.
It should be pointed out that the bikes were measured on two different dynos, which can cause variances in results. But a call to Jeremy McGrath’s Supermoto teammate Steve Drew at White Brothers Racing confirmed our results are consistent with bikes he’s dynoed. Blame a tamer cam, a heavier flywheel and more restrictive intake and exhaust flows for the relative lack of potency, but keep in mind the CRF-X’s power peaks are found significantly lower in the powerband to provide the kind of immediate power that is needed in many off-road conditions. California models get an exhaust port air-injection system.
Many 250X owners likely will modify their engines to get closer to the 250R’s power. Start by opening up the airbox and replacing two key parts from the R: the cam and the header pipe. Do some rejetting, wire re-routing and muffler mods as explained here, and you’ll only be a pony or two shy of the 250R.
The numbers on the stock 250X weren’t as high as we expected, but this bike is more about real-world function than raw power. One area where it comes through with flying colors is handling. In the past, Big Red’s aluminum twin-spar frame has been criticized for an abundance of rigidity, which can be detrimental to the suppleness of overall handling. However, with the fourth-generation aluminum frame, Honda has created a machine that not only steers quickly but also consistently provides ample input to the rider. Surprisingly, Honda didn’t utilize the frame of the CR250R and designed a structure specifically for the 250X with a revamped lower cradle and pivot plates that are situated for optimal off-road handling.
In conjunction, the CRF250X inspires so much confidence that after returning the X to Honda, I found myself significantly slower once I was back on a big-bore Thumper. Put simply, the manageable power and easy handling of the CRF250X make me a better rider.
Riding off-road means there’s less big hits to take than on a pure motocrossers, so Honda has softened the spring rates at both ends of the bike. Our X’s suspension didn’t require immediate attention until our rotund riders starting hitting bigger jumps. With 16-position rebound- and compression-dampening adjustability on the 47mm inverted Showa cartridge fork and rear monoshock, there’s a setting for riders of every weight.
Bringing the 250X to a stop is accomplished with the help of a single 240mm disc with a twin-piston caliper up front and a single 240mm disc in the rear. Like so many of Honda’s binders, the CRF250X’s are excellent and work in unison with the buttery smooth brake lever to push our confidence levels to new heights while riding hard in slim, twisty trails.
Honda’s attention to detail on the 250X even makes life off the bike easier. No tools are required to access the airbox, unlike some of its competitors who require seat removal to access the air filter. Another added bonus is the addition of Renthal bars, which come standard on the CRF250X, softening the blow of the $5,999 price tag, that’s $100 more expensive than Yamaha’s WR250F and just $500 short of the WR450F. Still, most of our riders believe the 250X is a bargain.
“I think Honda should be commended for adding a lot of features that other bikes don’t offer, like a non-slip seat cover, redesigned bodywork, and quick-adjust clutch perch,” said Wallace. “Honda’s already got a great reputation for quality bikes, but throw in those extras and it’s almost a no-brainer.”
One detail overlooked by Honda is the tendency of the stock kick-stand to whip down and strike the ground when landing from big jumps. A rubber strap like the ones found on KTM’s bikes could easily eliminate this problem.
At the conclusion of our test many riders loved the 250X but said Honda was about 100cc away from the perfect off-road bike. Perhaps the $300 in 250R mods would do the trick.
If you are doing a lot of brush blasting with the CRF250X, you might consider purchasing hand guards.
That being said, the 250X made such an impression on our riders that several who ride big-bore 4-strokes are considering trading in the excessive power of a fo-fitty for the more usable kind. In fact, MotorcycleUSA President Don Becklin did just that.
“When I put my Honda CRF450R up for sale, the guys in the office opined that the big Honda’s power must have put the fear of god in me,” commented the Big Boss Man. “The truth is that after riding the Yamaha WR250F last year, I knew that an off-road 250 4-stroke was the bike for me.”
When asked to come up with one word to describe his experience with the CRF250X, the Prez coyly responded with one word: “X-ellent!”
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