2008 Honda CRF230L Comparison

MotorcycleUSA Staff | July 14, 2008
2008 Honda CRF230L
The 2008 Honda CRF230L isn’t a 230F with a headlight. This bike makes a good all-around ride for a wide range of motorcycle consumers.

2008 Honda CRF230L

We found the Honda to be surprisingly well-rounded during our first ride in California. All of the features we liked had us convinced that it would put up a good fight against any marketplace competitor. Our instincts were correct, but having it up against the XT helped point out some of the Honda’s far-between weaknesses.

The six-speed transmission we loved so much in the off-road sections creates extra work during stoplight action. We finally stopped dropping into first gear at all on the pavement which. Both bikes were proficient at second-gear starts, but the Yamaha stretches a little further between shifts. Speaking of shifting, however, we did notice that the Honda is much less likely to stall due to the clutch action. We were able to use two fingers to fully engage the clutch while the Yamaha required all four. These bikes don’t exactly jump out from underneath you, but not being able to hold on with a couple digits during take-off is amazingly annoying.

We struggled with the Yamaha clutch off-road as well where it heated up and began to fade quickly compared to the much tougher Honda assembly. The great thing is that when either machine stalled, the electric starters worked absolutely flawlessly on both. Neither machine comes with a kickstarter.

Standing on these little machine is a little awkward regardless  but the Honda  right  is the more accommodating of the pair  even for our largest testers.
Standing on these little machine is a little awkward regardless, but the Honda (right) is the more accommodating of the pair, even for our largest testers.

Most of our introduction to the 230L was spent in the dirt, but once we got to ride the bike in more traffic situations and with full traction on the pavement, it became clear that the throttling could be better. Response to the 30mm CV carb is very sharp, but it’s to the point where it creates a lurching sensation when trying to navigate a gridwork of roadways. Backing off the throttle is nearly impossible to do smoothly and picking up the gas is only slightly easier to control. Even though there’s only 14.5 HP and 12 lb-ft of torque to handle, doling it out smoothly can be frustrating. It’s not nearly as affecting in the dirt, which is where the Honda seems most at home.

Despite nearly two fewer inches of ground clearance (9.5 vs. 11.2) the Honda traverses uneven terrain more easily than the XT250. The Yamaha even has more suspension travel in the shock (7.1 in. vs. 6.3 in.) but the difference in compression damping allows the Honda to handle larger impacts. Like we noted during the press launch, the 230L’s Showa shock rebounds a little too quickly, but at least it doesn’t smack the bottom as hard as the XT does. Front forks offer 9 inches and 8.9 inches for the Honda and Yamaha, respectively. Again, the red bike is significantly stiffer which leads to better off-road performance. However, the Yamaha offers a much plusher ride on the highway by transferring much less of the potholes and small undulations in the pavement.

The CRF230L gives up a little displacement  but the six-speed gearbox helps make up for it and plays a big role in making the red bike a better off-roader.
The CRF230L gives up a little displacement, but the six-speed gearbox helps make up for it and plays a big role in making the red bike a better off-roader.

“The 230L’s ergonomics combined with the fact that it’s nearly 20 pounds lighter than the 250 gave it more of a dirt bike feel when riding the trails,” Munroe says. “The suspension and weight distribution of the CRF230L increased the flickable feeling, the engine delivers smooth and friendly power and the clutch and gearing were more than amicable. It makes me feel confident to take it anywhere. Too confident at times, proven by my failed attempt up a rocky mudslide.”

Our 120-pound female tester was unable to support the CRF once it tipped over past a certain point. Laughing at her plight, our heavier, stronger male rider didn’t find it so funny after struggling to pick up the 272-pound (curb) machine. The weight of both bikes are the only non-beginner feature on these two-wheelers.

Our CRF was equipped with handguards ($39.95), which would be nice on the highway except for the fact that the bike doesn’t really go fast enough to need a windbreak. Perhaps that’s why Yamaha felt it wasn’t necessary to include them with the XT, nor does it offer them as accessories. During cold-weather riding they would play a factor on the pavement, but in general we were happy to have them for light off-road duty and the occasional street debris kicked up by other motorists. Our test sessions never required an overnight bag, but the CRF can also be saddled with a luggage rack ($119.95) in the event that you do need to haul something across town. It’s sturdy and along with the handguards are nice options as Honda Genuine Accessories.

To be honest, for the type of riding that this bike is designed to provide, the lack of a fancy-schmancy computer might actually make sense. It’s not as though people will be keeping lap times, so a simple odometer, tripmeter, speedo and a few indicator lights are really all that’s necessary. You probably won’t even pay too much attention, until you see a buddy’s XT, that is. However, the one thing we can’t stand is when OEMs don’t include a clock. It drives us absolutely nuts and we’d like to kick Honda in its big, red shins for omitting this simple feature.

The Verdict

Despite the displacement disparity, the Honda gets the overall nod simply because of its all-around behavior. The Yamaha is really, really close, but the town-commuter bias is just a little stronger than we would have liked. It’s during the around-town riding that small things like the squirmy tires, four-fingered clutch action and five-speed tranny become bothersome and off-set the power advantage. The Yammie’s seat is a little soft and scooped-out, but the plus side is that the seat height is very beginner/woman friendly, and it’s more comfortable for longer trips.

However, we’re not here to see new riders funnel straight towards oncoming traffic; that’s what street bikes like the Ninja 250 are for. We expect these machines to be equally adept at introducing riders to the off-road arena, and the CRF230L is better at accomplishing that while remaining completely ridable on pavement.

Both bikes are pretty affordable entry-level dual-sports. We picked the Honda overall because of slightly more versatility  but there were things about the XT that we really liked.
Both bikes are pretty affordable entry-level dual-sports. We picked the Honda overall because of slightly more versatility, but there were things about the XT that we really liked.

We never did figure out how to look cool on these little motorcycles, instead we were too busy realizing that it doesn’t really matter in this case. No one really expects them to look bad-ass because they’re spending more time abusing the motors, putting them away filthy and then doing it all over again without a single complaint. These are virtually the only bikes you can buzz around town, teach your girl to ride, throw on your RV’s trailer hitch as a weekend beer runner and that the kids will grow into before they wear out. Once you wrap your head around this, factor in the fantastic fuel mileage, low overhead and minimal maintenance costs, suddenly being a dork isn’t such a bad thing.

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MotorcycleUSA Staff