This year Honda gave its 250F class dirt bike a complete from the wheels up redesign. (Read about it in our 2010 Honda CRF250R First Ride). So for ‘11 it’s no surprise that Big Red chose to focus its engineering effort via mild refinements to the engine, drivetrain and chassis. While the changes aren’t major they are designed to make it easier to ride by a wider range of riders. We tested the 2011 Honda CRF250R at Perris Raceway, one of Southern California’s oldest motocross tracks known for its fun, yet safe layout and phenomenal dirt.
Aesthetically the new bike looks almost identical to last year’s with the exception of a slight change to the design of the radiator shroud graphic. All of the bodywork and many of the hard parts continue to be interchangeable with the Honda CRF450R (2009 and newer) – a big plus for those who compete in both the 250 and 450 racing classes. Other minor visual differences are the shape of the right number plate as well as the muffler, which is now claimed to meet the AMA’s 94 decibel sound limit.
Lift the bike off the stand and it’s immediately apparent how light it is. With a full 1.5-gallon fuel load the CRF weighs just 227 pounds. Rolling it around the pits reveals that it free wheels with minimal drag. Throw a leg over the seat and the Honda feels compact and thin between the rider’s legs. The seat is flat with grip material atop and the shape of the fuel tank and radiator shrouds allow the rider to position their weight toward the front of the motorcycle, which helps put weight on the front wheel during cornering.
(Top) As usual, overall build quality and fit and finish is very high with the 2011 Honda CRF250R. (Center) The CRF250R receives a redesigned muffler said to reduce the sound to 94 decibels. (Bottom) The 2011 Honda CRF250R gets updated fork caps. It also features a steering damper with a larger diameter piston.
The CRF features a Renthal 971-bend handlebar which can be moved forward slightly, thereby opening up the cockpit (a plus for larger riders) by reversing the handlebar mounts. Overall the ergonomics feel balanced but slightly more oriented for smaller pilots less than 5’10” tall.
Starting the bike is always a simple affair with the engine firing up within a kick or two regardless if it’s hot or cold—a clear benefit of the electronic fuel injection. There’s no hot start or engine decompression lever, however, there is a yellow fast idle knob located on the throttle body designed for use in colder climates.
As long as you’re in the right gear the CRF delivers decent acceleration when the throttle’s twisted and the engine runs flawlessly with no bog or hesitation—just a smooth power curve throughout its 13,500 rpm rev range. This makes it easy to ride for all riders regardless of skill. However, if you’re in too high of a gear you’ll quickly discover that the engine doesn’t offer a whole lot of bottom-end power which necessitates a tug of the clutch lever or a downshift to get the engine zinging in its mid-range, where the majority of the power is. It’s worth noting the clutch offers excellent response, light lever pull and was totally fade free even under AMA 250 Motocross Champ Trey Canard’s abuse. The transmission shifted without fault offering positive feel during engagement between gears.
For 2011 it comes with a one tooth larger rear sprocket (49) which helps the bike come off corners a little bit harder. Even still our test rider commented that it could use another tooth as there is gap between third and fourth gear during wide open acceleration up a slight incline. Honda claims it modified the fuel and ignition mapping but we couldn’t tell a difference in terms of throttle response. The engine also didn’t sound any quieter at speed.
Keep the throttle pinned and the Honda keeps pulling forward however top-end power doesn’t feel especially impressive. However, it is important to note that powerband feels relatively flat up top and does rev out quite far.
“Power wise it feels similar to a 125 two-stroke in the way that you’ve got to keep the revs up,” commented test rider Chris See. “The engine works really good at three quarter to full throttle. But you have to keep the rpms up really high to get it to move.”
Whether you’re blasting through an inside rut or leaping off a table top, riders will be hard pressed to find a dirt bike more agile than this Honda. It’s simply astounding how maneuverable it is. In fact, it initiates a turn so well that it borders on being excessive—a point of contention with the ’10 machine. To solve the problem Honda reworked the steering damper by fitting it with a 20% larger diameter piston to try and keep the handlebar from moving aggressively from side-to-side during corner entry. The amount of damping can be adjusted via an adjustment knob on the body of the damper.
(Left) Trey Canard wheelies through the rollers at Perris Raceway. (Center) In motion the 2011 Honda CRF250R is an incredibly agile dirt bike. (Right) The one-tooth larger rear sprocket helps the CRF250R accelerate harder off corners.
This year’s Honda steers with minimal effort regardless if you’re over the fuel tank or slightly farther back in the seat. Looking to snatch an inside line? No problem. Rather rail a berm and make a pass on the outside? It’ll do that too. Problem is even around Perris relatively smooth, bump-free layout the CRF still has a tendency to head shake at speed. Since the engine doesn’t pump out 450-type power things never feel out of control, yet it still hinders rider confidence.
Suspension-wise the CRF uses the same Showa componentry as before but the fluid damping characteristics in the fork have been modified to provide more damping mid-stroke as well as aid bottoming resistance. Conversely the shock’s valving circuit was also modified to keep the suspension balanced. Additionally the fork cap now only has one air bleed screw instead of the confusing dual screw arrangement used before.
Overall the suspension worked well and felt like it offered an improved level of balance from front-to-back. Our 170-pound pro level test rider still thought that the fork was under damped compared to the shock, but we did feel that there was an improvement.
“If you’re looking for a flick-able bike that you can put anywhere on track than the Honda’s the bike to have,” said See. “However it still lacks a bit of stability at high speeds and the fork is still too soft as compared to the shock. Even still, with the right set-up, I’d have no problem racing this thing.”
Braking components remain identical and are unchanged. When the front brake is cool it works well delivering good power as well as feel at the brake lever. However after about 20 minutes of hard use it has a tendency to fade. We re-bled the front brake which restored braking consistency before it eventually started to fade again. Conversely, the rear brake performed flawlessly, offering a high level of fade-free performance. The CRF continues to roll on the same spec Dunlop tires as before but we’re not huge fans of the front tire as it lacks outright grip even around the traction rich terrain of Perris.
After an 11-hour ride-a-thon at Perris the CRF250R continues to impress us with its high level of agility. This combined with the smooth powerband of the engine, balanced ergonomics and minimal weight make it one of the easier 250Fs to ride. Even better is that its price tag remains unchanged for 2011 at $7199. Expect bikes to start rolling into dealerships in November, 2010.