Complete market domination. It’s a rarity in this day and age of aggressive capitalism. But it’s exactly what Kawasaki has had for decades here in the U.S. in the quarter-liter sportbike category. In fact, since the days of Yamaha’s and Honda’s 400s some two decades ago, Kawi has been the sole producer of any sub-middleweight-size sportbike with its Ninja 250R. And Kawasaki has produced a lot of them – some years selling more than 8000 units in our country alone. Why no one followed suit in such a lucrative market has always been something of an industry mystery. But that’s all about to change. Say hello to the 2011 Honda CBR250R.
Keepin’ it Tech
Totally new from the axles to the bars, Honda has started with a blank drawing board for its new entry-level CBR. At the heart sits a 249.4cc (76mm x 55mm bore and stroke) liquid-cooled, single-cylinder engine, featuring a four-valve DOHC cylinder head and a compression ratio of 10.7:1. The camshafts are driven by a Hy-Vo-type chain and run on forked roller rocker arms that allow valve shims to be adjusted without removing the cams for easier maintenance. The new engine also has 16,000-mile valve adjustment intervals – impressive for a Single.
The engine’s bottom-end features a crankshaft that runs on plain bearings for quieter operation, while the big end of the connecting rod uses a needle bearing. 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. Further reducing the engine’s front-to-back length is the stacked positioning of the countershaft, which sits below the mainshaft.
Powering the new entry-level CBR250R is a single-cylinder engine, which makes use of Honda’s PGM-FI fuel injection
Fuel is delivered to the single-cylinder powerplant via 38mm throttle bodies and Honda’s Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI). This uses several parameters to deliver the proper air/fuel mixture in all conditions to optimize power as well as fuel economy. And with a 3.4-gallon tank, the CBR250R can easily go over 200 miles per fill-up. The PGM-FI system also incorporates an Idle Air Control Valve (IACV) designed to minimize back-torque under deceleration and smooth responsiveness when making small changes in throttle position.
The first five gears of the six-speed transmission have been designed for as much bottom end acceleration as possible, while sixth has been spread out slightly further for smoother highway cruising.
Cradling the new engine is an equally new chassis, designed from the ground up for the entry-level sportbike. Made from steel, the frame features a diamond twin-spar design that uses the engine as a stressed member. A 37mm, non-adjustable conventional fork graces the front end, while Honda’s proprietary Unit Pro-Link and single shock set-up sits out back and is adjustable for spring preload only. Seventeen-inch wheels grace both ends, the front shod with a 110/70 series tire and a 140/70 series out back. The tires on our test units were of the IRC variety, the production version set to get the same or similar.
A single 296mm disc sits up front, gripped by a dual-piston caliper; out back a single 220mm disc and single-piston caliper furthers aids in stopping the 250R. And while this set-up sounds like it could potentially be too weak for a sportbike, due to the machine’s extremely light weight (a claimed 359 pounds full of fluids and fuel, some 20 pounds less than the Kawasaki) they are more than up to the task.
An ABS-equipped version of the CBR is also available, the mechanical system only adding nine pounds to the bike’s overall weight. The ABS system is also partially linked. The front brake is a standalone system and does not engage the rear at all; extreme braking with the front alone lightens the rear enough that linking the two is unneeded. However, when one applies solely the rear brake, a single piston of the front brake is engaged to increase overall stopping power.
Giving the rider information is a multi-function digital instrument cluster that includes a speedometer, tachometer, engine temperature display, fuel gauge, clock, odometer and trip meter.
The Honda CBR250R was developed for the world market, the bike unchanged for the American, European and large Asian market except for colorways.
With a 30.5-inch seat height and wheelbase of only 53.9 inches, the new CBR allows riders of all shapes and sizes, as well as varying skill levels, to take full advantage of all its abilities. 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 in other countries.
Available in Metallic Black or Red/Silver here in America, the all-new Honda CBR250R retails for $3999 (exactly the same as Kawasaki’s Ninja 250R), with the ABS-equipped edition fetching an extra $500 to retail for $4499. Look for the new bike to hit dealers this spring.
Southern California’s freeways and back canyon roads played host to our introduction, giving us a good overall feeling for the all-new CBR in a wide variety of conditions.
Straddle the new Honda and riders are presented with a very easy-to-ride platform, perfectly suited to its entry-level ridership.
Swing a leg over, turn the key and hit the starter button. The little quarter-liter Single jumps to life with a quick and snappy, though aurally muted response; the fuel injection makes cold starting a breeze. Click the shift lever into gear and ease out the clutch, the CBR’s bottom end allows one to easily pull away from a stop without having to rev it to the moon. In fact, the clutch actuation and power delivery works so seamlessly that the bike is nearly impossible to stall, a major plus for those first learning to ride.
Once underway, bottom-end response is impressive for such a small displacement Single, allowing the rider to be a bit lazier when it comes to gear selection. That’s not to say you can just drop it in fourth gear and cruise, as come twisty roads one’s left foot still gets a pretty heavy workout. Though it is far more forgiving than that of its competition. The little CBR also features one of Honda’s trademark seamless transmissions; shifting is very easy while still being positive and engaging the next gear with confidence.
The counterbalancer does well to smooth out vibration through the bars, the 250R only getting slightly buzzy at the rider’s hands and feet as higher-end freeway speeds are approached. Due to the bike’s internal gearing and slightly less power, the CBR is not capable of the same 90-plus mph top speed of the Kawasaki; the Honda tops out in the mid-to-high 80s. But Kawasaki’s Ninja 250 benefits from an additional cylinder and a 2000 rpm higher rev limit, so for the Honda to be within only a few mph is impressive.
Also user friendly is the confidence-inspiring chassis. Though the suspension is on the soft side when pushed hard, 95% of the time it’s plush, compliant and reactive. Combined with its class-leading low weight, the new CBR flicks from side to side with even the slightest input through the raised-up clip-ons. Just think about turning and your pitching into the corner with haste, sometimes so quickly I had to readjust my line to not run off the inside of the road. But once acclimated to the mini CBR’s abilities, one can concentrate more on the riding and road conditions, as very little effort is expended controlling the actual machine.
At only 359 pounds fully-fueled, the CBR250R is a light, nimble handler. The biggest question related to the new Honda is how it will fare against the established dominator in the entry-level sportbike market – the Ninja 250R.
Once settled into the corner and on its side the Honda 250 is stable, planted and does not want to stand up, with only a twist of the throttle needed to lift the bike upright on corner exit. This will lend itself very well to those less experienced riders as at no time does the bike do anything other than what it is asked. Think about turning and you’re at the apex. Then twist the throttle, lift your head and a perfect line through to corner-exit is easily achieved – the Honda just plain does every thing like… well, a Honda.
The CBR’s seating position is an equal balance between freeway comfort and canyon-carving aggression. The footpegs are high enough to stay off the ground but don’t cramp even the taller riders, while the raised bars do well to keep weight off the wrists but are still low enough to tuck behind the windscreen when the pace increases. It’s for all these reasons that the new machine provides another perfect option for newer riders looking to get into the sport or for those more experienced pilots wanting a high-mileage, lightweight urban commuter.
Until now Kawasaki has had a monopoly on this ultra lightweight market segment with its Ninja 250, and it’s one they took full advantage of. But those days are a thing of the past and there’s a new kid in town: Honda’s CBR250R. Now only one question remains: how do the two stack up head-to-head?
I smell a shootout on the horizon. How about you?