2011 Honda CRF250R Comparison

JC Hilderbrand | February 21, 2011

Honda took it easy on the CRF250R for 2011 after a major redesign in 2010 saw fuel injection and tweaked engine internals to match a new chassis. The result was our shootout winner and Honda merely sought to refine the 250R this year. A new exhaust muffler meets AMA 94 decibel requirements and it whispered across our sound meter at only 90 dB – easily the lowest of the test. A larger 49-tooth rear sprocket adds punch to the buttery smooth power delivery and Honda tuned up the suspension valving for better overall balance and bottoming resistance. Though small, this turned out to be one of the biggest talking points with our testers. Another small change is that the steering damper has a 20% larger piston diameter for increased control of the front end.

The CRF doesn’t crank out astronomical power figures, coming in at the bottom of our list in both horsepower and torque by slight margins. As a result, our faster riders regularly complained about clutch fade as they abused the powerplant looking for added ponies. Delivery is seamlessly smooth from bottom to top and that allows the Honda to put down its power with maximum efficiency. It was just behind the Suzuki and Yamaha in acceleration testing despite showing one of the weakest curves. This proved to be the CRF’s weakest link, but unlike the Yamaha, which displays its shortcomings heavily, the Honda masks its relatively tame engine with excellent forward traction and deceptive speed on the track. The fuel-injected Unicam engine is also one of the easiest to start.

It’s the updated suspension that really makes the 2011 Honda stand out. Four out of six testers ranked it first. Our initial ride was in the big braking bumps that define Glen Helen’s massive downhills. Next we hit Racetown’s fast, jumpy track to test bottoming resistance and then got to know the square-edged acceleration holes at CEMX. Everywhere we went the Honda suspension was superb. Both ends work perfectly together and it was difficult for our testers to even find anything that needed tweaking on the Showas. More mid-stroke valving on the fork really pays off and the suspenders stay high in their stroke to provide soft bump absorption and resist packing. Our riders could only complain about a slightly soft spring, but that was the case with all the bikes as we pushed the limits of any 250F weight range.

2011 Honda CRF250R Comparison
2011 Honda CRF250R Comparison
Suspension and handling are the Honda’s bread and butter. Small adjustments for 2011 have made the CRF near perfect.

The suspension allows the compact aluminum chassis to shine. Even though it’s one of the smaller packages, all riders felt right at home on the red bike almost immediately. The larger steering damper piston helps keep the bike under control on fast, rough straights and allows for sharp steering geometry that dominates any rut. Again, half of our testers scored the Honda first in handling for its all-around mobility. Even though it’s not the lightest on the scales, it feels the lightest where it’s important – on the track. The ergonomics put all the controls in a comfortable, easy-to-access location that helps riders stay in complete control when muscling the bike around. Along with the Suzuki, the Honda begs the rider to be aggressive, but unlike the Suzuki it has the suspension that forgives virtually any mistake.

While the CRF brakes can’t match the outright power of the KTM’s Brembos, they’re equally as effective because they aren’t quite as sensitive. Some riders thought the KTM was too touchy and the Honda package tied for top marks when it comes to slowing down.

The CRF earned the most nominations in the For My Money category, which reinforces a common theme with the red machine that Honda has the best all-around package. It also punched a critical five-point bonus for the honor. It’s not uncommon to see small revisions the year after a bike received a major overhaul. Honda knows the updated CRF is already a great motorcycle and used the 2011 model year as an opportunity to refine its package. Our testers can’t say enough about the 250R’s improved Showa suspension and love the way it handles a motocross track. As the personal favorite of racers and casual riders alike, the Honda emerges as the winner again this year.

2011 Honda CRF250R Rider Impressions:

Brian Chamberlain – 6’0 – 190 lbs – Vet B
I instantly felt comfortable on the Honda. Ergonomically, the bike fits me well with a good relationship between seat, pegs and bars, although, as with most of these bikes, I would prefer a taller handlebar. The bike feels light, narrow and flickable. In slow tight, rutted corners I had a hard time getting it to settle and turn I where I wanted, but at speed I was really impressed with how well the bike responded to steering input. It steers quickly, yet doesn’t over-steer and is also able to track well through the corner. High-speed stability was slightly less than that of the Yamaha and Suzuki, but the Honda steering damper reduces any headshake to tolerable levels.

The highlight of the CRF for me was the suspension. It was the standard that I compared all the other bikes to. With absolutely no adjustment, it worked perfectly for me on every track we rode. It was extremely supple through the braking bumps, chatter and whoops and it soaked up the big hits as well.

2011 Honda CRF250R Comparison
2011 Honda CRF250R Comparison
2011 Honda CRF250R Comparison
A fading clutch was about all we could find to point fingers at. If Honda gives this bike a few more ponies it’s really going to be trouble for the 250F field.

The CRF motor has the power, but you have to work a little harder with the clutch and transmission to maintain peak horsepower at all times. The clutch is a little grabby for me and engaged at the very end of the lever. The transmission is smooth and gear changes are always clean. The brakes are strong and provided good stopping power and a nice linear feel at the lever. The addition of a steering damper is a big plus, but the rest of the components are pretty mediocre. I would really like to see some bigger pegs come stock on the CRF.

Chris See – 5’10” – 160 lbs – Pro
I was excited to jump on this machine. The Honda always has an excellent feel in the rider cockpit and for 2011 it’s the same. The overall feel is slim, which is how I like my dirt-scooters to be. As I got on the machine the Honda crew sent me out with 105mm of sag but about halfway through my moto I came for what I like to call “adjustment time.” The red machine does feel like it has made improvements from 2010, but where the 2011 feels a hair more stable, it’s still just a little on the twitchy side for my liking. We moved the forks flush with the triple clamps, stiffened the compression two clicks and slowed the rebound down one click which helped the front end tremendously. Next we had to make the rear end better and we did this by slowing down the rebound.

I did find that the Honda still has a ton of clutch fade. I don’t know why this particular bike has so much, but I think it could benefit from fixing that area. On the wonderful hills of Glen Helen Raceway I felt the front brake fade also. With all that said it’s hard to argue with the fit and finish of a Honda, and it puts this machine fourth in my book.

Kyle Lewis – 5’10” – 180 lbs – Vet Pro
It is not the fastest bike, but it just did everything I wanted it to do with smooth delivery and good top-end. This bike turns on a dime and is still comfortable through high-speed corners. For me this bike feels like the 450, I just feel really comfortable on it. Like the 450, the weak link on this bike is the clutch, I felt myself messing with the adjuster many times a lap. The brakes are good – standard Honda.

I felt the spacing in the gear box was the best. It accepts shifts very well without any rpm drop between gears. I also didn’t have any complaints with the suspension – maybe a little soft, but all the bikes are a little soft for my weight. Still, I can pound on this bike and it takes it, so this is my first pick.

Nick Thiel – 6’1” – 175 lbs – Intermediate
I immediately felt comfortable on the CRF250R with its open roomy cockpit. Right out of the box this bike has a well-balanced, stable feel. It tracks great in the faster, rough sections, but also works well when I jump inside. The brakes have that awesome Honda feel and work great. The motor is strong, but not quite as strong as the KX250F or the RM-Z250. It really likes to be over-revved (made for Barcia?). The only issue I had with the bike was clutch fade.

2011 Honda CRF250R Comparison
2011 Honda CRF250R Comparison
The bikes are all so close that it won’t take much to knock Honda off, but the CRF250R has proven exceptionally good at defending its crown.

Tod Sciacqua – 5’8 – 170 lbs – Vet Expert
The Honda really has the plushest suspension. I think it was the most progressive; it’s soft on the beginning stroke and never really bottoms out. When you’re in the air and thinking “Oh, this is really going to hurt,” instead you just land and it’s no problem. It’s also very easy to control entering turns and handles amazingly. But here’s the problem, I have this theory that the better a bike handles the more you want the motor to go fast. I really wished the Honda was faster because it handles so well, but it feels a little slow. It just felt corked up a little compared to the Kawasaki and doesn’t have the top-end pull.

I really liked the brakes though; they’re linear and very easy to use – not harsh at all. Like on the KTM you have to be careful because the brakes are so strong, but so touchy it’s easy to make mistakes. The Honda is much more controllable.

JC Hilderbrand – 5’11” – 177 lbs – Novice
Honda makes one heck of a polished motorcycle for 2011. This CRF250R is definitely a complete package, but what really stands out for me is the suspension. I’m not usually as affected by bikes that have unbalanced suspension as faster riders, but the Honda feels extremely sorted. I love how it never does anything weird. Staying in control is extra important because it lets me put down consistent laps and focus on riding to my potential rather than worrying about making some incredible save when I get in trouble. The CRF does all the saving for the rider. The chassis is a great match and it handles better than everything except for maybe the Suzuki. Those two bikes are really close for me but ultimately the comfort and forgiving nature of the Honda wins out.

Ergonomically the Honda feels tight and effective, and the rubber-mounted 7/8th-inch Renthal handlebars are the best. Borrowing Yamaha’s footpegs and KTM’s grips are the only thing I want in that regard. The new exhaust is great with its low sound output, but on the track it sounds pretty similar to the rest of the bikes, except for the obnoxious Kawasaki. Unfortunately, the CRF is a little slow in the engine department. There’s nothing wrong with the power curve at all – it’s consistent and seamless throughout which lets me ride it at any rpm, but overall it just isn’t as fast as some others. This was kind of a bummer, but I still feel the fastest on it because of the phenomenal suspension and handling. Definitely the best all-around bike this year.

JC Hilderbrand

Off-Road Editor| Articles | Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA’s Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn’t matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.