Honda introduced its smallest motocross thumper back in 2007. The CRF150R/RB completed Honda’s switch to an all four-stroke line up and laid to rest Honda’s last remaining two-stroke, the CR85R/RB. The 150 follows directly in the footsteps of its bigger brothers and provides mini riders with not only a powerful motor, but an engine that makes smooth, manageable power all the way through its rev range. When we received word that Honda was finally updating the little red rocket and holding a press introduction, we jumped at the chance to round up a middle schooler and put the new CRF150R/RB to the test.
While the high-strung 85 required a skilled rider to carefully manage the clutch and keep the rpm’s high, the CRF produces a ton of torque at all rpm’s and enables its rider to easily put the power to the ground just by twisting the throttle. As with any four-stroke, many riders are concerned about the added weight and were skeptical of how well the four-stroke would perform in the mini ranks. The skeptics were soon silenced as the little CRF proved that any weight disadvantage was easily overshadowed by its smooth, torquey power. The little thumper works so well, in fact, that the AMA banned it from competition in the popular 85cc class. It was deemed eligible in super-mini.
The 2012 CRF150R focuses its updates to the engine as a redesigned cylinder head, piston and camshaft complement the new 32mm Keihin FCR flat-slide carburetor.
While the 150 seems to have a distinct advantage over the competing two-strokes, the early model was not without its faults. The carburetion was finicky and often resulted with a small bog in the otherwise smooth delivery. Honda left the 150R unchanged for ’08 and ’09, and actually didn’t produce the bike for ’10 and ’11, although the 2009 model was still available in dealers. For 2012 Honda has decided to bring the 150 back into production and address the issues that hindered the original release.
Would you like to supersize that?
Just like its predecessor, the 2012 CRF150 is available in two sizes. The CRF150R is the standard sized mini with a 14-inch rear wheel and 17-inch front. The CRF150RB, or “Expert,” is designed for the taller riders and features a 16/19 wheel combination. The larger wheels on the Expert version give it a slightly taller seat height of 34.1 inches over the standard version (32.8). Other dimensional differences include the wheelbase and ground clearance. The standard model ends up with a 49.6-inch wheelbase and a ground clearance of 11.9 inches. The Expert version increases these dimensions to 50.6 inches for the wheelbase and 13.2 inches of ground clearance.
Both models utilize the same Showa cartridge fork with the 150RB dropping the tubes in the triple clamp to accommodate the larger front wheel. The result is 10.8 inches of front travel on both bikes. The big-wheel sees a slight increase of travel in the rear with 11.1 inches, up from the standard 10.7. The Expert also weighs in slightly higher with a claimed fully fueled weight of 187 lbs., while the standard version comes in four pounds lighter. Our 12-year-old test rider measured in at 5’3” so we decided to test the Expert model. He found the ergo’s perfect for his stature with both feet able to touch the ground, although not flat-footed. The big wheel version is a great choice for young riders who are getting a little big for a standard mini, yet too small to make the big jump up to a 250F.
The design also features new valving on the front and rear suspension for better performance over small bumps.
Most of the changes for 2012 come from the engine. Honda says a redesigned cylinder head, piston and camshaft give the little CRF improved power, torque and drivability throughout the powerband. The carburetor received major changes as well. Honda gave the 150 a new 32mm Keihin FCR style flat-slide carburetor and an improved “direct push” accelerator pump. Honda says the carburetor improvements result in a more immediate throttle response and also clean up any jetting issues or flat spots that were evident in the previous version.
While most of the major updates to the new CRF150 came to the engine, the suspension received some tweaks as well. The Showa suspension gets new valving front and rear for improved action on small bumps while retaining its large bump performance.
Visually, the only changes you will notice are the updated graphics, which now match those of the CRF250R and CRF450R models. The 150 did not get the new white rear fender to match its larger siblings, but instead retains the red version of the previous model.
For testing duties we kept it in the family by bringing in Luke Chamberlain, son of MotoUSA V.P. Brian Chamberlain. Luke has been riding for eight years and currently races an 85cc two-stroke in the 12-13-year-old class. Our youth test rider stands at 5’3” and weighs in at a slim 95 lbs.
Luke has not ridden the previous generation 150, or any four-stroke for that matter, and it took a few laps to get acquainted with the torque and power delivery of the CRF. He adapted quickly, though, and within an hour had fallen in love with the new big wheel CRF. The changes to the motor and carburetor
seem to have done the job. Throttle response was quick and power delivery was smooth throughout the rev range. The jetting appeared to be spot on with no hick-ups or misses anywhere. Following the initial ride at Piru Motocross Park with its tight layout and slick, hardpack turns, we headed to Racetown 395 for more higher speeds and bigger jumps.
“The engine on the new 150 is really strong,” says Luke. “Honda made some adjustments to it so it runs really smooth. The power is phenomenal. It’s great out of the turns and has the power to clear some of the biggest jumps on the track.”
The CRF also starts very easily, which is always a concern with four-strokes, especially one being ridden by younger riders. Even when hot, or after a tip over, it usually started on the first or second kick as long as it was in neutral and the hot start lever engaged. Our seventh-grader had no problems getting it fired up, but did note that it can be difficult to find neutral.
Despite being heavier than its two-stroke rivals, the 2012 CRF150 proved easy to handle at speed and tracked well through ruts.
The close-ratio five-speed transmission was smooth and precise and Chamberlain never missed a shift. Gearing was sufficient for the Piru test track, although it might be a little short for more wide-open, national-style tracks. Along with the smooth transmission, our tester found the clutch much to his liking.
“It is really easy to pull in and releases right in the middle,” he says. “It’s perfect for when I need to shift real fast or when I have to clutch it out of the turns.”
The updated suspension works well right out of the box. We set the sag at 105mm, but did not feel the need to make any further adjustments for our initial day of testing.
“It felt really great when I landed off of a jump,” he says about the Showas. “Also if I over-jumped or under-jumped, it soaked it up very well. When I went through some whoops or braking bumps it was not stiff, it was just right.”
While the CRF150R/RB weighs in a bit heavier than its two-stroke competitors, our test rider didn’t notice the weight gain once the bike was in motion. He felt the bike was still very flickable and had no problems throwing it into a berm. The CRF tracks well through the ruts and also feels very stable at high speeds.
The Bottom Line
Our testing showed Honda successfully eliminated its carburation gremlins and had our rider not wanting to go back to his 85.
Overall we came away very impressed with the new CRF150R/RB. Honda fixed the carburetion issues of the previous version appear to be well justified. The motor makes strong power throughout the rev range and throttle response is immediate. The bike steers quickly and handles well. The increased weight of the four-stroke didn’t bother our tester in the slightest. By the end of the day Luke had fallen in love with the new CRF150 Expert and when asked if he ever wanted to ride his 85 again, his answer was a simple “no.”
The 2012 CRF150R retails for $4990, while the CRF150 Expert comes in at a hefty $5090. To see if the high price tag is justified, MotoUSA is already planning a full evaluation of the CRF150 Expert as well as long-term race tests in the months to come.