For five solid years the Honda CRF250R had reigned supreme in our small-bore shootout, yet even with such an impressive track record the Honda hasn’t rested on it laurels. For 2012 the quarter-liter CR’s powerplant got a going over to create a broader powerband while the rear suspension got new linkage. So while the changes are not game-changing, they were meant to keep Big Red ahead of the game. Would it be enough to keep Honda in the front after leading for a half-decade?
Getting the same chassis updates as the CR450F, the minds at Honda outfitted a new rear linkage that allows the bike to sit lower when in motion. This is meant to give it a plush initial stoke while still being stiff at the end of the shock’s travel. Additionally new valving settings balance out the front and rear. New front axle collars increase rigidity in the front end to enhance steering precision. Lastly, but not least, the Honda finally gets some modern oversized footpegs.
All of our test rides immediately felt comfortable on the Honda thanks to its balanced suspension and well-sorted handling.
So how did these changes translate to performance on the track? In the suspension department the CRF was second only to the Kawasaki’s Showa SFF equipped set-up. The rear suspension action was compliant and supremely progressive. No rear end was as smooth as the Honda when landing on or off the gas, and it ate up braking and acceleration bumps with excellent response.
“I really liked the suspension on the Honda!” exclaims our resident pro Matt Armstrong. “It was really plush on the braking and acceleration bumps. It made it easy to relax my upper body and save energy.”
Handling on the CRF250R is a balanced mix of cornering prowess and high-speed stability. All of the testing crew could jump on the honda and within a few turns be confident enough to wick it up to full tilt. As with most Hondas, the feel is familiar and easy to adapt.
“The Honda felt rock solid the minute you threw your leg over it,” claims former WMX champ Tania Satchwell. “It feels great on high-speed sweeping turns and drops into the quick, tight ruts effortlessly. You just can’t help but feel comfortable on the CRF.”
Every test rider was impressed with the handling on the Honda and ranked it near, if not at the top of their notes. Attacking the rougher sections of the track was the easiest on the Honda until you became comfortable at speed on other bikes. There were bikes that turned sharper or quicker, and there were others that were more stable, but only the Kawasaki could match the Honda in the handling department.
The torquey punch of the 2012 Honda CRF250R made clearing large jumps right out of a corner a piece of cake.
Honda reworked the cylinder head shape, changed up the camshaft and fitted a smaller, 46mm throttle body in order to coax a fatter power profile out of the CRF250R. A new fuel injection map finished of the powerplant changes for 2012. Last year the Honda got spanked in the power department, but that is not the case this time around. Although the gains at the low-end and top were noticeable, Honda still trails the juggernauts of output, the Suzuki and Kawasaki. Still, it was a step ahead of the YZ and SX-F which is a better result for Honda compared to 2011.
“I felt the Honda had the best over rev out of all the bikes. The mid-range was decent, but it just wasn’t as strong as the Kawasaki and Suzuki,” says AMA Pro Racer Chris See. “Overall it was better than last year.”
The smooth midrange power delivery from the Honda was an advantage when the track was slick or muddy. If you’re the rider than likes to hit the track first thing in the morning or after the water truck makes its rounds, the Honda might be for you. However, if outright top-end power is more your style, the Honda will leave you looking for just a little more juice.
On the Two Brothers Racing Dyno the CRF kicked out a mid-pack 34.5 horsepower but a class leading 18.62 lb-ft of torque. And that torque showed itself in the holeshot test where the Honda ties the KTM for the quickest time to the 120-foot mark at 4.02 seconds, but lost the top spot due to a lower top speed at the first turn. In the 3rd gear roll-on test the Honda finished mid pack with a 3.04-second squirt from 15-40 mph covering a distance of 123.7 feet.
A blindfolded rider on the CRF250R would immediately recognize they were on the Honda. There is something about any Honda dirt bike ergonomics that no other brand can match. It’s more than the seat to footpeg to handlebar relationship than makes the
cockpit of the Honda so easy to get along with, although those measurements were excellent for all of our riders big and small. The familiar Honda feel once again makes getting up to speed on the CRF easier than the rest of the bikes.
The one thing that could be improved upon on the CRF, besides an increase of power, would be the brakes. They were by no means the worst in the test, but they just didn’t have as much bite as the Suzuki and paled in comparison to the top-shelf Brembos on the KTM. Feel and modulation were great, but the stopping power just wasn’t as good as all the other attributes of the bike.
In the end it was a close race, but the Honda has been removed from the throne as the top dog in our 250 Motocross Shootout. Only two points separated the top three bikes; the slightly spongy brakes and less powerful motor are just enough to let the green and yellow shod racers to sneak past the always excellent CRF250F. Although Ricky Bobby says “if you ain’t first you’re last,” we still say the Honda is a winner – just not the winner in this showdown.