The Honda CBR250R was a welcome addition to the entry-level sportbike market after Kawasaki virtually owned it for decades. Honda has a strong racing history and now the future generations of champions, or simply everyday sport riders, have a way to get hooked on the brand right from the get-go. Beginner sportbike riders finally get some variety in the market as the CBR makes use of technology that gives it a very different character than its competition. On top of it all, Honda brings its top build quality which is something new and old riders can appreciate.
A single-cylinder engine powers the CBR with dual overhead camshafts and four valves. The 249.4cc Single use shim-style valve adjustment and a gear-driven counterbalance positioned lower than the mainshaft which keeps the ride smooth despite the Single’s penchant for vibrations. Fuel injection ensures quick start-up and perfect fuel delivery.
“Engine fueling and throttle response on the FI-equipped Honda is on par with any other modern sportbike,” Waheed says.
One of the main differences between the Honda and the Kawasaki is that the CBR signs off much quicker at 10,500 rpm. Honda makes use of a street-friendly midrange that churns out 15.2 lb-ft of torque at 7100 rpm compared to the Kawasaki’s 13.4 lb-ft at 9900 rpm. The Ninja screams to over 15,000 before hitting the rev limiter and rewards its rider for keeping it pinned. This high-rpm performance is a defining trait for use on the racetrack and the CBR falls a bit short in outright horsepower as well (22.6 vs. 26.3). The Single propels the CBR to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, which is a bit slower than the green bike.
Honda employs a six-speed transmission to make the most of its available output. All of our testers were happy with how the Honda shifts, and its smooth gearbox is a highlight. Feel at the lever is ultra-light which makes for great launches and around-town riding. But, it’s a nice feature on the racetrack as well. With power tapering off in the upper revs, shifting the CBR is the key to turning quick lap times. Moving through the gearbox is easy and secure.
The compact engine and drivetrain are tucked into a diamond twin-spar steel chassis. The 37mm fork is non-adjustable but the shock allows preload settings. We found this very handy for a wide range of test riders from lightweight women to 200-pound men. Handling is light and predictable thanks to compact ergonomics and the rider controls are clean and easy to use at race speeds. The large analog tach is particularly nice, and the small fuel tank allows the rider to maximize the windscreen.
“One thing that I do like better on the Honda are the gauges,” says our lady rider. “They are much easier to see and read at a glance.”
Our model was not equipped, but the CBR is available with an ABS option. The ABS might have helped in our comparison, as braking is not the CBR’s strong point according to our testers. The
Honda uses a 296mm front disc and 220mm rear disc. The front is pinched by a twin-piston Nissin caliper and the rear is a single-pot binder. Our more advanced riders thought the Honda could use a bit more stopping power, despite both bikes slowing from 60 mph to a stop in an identical distance of 143 feet.
“The Kawasaki’s front brake is way stronger the CBR’s,” says Waheed. “I was actually surprised by how weak the Honda’s front brake was as I entered the corner a little hot and I really had to wrench on the front brake lever.”
“Handling wise the bikes feel comparable. The Honda is a little lighter feeling side-to-side, but it’s almost a moot point because the Kawi is light too. It’s a small difference,” says Waheed.
The Honda tips our scales at 352 pounds fully fueled (3.4-gallon tank) compared to the Kawasaki’s 377.5 pounds (4.8-gallon tank). The slight advantage is noticeable on the track and helps give the CBR a flickable feel. However, as Waheed points out, they’re both extremely light compared to other full-size sportbikes making them very maneuverable. Maximizing corner speed is the name of the game when on the track with bikes making five times more power. It also forces the rider to focus on their technique rather than blasting down the straights and flubbing the turns.
The Honda’s small fuel tank helps make room for the pilot down below the small windscreen. Ergonomics are excellent for our 5’2”, 112-pound female rider, but the men were slightly more scrunched. Regardless, both machines are comfortable, especially for track use where the rider isn’t in the saddle for extended periods. The Honda’s smooth bodywork and comfortable seat allow the rider to move around in the cockpit and make use of its sharp handling.
The Honda was comfortable for all of our testers, but at 5’2″ our female rider was the most natural fit.
“Both bikes are comfortable and feel normal, about the same to me,” says the lanky Waheed. “They are a little small for a six-foot tall rider but not that bad and you can still be comfortable. I also liked how much leg room there was on both bikes as my lower body wasn’t uncomfortable even at speed and lean.”
Suspension comes from a 37mm front fork which does a good job of handling racetrack speeds. A good thing, as there’s not much a rider can do about it since it’s nonadjustable. The shock does offer preload settings, but otherwise cannot be tweaked. Our lesser-experienced riders both preferred the Honda’s suspension.
“The Honda has better damping,” says Sorensen. “I did experience some wallowing on the Kawasaki in some of the big corners, but after we did an adjustment on the suspension it seemed to handle better.”
As for our speedsters, Waheed was less pleased with the Honda as he’s able to reach the limits of its abilities. “It is too undersprung and sacked out when a more aggressive/heavier rider enters the corner/mid-corner,” he says.
Ultimately our riders found the Honda to be a willing sportbike. All of our riders noted the slight disadvantage on power, but the Honda looks and feels tight, and the quick handling and excellent dash make it great in the turns and help manage the engine. The 250 is a great stepping stone to larger CBRs and is happy making the transition from reliable daily commuter to weekend track bike.