2012 Honda CRF250X Project Bike Part 1

March 23, 2012
JC Hilderbrand
JC Hilderbrand
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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.

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Check out the controls of our Red Rider in the 2012 Honda CRF250X Project Bike Part 1 Video.

We fell in love with Honda’s smallest enduro/trail bike all over again after revisiting the popular off-road motorcycle in our 2012 Honda CRF250X Comparison. We decided to keep it as long as possible and abuse it on our Southern Oregon trails where it’s perfectly at home clawing across all kinds of trail junk. Once we heard about a local X-Treme Indoor Enduro, I immediately started planning the 250X as a gnarly-terrain weapon.

We didn’t have a lot of time to get the bike set up which meant the more parts I could find in one place, the better. One resource that is a well-known for motocross and off-road riding gear is MSR, but the Tucker Rocky-distributed brand has a full catalog of hard parts as well. Not only does it carry everything from sprockets to wheel bearings, but they are some of the most competitive prices I’ve seen. The 250X is supposed to be a relatively inexpensive trail bike to begin with, and we’re not very nice to it out on the trails with big, heavy guys bludgeoning it into service and novice riders tossing it down every hill. Hey, that’s what it gets for being so damn fun to ride – everyone wants a turn. There’s no point in splashing a lot of bling on a workhorse like this, so affordable parts that we can bash are right up our alley. We flipped through the list of parts and ordered a slew of components to help protect our project bike from the unending abuse. 

We hit up the MSR hard parts catalog to cover our Honda 250X from top to bottom.

MSR Dominator Aluminum 7/8″ Standard Handlebars ($49.95)
The Honda’s stock 7/8-inch Renthal handlebars are some of our favorites, but they were slightly bent in a crash so we snared a set of the MSR Dominator bars. These aluminum bars will fit into the stock bar mounts. Since this is an off-road bike and we stand up a lot, we ordered the CR High version. The bar is 800mm wide, 10mm less than the Mid/Low options, and is 91mm tall with 63mm of sweep. The decreased width is nice for riding in tight woods and allows for extra room that is added with wrap-around handguards. These are the tallest version available but I would like to add a bar riser to help bring them up even more. At 5’11” I’m still not entirely comfortable standing for long periods.

Made from 6061-T6 aluminum, these bars are very lightweight (stock Renthals are made from 7010-T6). The bars feature knurling at the left grip for better adhesion to the hand grips, and also where the bar clamps attach for added security. I was surprised the first time I picked them up at how light they feel. They definitely seem like a bargain-priced bar, which they are compared to the Renthal’s $75 pricetag. Fortunately, they have proven a lot stronger than I originally suspected. So far they have survived a hard crash on ice and 3-4 low-speed tip-overs, but I think they’ve benefited from rigidity added by the handguards.

Speaking of handguards, I was forced to bolt on a leftover pair of Cycra Pro-Bend Center Reach from a previous project bike. The MSR Evolution Handguards and Clamps do not fit on the MSR Dominator handlebars. The mounting brackets land right where the handlebar crossbar mounts are placed. It’s pretty frustrating that the same-brand components do not fit with each other. It also points out that the crossbar is fairly low, which could potentially lead to problems with a steering stabilizer.

Overall the MSR bars are a big value item. I don’t consider the Dominator bars as good as the original Renthals, but they are much more affordable. They’ll be a great option for someone strapped for cash. I also wouldn’t hesitate to order a set to keep in the race trailer as a spare for race day.

MSR Grip Lever Set ($29.95-$40.95)

MSR grip levers are outstanding in wet or muddy conditions.

Handlebars and levers are the first things to go with any of our test bikes. They get bent or busted from transportation or falling off the kickstand. Instead of using traditional levers for replacement, we opted for the grip lever set. These come in pairs; one clutch and one front brake, and fit right into the stock perches. The levers have formed rubber grip pads that are vulcanized to the aluminum alloy levers. The amount of traction for the rider’s fingers is amazing, almost too much when combined with the silicone printing on most glove fingertips. Available in red or black, we went with the black to match our bars and handguards. The rubber has not worn or peeled off despite heavy use. The price for a set isn’t much more than basic levers. They are a major advantage in wet or muddy conditions. We’ve tried other solutions like cutting small grooves in the levers or wrapping them with strips of tape, but nothing compares to the MSR grip levers. 

ProTaper Pillow Top Lite MX Grips ($12.95)
Obviously this didn’t come from the MSR catalog, but ProTaper is another Tucker Rocky brand so it’s easy enough to get anywhere MSR products are sold. These are some of our favorite grips because they’re highly comfortable and very tacky. The anti-rip ends are nice also, even though we wasted that feature by cutting them off for the handguards. I triple-wired them with a roll of MSR Safety Wire ($26.95) which I’ve been spooling from forever. Make it easy on yourself with the handy MSR Wire Twister ($31.95). I keep one in the shop and one in my racing toolkit. 

The radiator braces do not interfere with air flow. They were a
pain to get installed, but now are worth it as we continue
crashing on the fragile cooling system.

MSR Radiator Braces ($94.95)
Unlike the 2012 Yamaha WR250F, which comes with lateral braces on its radiator, the Honda’s cooling fins are subject to whatever the rider puts them through. Pretty much every off-road Honda we’ve ridden has wound up with bent radiators, so bracing them up is a no-brainer. Just the few rides we put on this bike during comparison testing was enough to deliver some minor damage. OEM replacements are expensive and even aftermarket options like the Mishimoto X-Braced Radiator are still more expensive than a set of MSR radiator braces.

The 250X model comes with two side brackets that bolt together on the back of the radiator so as not to impair air flow. They use a long bolt/brace at the top and bottom to secure it across the front. Mounting them to the radiators was pretty straightforward. The directions call for unbolting the radiators from the bike and removing the top connecting tube, leaving them to dangle and easily reached. Getting the braces on, even with the existing damage, was no problem, but getting everything secured back on the bike was more of a challenge. The plastic radiator shrouds were the toughest, but we managed to squeeze them on – barely. Once installed they have done their job admirably. I’ve dropped the bike several times and there hasn’t been any more damage. I only wish I had installed them the day we took possession of the Honda. 

MSR Skid Plate (from $72.95)
The CRF250X’s glaring weak spot as a functional trail bike is its lack of protection. Stock engine protection consists of plastic guards for the oil filter and water pump with exposed frame rails underneath. We like climbing over stuff in general and signing up for EnduroCross without something substantial underneath the engine is plain dumb. MSR makes an aluminum skidplate that bolts to the outside of the frame rails and replaces the plastic guards. I was able to drain the oil through the provided access hole without getting a single drop on the skid plate, but the Honda’s split engine/clutch design required getting messy when I drained the transmission.

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See how the MSR crash protection and a skidplate perform in the 2012 Honda CRF250X Project Bike Part II Video.

The skidplate adds about five pounds to the bike, but it’s worth it. The 250X model uses four mounting brackets which were not labeled, so it took some trial and error to see where each lined up. Once that was sorted, mounting it takes only a couple minutes to loose-fit and then cinch down. As per the MSR recommendation, I put some grease on the bolts in order to keep them from seizing over time. They have not loosened at all. Welds on the skidplate are a little ugly, but they have proven strong. Logs have had no visible impact. I smashed it multiple times on sharp rocks which have put some small dents in the bottom and deep scratches, but the side flanges have not bent out of position. One glancing impact managed to clip the rear brake lever and push it into the side case, leaving a small notch. I’m confident that this could have been enough to end a ride or cause damage to my foot if the guard had not been installed. 

MSR 520 Ironman Front Countershaft Sprocket ($40.95)
This is a pretty unremarkable component, but it was one of my favorites. MSR offers a 13-tooth as well as the stock 14T for the CRF-X. Our stock countershaft sprocket was in fine shape, but we needed a gearing change to help perk up the underpowered 250. Changing it is as simple as removing the case guard and pulling off one bolt. There’s no circlip to worry about on the Honda which is great for quick changes. Its hardened-steel construction should easily handle the 250X’s low horsepower and hold up to mud and grit. It’s guaranteed against wear for one year.

Getting the front end up is much easier with a 13-tooth front sprocket, and the bike is more rideable at trail speeds.

Going one tooth smaller in front is like adding several teeth to the rear sprocket, a bit drastic, but that’s what we needed. First gear was already low enough for everyday trail use, but the Honda struggled to pull second and third with a 200-pound rider, and forget lifting the front wheel in higher cogs. Going to the 13T made a huge difference and now the CRF can be ridden on most tight terrain in second. Third gear is now a regular ripper for trail riding. A quick stab at the clutch brings up the front wheel in either gear.

I thought the sprocket would allow for the bike to be ridden in second around the EnduroCross track, but that proved a little too slow and technical. As extreme fatigue set in (which takes about 1.5 laps) I found myself using first gear. It’s so torquey I was able to skip the clutch entirely for some obstacles and just use throttle. This turned out to be a nice feature since my left hand refused to pull the clutch at times.

Applied Racing’s block-off kit removes the
smog hardware.

Applied Racing Emissions Block-Off Kit ($39.55)
Plans to boost performance on the CRF250X started by removing the emissions hardware. It’s not possible to just yank the stuff off because it leaves a hole in the side of the engine, carburetor and intake. Applied Racing makes a Block-Off Kit which plugs up the holes with billet aluminum plates and screws. This makes it a closed-course bike instead of green-sticker, but we’re not concerned with it up in Oregon.

We did nothing to the jetting and made not further modifications to the exhaust, airbox or engine. The block-off kit reduced the weight of the X and it now feels like it revs a little freer. Combined with the sprocket change the CRF is much more enjoyable to ride, and we’re less desperate to find an aftermarket exhaust. There’s still quite a bit of surging down low in the rpm which is most noticeable when taking off from a dead stop or cruising slowly through the pits. It’s usually undetectable at normal riding speeds. The Honda also backfires less. It’s still extremely cold-blooded and has a bog, so we’ll attempt to lessen those in the future.

Still to come… 

MSR Evolution Handguards and Clamps with MSR Evolution Hand Shields
I’m a snob when it comes to handguards so I love trying out different brands. The MSR Evolution Handguards and Clamps look like a cool product but it sucks that they don’t fit on the Dominator bars. I’ll swap out another handlebar and start testing the guards in the coming months. We’ll also bolt on the plastic MSR Evolution Hand Shields for protection against brush and roost. 

MSR Fuel Mixture Screw ($21.95)
Our Honda runs better without the smog equipment, but it needs the jetting to be tuned. It surges a lot at low-to-mid rpm and our weather is constantly changing here in Oregon. I have a MSR Fuel Mixture Screw to help make quick adjustments on the trail. It fits four-strokes with Keihin FCR carbs and our Honda uses the 37mm version. This little baby is only $22, but could prove invaluable.

There’s still room to improve on our Honda CRF250X Project.

MSR doesn’t make dirt bike tires but those are definitely in our future. The 250 enduros don’t thrash rubber like big bikes, but ours is still due for a fresh set. Even though I love the usable power of this machine, it wouldn’t hurt to gather up a few more ponies. We’ll try to source a motorcycle exhaust to see what we can do without having to get into internal engine mods. So for the first part of this project the MSR hard parts catalog worked out great. It saves the hassle of hunting around for parts. The handguard fitment was a bust, but it turns out this is a good place to start for someone needing multiple components at a great price.