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2013 Honda CRF250L: MD First Ride

You have to give Honda credit for recognizing that the current economic climate calls out for reasonably priced motorcycles that offer good bang-for-the-buck, together with outstanding fuel economy.  Criticized, at times, in the past for premium pricing, Honda is fighting back lately with the CBR250R ($4,099) and the PCX150 ($3,449).  On the heels of those two new models, Honda announced the 2013 CRF250L dual sport with a modern, fuel injected engine, outstanding fuel economy, and a $4,499 price that undercuts the competition from both Yamaha and Kawasaki.  This is the bike Honda invited us to test earlier this week in Santa Barbara, California.

More than 30 pounds lighter than the already lithe CBR250R, the CRF250L reminded us why it is so fun to ride a street legal bike with a dry weight under 300 pounds (claimed weight with all fluids, including gas and oil is 320 pounds).  We went through all of the technical details and specifications in an earlier article, so let’s just hit the highlights.

The 249cc single features fuel injection, DOHC and a counterbalancer.  The long travel suspension is not adjustable, except for spring preload in the back.

The upright ergos are based on Honda’s long, and well deserved reputation for comfortable, functional ergonomics on its off-road race machines.

The brakes consist of a 256mm disc in front and 220mm disc in the rear.  The front caliper is twin piston.  Wheels are 21″ in front and 18″ out back.

Fuel capacity is 2.0 gallons . . . almost certain to deliver well over 100 miles of range, even while twisting the throttle with everything you have.

Fueled up and on top of our DOT legal knobbies, we left the hotel parking lot for a day full of everything from tight, twisty tarmac to a wide variety of dirt trails.  At the end of the day, we sped back to the hotel on the freeway, easily cruising at 70 mph.

Throttle response is excellent from idle on up.  A version of this engine powers the heavier CBR250R, and the dual sport seems much punchier when you snap open the throttle.  This is largely a combination of three factors, including the lighter weight, lower gearing, and tuning (including a smaller throttle body) that increases low end power versus the CBR.  The bike still revs out well on top, however.  Very nice engine, and power that seems to be on par with the Kawasaki KLX250S ($5,099), but somewhat less than the much pricier Yamaha WR250R ($6,590).

Honda seems to be good at picking a nice compromise when it comes to damping and spring rate for non-adjustable suspension, and they really seem to have nailed it with the CRF250L.  The fork is very plush when it comes to absorbing very small bumps, but never bottomed when pushed hard on rough trails by this 190 pound tester.  The shock also did its job well, although I would like to experiment with a bit more spring preload in the back.

Handling was excellent, but without increasing the spring tension on the shock, a heavier rider will experience some understeer.  Nevertheless, we were able to push the CRF250L very hard through tight twisty roads, and were delighted with the grip and feedback provided by the stock dual purpose tires.

Those same tires struggled a bit for grip on the silty, sandy trails we also rode, but the bike tracks straight through gnarly, whooped out terrain, and needs just a bit more purchase from the front tire while turning on these slick surfaces.  Frankly, these types of Southern California trails pose a challenge for any type of off-road machine, but we expect the turning could be improved by putting a bit more weight on the front end through increased shock spring preload, raising the forks a few millimeters in the triple clamps, or some combination thereof.  Tire choice also impacts this, as well.

We were really impressed with the power and control offered by the front brake.  Another journalist had the nerve to pass me on a twisty mountain descent, so I showed him a wheel on several corner entries before passing him back.  This was on tarmac, and it required excellent power and control from the front brake.  I was truly surprised how well the CRF250L delivered in this regard.

Clutch pull is extremely light and engagement is solid and predictable.  The transmission performed well everywhere, and suffered both clutchless upshifts and downshifts in the dirt without complaint.

The seat is wide enough to provide comfort for extended street rides (a problem with plenty of other dual sports), but the bike itself is slender enough to allow the off-road charger to move freely when adjusting his weight distribution.

This is a lot of motorcycle for $4,499.  If it comes with typical Honda long-term reliability, it is one of those bikes you could enjoy having in your garage for a long time, that could provide entertainment and transportation for several members of the family regardless of their skill level.  With price and fuel economy such important factors these days, we think Honda has delivered another winner.  Take a look at Honda’s web site for additional details and specifications.

44 Comments

  1. joe says:

    The bike is made CHEAP!!! I dropped it on the side at 10 mph and the frame on the footpeg dimpled… the handlebars also bent

    I have mountain bikes that have a stronger frame…. very sad for a honda name. think twice!!!

  2. RS says:

    For all the people talking about a lighter bike. Light bikes are not fun on the highway when the wind is blowing. To me a dual-sport needs to be heavier (at least 300 lbs), so it stays fairly planted in a crosswind at 65mph. Real dual sport riding often requires hundreds of miles on pavement. Believe me from experience, I’ll take a 400lb KLR over ANY lightweight dual sport for that purpose. I don’t like riding my 650 XRR on the street for any length of time. Too jumpy and too much vibration. Its always a trade off, but I think Honda has really built a nice dirt oriented dual sport that can still do some serious pavement miles, especially for city and backroads. Freeway and Interstate, not so much. And the price is right.

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    • ziggy says:

      that isn’t real dual sport riding. You haven’t made any mention of riding off road. What you reference is at best super-slab sport touring. Next!

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    • ziggy says:

      …can’t believe I missed this but the point is that this 250 has enough power for off road but NOWHERE NEAR ENOUGH FOR ROAD RIDING. Just try to to ride this thing for “hundreds of miles” on pavement up steep nountain passes, loaded with gear. You’ll either need to attach a tow rope to a semi-trailer or the engine will explode. No offense mate, but i suggest you’re not too experienced in these matters.

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  3. ziggy says:

    Every time I see a new small DS I get excited and think about opening my wallet.

    Then I look at the power output and power-to-weight ratio and my wallet goes back in my pants.

    How is it possible that with the latest technology, Honda can put out a 250 that has the same curb weight as the decade+ old DRZ 400Z, which is in a whole order higher of displacement?

    If any of the big 4 Japanese firms were truly serious about the DS marketplace, we’d see each debut 400-450 class machines with modern technology, around the 300lb mark.

    Any real hardcore DS rider knows this is the sweet spot for all kinds of all-day DS riding.

    This new Honda, like its predecessor is “cute”. but there’s just not enough grunt from the mill, and far too much weight to take it seriously.

    …and Yamaha…why can’t you just de-tune and overbuild a 450 single and make a real offroad DS bike, like your 250, but with enough stonk for a full grown man + gear?

    The real DS scene will be ruled by the DRZ400s and KTMs offerings until then…

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    • bigjoe1 says:

      Hey Ziggy, couldn’t have said it any better. At 6′ 6″ tall, I’d look like a gorilla on a BMX bike if I were to ride the 250L. Sure is a sweet little dual-sport though…

    • Dave says:

      “How is it possible that with the latest technology, Honda can put out a 250 that has the same curb weight as the decade+ old DRZ 400Z, which is in a whole order higher of displacement?”

      DRZ400 = $6,100
      CRF250L = $4,500

      This is not an all-day, hardcore DS bike and was never intended to be. It is a light-duty, off road capable commuter. KTM own’s the market you wish to shop in and they charge accordingly.

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      • ziggy says:

        Dave, your facts are right but logic is specious. Honda could charge $6,000 and build a bike every bit as good as the DRZ, and likley far better, and completely take over the marketplace. Again, I say this bike will be more than adequate for the dirt. This issue is it doesn’t have enough power for the highway miles, steep inclines, and mountain passes.

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  4. Satoru says:

    Hey I have a 1989 Honda NX250.. It’s got a twin cam, liquid cooled single 250 just like this bike with carburetor. So is this a re-hash of the NX250?

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    • Jake says:

      Kind’a, maybe? The old NX250 had a bore&stroke ratio that dates back to Honda’s (un-loved) CB500T of the mid-’70s (70.0 X 64.8). The new CRF250L has much more modern numbers: (76 X 55).
      CRF only makes 17 HP (CBR250R makes 26 HP) — NX250 makes 26 HP.
      Keep your NX… :o)

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  5. Chuck Chrome says:

    If only Honda and Yamaha would find a way to stuff these motors in their MX chassis they would have the ultimate playbike. Decent power, excellent brakes, and suspension. No hugely expensive rebuilds every 40 or so hours. Nice bike Honda but 320lbs fueled up? Wow.

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    • zuki says:

      I don’t think that formula works so well… at least not for me although I am long-legged. The MX bike’s seats are way too tall, skinny and brick-like, and MX racers don’t spend a lot of time planted down on their bikes. Trail machines need to have lower, comfy seats. The MX bike engine rebuilds are with the thought that they are getting raced extremely hard – normal everyday riding and the engines should last quite a long time, IMO.

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    • Superchicken says:

      That weight kind of struck me at first, but then I remembered my ’92 XR250L was 280 dry, IIRC. I figure they’re doing pretty good adding liquid cooling, electric start, all while keeping it relatively lightweight for a inexpensive street legal bike. Personally, I’d take the MX bike and engine with its much more capable and tunable suspension. I’d even take the height as my long legs get cramped all folded up on shorter bikes. That is, in an ideal world. I’m not quite in the market for a dirtbike just yet though.

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  6. zuki says:

    I’m sad Suzuki got rid of the DR200 from its model lineup within the past couple of years.

    What about Yamaha’s XT250? Having owned a XT225 along with many other trail machines, the 225 was close to trail-bike perfection. I had opportunity to ride the XT250 for comparison and was left with the impression that the XT225 was a superior off-road bike to its replacement, the XT250, which leans more to the street side.

    It would be interesting to ride the Honda and see how it compares to the XT225 as far as off-road worthiness.

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    • Kagato says:

      I keep hoping to find a good review of the injected 2013 XT250–I look to the Yamaha instead of the Honda or Kawie because the Yamaha has a seat height of about 30-31 inches, as opposed to 35 36 inches on the others. I want a street/trail bike, not a motocrosser.

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      • Dave says:

        Chances are this bike will be very popular. That will lead to lowering kits being readily available.

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      • zuki says:

        I agree! I like low seats for trail riding, which helps on those tricky switchbacks. The XT225 was perfect in this regard and also had perfect weight balance and a lot of low-end grunt for climbing – I loved that simple SOHC, 2-valve, air-cooled engine! I’m sorry I sold it.

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  7. dave says:

    I still wonder what the heck is making up the 80 extra lbs on a dual sport over a MX bike. Seriously!

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  8. GP says:

    I really like this bike. I have been a die-hard KDX200 lover for quite some time now, and my current KDX has been modified to be street legal. This Honda is sure to be quieter, but it is certainly much heavier than my KDX200. I still want one. I just have to decide if it is worth trading my trusty KDX for one. My take on it is that my “old” KDX will still be better in the dirt, and this new CRF will be better on the road.
    It looks like Kawasaki is going to have to drop the price of their KLX250 if they want to move any of them, unless the CRF sells out. I had a KLX250 (1994), and it was a great bike, but the new CRF motor is probably much better.
    I am loving all of the new small bikes coming out now – the CBR250, this CRF250L, the new Ninja 300. Although my riding has always been “dirt first”, the new smaller displacement and lower priced street machines are really catching my attention.

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  9. Norsht Vinlkomen says:

    This bike probably has more capability than most of the off-road riders out there. When was the last time you used up all the suspension on your DP bike? Perfect choice for the guy that wants an efficient commuter bike that will see time off the pavement. My old DR350S took me everywhere and was more than adequate with the only limiting factor being the seat. What a pain in the bum!

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  10. John says:

    I hate to admit thinking this, but when you look at it next to a KLX, it looks really ugly and the color makes it look plasticky.

    Otherwise, two thumbs up.

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    • Nick says:

      Interesting, I have always thought the Kawasaki green looked plasticky on a number of bikes. Fugly is in the eye of the beholder but I find these bikes very attractive, with a very attractive price and should be very entertaining to ride. I had a 1972 XL250 that put acres of smiles on my face. These don’t need to be big to be fun.

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  11. sam says:

    I’ll second that request. I’m sick of all the manufacturers making 250cc “street bikes” in the dualsport/motard category. I don’t care how high it revs, it’ll never be smooth and usable power like a big-bore motor. There’s also a very large safety aspect of bigger cube motors, having standby torque to accelerate out of somethings way without downshifting is critical in ANY streetbike as far as I’m concerned. Why wouldn’t they at LEAST make a model of the 450cc bikes into a dual sport?! No problem with making a full range of bikes of all sizes (and they should), but why no modern big-bore bikes at all anymore? Definitely miss the XR650R, I had one and that motor would’ve rocked as a dual-sport! As all the lineups stand right now, the only dualsports I would consider are the XR650L and DR650SE, and although they do their job and are super-reliable, they are also horribly outdated designs from the 80s. KTM is definitely where I’m buying next time unless Honda or the others wake up.

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    • Nick says:

      I’ve been riding bikes for over 45 years and I cannot recall where I have needed the “large safety aspect of bigger cube motors”..where I accelerated out of something’s way that was going to be disastrous. My feeling is if I was in such a situation then I had a hand in putting myself there. I rode smaller bikes for years and all was good.

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      • sl says:

        Sam is talking about city riding. More than once I have used the throttle to get away from someone coming at me. I always buy bikes that have enough HP/torque to get away. Most of my experience is with people merging on the highway, but being able to leave a bad situation quickly anywhere including service streets is helpful.

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        • Nick says:

          I’m speaking of street riding also. Say for example I’m waiting at an intersection for the light to change. If I’m at the head of the line I might be able to go forward if someone is coming at me from the rear but then I might be heading into cross traffic, a situation as bad if not worse. These kind of traffic situations happen in an instance and the ability to rocket away to safety is dubious. By the time I’d decided I was going to be hit my reaction time and acceleration probably won’t be quick enough to keep from being hit.

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      • Jason says:

        I second that sentiment. Changing direction and braking have always steered me clear of hazards more effectively than power. I don’t want to increase my potential impact force if things go south.

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        • sl says:

          I am not trying to be a jerk. I really believe that the ability to leave a situation, think of intersections etc., is sometimes the best option. That is why I would never use a 50cc scooter. You see the problem coming (mirror, windshield or side view), and all you can do is wait. A bike in the correct gear (the more HP the better) will get you to a bathroom to change your leathers. Jason you are correct, but power is another tool in a jam.

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      • Steve says:

        More weight also REQUIRES more horsepower to get it moving and you have the added disadvantages of momentum and less agility. Everything has its drawbacks and this 250 sounds like it is right in the sweet spot. Small engines are often more responsive in that initial second with their lighter weight and the fact that you have to move less air to get at that power.

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  12. RD350 says:

    Very nice “enduro” as we used to call them. Enduro used to mean on/off and is now termed, dual sport (I hate that term though). Anyway, for a guy like me that doesn’t need a hard core off road bike, this bike really fits the bill. Seems great for light trail, green lanes and fire roads. Kinda like my old DT125 ..

    I like this movement toward singles and would love to see expansion of this range. How about a retro scrambler or a street motard with this 250 motor? And perhaps a 350/400 version?

    One quip though .. bikes like this are not going to be purchased by kids moving up to CRF250/450Rs. So why style the bike to look like the current MX range? They should style it like a 1970s XL or Elsinore. People would love that ..

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    • Dingerjunkie says:

      I actually prefere “dual-sport” because I used to actually race Enduro (B-loop) in the eighties. It annoys me to have what we in the rollchart-and-timer crowd did confused with poor-handling copmromise-bikes.

      While this is cool, sensible and manageable for most riders, I’ve never been a four-stroke fan off-road or in small packages. I’ll save my pennies for the rumored direct-injection two-stroke Husqvarna.

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    • kjazz says:

      RD, I like your comment about styling and totally agree with it. This isn’t a bike to be targeted by younger MX minded riders. The old tanks were so pretty. We’ve had the Bonneville and a few other retro street bikes. It’s time for a retro-enduro. I’d especially love it if Husky built something with that gorgeous old red and polished metal tank.

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  13. DirtJerk says:

    I have heard Eric Gorr’s Forward Motion shop offers a 285cc kit for this motor. No replacement for, well, you know.

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  14. David says:

    Ok, it looks good, has a good price, but 300 lbs for a 250 dual sport? ouch! And “typical Honda long-term reliability”? Sure hope this isn’t like the Honda CRF moto-x bikes that eat valves, would guess not, buy how can you make that statement when this is a new model?

    I would bet this bike will sell well, but I’m sure the serious off roaders will still head to KTM so they can have a 245 lb 500cc dual sport.

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  15. Joel says:

    Honda has hit one out of the park with this one. This is a motorcycle many bikers will want to add to their stable – including me – and the price enables them to do so without selling the ride they already have. Bravo.

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  16. kjazz says:

    Love it!

    But my XR650R needs to be re-invented next please Honda!!!! This time, make it street legal!!! Dont make an XR650L out of it either, or tell me to buy an L model. Make it a new race ready super play bike with all the bells and whistles and make it a fire breathing torque monster.

    But like I said, this 250 is very cool, I’m just too big for it.

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