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.