After riding the 2013 Honda CRF250L at the press introduction in Santa Barbara, California, we asked Honda for a bike to put through a longer term test. You can follow the link above to our press introduction story, which contains all of the technical specifications for this new model.
We rode the CRF250L in a variety of conditions, from city streets to highways, fire trails and technical single track off-road. Although we came away very impressed (just as we did the first time we rode the bike) we did discover some issues that potential owners should be aware of.
At its core, the Honda CRF250L is a relatively simple, lightweight dual sport that provides excellent power (given its limited engine displacement), coupled with easy and sure handling, both on-road and off.
The ergonomics work well, even over extended distances. The seat height is not overly tall, but there is a decent amount of leg room . . . even for 6 footers. The bar position puts you in an upright, comfortable posture, while the headlight bikini faring keeps just enough wind pressure off your chest at higher speeds.
Like many dual sports, the seat on the CRF250L is a compromise. It could be broader and more supportive for longer street rides, but it is definitely a wider and more comfortable seat than you will find on the typical competition off-roader. In our opinion, for a stock dual sport, the seat is good.
The instrument panel, with its large LED screen and digital speedometer, is legible and thorough by dual sport standards. No complaints here.
The stock tires worked surprisingly well on the street, with decent side grip that provided confidence when leaning the bike over for turns. Off-road, however, the tires were only mediocre, and prone to sliding on silty hard pack (common in Southern California).
Although the suspension is essentially non-adjustable (except for preload in the rear shock which we will discuss below), the standard settings worked relatively well for a 190 pound test rider, even allowing fairly aggressive off-road travel. Neither the fork nor the shock bottomed while hitting ruts and bumps at relatively high speeds.
With a 190 pound rider, however, we found ourselves wanting to raise the rear of the bike by adding spring preload to the shock. Although the shock technically has a rotating collar for preload adjustment, there is almost zero adjustment available, and it is very difficult to get to and turn. This was a big disappointment. This could require a rear shock change for heavier riders.
Although we put several hundred miles on our test unit, we never had a single issue with the engine or the transmission. Gearing is a bit tall, and I could see some benefit to adding a few teeth to the rear sprocket, particularly if you ride off-road frequently.
The taller gearing works well on the highway, however, where you can cruise easily at 70 mph. At this speed, there isn’t much acceleration available from the small displacement single, but it doesn’t feel particularly strained, either. In short, this is not a long-distance, high-speed tourer by any means. If you want a dual sport to serve that purpose, you are better off with a Kawasaki KLR650 or some other larger displacement machine.
At lower speeds around town, the CRF250L is simply a blast to ride. The motor punches well off the bottom, and the upright seating position with wide bars allows confident, quick maneuvering through traffic. Despite its light weight and knobby tires, the little Honda also offers surprising confidence through higher speed sweepers, as well.
As you might expect, the stock exhaust is very quiet, but together with the air box intake noise, it still offers some enjoyable music while rowing through the gears on this single.
If you are accustomed to riding the latest sport bikes, you won’t be impressed by the outright power of the single front disc brake. Nevertheless, it never posed an issue for us, either on-road or off. Power and modulation were more than acceptable given this bike’s intended purpose.
Like some of the other Hondas we have ridden recently with a single headlight (the CBR250R comes to mind), we were pleasantly surprised by the output of the single H4 bulb. Honda obviously knows how to design a reflector that maximizes the output of a headlight.
Our gas mileage was pretty good considering how hard we rode the bike. Low 60s for mixed street and highway riding, down to the low 50s when we ran through a tank that included significant off-road riding.
Perhaps the best thing we can say about Honda’s 2013 CRF250L is that each of our three test riders had to ask themselves whether they should add this bike to their garage. The engine performance is pretty surprising for a 250cc single, particularly in light of the $4,499 U.S. MSRP. We can’t comment on long-term reliability, but there is something about this bike that reminds us of older, simpler Hondas that were typically bullet-proof. The CRF250L is fun and endearing in the way that only small displacement singles can be. Take a look at Honda’s web site for additional details and specifications.