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2013 Honda CRF250L: MD Ride Review

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.

52 Comments

  1. Dave says:

    The tank is way too small to do any serious riding. WTF Honda (and other manufacturers)? Why can’t you idiots put at least a four gallon tank on bike(i.e., 250cc enduro) like this?

    Even at 65 mpg you will be lucky to make 130 miles before you run dry. This is almost as ignorant as the HD 72’s 2 gallon tank. WTF Harley?

    And so-called “moto-journalists” are too afraid to mention this sort of failure. They get to ride the bikes for free, beat the snot out of ‘em (resulting in poor non-real world mpg) and give ‘em back. The only time I’ve seen a really poor review was when it was some pussbag company’s offerings and it would not be financially devastating to the “writer’s” paycheque to point out how stupid something was on a particular bike.

    We shouldn’t have to buy an aftermarket tank (more difficult to do with fuel injection) just to be able to ride the bike further than the local Piggly Wiggly and back. But noooooooo.

    Stupid.

    • Mark says:

      Try not to hold back so much next time Dave

    • MGNorge says:

      My 1972 XL250 had a two gallon tank and I don’t remember it being a giant issue really. But then I wasn’t pushing mine into non-stop touring duty either. Close to 150 miles per tank worked well for around town and off-road use with a number of relatively short trips to other parts of the state. Gas is almost everywhere!

    • Jim says:

      Agree with you 100 percent. You can blame the move to a trendy aluminum perimeter frame for this problem. Doesn’t leave much room for a decent size fuel tank. From the mid-1990s to mid-2000s,Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki sold 250cc trail bikes in Japan that came equipped with decent size fuel tanks. The Yamaha TT250R Raid held 16 liters, the XR250 Baja 14 liters and the Djebel 250XC 17 liters. All of these bikes had backbone frames that allowed these bigger tanks and their air-cooled motors put out more power than the CRF250L. I won’t be selling my ’06 Djebel anytime soon. :>

  2. eyeopenher says:

    i have owned this bike for a few months now… has 700 miles on it… would be double at least, but weather has been horrible this year… here are my thoughts on the bike… I LOVE IT… its fun, its nimble, its smooth, its everything i want in a bike… yes its not a freeway cruiser, or a true race bred dirt bike… but it is what it is.. i just put the stage 1 kit on (fmf pc4 muffler, megabomb header, ejk fuel programmer, 13t sprocket) but stock, i have been commuting on her 90 miles a day on 2 lane highways, over tall arse bridges, wind swept beach front roads and single lane farm lands, and she does amazing… wind is her only enemy… she handles like a mountain bike… i have leaned this little girl over farther then any other bike before.. she inspire confidence and will show you the way when you think you cant do no more… stock i can hold her at 65mph all day long and have a little room to spare to make a pass or slip by when needed. people all stop and ask about the bike also, which is not what i was looking for.. lol i like to be under the radar. hahaha

    anyways, i would highly suggest this bike to anyone looking for a smaller cc commuter or fun bike… or if you already have a street cruiser this makes a nice errand bike or cuts out using the trailer to get to the trails… and at 65mpg at 65mph… i’ll take it… saves me $20 a day on gas… ride it 12 weeks out of the year and she pays for herself, with a smile too…

  3. skybullet says:

    If the idea is to do off road riding, bikes like this do a much better job of it than 800cc to 1200cc so called Adventure Bikes. A 250 is light, handles soft, steep, wet or rough dirt so much better. Oh yeah, they are a lot more fun to pick up when you go down on a less than flat dry surface.

  4. Neil says:

    I sat on it at the dealer and it is really nice. Yeah a 350 would be even nicer but then it starts getting not so newb friendly. This way they reach a broad range of riders. Even does the highway. People liked it off road as well. Maybe change the shock if you want to get more aggressive. No worries there.
    For now I gotta go with the trusty 919:
    http://imageshack.com/photo/my-images/9/919x.jpg/

  5. Jeremy in TX says:

    I understand why manufacturers typically go with 250s for these little dual sports and other entry-level bikes, but I can’t help but believe that they would find a bigger market in the US to opt for 350cc-ish engines. A 250 isn’t fully usable (well, it may be barely adequate but certainly not ideal) as a streetbike where I live, but a 350 could hang.

  6. todder says:

    Really like the fact it’s priced close to a lightly used DRZ400S. I’d never considered the 230, but this latest one is making my wallet itchy.

  7. Ralph says:

    Interesting bike. I used to ride dirt/dual sport a two decades ago, and even then I wasn’t very good. This bike would suit my needs just fine. At my skill level there’s no way I’m dropping $7.5k on a KTM or similar, it would be wasted money. This would look good in the garage beside my S1000RR and MTS1200S Touring, and would allow me to get back offroad and plonk at a good price. Lastly, there is something appealing about the sound and feel of a thumper, I miss having one.

  8. Mike says:

    Dual sport? Yes I guess it could be called that but technically in the ranks of a “play” bike for most. The little Honda might be cheap but for serious offroad work nothing compares to the KTM, Husky, or even Beta offerings – you really do get what you pay for.

    • Kent says:

      In many areas of California you cannot ride a dirt bike. However, if it has plates, you can ride it. (Thanks to dicks with straight pipes!) In many parts of teh west, you have to have plates to ride during fire season – no offroad bikes at all.

      This is a bike you could ride in Death Valley, around town, El Mirage, when camping, etc. A license plate simplifies many, many things. Besides, it’s a dual sport; a bike that can handle pavement and dirt. Motocrosser? Nope.

      • Scotty says:

        Whats wrong with a little playing from time to time? I don’t have the time or money or indeed the inclination to be a serious full on dirt bike monkey (anymore!). But weekends in winter pottering about on the green lanes of England – that thing would be excellent and I could ride it to work and save the Guzzi for road fun rides and touring.

    • BikerDad says:

      You’re right, it doesn’t compare for “serious offroad work” with the KTM, etc. And the KTM/Husky/Beta offerings don’t compare as commuters with the Honda. Changing oil every other week on your commuting bike? Spend an hour or two every day SITTING on a plank? (Standing on the pegs is seriously frowned upon by Mr. Da Bear.) Let’s not even get into the practical difficulties that nosebleed seat heights present for the rider in urban stop-light to stop-light traffic.

      Nor will we go into what the rider can do with the $3,000 saved by buying the Honda…. and don’t say “a used KTM costs the same as the Honda”. Sure it does, if you’re willing to take a risk on a used bike that’s been used for “serious offroad work”, rather than saving another grand or two and getting a used Honda CRF230L.

      Enjoy your Katoom, if it floats your boat, great, but badmouthing another bike because it’s a “play bike” because it doesn’t play (aka “serious offroad work”) as well as yours is foolish.

  9. John says:

    Still waiting for the 700cc FI single with 6 gallon tank and overdrive 6speed tranny. Like my KLR650, only better. Keeping my fingers crossed.

    • John says:

      I would be interested to see what would happen if they took the new 500 twin and put it in KLR style chassis. Though i like singles for off road, there’s really little point in going beyond 450cc at this point. Most engineers seem to think that 450cc is the ideal cylinder size for torque/HP tradeoff.

    • goose says:

      If you find your 700 CC, 6 gallon tank fuel injected single KLR type bike let us know.

      Add good (not top of the line, that would push the price too high) suspension, better brakes, under 400 pound weight and keep the price KLR-ish and we’d really be in business. I think Kawasaki (or who ever) would sell a ton of them.

      Goose (used o own a KLR, 37 HP/ 430 pounds just didn’t work for me)

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        I think KLRs have KLR-ish prices because they have crappy brakes, crappy suspension, a carb, a heavy chassis, and a fully amortized powertrain. Augment any of those things, and I imagine the price will begin to rise. And it would be worth it.

        • goose says:

          All good points but I think a good engineering team could build a bike like what we are talking about without raising the price that much. Bikes as small at 150 scooters now have EFI, replacing the built up crank crank with a one piece would cut, not raise, costs. Better quality, larger tubes in the frame would raise the price but not a huge amount.

          I think the real reason we don’t see a bike like this is what Kent said, the Japanese manufacturers just don’t see enough of a market to amortize the development costs. This leads to a vicious circle, lower sales means higher prices which lower sales which leads to higher prices, ad infinitum.

          As to the more exotic suggestions, all no doubt true but I really don’t want to deal with what comes with that kind of bike. From my house the closest KTM dealer is nearly 200 miles. My closest Kawasaki dealer is about 12 miles.

          Goose

          • Dave says:

            The reason the KLR sells for what it does is just as Jeremy says, amortized everything. If they just did the same exact bike from scratch (all new tooling) it would cost WAY more. Smaller displacement bikes do better because they sell in so many markets. Most of the big markets limit themselves for big bikes with displacement based license qualifications and high fuel prices.

        • Bob says:

          Ten years ago, I owned a KLR650 briefly. It was what it was..a compromise in every sense of the word- okay at best, good at nothing. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has written Kawasaki with my personal suggestions for an improved bike.
          But when they sell like hot cakes, and the profit margin is so high for Kawasaki, I’m not holding my breath waiting on a Back road burner from big K…

    • Kent says:

      Not a large enough market in the US. Perhaps a big bore kit is due for your KLR?

    • Andrew Mai says:

      How about a 690cc 66hp 305lb. street-legal enduro:
      http://www.ktm.com/us/enduro/690-enduro-r-usa/highlights.html#.UYpfwCtT1nd

    • GearDrivenCam says:

      A KLR650 replacement essentially already exists. It’s called the Husqvarna TR650 Terra. 650cc single, fuel-injection, about 13 MORE rear-wheel hp than the KLR650, better fuel-economy, modern chassis, better suspension, better brakes, smoother engine, lighter weight…..and….only $500 more than a new KLR650. That sounds very reasonable considering the upgrades. Any drawbacks? Unfortunately yes. Small fuel tank and not many aftermarket parts at this time.

    • John says:

      Honda could also take the NC700x and extend the fuel tank into the “frunk” with a regular gas filler point, making for about 5.5 gallons total. Add a 19 or 21″ front wheel, larger standard windshield and an overdrive 6th gear. Perfect bike for just about any adventure. For me anyway. Until then, my 09 KLR650 with 16T front sprocket and Cee Bailey windshield will work just fine. I’ve had lots of bikes in my 53 years and currently have a 09 HD Ultra Classic and Ducati 796 Hypermotard, but the KLR is my first choice for my 38 mile commute each day. Very easy and relaxing bike to ride. Would take it around the world without thinking twice.

  10. Vrooom says:

    Exactly what you need to ride to the trails, ride them all day, then ride home. Well, maybe a KTM, WR, or KLX is exactly what you need, but this is pretty close to the mark for that purpose. Got a city commute, would work well for that too.

  11. RobG says:

    I think this is a neat bike. If it had been out when I made my purchase, I might very well have gotten one. Instead, I got a KLX250S and have no regrets. After two years it’s finally setup the way I want, except the 351 kit goes in before the end of the month. BTW they have a 280 big bore for the Honda too, with a larger one in development. At the price, the Honda is going to mop up the market.

  12. James says:

    Great bike, have had mine for 6 months now and love it. I used it as my commuter/errand bike, weekend trail rider and camping bike… this one gets used 90% of the time. I have had many bikes before, closest being a Yamaha WR250X. The CRF is very smooth and a lot of fun to ride.

    The aftermarket is picking up very quickly for these machines too which is nice. To me it needed to be derestricted… after the full pipe and EJK it runs like a whole other machine (and dropped 10 lbs in the process didn’t hurt either). My top speed is 82mph now and it get’s their much quicker than stock, it cruises great at 70 leaving me more power when it’s needed. I’m not a weight-weenie type and aside from spec sheets and Internet ratings once you ride this bike you would have never guessed it weighs 320 wet in stock form. I had my seat recovered using the stock pan and a kit from Seat Concepts, this allows me to do several hundred mile trips on it now… Corbin also has a nice product already too. For the more serious off-roaders gearing down a tad and then dialing in the suspension seems to be common interest, for me it does fine in stock form on fire roads and some light duty exploring (my tires rarely leave the ground).

    Let’s remember this is a great priced dual sport, not a MX bike or a high performance ride like Husky, KTM, etc… this bike is low cost and has 8000 service intervals, look up the other brands service requirements to see what I mean. Best forum so far is ThumperTalk, they have an entire section for this model and plenty of nice folks there to help out.

    Ride safe and have fun!

  13. halfbaked says:

    At $15 per pound it is quite a value. But that 2.0 gal gas tank is completely ridiculous even for a 250. And the Mugen version is so much better. http://www.motofichas.com/repositorio//Honda//honda_crf250l-09.jpg

  14. Randy says:

    I pick one up off the stand, felt closer to the DRZ400S I used to own than to my WR250R. John mentioned the KLX250S, I think that is a better choice than the Honda.

    • MGNorge says:

      Please describe why you think the KLX is better. I had a look around at a few reviews and while you can find those that give the nod to the Kawasaki it does tend to matter by whom and why? Here’s a video review that presents some food for thought: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=NkCNV7Aaets

      Since the Honda comes to market to drum up some new life in the sagging motorcycle sales arena I think it does an admiral job in doing just that with easy to live with features and at a lower cost.

      • Randy says:

        The KLX is lighter by 25 pounds, and it feels lighter even than that. Otherwise the bikes are about the same in the engine (18 RWHP), but the Kawi has better suspension. The KLX is typically discounted in my region. I don’t have more reasons but that seems enough to me. I will say that I’m mystified why Honda can’t even match the 21 HP of the 1981 260 pound air cooled Yamaha XT250. Why is time going backwards?

        I wouldn’t have either, my WR250R is superior in every way except seat height. I was interested in the Honda for my 5’3″ 115 pound wife. One pick up off the stand ended that idea, might as well find a used DRZ400S and spend money on lowering it. Or get a KLX250, which she could handle stock. Or even better yet get a WR250R and street track the suspension.

        I’m totally glad Honda is bringing out the new bikes – the CBR250 is a good one at 24RWHP though it’s going to be crushed by the Ninja 300, the new 500’s should be a hit. I think the CRF250L is porky, under suspended, and underpowered. The most underwhelming of the new Hondas but it will probably sell OK. I’m hoping a little competition is generated and Honda and the others (Suzuki, where are you???) raise their game. Kawasaki did with the Ninja 300, I’m hoping they have a WR250R crusher in the works.

        In the end we are just getting back to the performance we oldsters took for granted 35 years ago when you could buy a RD250/350 or a CB400 four. I’m hoping there is enough interest and sales that we get more and better small bikes. For the time being I have a feeling my wife’s next bike will be a Ninja 300 though I think if a CBR250 crops up for a real good price that might be it – I saw new 2012’s for 2,999 for a while! Or if a V7 pops up at a reasonable price!

        • Randy says:

          Just read the KTM 390 review – that looks like the bike! Looks to be at least 6 months off if “next years model” comes out in the fall sometime.

        • BikerDad says:

          “I will say that I’m mystified why Honda can’t even match the 21 HP of the 1981 260 pound air cooled Yamaha XT250. Why is time going backwards? ” In 1984, HP fell from 21 to 17, due to emissions requirements. Emissions requirements since then have gone through at least two rounds of getting stricter… Mystery solved…

          Oh, and the Yamaha weighed in at 270lbs, is air cooled (hence, lower weight), less suspension travel (again, lower weight), etc. A good bike for its time, but the Honda (or KLX250S, or even modern XT250) are much better bikes.

  15. MGNorge says:

    Should prove to be very fun bikes to ride to a very broad audience. Just saw two guys on a pair of them riding together. Reminds me of the 1972 XL250s a buddy of mine and I bought at the same time ($825) at the end of high school and had the blast of our lives. Still miss that bike.

    • D. Hill says:

      I’m extremely jealous MGNorge. The XL-250 Motosport was my dream bike as a young’un, although I never got to own one. That was Honda’s first real attempt at creating a “dirt bike”, an order they filled completely with the soon-after release of the Elsinores. That XL made an impressive debut, winning Baja 500 in its first attempt with Gene Fetty and Bob Silverthorn sharing the duty. A different age, dearly missed.

      • MGNorge says:

        D. Hill,

        It was a great time for a number of reasons with a large variety of reasonably priced bikes to choose from. You may want to get a bib, here’s a fine example of a restored XL250:

        http://www.marblesmotors.com/images/Bikes/72XL25002/51.jpg

        That site is a real treat for the eyes and a trip back through memory lane.

        • D. Hill says:

          I didn’t take you seriously about the bib, but should have. If my wife caught me lusting like that there’d be heck to pay. Then again, I’m thinking it might be worth the risk.

          Awesome site and bikes; thanks for that. I am all over retro!

          • Scotty says:

            Being a fraction younger and not a tall guy I lusted after a DT200 – man when they were tested by Australian Dirt Bike in the 1980s they raved about them. People rode them to wrok, trail rides, and raced them. They really took it to the XR250 and essentialy killed the XR200.

            In less than a year I will be moving to the middle of a very popular dirt bike area, and I’ll own a garage for the first time. Time to add a small dirt bike to the Breva750 I reckon.

    • Martin B says:

      The Honda XL350 was simply a great bike. Enough power, light enough, and it got me out of the two stroke rut.
      I altered mine with chassis mods (extended swingarm, street bike shocks), and it handled unbelievably well, leaning right over with great stability through tight corners. I could outrun much faster bikes through the mountains on that bike. Maybe not in the current sportbike era… I had more fun on that XL350 than on any bike I owned before or since. And where has the kick starter disappeared to? Essential for macho starts in front of the chicks!

  16. John II says:

    I too would like to see a comparison between the big three, CRF250L, KLX250S and the XT250, not the WR250R that the press seems to like to throw into the mix. The new XT now has EFI as does the CRF. The KLX and XT are lighter but then they cost more.

  17. John says:

    It would be nice if the press didn’t completely pretend that the KLX250S didn’t exist. That it’s going to be a good bike seems predictable, but how does it compare to existing competition?

  18. Tom R says:

    That thing is way to small and whimpy. Needs to gain 150 pounds or so, and a cylinder. :)

  19. mickey says:

    Love to have one, it would finish off my stable nicely.

  20. Gronde says:

    That seat makes my bum sore just looking at it. Other than that is looks to be fun bike.

  21. paul says:

    Looks like a fun ride.

  22. al banta says:

    An affordable little dual-sport!