Honda CRF250X Review: The Ultimate all-round off-road bike?
HONDA CRF250X REVIEW: THE ULTIMATE ALL-ROUND OFF-ROAD BIKE?
OK so if you want to enter Erzberg, the little Honda CRF250X may not be your man. But for just about everything else that an off-road rider will want to do in an average riding season, the Honda will do the job competently, efficiently and without complaint. And at the end of the day they will still have half a tank of fuel left.
So we thought we should check out the latest incarnation of the perennial trail favourite. We made a phone call, sent a couple of emails and within a few days we were setting off to rural Devon in the South West of England and the Dave Thorpe Honda Off-road Experience. With the Honda’s the bike of choice for all levels of riders and two private forests to play in, the stage was set for our Honda CRF250X review.
OK so let’s look at what we are dealing with. The Honda CRF250X runs a liquid cooled, 249cc, 78mm x 54mm bore and stroke, single four-stroke power plant. Despite virtually every other manufacturer going for a twin-cam layout, the entire CR range is served by the Unicam four valve design. It’s taken until the 2018 factory MX bikes for Honda to let go of this design, and to be fair, you can see why. The SOHC option keeps down the weight, shortens the upper part of the engine, hence keeping the centre of gravity low. The extremely narrow valve angles keep the combustion wonderfully efficient compared to the necessarily wide set valves on the equivalent DOHC layout. It’s a clear question of ‘if it’s not broke’ tech, but in terms of raw power, the quoted output is a modest 29.3 bhp, so not MXGP levels …
Although it’s taken aeons to get an electric start on their MX bikes, the CRFX has the electric boot as standard. There’s still a kicker, but in reality you’ll never need it – that little motor is more reliable than gold prices.
But while the world is heading to the electrics for fuelling too, the Honda keeps a foot in the past with its positively old-fashioned Keihin 37mm flat slide carburettor. Despite the apparent folly of not going with the flow, Honda have been canny here again, keeping with the tried and trusted tech that will never let you down in the middle of nowhere. A carb works even when the battery is flat, when EFI is as useful as a rubber spanner.
The carb has a conventional choke for cold starting, which in reality it does need, and is fed by another old-school relic – a petrol tap with a reserve setting, so much more informative than a tiny light on the dashboard!
Further down into the engine and it’s more of the same – old school reliability takes precedence over new and fallible. That translates into an off-road oriented and super-slick five-speed box, served by a cable-operated clutch. Simple, reliable and unlikely to cause issues on the trail (and if it does, you can mend it on the fly, which is more than can be said for a hydraulic seal set).
Try as you might, you cannot fault the CRFs motor. It manages to combine bomb-proof-reliability with genuinely usable power characteristics. What’s not to like here?
As the company that pretty much developed aluminium perimeter frames with their ground breaking 1997 CR motocross bikes, Honda are rightly proud of the technology that has been a staple of Japanese dirt bikes ever since. And while the CRF250X may not have the very latest version, the design is well up to the task. The ally wraps its way round the compact engine on its way down to the swing arm pivot, and a detachable aluminium subframe mounts at the back. As you’d expect, the tank sits between the rails, keeping the weight nice and low, although at only just over seven litres, the standard tank is actually not that large. The reserve position starts when there is 1.6 litres left.
Suspension wise, the Honda plays it safe again with 47mm USD coil spring Showas up front . They are adjustable compression and rebound damping – and a similarly adjustable Showa shock at back. The shock is actuated via the usual Pro Link system that Honda bought in around 1981. There’s 315mm travel at both ends.
Wheelbase for the bike is 1481 mm, almost the same as the motocross bikes. Seat height is a sensible 958 mm and ground clearance is 348 mm – all acceptable for trail and road.
Oh and to finish the weights and measures, the Honda comes in at around 115kg wet – not the lightest, but certainly not the heaviest.
OK so lets sum up the rest of the CRFX. On the standard CRFX the brakes run 240mm rotors at both ends, both grabbed by Nissin calipers. If you choose the road legal version in the UK, you get wavy discs and a bigger 260mm disc up front for better stopping power on the road. The wheels are the usual 21/18 combination, although the tyre choice will vary according to which model you choose – road legal or off-road only. The Chain is a T ring option, though quite why they couldn’t just reach for an O-ring option is a mystery!
Thankfully, the Honda comes with quality Renthal bars as stock, so it’s not quite stuck in the trail days of nasty budget steel bars that still get fitted to the CRF250L.
Air filter access is via a user-friendly side opening door that makes changes easier. The seal on the door looks fairly good, so the bike should cope well with reasonably deep water, providing you keep the bow – wave going. Click here for our top tips for Surviving Deep Water Crossings.
As regards to additional kit, this really depends on where you are buying. In the US, you get neither skid plate or hand-guards but you do get stock red plastics. Whereas in the UK the stock X comes with other add-ons, from a Yoshimura Exhaust, different graphics and plastics. In the UK there is also the option of the CRF250 RE – a halfway house option sold with basic equipment to allow owners to make it legal for the blacktop. Then there’s the full RL – road legal- version which is made fully road legal thanks to a collection of aftermarket parts added to the stock X version to meet the regulations. It comes with a full lighting kit, indicators, modified side stand and full registration. In past years they also fitted a GMX aluminium tank, but now they seem to have relaxed a bit and admitted plastic is quite safe enough!
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HONDA CRF250X ON THE TRAILS
With the details all down and listed, it’s time to review how the Honda actually rides. As mentioned, we headed to Devon to ride the 2016 model, although in fairness we’ve ridden previous incarnations of the CRF250X in South Wales on numerous occasions at the former home of the Dave Thorpe Centre. Honda may release a raft of new versions of their bikes each year, but in reality the 250 Enduro bike has been much the same for the last five or so years. Having hit a winning formula, they’ve kept the tweaks to the minimum.
Sat on the bike, there’s a familiar and quality feel about the cockpit. The ones we are riding are the basic X models rather than the road legal versions. There’s lights and a tiny number plate, but little else to worry about. Although the Honda may not be the most exciting bike in the paddock, the sheer quality of everything from the bolts to the welding shines through, And the residuals on all of their bikes show testament to this.
A bit of choke and a quick jab of the magic button fires up the motor, but as the bike is running the stock end can – roughly the size of a fire extinguisher and much the same weight – the sound is not exactly raucous. Think of a cat purring loudly – that’s about the sound levels we’re talking – friendly to the environment but maybe lacking the visceral roar of a full-on MX pipe.
The clutch, although fine from the off, is maybe a tad prove to fade over time. And with that old school cable, will need a bit of adjustment on a long run, so our advice is to stay on the pipe and off the clutch! The gearbox makes up for the limitations of the clutch with super-smooth changes and a user-friendly selection of gears to cope with all eventualities. Having a five-speed box means the gears are wider and have a bigger range, so the tap dancing of a six-speeder is simply not there.
Stepping off a full-on two-stroke enduro bike onto the CRF – as we had – takes a bit of a mind reset. The little Honda’s power delivery and quiet low-down torque requires an entirely different riding style, and if you are not careful, lulls you into a much more relaxed approach to off-roading. Don’t get us wrong, you can get a hustle going on this bike, it just requires a bit more thought and planning to keep it on the boil if you are trying to make swift progress.
The problem may be the lack of top end punch in stock trim, a problem that could no doubt be alleviated by ditching the standard can and replacing with something a bit less restrictive. Yet, as a trail machine, top-end punch is not exactly an essential, compared to impeccable handling, reliability and fuel economy. And it’s here that the Honda CRF250X plays its aces in all three departments.
The Showa suspension is wonderfully compliant for trail speeds, soaking up anything we could throw at it, even without bothering to fine-tune the clickers for our weight, riding style and the terrain. Yes – like the power, you could see that it might be a bit too soft for race speeds, but who buys a CRF250X to race? And if you do, then stiffening up the springers isn’t exactly ‘splitting-the-atom-difficult’.
Steering geometry on the Honda make changes in direction precise, but the bike’s weight tends to make it a tad lazier than the equivalent motocross model. Dropping the forks through the yokes would quicken the turning a tad if you are going to be doing really tricky and tight trails, but can’t fight those slightly porky dimensions. It’s a small gripe really and most owners will probably never notice a problem, let alone go looking for a solution!
Onto the brakes and again we had zero complaints. The tracks we were on had lots of steep downhills and cross cambers to cope with and the Nissin calipers offer precise and progressive action with plenty of feel and power – just what you want really.
The bike we rode has a trials rear tyre, a requirement from the landowner to reduce surface damage in the forest. We run a trials hybrid hoop in the UK anyway, so this was neither a problem or a hindrance. Trial tyres have incredible grip on rocky surfaces and as the terrain was littered with rocks, then the tyres performed well. Had the day been more British – as in wet – then the bike might have suffered in the muddy bits, but this would hardly be Honda’s fault!
So what else is there to say? The riding position is both neutral & comfortable and the seat is more comfortable than anything that comes out of Austria. The foot pegs – well ,they are stock Honda and as such are narrow and rather unsatisfactory – same as usual then…
The Honda gets top marks here – great riding position, comfortable seat, good bars – the whole nine yards.
Do you really need to ask? Honda build quality is legendary and the CRF comes through with everything you’d expect. A caveat here: the RL version has non-Honda parts and these lack the usual quality.
Given that this bike could easily outlive you, the Honda bosses this category with a full five marks – it’s cheap enough to start with at just under £6000 on the road and will deliver years of hassle free riding.
The only category to lose out is appearance, and this is just because it’s getting a bit dated having gone many years with little change. A refresh to the look of the CRF motocross bikes would help it get a full five. We don’t like the UK graphics as much as the US red version.
REVIEW OF THE HONDA CRF250X – THE VERDICT
After a day of riding the Honda in the Devon woods, were we smiling or frowning? Well the answer is obvious: The Honda is just really good at what it was intended for – trail riding and off-road fun. Period.
Like the genius of the sales smashing Honda Cub, the Honda CRF250X remains popular because it is a true everyman bike that riders from Canberra to California can enjoy. With the huge back-up that Honda reliability gives, you can take this bike anywhere on any surface and it will do it well.
On a recent TRF riding trip to Mid Wales last month, all but eleven of the twelve riders took their bikes the 90 miles from Bristol to the start point in their vans. We never really considered the option of riding there. But this is exactly what the guy with the CRF250XRL did, travelling over 100 miles on motorways, dual carriageways, trails and byways complete with tent, sleeping bag and everything for a weekend camping. And once relieved of the kit and caboodle, the little Honda was able to keep pace with the more focussed enduro bikes from dawn til dusk on the trails.
And that is fundamentally the reason for this bike’s success. It can do a big trip on the tarmac just as well as it can cope with the gnarliest of trails and if that happens on the same trip, then it doesn’t bat an eyelid. It’s a genuine all-rounder and in today’s market, that is rare.
RIDE EXPEDITIONS REVIEW RATING : HONDA CRF250X
The Honda CRF250X is one great motorcycle, excelling in what it was intended to do.
Yes you can up the spec and performance if you wanted to give it a bit more bite and bark, but to be brutally frank, there isn’t much need beyond maybe a freer breathing pipe. In reality, the owners who buy this bike are more likely to go with something like a Rekluse clutch than a full Yoshi system – reaching for additional power is not the priority.
This bike is all about smooth and hassle free riding and as such, the Honda knocks it right out of the park.
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Do you own a Honda CRF250X? What do you like about it and what are your pet peeves?
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