Photos by Kevin Wing
It’s no secret that US motorcycle sales are down. From a high of 1.5 million units in the early 1970′s to over a million bikes sold per year from 2003-2008, motorcycle sales have dropped to 440,000 in the last year. To combat the down trend Honda is introducing several new value driven products, one of them an all new dual sport bike, the CRF250L. Like their first true dual sport bike, the XL250, they believe the key to bringing riders back into the sport is by producing an economical motorcycle that is versatile and fun to use.
The CRF250L has an all new liquid cooled engine that it shares with the CBR250R street bike. The engine features a DOHC configuration with roller rocker arms and large 30mm intake and 24mm exhaust valves. The design allows for valve adjustments without removing camshafts for ease of maintenance. The bike is fuel injected and features a 6 speed transmission. The chassis is constructed of steel and has a tapered aluminum swingarm. The 43mm Showa forks have a single sided spring and provide 9.8″ of travel. Rear suspension has 9.4″ of travel. The bike is equipped with 256mm disc brakes in the front and 220mm in the rear.
When Honda made arrangements to hold the CRF250L press introduction in Santa Barbara, California it seemed a good idea to send me since I could jump on my beach cruiser and ride to our starting point two minutes away. Our adventure on the new 250L would begin with an 18-mile ride up one of the most scenic roads in the US. As soon as I got on the bike I couldn’t help but notice how maneuverable it was. The handlebars turn 45 degrees in either direction and the bike has a low 34.7″ seat height. Passing a driver’s test on this bike would be a breeze. The bike is very easy to ride and quite capable for a 250 at less than freeway speeds. The Dunlop dual sport tires held surprising well on the twisty asphalt corners we encountered. The motor was smooth and had very little vibration thanks to a gear-driven counterbalancer.
As our trip turned to dirt, I was asked if I rode these trails a lot. The fact is, I hardly ever ride them. The prospect of trucking my bike up the mountain road, coupled with the California red sticker issue and general cavity search every time I want to ride my dirt bike on public land has deterred me and made me a pay-your-$25-at-the-motocross-track-and-ride-hassle-free guy. Making it to the dirt on the 250L turned out to be a lot of fun and hassle free. Even the rangers waved at me.
Off-road the CRF250L was a lot of fun but not without limitations. The fuel injected motor had excellent throttle response but only produced mild power. The suspension was plush and suitable for moderate trail riding. At faster speed the suspension was too soft and not adjustable. Ground clearance was a little low for a serious trail. While the low seat height and tight turning radius made it easy to ride, the 320ibs full fluid weight made you realize you had a lot of bike under you. The chassis was neutral in handling and the ergos fit average and smaller size riders best. The tires performed better on the street than they did on the trail.
At $4499 MSRP the 250L is a great value. Payments, if financed, would be less than $100 a month. The miserly 250L gets 73mpg and doesn’t need high octane gas. While this bike won’t come close to beating a KTM or even a CRF250X in the dirt it is a great bike for someone looking for inexpensive transportation and a bit of off-road fun on the weekend.