After a full year of riding my Honda CR144 Long Haul bike, the time has finally come to bid the sweet little ripper good night. This is certainly a bittersweet affair; on the one hand, I am glad to be getting rid of an underpowered little machine that requires a cocktaillike fuel mixture just to keep the detonations away. But at the same time, I have had more fun riding this two-stroke this year than almost any other bike, and it’s a bummer to think that this may be the last 125cc racer that I ever call my own.At the last update (Nov. ’06), the 144cc had been ridden hard and put away soaking wet. After about five too many hard rides, we threw the Honda on the lift stand and went through the bike top to bottom. The fork seals were replaced, as were the well-worn rear brake pads, and some fresh clutch plates were swapped for the still-smoking metals and fibers, along with the springs. We also took care of some excessive rattling, which was caused in part by a blown-out rubber silencer mount and the lack of an exhaust flange gasket, where the pipe connects to the engine. Cables were lubed, fluids were refilled, bolts were checked and a Dunlop D756 rear tire was slapped on the back in place of the worn Pirelli. We even cleaned the pipe with some pool acid to regain some of that old bling-blam! The 144 looked as sharp as ever and felt much tighter all around.Once buttoned up, we again put the Honda through another grueling bout of track days and hard rides. The motor continued to rip, but as the hourmeter clicked on, it was apparent that the bike was feeling a bit tired. Because the 144cc engine is almost unbearable when ridden slowly, the bike acquired an excessive amount of abuse from the countless revved-out laps. By the time we hit 42 hours, every Dirt Rider staffer in the bike’s rotation was so familiar with the picky powerband that we could all ride the bike to a sky-high level of fun. Jimmy and I spent an entire day at the Lake Elsinore MX track just racing our Long Hauls around, and I watched the 144 carry him over a number of jumps that he wasn’t clearing on a 250F-no small feat with a 185-pound pilot aboard. We also took the CR to a couple of shootout days as a “downtime” bike for waiting testers, and it proved to be a huge hit, most notably with one of the Women’s Intermediate riders on hand. Every new rider went through the same series of emotions regarding the 144: pure curiosity, slight frustration, gradual acceptance and sheer amusement. We again rode the beans out of the bike, and a good time was truly had by all.We finally decided it was time to tear down the little bike again and see how it was holding up. A close look at the top end revealed a well-worn piston with a noticeably abused ring, testament to the harsh detonations that seemed to abide in the engine all year. Some of the aluminum piston pieces had worked their way into the ring area, and the ring was almost stuck. The cylinder and head were both in decent shape, and by the looks of the spark plug, the fuel mixture and jetting were both in the right spot, if not a little rich. Even with some evidence of errant metal in the top end, the crank felt fairly tight and the piston was still usable, but for a high-performance bike, we’d replace it.All in all, I am very impressed with how this bike performed throughout the past year. Being a small-bore two-stroke, the 144 has definitely made me a lot more aggressive rider and helped my cornering speed much more than a 250F ever could-proof that two-strokes can still help your skills. The engine did take some tuning to get right, and further testing showed that the bike was only happy on at least a 50/50 blend of high-octane pump gas and VP C12 race fuel, which isn’t cheap. Looking back, it might have been wise to keep the motor a 125cc and just fiddle with the tuning, since we didn’t race it every weekend. But how many bikes do you know of that can go a whole year on the stock suspension, handlebar, chain, sprockets, plastic and graphics? The Honda’s impressive chassis durability almost made up for the cost of the engine mods, and I am stoked that she held up to our best abuse.From even before my first Long Haul update, I was curious to see how the 144 would hold up against the growing army of thumpers. The verdict, after hours and hours in the saddle, is that the mod two-stroke is both better and worse than a 250F-and it’s just plain different in a lot of ways. The argument can be made that the 144 won’t ever have the power spread of a stock four-stroke-it just has more peak power. You could also say that the hard-charging revs of the two-stroke are infinitely cooler than anything else on the track these days. It will be nice to make the switch to a 250F Long Haul this year; however, I am not looking forward to the complex motor and comparatively lazy riding style that I might encounter in the process. The Honda CR144R has been one of the better race bikes that I have ever ridden, and as it is inevitably part of a disappearing breed, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going to miss it.Running Tally
Hours on Bike: 48
(7 since last update)
Maintenance and Repairs: $923.70
(not including tires)
Rear brake pads: $39.16
8 clutch plates: $10.91 ea.
Exhaust spacer: $5.44
2 fork seals: $14.69 ea.
Rubber silencer mount: $11.76
Base gasket: $6.25
5 gal. VP C12 race fuel: $49.99
2 bottles HP2 premix oil: $6.99 ea.
2 bottles Bel-Ray Gear Saver trans oil: $6.95 ea.
Dunlop D756 rear tire: $99