No doubt there are riders all who don’t see the point of in-depth testing of 250cc four-stroke off-road machines. After all, they’re suitable only for lightweight wimps and chicks, right? Not even close!Sure, machines such as the $6199 Honda CRF250X work great for lighter riders, and we are including an opinion from a female rider in this test. But we have a point to make.The 2004 bike stayed in my garage, and I’m the staff heavyweight and an acknowledged horsepower junkie. Actually, I go where the grins are, and the CRF250X would rip the axle out of any dyno that could measure fun factor. Even in the Dirt Rider stable, filled with a relatively vast array of choices, the 250X accumulated more riding days than any other bike. Some of those days were spent with small, light or even female riders aboard, but the majority of the miles were added on by grande or at least normal-sized serious off-roaders. We’ll probably leave the ’05 at home for the Billings Hillclimb, but it has game for any other ride we can imagine. The 250X is astonishingly able in any terrain and capable of dumfounding the most-hardened veteran.So a year down the trail, here we are with the Honda CRF250Xs. Both models-the smog-friendly California version and the 49-stater that meets federal standards for sound but not California emission levels-are back with only graphic updates. We thoroughly tested the ’04 bike, including putting in enough hours to wear out the piston and valves, but aside from a day with the California model, we didn’t have back-to-back time on the two renditions. We arranged for one of each 2005 X and started riding, concentrating on areas and conditions that we ignored last year. Instead of limiting our outings to terrain that suited low-powered bikes, we merely went to all of our normal riding areas in the company of big and fast motorcycles. As it turned out, weather made this a very different test, since with the 2004s we encountered dry and dusty conditions while we had plenty of rain and cold weather when we rode the 2005 models. The weather conditions changed how well the bikes performed in stock form.Our big discovery, though, was we had been discriminating against the little bikes more than we should. It was surprising how well the Xs can hang-even when the going is steep, sandy or fast. Here’s what we found.Motor
Our first order of business was to put in some hard days without changing one detail of the engine. We rode them without messing with the jetting, opening the exhaust or doing anything else. For dry and mild conditions, both bikes run exceptionally well. They have excellent torque from right above idle, have the best meat through the midrange then finally make the most power when the engine is turning speeds that would intimidate a blender. Keep the rpm up and stir the gearbox, and acceleration is brisk. When we traveled to our usual high-desert haunts, we were shocked at the hills either X would climb. We’re talking hills that have an XR400R struggling. When the ground is hard and the traction is limited, it is difficult to discern any performance difference between the two models. When the rain came and we got into sandy hills out in the desert, the 49-state model felt a bit more muscular. A bigger problem was that the rain came with cold temperatures, and lean jetting that was appropriate in normal conditions caused some hesitations and bogs. Even at a fairly high altitude, when the bikes should have been a little richer, they still were lean. The problem shows up sooner on the California version, but we experienced the same thing in the cold rain with the 49-stater.The key differences between the two models are a leaner needle (NCYU for the 49-state bike, versus a NCVT for the Californian), a milder cam and an air pump on the California model. The on-bike performance variations are subtle on rocky or packed soil, and hard to quantify even in back-to-back comparisons.The natural comparison is to the XR400R, since the peak power numbers are the same. When the terrain is soft, such as with sand or mud, the 49-state edition shows a small but obvious edge in oomph. Here the more-mild cam is obvious as the California bike peaks a bit sooner and doesn’t make as much power in the upper revs yet somehow feels a little peppier at the same time.Make no mistake, though: Few, if any, off-road-legal bikes run anywhere close to the levels of the CRF250X. The bike is absolutely ridable, and even raceable in the right conditions as it comes off the showroom floor. We tested this bike at virtually the same time two of our editors went to Indiana for the Ironman GNCC to race-test Scott Summers’ modified CRF450R, and both riders felt they would actually have been better off on a stock CRF250X in those muddy and rutted conditions.As well as the bikes performed in stock trim, an SRA Grand Prix was coming to town, and we wanted to see how difficult it would be to change the California model to closed-course specs, and if it would be feasible to change it back for off-road use.We installed a 42 pilot jet, a 132 main and a needle from the CRF450R parts book called an NCVQ with the clip in the third position from the top. This extra fuel improves the health of the CRF and rids most leanness from the jetting. After doing the changeover once, you should be able to change it back in about 20 minutes, but plan a good chunk of time for your first go. With the fuel tank off, loosen the carb and rotate it to swap the jets. You’ll need to change the needle through the top of the carb with Allen wrenches and a special tool included with the bike to grab the needle. Long Allen T-handles are a bonus. Getting at the main and pilot jets is more difficult because the electric-starter motor fills most of the space under the float bowl. A small jet tool or a 6mm swivel socket will reach the main, but you’ll need a perfectly sized flat-blade screwdriver. We ground the blade down until it was 4mm wide from the tip to 20mm back from the tip. Remove the countershaft sprocket guard, and with the carb turned as far as it will go, you can slip in the screwdriver near the clutch actuating arm and remove the pilot jet. Otherwise, you’ll need to remove the carburetor, and we had to remove the subframe-a pain with all the wires and hoses-and the rear shock to get the carb off. If you choose this route, leave off the shock until you have the airboot back on the carburetor. There also is a metal bung in the airboot with a hose attached, and it is easy to forget to install the hose, since it is difficult to see, but leaving it off will let dirt into the motor.We also removed the air pump with an IMS block-off kit. The air pump doesn’t hurt or affect the power. The IMS kit provides good directions, and removing the pump and temporarily blocking the holes took less than 30 minutes.In the colder air we encountered, the fuel screw needed to be more than 2.5 turns out to eliminate an off-idle hesitation, so we richened up even further with a 45 pilot and set the fuel screw at 1.75 turns. With our modified screwdriver and a sure knowledge of the pilot location, we made the switch in less than 10 minutes in the field.The Rest
Few will find much to criticize about the chassis. It is loosely based on the CRF250R motocrosser, and that is a fine starting place. The CRF250R has fabulous handling and suspension, and the X keeps the handling and vastly improves the suspension plushness for off-road. We had riders ranging from 120 to 210 pounds, and we barely changed suspension settings other than shock preload. In fact, for rocky terrain we changed nothing. For the desert, we went a bit stiffer for the heavy guys. There isn’t a lot of adjustment in the front, since the fork’s compression comes set at 6 clicks out, though the rear is 10 clicks out and has a high-speed compression adjuster.Our heaviest riders would have benefited from stiffer springs in front and rear, but it worked fine, and we didn’t want to mess it up for lighter riders, including waiflike art director Joe McKimmy.The rider accommodations are first-rate aside from the lack of hand guards. We installed Enduro Engineering aluminum units to protect the controls and the riders’ digits. The end of the Honda grip is exceptionally thick, and we don’t like simply cutting it off, so we used a spacer smaller than the inner diameter of the bar to eliminate interference between the throttle grip and the guard.It’s a good thing the bike is comfortable, too, since the sub-3-gallon tank is good for more than 80 miles on our trails! The radiators can be one sore thumb. The perimeter frame kind of hangs those thin-wall, lightweight coolers out in the breeze, and we have crash-damaged them and poked holes in them with trail spears. We’ve had excellent results with Devol and Rooster Performance guards, which protect the front and sides of the radiator, plus reinforce it from behind. We strongly recommend radiator protection.The only other snivel was minor and due largely to rider abuse. One rider faded away the rear brake on a long, steep downhill switchback section. Braking was nearly constant with very little opportunity for the system to cool.Later Days
Most times a new bike is like a new romance, and everything is wonderful for a time. Then you start to get used to each other, and you either bond or begin to get under each other’s skin. After a year with the CRF250X, our romance is still in full swing. We can’t say we weren’t sorry to see the XR400R vanish from the Honda lineup, since it remained a staff favorite for when the going got long or tough. But so far, the X appears to be a fine extension of the pedigree, with a higher-horsepower version only months away in the CRF450X. And as with that new romance, it puts a smile on our faces every time-even when the riding is dry, dusty and slippery. If you are a fun fiend, the CRF250X could be your new addiction.What’s Hot!
* E-starting and kickstarting are effortless and reliable in all conditions.
* Power is very effective with the gearbox ratios.
* Performance is strong, especially for a quiet, smog-legal model.
* The X engines don’t run well with a loud pipe installed.
* All of the off-road equipment-lights, odometer and sidestand-are very reliable and effective.
* Range is excellent with the stock tank. In the West, we can see more than 80 miles on a fill-up.
* The ergonomics are quite suitable for a wide variety of rider sizes.
* Suspension settings provide plush but controlled action for woods or desert and anything in between.
* Seat foam is a little thin, since the seat base is dished for the battery, and that bothered heavy riders.
* Piston and valve life … it’s no XR.Opinions
He didn’t hear it coming. I snuck up on Honda’s PR guy, Ray Conway, and passed him in a corner during the SRA Grand Prix at Glen Helen. “I got passed by a sewing machine!” was his response during our post-event benchracing session. Since meeting the CRF250X, my riding ability has reached a new level. I’m confident with the bike and its performance. It feels light and easy to turn. With a lowered and revalved suspension, the 250X I raced in the 24 Hours of Glen Helen could take a hit better, and I could go through whoops without the rear end rebounding too quickly.On the test bike, I had trouble with the rear swapping a little, whereas my 24-Hour bike would stay straighter. Both bikes turn great. I can lean over and not feel I am going to fall over. I think this is because the clutch is so easy to engage that I actually use it to accelerate out of the turn, hence keeping myself upright. Our 24-Hour bike felt stronger right off the bottom (it had a Pro Circuit 496 muffler and the competition jetting), whereas the stock 250X feels less aggressive. It comes on strong but later in the revs, and it requires more shifting.Compared with bikes such as the XR400R I ride, the CRF250X has plenty of power. I just need to learn how to shift more and ride it more like a 125. The height of the bike doesn’t bother me, but I wouldn’t mind the lower seat height of our 24-Hour bike for trail riding. The stock 49-state model had some engine-braking at low speeds, but I didn’t notice it above 10 mph. All in all, I like this bike because it’s light, is easy to ride, has a great clutch pull and, most of all, has a quiet and smooth motor.Heather Lewis/5’7″/150 lb/Women’s AI sold my XR400R and switched to a CRF450R because I wanted state-of-the-art handling and suspension with a more-modern motor. The switch was a great one for me, and to tell the truth, I never would have considered going back to an off-road-only 250cc four-stroke such as the X. Of course, that was before I rode one. I have regular trail loops I ride in the mountains around Gorman and Hungry Valley, and I could not have imagined how much fun I’d have on a 250cc four-stroke trailbike. I just couldn’t stop laughing in my helmet. The 450 probably thrills-scares-me more, but I’m positive I go faster, longer on the 250X. I’ve recommended this bike to every single rider I know who is in the market for a new bike.Don Kelley/5’11″/200 lb/Intermediate trail riderMy normal mount is a Honda CRF450R, and after a day on the trails, I’ve had big fun but am sore, and my knees really pay the price. Even after a gnarly day of riding on the X, I didn’t feel beat up. I’m sure the plush suspension is a big part of it, but that electric start sure saves on the knee and the lower back. It is super-easy to kickstart, but that button is worth its weight for me. I sure would miss the power when we got to the big hills, but it would be worth the trade-off.Rob Waite/5’9″/160 lb/Expert trail riderI don’t think of myself as a motocross guy or a trail rider; I think of myself as a wet-dirt guy. When the ground is wet, I’m an off-road rider, and when California dries out, I head for watered tracks. Having the CRF250X in my garage changes that dynamic. The bike is so much fun I don’t let a little dust stop me. I rode more trails in the summer of 2004 than I have in years, and the main reason is the X. This bike is pure fun and distilled luxury. It doesn’t beat me up or tire me out. It does everything I ask of it and continually surprises me with what it will do. I wish the piston and valve life were more XR-ish, but I’ll deal with the added maintenance. I mentally rate bikes on a dollar-per-smile factor, and even with the added bucks for parts changing, the DPS number is off the chart.Karel Kramer/6’1″/205 lb/B enduro rider