Is this your new bike or your parents’ new play bike? It could be both, and at the push of a button!It’s hard to improve some things, for instance sliced bread and bottled water. They’re pretty much as convenient and practical as needed. But what if someone came up with a way to actually make them better? Say with peanut butter and jelly or grilled cheese already installed on bread? Or a water bottle that stays cold for days? After a while you’d be spoiled on the new goodies and never look at regular bread or bottles again. It’s like that with the 2006 Honda CRF150. It’s a model that has a history of being good: good at learning on, good at playing on and good at taking a beating. These bikes are also good at being versatile. With kids, adults, beginners or pros on board, the bikes always seem to have the same effect—big smiles and the desire to get back on. More than a few of us at Mini Rider started our dirt bike addictions when these bikes were called XRs. Now for ’06, Honda has just spoiled all of us rotten with the push of a button.The first thing Honda did when they rolled out the new CRF150 was to take the kickstarter and trash it. In its place they added the beauty of electric start, which gave the bike a lot more fans. The little bike now fires to life and warms up with a ton less effort. Kids and first-timers don’t have to kick. Dads and moms and grandparents and girlfriends don’t have to kick. No one has to kick!Next, Honda chucked the old engine. In the recent past, the CRF150 shared engine parts with the CRF230F but used a smaller cylinder and head to put the displacement at 153cc. While this was easy and cheap for Honda, it was heavy and didn’t produce as much power as the company would’ve liked. So, a new motor was created, and the new little red machine became whole.The new powerplant sports an engine built specifically for the 150, with smaller and lighter parts than the old 230 unit. The overall weight savings of the new 149cc motor were significant. And power was improved in a win-win situation for all the throttle monkeys out there. In fact, our scales show the weight of the new unit, even with the additional baggage of electric start, is about equal to last year’s bike at just under 223 pounds. While the weight is manageable for adults and stronger kids, the bike is somewhat heavy if you’re on the small side.Honda also did some minor revalving to the suspension to make the play-riding favorite stand up to the use and abuse aggressive kids and heavier adults can put it through. But the best part of all the changes to the bike is the fact they all work.The bike revs further with the new motor, pulling all five gears longer and stronger than before. It’s not a rocket ship by any means, and it isn’t intended to be one. But it will go fast enough to get your blood pumping. And the power makes high-rev roosting a blast. We gave it a thorough testing with experienced adult pros, fast kids and first-time women riders (see Liz’s experience below), and all of them were satisfied with the performance.Adding to the enjoyment is an easy clutch pull, smooth shifting and reduced vibrations and engine noise compared to previous models.Suspension on these bikes is usually a far cry from a more competitive motocross bike. While still not as forgiving on hard hits, it does resist bottoming better than before and is loaded with high-end running gear you won’t find on other brands. The Honda sports a full-cradle frame, a 35mm Showa fork, a Showa shock on a full-linkage system and full-size bike hubs laced to sturdy spokes and aluminum rims.Unfortunately, there’s always a downside, and with the ’06 CRF150 the biggest complaints came from the tires. The Pirelli pattern is fine for doing burnouts in the parking lot, but that’s about it. Luckily the 70/100-19 front and 90/100-16 rear are the same size as big-wheel 80s, leaving plenty of patterns and compounds available from almost all tire companies. Also a bummer is the rear drum brake. While the front has an adequately large, shiny disc, the rear is stuck with the drum.The Honda line of CRFs (and before them the XRs) have always been a good choice when picking a durable and fun off-road bike. And the line always seems to cover the largest group of potential riders. The ’06 CRF150 continues in that tradition by expanding its potential with the push of its electric start. How many more people will be addicted to off-road motorcycling this year? A lot.By guest newbie tester Liz Oakes
It was a clear California morning when I headed out to the track for my first ride on an off-road motorcycle. My good buddy Jesse Ziegler had suggested this first be done on the new Honda CRF150 because, as he put it, “It’s a great first-timer bike.”"You’ll do fine,” he said. I’m not sure where his confidence came from.Now, just for the record, I do have a lot of experience on bikes. Except my bikes are on the road. And you have to pedal them. Jesse didn’t seem to think the difference was a big deal and convinced me the CRF would be nothing but a natural progression for my riding repertoire.Before my trip to the track, I had been told by many friends that I was sure to eat plenty of dirt on my first day riding, so my expectations were that I’d be quickly tossed. Jesse reassured me that I’d be fine as he went over the bike’s controls ever so slowly. Before long, I was ready to go, but it was clear Jesse wasn’t going to let me start riding until he covered every detail about the bike.Right off, I was glad the bike had an electric start. It was a dream and started right up (when Jesse finally let me). After mastering the clutch, I took off. The bike proved to be easy after all. I started out slowly but successfully accelerated through some gears without hitting the dirt. The CRF was surprisingly user-friendly considering I had never ridden a dirt bike and had some seriously mixed expectations.At 5 feet 7 inches and 125 pounds, I wasn’t exactly muscling the bike around, but I did find it light enough to handle and was able to maneuver it around turns pretty easily. Additionally, the gears were forgiving and easy to hit. I had a bit of trouble finding neutral sometimes, but I think that’s something you get better at with practice and as your boots break in. At first, I was only able to shift up and didn’t try to downshift into corners.After breaking for lunch, I got a second wind and jumped back on the bike. This time, I started downshifting as well as playing around with speed. The Honda continued to handle well. And it never surprised me with erratic steering or sliding. I felt comfortable with the amount of power it had: fast enough to be a rush but not so fast I felt out of control. It was a lot of fun to ride. And, I never fell!I can’t wait to get back out on the track—Jesse has promised to take me again. And, if we have the Honda 150, I know I could bring some friends to have just as much fun dirt bike riding as I did. It was an unforgettable first of what I hope to be many experiences on the dirt!