Jeff Allen

2018 Honda CRF250R vs. 2018 Honda CRF450R

Sibling Rivalry: two motocross bikes

For this edition of the Sibling Rivalry series, we took the 2018 Honda CRF250R and CRF450R to Milestone MX Park in Riverside, California, to determine which bike three test riders preferred. The CRF250R was all-new for 2018 with a completely revised chassis, new bodywork, a dual header pipe-equipped DOHC engine, and a Showa 49mm coil spring fork and Showa shock. The CRF450R was all-new in 2017 and received a few small updates in 2018 including electric start, stiffer valving and spring rates for the Showa 49mm coil spring fork and Showa shock, different engine hangers, and a revised stock ECU map. The two Hondas won their respective 2018 MX shootouts, and it was interesting to see how the two victors stood up against one another. Here's what Steve Boniface, Andrew Oldar, and Evan Allen thought of the two Honda CRFs:

Steve Boniface
Age: 35, 5'7", 150 lb., Pro

When the opportunity came to ride both the Honda CRF250R and CRF450R on the same day and the same track, I was all over it and put my name on the list right away. I rode a 250F for the past year until I picked up Dirt Rider's 2018 Honda CRF450R to use as my Long Haul bike a few months ago. I chose to ride a 450 this winter to change it up a little bit and take advantage of the power to ride faster than my buddies…or so I thought! It was the perfect time to find out if I made the right choice or not.

Honda CRF250R
The Honda CRF250R (left) was all-new for 2018 while the CRF450R received a number of effective updates.Jeff Allen

Milestone is your typical artificial Southern California track. It’s rather small, but the prep is always amazing and the dirt is really good, especially at the beginning of the day. On paper, the track suits a 250F better, but we were about to find out. As a retired pro racer, I always use lap times as well as feeling when I want to compare different bikes, parts, or settings on the bike. The schedule would be the same for both bikes—a few laps on each to get warmed up then three laps that we would record on the stopwatch and compare later that day. Since I had been riding the CRF450R for about two and a half months prior to the day we tested, I started on that bike to get a feel for the track. When our photographer Jeff Allen was done shooting photos of me, it was time to find out what the 450 had in store for me on the track…or more like what I had for the bike!

Andrew gave me the green light and was ready on the side of the finish jump with his iPhone in hand. I was able to put three clean laps in without much traffic on the track, which can be challenging on an open practice day as Milestone almost always seems to be busy. My first impression was the 450 is a lot of bike for that small track. There were only one or two sections where I was really able to go wide open and use the power of the 450. On the other hand, the few mistakes I made were really easy to make up with the help of the abundant power. I was riding in control, but I could feel that any mistake could escalate to the worst of circumstances really quickly with both the weight and inertia of the bigger bike. By the end of my third lap, my arms were pumped up and I was happy to be done. My lap times were consistent, and it was time to rest for a bit before heading out on the CRF250R.

Honda CRF450R Lap Times

Lap 1 1:30.1
Lap 2 1:31.3
Lap 3 1:31.2
CRF450R
"The CRF450R was incredibly agile and allowed me to put the bike exactly where I wanted it." —Evan AllenJeff Allen

I jumped on the CRF250R and my first impression was that I felt taller and stronger on the 250 than I did on the 450. Even though both bikes are pretty close, if not the same, in size and ergonomics, when you are sitting on a 450, the extra 200cc makes a big difference while riding it! The little Honda did feel way underpowered on my first lap coming off the big bike, but I also felt a lot more in control and not as worried about what the bike was going to do or where it was going to go. After doing a lap to get a quick feel, I was ready to record my three lap times. I probably needed a few more sessions to get used to the power again, but as the laps ticked off, I was able to get my lap times faster. The bike felt like a toy and I was able to put it where I wanted and really attack the track. I wasn’t getting as tired and didn’t need to hold on to the handlebar like I did on the 450. I ripped through the turns like no other and was having a blast! Lap three came and I was still fresh. When I was done, I stopped on the side of the track to check out my times. I felt like I could have gone a little faster or at least be a little more consistent, but a few mistakes were costly on the small bike.

Honda CRF250R Lap Times

Lap 1 1:33.4
Lap 2 1:32.1
Lap 3 1:31.2

So did I make the right choice by choosing to go with the 450 for this year? If I looked only at lap times, I would tell you yes. Even on a smaller and tighter track, I was faster and more consistent, but that came at a price. To ride a 450 well, your fitness has to be on point and you have to be focused 110 percent of the time you are out on the track. On the 250, as I previously said, you can feel that any little mistake is very costly.

Now if you asked me what bike I had the most fun on, it would definitely be the 250! I felt like I was in control the whole time. I’m not saying you can be in la-la land while riding the 250, but I was controlling the bike and the bike was going where I wanted it to. Fitness wasn’t as big of an issue, but I was a little slower. The gap was slim on Milestone’s relatively small main track, but would have been much larger on a bigger track like Glen Helen or Cahuilla. The track you are riding, your riding ability, fitness, and goals are some considerations when choosing between a 250 versus a 450. You must choose one, but choose wisely!

CRF250R
"The CRF250R felt like a toy and I was able to put it where I wanted and really attack the track." —Steve BonifaceJeff Allen

Andrew Oldar
Age: 26, 5'10", 130 lb., Novice

The Honda CRF250R and CRF450R are both incredible machines. Both feel super light on the track and have good, predictable suspension. Unlike the previous generation of each bike, the new Hondas both have potent engines with good top-end and over-rev. Choosing between the two was difficult because I like both so much and for many of the same reasons.

I rode the CRF250R first for photos and once we were done, I took a break and hopped on the CRF450R. Coming right off the CRF250R, it blew me away how much harder the CRF450R pulls on the bottom-end and midrange. I think part of the reason this was so noticeable is because the CRF250R lacks bottom-end, even for a 250F. On the tighter Milestone main track, I found myself shifting the CRF450R a lot less and stayed in third gear most of the time. The CRF250R understandably required more shifting than the CRF450R, which was especially noticeable because of how tight Milestone’s layout is. Speaking of shifting, both bikes shift very smoothly.

CRF450R
"The CRF450R has a better balance between cornering ability and straight-line stability than the CRF250R." —Andrew OldarJeff Allen

Both bikes have good top-end power and, aside from the 200cc power difference, the main thing I noticed as far as the powerband goes is that the CRF450R has a more linear powerband with better bottom-end and midrange. The CRF250R has a classic 250F powerband with the meat of the power being on the top-end. If there’s one thing I desire from the CRF250R engine, it’s more bottom-end power.

The Showa 49mm coil spring fork and Showa shock on the CRF450R is definitely set up for someone quite a bit heavier than me, but it still works well. The performance-based feel makes it easy to feel what each end of the bike is doing at all times. It has good bottoming resistance along with an appreciable amount of comfort, even for someone of my lighter weight. The CRF250R uses the same components as the CRF450R and therefore has similar characteristics, but is set up more for my weight. Even though it’s sprung and valved softer than the CRF450R, the CRF250R still has good hold-up on large impacts and felt better on nearly every part of the track for me.

CRF450R
"Even on a smaller and tighter track, I was faster and more consistent on the CRF450R, but that came at a price." —Steve BonifaceJeff Allen

Handling-wise, both bikes are very nimble and easy to turn, especially the CRF250R. The CRF250R is able to cut down inside effortlessly and is extremely easy to put where you want it. The CRF250R corners better than the CRF450R, but seems to have less straight-line stability, which is most noticeable on deceleration. The CRF450R has a better balance between cornering ability and straight-line stability, which I was pleased with because sometimes excellent cornering ability is a trade-off with how stable a bike is at speed. Ergonomically, both bikes are very easy to get used to and feel comfortable on right away, which is one of the many things I have come to love about Hondas.

If I were to have to choose between the two, I would lean more toward the CRF250R because it was easier to ride, especially on a tighter track like Milestone. Also, the suspension was more set up for my weight and the bike was easier to maneuver. Both bikes are extremely nimble, but the CRF250R is the most flickable and lightest-feeling motocross bike I’ve ridden to date.

Honda CRF250R Lap Times Honda CRF450R Lap Times
Lap 1 1:53.1 1:51.6
Lap 2 1:51.8 1:49.2
Lap 3 1:51.2 1:51.6
CRF250R
"The CRF250R offers a great balance between an exciting motor, progressive suspension, and impeccable handling." —Evan AllenJeff Allen

Evan Allen
Age: 20, 5'8", 120 lb., Novice

During the Sibling Rivalry test, I was able to hop from one bike to the other and develop a strong understanding of the differences between the CRF250R and CRF450R. Beginning with the CRF250R, it offers a great all-around package that allows an instant feeling of connection between the rider and bike. Within seconds of entering the track, I raced through a corner and was astonished by how easily I was able to lay the bike over with complete confidence. The engine delivered a good bottom-end punch with a simple slip of the clutch and continued to put power down to the ground all the way through the midrange and into the top-end without falling off. This engine unquestionably has exceptional over-rev.

CRF250R
"The CRF250R is able to cut down inside effortlessly and is extremely easy to put where you want it." —Andrew OldarJeff Allen

The CRF250R’s suspension is a crucial factor in Honda’s rise to the top of the class. The Showa 49mm A-Kit-style spring fork and Showa shock creates a well-balanced bike that handles the braking bumps and acceleration chop very well while remaining planted to the ground. Additionally, the shock on the CRF250R was incredible, working seamlessly with the nimble chassis. The smaller 250 machine felt extremely flickable while also offering great stability. Overall, the CRF250R offers a great balance between an exciting motor, progressive suspension, and impeccable handling.

Needless to say, the CRF450R offered a similar package with phenomenal suspension, amazing cornering ability, and more than enough power throughout the entire rpm range. Although the CRF450R has an extremely powerful motor, Honda did an exceptional job in creating a linear power delivery, for it never delivered power in an unexpected way. When I spun my first lap on the beastly CRF450R, it was toward the end of the day, and the track had become rough. I was immediately impressed by its ability to absorb chop and acceleration bumps comfortably and effortlessly.

CRF250R
The Showa suspension setup on the CRF250R creates a well-balanced bike that handles the braking bumps and acceleration chop very well." —Evan AllenJeff Allen

As I anticipated, the CRF450R, like the CRF250R, was incredibly agile and allowed me to put the bike exactly where I wanted it. Although, the CRF450R has nearly twice the displacement, this doesn’t necessarily mean it translated into faster lap times. With the CRF450R weighing 248 pounds, a full 10 pounds heavier than its little brother, the 450 is physically demanding. The lighter weight and more manageable power delivery of the CRF250R instills a greater amount of rider confidence, resulting in approximately an 0.8 second faster lap time on the small bike. That may not sound like much, but after 10 laps, that’s a full eight seconds faster.

CRF450R
"The few mistakes I made while riding the CRF450R were really easy to make up with the help of the abundant power." —Steve BonifaceJeff Allen

The CRF450R might have more power than I will ever need. However, Honda did a great job of designing a bike that can be enjoyed by riders of all levels. While sitting on my truck’s tailgate after a long day of testing and discussing comparisons between the two red devils, I came to the conclusion that these bikes are extremely similar. However, I enjoyed the riding the CRF250R just a fraction more for it allowed me to squeeze out all its potential every lap without becoming fatigued.

Honda CRF250R Lap Times - Vet Track Honda CRF450R Lap Times - Vet Track
Lap 1 1:15.4 1:14.5
Lap 2 1:14.3 1:14.1
Lap 3 1:13.3 1:14.5