Test Ride: 2004 Honda CRF250R

Just about any new four-stroke motocrosser is hot news, but the sheer anticipation of the new Honda CRF250R borders on the ridiculous. You can thank the outstanding success of Honda's CRF450R for much of the buzz, but big red's longtime reputation as a four-stroke force and an innovator in all types of racing certainly elevates expectations. Riders not wearing total dirt blinders are aware that Honda built amazing six-cylinder roadrace machines in the '60s, has an enviable record in U.S. Superbike racing, has built race bikes with oval pistons and rings and is currently kicking rear in MotoGP with a V5. If you happen to be a natural skeptic wondering what stinkin' pavement pounders have to do with quality moto machinery, wake up and smell the hot chocolate. GP two-stroke 500cc four-cylinder roadracers have long been an inspiration for change in the 125cc class. Even the most math-challenged dirt rider should be able to cope with dividing 500cc by four. That's right, each cylinder is a 125! The same pathway from pavement trickles down four-stroke technology. The short-stroke, high-revving four-strokes we currently take for granted are rip-offs of Formula One car and roadrace four-stroke technology.
Since we are looking at huge trickle-down here, it bears pointing out that Honda has the deepest well of four-stroke knowledge to draw from. Knowing that, we are as programmed to expect great four-strokes from Honda as Pavlov's dogs were to be fed. As a result, even with a 125cc class bursting with 250cc four-strokes in 2004, die-hard small-bore racers can barely sleep nights awaiting the CRF250R.Thankfully, that wait is over. And we won't be coy--it was worth the wait. That goes for the amazingly tiny powerplant as well as the slim, svelte and sexy fourth-generation aluminum chassis. Whereas the other four-strokes in the class--old and new designs--appear as if the chassis is shrink-wrapped around the motor, this Honda looks like you could slip it into place with your eyes closed--there is plenty of light between this motor and the chassis.
What Honda calls the "type four" (or fourth-generation) aluminum frame utilizes a mixture of castings and extruded tubes as with all previous aluminum models, but this frame uses tubes with a smaller cross-section than any Honda has used before, as well as slimmer and lighter castings. Despite seeming positively lithe compared to past Honda aluminum frames, it appears tough and stout compared to steel-tube frames. Honestly, though, who was worried that the CRF250R frame wouldn't be cool? Honda has had the aluminum-frame situation well in hand for a few years now. Honda's CR125R has a magic chassis, and we'd have been fine with the engineers just hacking that up to make room for the new motor.The real question revolves around the engine. Sure, the CRF450R motor is a hit, but it's not as though Honda has been batting a thousand with debut motors. As often as we've said, "I think I'm in love!" about the CRF450R, we've said of the CR125R, "What were they thinking?" We have no idea how the rumors got started, but many supposedly "in the know" claimed the 250 was delayed because it was slow. Later they said it was definitely fast but was tuned to the limit with no hop-up potential at all. We have no clue about those things.What we do know is this: The compact motor kicks easily and starts even easier. It takes only the tiniest prod at the starter to get the engine fired. Our initial test was at Carlsbad Raceway, so the engine showed only its best manners. The track is nearly at sea level, and the hard clay surface is the perfect showcase for four-stroke power; you could not pick a better place to debut a four-stroke. On the plus side, Carlsbad does have those famous hills, and you can't fool Mother Nature. It takes power to catch each successive gear going uphill.Out on the track, the 250 ran strongly from just above idle. Power built quickly with enough response to spin the tire on the blue-groove surface. In fact, we completely fried two of the Dunlop D756 rear tires during a day with the machine. Admittedly, those intermediate terrain tires were somewhat doomed at Carlsbad. Acceleration on the rough straights and up the steep hills was strong and quick enough to keep grins firmly in place for the entire day. Even with a decidedly Open class-size rider aboard the bike, we were using all of fourth gear on the longest uphill. Are you getting the idea we liked the motor? Perceptive of you. Impressive power, easy and smooth clutch action, no transmission missteps and no hiccups or stumbles sums up this CRF. It is tough to say with no competing model to use as a yardstick, but the bike felt plenty strong.Although we would have been happy enough with an existing chassis adapted to this engine, that wasn't Honda's plan. It chose to debut its type four chassis with the CRF250R, and it is as strong a performer as the engine mated to it. Handling inputs result in instant reactions. The whole feel of the bike is light and accurate. The steering is crisp as well. We did find that suspension setup was critical to stability, but that is to be expected on a track as fast and choppy as Carlsbad. Every rider was able to tune away any busy feeling.The suspension performance was most impressive as well. As with the CRF450R we tested earlier, the quarter-liter CRF has a very supple feel to its action. Both wheels stayed on the ground and in control. The bottoming resistance and feel were excellent with any reasonably sized pilot aboard. We found little to fault with any facet of the CRF's performance. Carlsbad has no rhythm sections or stadium-type jumps, but our experiences only made us want to try other tracks with more technical and modern layouts. We have confidence that no matter where the CRF250R ends up, the person with the butt on the seat and the hand on the throttle will be having big fun.

I love four-stroke motocrossers no matter what size they are. It helps when the engine makes power that is fast and fun but still manageable and tractable. The Honda CRF250R is all of that. This motor is fast and effective as well as a whale of a good time. It looks like a million bucks sitting still, too. The chassis is as typically good as we've come to expect from Honda. This bike was worth the wait, and I'm definitely lobbying for it to spend the year at my house.
Karel Kramer/6'1"/200 lb/NoviceI ride a 2003 CR125R with all the mods from Pro Circuit. I love the way my bike handles on tight tracks but found it could use more power. I rode a '03 YZ250F and loved the power but didn't care for the way it handled. I've been thinking that if I could get a bike that handled like my two-stroke yet had power like the YZ-F, I'd buy it that same day.Well, I found it, and the upsetting part is I'll have to wait two more months to get the new Honda CRF250R. The bike handles excellently and has the power for which I've been searching. The bottom is strong, and it revs like my two-stroke. I also found myself coming back to the Honda truck wondering if I would get yelled at for staying on the track too long; the bike is effortless to ride for long motos.We messed with the Honda all day, but the stock suspension settings were my favorite. I felt the CRF250R went through the turns the best and still had excellent feel on the jumps with the stock setup.
Craig Potter/6'/170 lb/NoviceWow, the CRF250R is awesome! First off, the bike is really easy to start. If it's cold, it kicks over easily; if it's hot, just pull the hot-start and it fires right up. The bike has amazing power with a lot of torque and good overrev. The motor pulls everywhere and has no hesitation. The bike sticks wherever you put it and feels solid through corners. It feels really stable all around. The suspension is good! You can charge hard into turns without getting kicked. I set the sag and was ready to go out and have fun. I hardly touched the clickers. The bike is plush but still absorbs big hits. The ergonomics are pretty nice, except the handlebar's bend cramps my shoulders. To turn the bike you have to sit way up on the tank in tight corners, but through sweepers you steer with the back wheel. The engine-braking is really light, and it doesn't cause any trouble. Even though the Carlsbad track got burned out by the end of the day, I was still having lots of fun riding the quarter-liter Honda.
Tyler Keefe/5'10"/160 lb/Intermediate