2005 Honda CRF250R Motocross - First Test & Review - Dirt Rider

We didn't expect much change for the 2004 125cc-class shootout-winning CRF250R (Jan '04). The most we hoped for was more snap in the middle, to get it closer to the Yamaha YZ250F on tight courses, and the usual suspension fiddling. We were more worried about the engine, though, since the Honda won our shootout largely in spite of its motor. The available ponies were certainly civilized, with a smooth and progressive buildup that never surprised the rider, but the 125cc class isn't exactly civil. Yet even the worst-case scenario, in which big red changed nothing, still would have left us drawing straws to see who got to keep the bike for the year.Instead, we are faced with nearly a best-case situation, in which Honda boosted the power in all the right places, offered up more supple suspension settings that still combat bottoming, lightened and strengthened key areas of the rolling chassis and boosted reliability and performance in the clutch and transmission.Track TimeHonda debuted the 2005 bike at Adelanto Raceway Park in the high desert near Los Angeles. Desert dirt isn't the best for judging acceleration, since there is always some initial wheelspin when exiting turns. You feel top-end pull more, and Honda doesn't even claim additional top-end. Engine-wise Honda focused on livening up the power. To give it more punch right out of turns, the intake tract went from round to oval in shape, and the cam saw some slight revisions in timing. Naturally, the ignition's black box was tweaked to match the changes, and the exhaust header grew by the slightest amount. New shift forks, shift shafts and a shift drum and some redirected internal oil channeling (similar to the 250X's) to the clutch and gearbox improve the shifting, clutch action and clutch life.The new CRF felt faster, and that is the biggest and most-notable improvement you will see in engine performance on a sandy surface. In fact, the similar soil at Los Angeles County Raceway was where the '04 model shone, and the new bike shines as bright but not brighter.Later we tested in the loam/hardpack at I-5MX and on the packed clay of Piru MX Park, and on those surfaces the '05 is noticeably perkier and demands less clutch slippage for a fast turn exit or a jump right out of a turn. The '05 CRF makes the '04 version feel as if it were tired (it wasn't) or worn out. The power delivery now has a bunch more spunk off the bottom and continues strongly into the midrange. The sticky dirt, uphill corner exits and short-run-up jumps at Piru made the stock '04 feel annoyingly tame compared with the other colors of 250cc four-strokes. The '05 red wagon has the snap and boost to be big fun at Piru now.The changes Honda made to the clutch added a touch of firmness to a pull that wasn't effortless to begin with. Our riders didn't complain—not that the bike demands much clutch—but compared with the '05 125cc two-strokes, the pull is clearly firmer. The action is as smooth and perfect as we would expect from a Honda, though, and it is less susceptible to fading or getting hot.Honda has done a pretty good job of eliminating most of the compression braking, so riders coming from a two-stroke habit could adapt easily. One thing the '04 CRF250R had going for it was dead-easy starting, and thankfully it remains easy to kick and anxious to fire at all times. We consider the engine a significant improvement, but we suspect it is still a little behind the sheer burst-out-of-turns muscularity of the YZ250F.So if the Honda didn't win in '04 with sheer power, obviously the chassis made a stellar impression. The '04 chassis was Honda's latest generation, so the '05 changes are evolutionary rather than revolutionary. In fact, the front axle's location has been moved back 2mm. The change is difficult even to see with the naked eye, but it reduces offset, which transfers weight onto the front wheel for surefooted steering. In theory it reduces the side-loading on the fork tubes, but at 2mm, could anyone feel it? We have to say the '05 has generally smoother action in front and rear than the '04 model. It handles braking chop as well as any production machine, and the same is true with faster rolling whoops. Piru and I-5MX both develop ledgy, sharp-edged holes, and even those least favorite of obstacles are handled well. You feel them in the soles of your boots and through the Renthal bar, but they rarely tear at the front end or cause the rear end to kick.Another area in which this and most other Hondas excel is fit and finish. Honda was one of the first manufacturers to consider the comfort of the rider as an aspect of moto-long bike performance. Now, more than two decades into its pursuit of human engineering, the company has created a CRF250R that is as smooth and comfortable a place to be while riding as you can get. We include the brakes and the other controls in our package approval.In the suspension and handling departments the CRF has a lot of friends and will continue to make new ones. If anything, the bike gained a small amount of precision up front, but it also seemed a bit more finicky to the setting than we remember—just in the slightest way, though. It is a pretty balanced mix of stability with light and agile turning. We didn't have any hint of headshake, and there was a rough and chopped straightaway at Adelanto that topped the bike in fifth gear! Flicking the bike around is treading into 125cc two-stroke country, the new Yamaha 125 excluded.Honda has come up with a package that is hard to fault. We have to resort to bashing a clutch pull that would have won applause only a few years ago, and casting doubt on the performance of a 250cc four-stroke with more power and a much longer powerband than a mid-1980s CR250R two-stroke motocrosser! Piston and valve longevity, while phenomenal in terms of the engine performance levels we are talking about, are still below the standards set by the YZ250F. We would have liked Honda to address those issues, but they didn't say anything.If the service intervals are ignored and the bike is treated poorly, it—and any racing four-stroke—could bite the wallet that feeds it. So if you were thinking about going CRF and waited, the Honda's track record and its improvements speak for themselves. If you're looking to upgrade from last year's bike, there are just enough improvements to justify serious thought.Think about those issues before you ride the CRF250R, though. Once you are on the bike, that addiction common to all dirt riders will make thinking rationally oh so difficult! For most, riding and even racing should always be about enjoyment, and this bike is pure, distilled, bootleg-but-legal fun on wheels.Opinions

I'm not the kind of guy who buys anything in its first year anymore. I like to wait and get it in its second year 'cause it is usually totally sorted out. That seems to be the case with the CRF250R. Not that there were any real problems last year, but I'm sure a year of testing and improving has made this year's bike a bit better all around. It sure felt like it. I'm not a fan of punchy power deliveries, and the CRF may have crossed a line with me, but I'm sure I could easily tune it to my liking. And the Showa suspension is always able to accommodate me.
Jimmy Lewis/5'10"/175 lb/ProThe CRF250R is incredible to ride. Of course some aspects could be better, but not too many. The engine was extremely strong and crisp, but perhaps not as strong as my '04 Yamaha YZ250F. The suspension was amazingly plush and soft; it also had good bottom-out resistance. With my weight and 125cc class machines having soft suspension, it isn't unusual for a bike to bottom hard and often. Turns require almost no thought because of the bike's ability to corner and stick to the track so well. It wanted to lean over and power through the turns, and did not ever want to walk out of ruts. If you were not careful with the clutch it was easy to stall the engine in sharp 180-degree turns; even raising the idle did not help. The seat was made to perfection, with the small dip in the front for control and enough cushion.
Derek Whitt/5'10"/180 lb/NoviceMy time (which is a lot) on the '04 CRF250R was one of the highlights of my year. The bike is pure fun and very easy to ride. It makes me feel like I am someone. At least in motocross terms, I am no one, and the bike hides that fact better than nearly any other. I even liked rebuilding the engine! In spite of the fun factor, I picked the '04 YZ250F as the best 125cc class machine of the year. The reason was the awesome midrange power that the Yamaha exhibits. For 2005, Honda boosted the power right where I wanted it, and while I was fine with the stock suspension, the '05 also went one better there as well. I loved the '04, but now I'm obsessed.
Karel Kramer/6'1"/200 lb/NoviceHow does the '05 compare to last year's model? Click to see the full test on the 2004 Honda CRF250R.

Check out more of Dirt Rider's 2005 bike tests: