2005 Honda CR125R & CR250R - Test Ride & Review - Dirt Rider

We've heard the same story from the Honda guys at two-stroke CR introductions for the past few years: "The new CRs have motor this year; look at all of these changes!" This was generally accompanied by: "Especially the 125! You won't believe how we improved the 125 this year." Every year, we wanted to believe them.But after a few laps on the track in front of anxious Honda representatives, we'd be back (sooner rather than later), asking, "Are you sure?"Honda has lost face in the two-stroke world. Everybody, from top racers to magazine editors, was bashing bikes that once ruled the roost in the power department. The bikes had handling and suspension that were class-leading, but their potential couldn't be realized due to engines that never seemed to make the grade—stock or even modified.Jump to 2005: It began to look as though Honda had given up on its premix burners. Information was not released at the same time the 2005 four-stroke information hit. A press relations frenzy took place to confirm, "Honda still has two-strokes, and they are going to be fast, just not fast at getting here!" We weren't holding our breath and even decided to conduct our 125cc MX shootout without the CR.Late in the season, the long-awaited model introduction finally took place. Dirt Rider arranged to ride both two-stroke CRs at the power-draining RaceTown 395. We had the track owner rip half the track into the deepest horsepower-sucking loam possible and leave the other half as rough as a fresh battlefield to see if the suspension and handling survived the claimed motor improvements. We weren't giving Honda any room for error, and it didn't balk...CR125RIt's all about the motor in the 125 class, because those thumpers are all but impossible to beat. Every brand has stepped it up to keep its two-stroke in the game. Honda gave the CR125R motor 99 percent of the R&D; attention for 2005, as it truly needed it. Although the engine looks quite similar, the biggest visual cue to the update is the absence of the 2004-spec electronic power valve. Instead, Honda refitted a mechanical one. Serious redesign went into the flow and sealing, with larger radiator cores to handle the cooling. The cylinder, piston, head, reeds, crank and ignition all received significant changes, and this shows from the first lap on the track.Our test bike was a runner from moto one. From the bottom to the top, this is the CR motor we've been missing for the past few years. Its power delivery is crisp right off the bottom. It has great roll-on and a pretty smooth pull all the way through its powerband. The bottom-end won't win any awards, but it doesn't disappoint, and it certainly doesn't fall off in the lower revs. But beans start cooking as soon as the bike gets into the mid. The pull is healthy and very usable, flowing right into a healthy top-end with good overrev, especially considering older CRs went flat on top. One of the best features of the power character is the mid- and top-rpm combine to make a good, long pull, and that trait allows the CR to make good use of its five gears. The spacing was just about perfect at the track, even in the deep sand sections, and the CR125R is able to carry gears for a long time or get away with shifting a little early without bogging. We had the best results when we went up one size on the main jet to a 440, swapped the needle from a 2868 to a 2867 in the third position and ran the air screw at two turns out.A track such as RaceTown would have been torture on the 2004 CR125R clutch in order to keep the bike singing in the soft conditions, but we were hardly using it on the '05. And when you do have to use the clutch, it's about perfect. With a great engagement feel and a nice, light pull at the lever, it also makes the shifting awesome.Do we sound impressed? Well, we are, and it wasn't long before we were wishing we had our Yamaha YZ125 with us to run some comparisons. So we went and got it (Click here to see the YZ and CR125s go head-to-head).Happy with the motor, we turned our attention to the chassis and suspension, which are very similar to 2004's. In fact, contrary to previously released information, the fork is identical to last year's. The new Kayaba Air/Oil Separate System fork ran into some issues during testing and was shelved at the last minute. No worries, though, as we had minimal complaints concerning the '04's suspension's performance on even the choppiest and whooped-out sections of the track. The CR's base settings seem able to accommodate a wide range of rider weights, and we hardly fiddled with anything beyond setting the sag on the 125. The use of a new swingarm saw some parts changing, but everything was done to mirror the performance of the past rear end, about which we had very few complaints. Both KYB components have a plush nature, with plenty of progression to make bottoming a rare occurrence unless a bump or landing is violent.Handling on the 125 is pretty good, too. The third-generation aluminum frame has pushed the envelope for great turning while still maintaining stability. The front-end precision is about as good as it gets, and you can really tell what the front wheel is doing. Even while riding the front wheel into turns under hard braking, the fork has some stroke to keep your wrists happy. Landing the bike in bumps yields the same results. Whereas some other bikes would surely bottom and kick, the Honda remains composed. Another trait of the CR125R is that, even with lighter riders and proper race sag, it seems to ride a little front-end high. You'd think that would have an adverse effect on the turning, but it doesn't. And maybe this is one of the keys to its stability. While definitely not the most-stable bike, the Honda fights as hard as it can to keep straight and definitely gives you plenty of warning before things become nasty. It is also very easy to keep the front end light and ride most ugly sections on the rear wheel, an option most definitely aided by the increase in power.The rest of the package doesn't draw any adverse attention and includes all the features that kept CR riders loyal during the power-deficit years. Among these are great brakes, with incredible feel at the lever and plenty of stopping power. The seat is a gripper, has great foam and is seamless in transition to the tank and frame rails. You can get way forward, and the frame rails hardly bulge. In fact, they provide just the right width between the knees to give you something to hang onto. The footpegs and controls are exactly where they should be, and the feel is tight and stays that way over time. Fasteners and hardware are all top-notch and large enough to maintain Honda's demanding durability standards yet light enough to keep the bike from being a porker.So where does this leave the CR? Late is late, and it will pay the price, missing early sales and shootouts. But based on our impression, there isn't one thing about this bike that would keep us from recommending it to a rider looking for a 125cc two-stroke, especially those who ride a lot and hold onto bikes for more than a year or two.CR250RAs with the CR125R, Honda stuck with last year's frame for the CR250R and focused the bulk of its attention on the engine. It's not so much that big red cheaped out but that the two-strokes don't yet seem to need the fourth-generation aluminum frame as the four-strokes do. Where has the motor been? It wasn't so much an outright lack of power for the CR's 250cc mill but a throttle-response issue; 2002-and-later CR250Rs lacked low-end and had quirky throttle response. The CR had to be ridden above the low-end to be effective. Some riders complained of a lack of connectivity between the throttle and the rear wheel. Thankfully, most of that can be considered history now, as the new CR barks. Right off the bottom there is the beefy response and hit that you'd expect. It is very similar to Ricky Carmichael's CR supercross bike that I rode a couple of years ago—minus some of the ferocious snap on the bottom but revving out significantly further. Now it feels as if the crank has some mass and likes to keep spinning. The 250, as with the 125, has a full spread of power, but it truly starts right from the bottom. Appearing to be jetted just a bit on the fat side, the bike nevertheless offers a certain amount of thrust right off idle. This is accompanied by an annoying rattling or ticking noise, which is evidently the power valve shaking. We were told not to worry, so we didn't. The noise is similar to a detonation sound yet is much more consistent and goes away as soon as you get on the gas hard.And when you do, the bike shoots out of the hole with authority, accompanied by another sound that really is detonation. There is definitely connectivity between the throttle and rear wheel without any hesitation. And any sensation of the bike's being rich goes out the window with a crisp and throaty pickup of power. In fact, the bike started out a tad lean. The pilot was upped from a 40 to a 45, prompting us to go in a little on the air screw also, which helped rid the 250 of some of the detonation in on-off throttle situations. And the air screw is very sensitive on this bike; one-eighth is a noticeable amount of adjustment. Above that initial throttle opening, the strong point of the CR's motor is its midrange. The pull doesn't end there; it lasts longer than before with less of a sign-off on top. There isn't an area in which the new engine isn't improved.Even when doing starts, the bike doesn't surge and search for the right power-valve position. Although the pull isn't as long as that of a four-stroke, it is long for a two-stroke and straddles the line between being exciting and retaining a high degree of ridability—perhaps even leaning to the exciting side for less-speedy riders. On slick tracks, it for sure has some more snap than in the past, and a little more care must be taken with the throttle. But in the soft stuff, it is all about twisting it and hanging on; there's no need for the clutch to beg for more. All of the stuffing inside the cases and on the crank paid off.Honda spent a bit more time on the 250's suspension to deal with the bodacious power package. The changes may be slight, but they are more than minimal on the track. The bike has a more-active feel on the ground, as if it lost a pound off the ends of the fenders. It seems to ride a bit more levelly than the '04 and doesn't dance as much. But the biggest gain appeared to be in bottoming resistance, where the '05 tended to take a substantially harder hit before reaching the metal-to-metal clank. Typical with the Showa, the bike has plenty of movement yet refuses to be wallowy. The absorption of sharp hits is a specialty of the brand, and both the shock and fork are tuned to work in conjunction with the aluminum frame. You'd be hard-pressed to find a fault in the combination. Remember when some people claimed aluminum was for making beer cans, not motocross bikes?Handling is very similar to the 125's, meaning all-around good. It even rides a bit more levelly and weights the front wheel better, making turning a CR specialty; no doubt a little credit can go to the pulled-in front axle. Aided by the slim and roomy layout, you can get over the front and make the tire bite or not be so aggressive and still get away with it. The CR250R's downfall has traditionally been choppy, high-speed turns, but this model tackles those as well as anything in recent memory. Now the lateral chop seems to be absorbed rather than deflected, and there is good feel to it, too. The bike tells you that you are pushing the tire to its limit, and it will let you know when it is going to let go. Stability is great, and it is a simple matter to get the bike riding on the rear wheel with weight transfer. And when setting the bike down out of line, in ruts or on jump landings, it doesn't wind up and snap but rather absorbs it and drives out straight. Where the new CR has a change is in the inertial feel of the engine. There is definitely more mass spinning around in the crank, and you can feel it. It helps on the sandy, rough straights and hinders in the air to a certain degree. Make no mistake, this is a confidence-inspiring ride, so it's good news the engine performance is the same.Again, there is hardly anything to complain about with the 250. The five-speed transmission is perfectly spaced for the track, and the shifting action is as positive as it gets. The clutch action is magical and seems able to take a ton of abuse, though we never saw the need to beat it; in the past, maybe, but now the throttle does the work whereas the clutch used to have to step in and play substitute. Brakes are nearing perfection. With a Renthal aluminum handlebar, we now look at the chain as the first on the list for an aftermarket upgrade. Honda's graphics take a beating and still look good. And some even think the new bikes shine a little brighter than in the past. Want us to complain? The only shot we can take at the bike is in the vibration. It vibrates just a bit more than other bikes, though not one rider complained about it on the track. Sure, the engine makes some funny noises; all we can suggest is to ignore it or wear earplugs.The 250cc class is as tight as it ever has been, and we can't even come close to calling a winner or even a favorite. Leave that to the shootout and our next issue. But the Honda is back in the game. Back-to-back riding with other bikes will generate more-detailed opinions, but we don't have any serious complaints with this year's CR250R, and that is a big step forward. On to the shootout!Opinions

I really didn't know what to expect from the new CR because over the years, the bike has been the slowest of the 125s. It has always been a fun bike for me to ride, but it's been frustratingly slow. The new CR is dramatically different in the motor! For me, it still lacks a bit of power off the bottom-end, but it comes on super-strong in the midrange and pulls hard up top. The motor revs much further than last year's, allowing me to ride the bike aggressively with a ton of confidence, something I have not enjoyed on the CR125R in past years. As always, the CR feels super-light and handles awesomely. I think the new red flyer is changed for the better, and for the first time in years it is a contender with all the other 125s.
Corey Neuer/5'11"/162 lb/IntermediateThe 2005 CR125R feels much faster and was a blast to ride. I could hit any jump on the track with confidence, as nothing was really a struggle to get over. The new motor pulls strongly, and it revs out while still making power. The jetting worked fine, and it didn't have any noticeable dead spots. I loved the way the bike handled; I could put it anywhere I wanted at any time. The new CR125R is really changed; too bad it wasn't released in time for our 125 shootout.
Matt Armstrong/5'4"/150 lb/Pro****CR250R
Since 2003, I haven't been able to trust the CR250R. It would bog out of turns, before jumps and in whoops; it scared me. The 2004 was better but still scary. I rode the 2005 with caution, and it didn't do any of those things, but the noises it made freaked me out. I need ultimate confidence in the bike I ride, and the noises are always in the back of my head, especially leading up to double jumps. I think my CRF450R is magic, and I just can't get back into two-strokes. I find myself shifting and clutching way more. I noticed the CR250R turning better and tighter than before, but that isn't my style, either. I know this bike is improved, but I've converted into a four-stroke guy.
Tod Sciacqua/5'8"/175 lb/Vet pro My biggest concern while riding is having a direct connection between my right wrist and the rear wheel. No delay, no traction control. I don't want my motorcycle to think for me. I even hate ABS on anything, especially on my truck! So whatever Honda was doing for the past few years with the CR250R, I was turned off, though I had been the biggest fan of the bike prior to 2002. The company blamed "leaks" inside the engine for the inconsistent performance, saying the ever-so-important "charge" would seep past rings and the power valve and into the crank itself. Whatever was out of kilter inside that motor is gone—good riddance! Sure, there are some funny noises, but I've ridden Husabergs, Cannondales and ATKs, so this ticking is nothing. What matters is that when I gas it, the bike goes, which this CR does pretty well. With authority, for that matter—more similar to a 300 than to a 200. And that may be enough to put me in the CR250R fan club once again.
Jimmy Lewis/5'10"/180 lb/Editor of a big motorcycle magazine