FIRST IMPRESSION: 2003 Honda CR250R

On the outside, the 2003 Honda CR250R doesn’t look all that different from the bike that swept through our 2002 250cc class shootout. On the track, however, the bike definitely feels a lot different, thanks to a long list of refinements.

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Instead of revamping the entire bike, Honda decided to update areas which were lacking. Major updates to the motor include new porting, a new eight-petal reed valve, revised ignition timing, a straighter-shot airbox and a new exhaust pipe. The result is a motor that has a broader powerband, with excellent low-end throttle response. Last year, some complained that the CR was lacking in low-end, but the new engine pulls well from the get-go. On the TWMX dyno, the ’03 bike outperforms the ’02 everywhere. Several of our testers felt that the new ’03 outperformed the modified ’02 we had on hand for comparison. Low-end, mid-range and top-end power are all excellent.

Handling-wise, the CR250R is typical Honda – precise and rewarding to those who ride it hard. Suspension on both ends is excellent, and the Honda remains the best bike on super-hard landings. Overjump the triple? No problem if you’re on a CR. The bike never bottoms hard or does anything unexpected.

Our only gripe with the new CR lies in the rear brake department. Last year, the CR250R came with a works-style Nissin rear brake master cylinder, whci has no remote fluid reservoir. The low-capacity of the unit, coupled with the tiny lightweight brake pads, made the system the bike’s weakest link. Riders who overuse the rear brake could often overheat the fluid, causing poor performance or even failure. Changing the fluid regularly is an easy fix, but we hoped that Honda would have done something about the sub-par rear binder.

As a package, the 2003 Honda CR250R is going to be hard to beat. Is it better than the 2002 version? Yes. Is it better than the other 2003 bikes we’ve tested? Sorry – you’ll have to wait for our 2003 250cc Shootout for that answer.