First Impression: 2004 Honda CRF250R

It’s On!

Honda invited TransWorld Motocross out to the famous and historic Carlsbad Raceway today to test the all-new CRF250R, and we were stoked to be there! Why? The new breed of 125-class four-strokes have been without a doubt the most highly anticipated motocross bikes since Yamaha released their YZ250F back in 2001. With thousands of laps already completed by our staff aboard YZ250Fs, we feel like we have a pretty good base for comparison.

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The R&D and production of the new four-stroke machines has been kept under pretty tight wraps for some time now. Some of you may recall the February ’03 issue of TransWorld MX in which we covered the CRF250R’s race debut in Japan under the extremely capable command of Ernesto Fonseca. Even then we were given only limited information about the bike, but given Ernie’s strong second place finish behind Chad Reed, we knew it was good. Having already tested Kawasaki’s new four-stroke last week at Cahuilla Creek, we couldn’t wait to see what Honda had to offer.

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For those of you that aren’t familiar with the dirt and terrain at Carlsbad, I’ll give you a quick summary. It’s hard-packed and slick. No… it’s very hard-packed and slick. Why am I telling you this? Our first impression test aboard the KX250F was in conditions that would be found on the exact opposite end of the spectrum, soft and loamy. So for fair comparison sake, we’ll wait until we ride these bikes head-to-head, on the same track, on the same day, to give you our official comparison.

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Thus far in our 2004 bike testing, every bike that we’ve been on has felt really good in the ergonomics department, and the CRF250R is no exception. Everything felt very well-proportioned and there was no sensation of cramping or stretching. Like the other motocrossers in the CR line-up, the CRF250R comes stock with Renthal Handlebars, which no doubt contributes to the initial comfort. From the moment you sit on the bike in the pits, to the moment you’re railing a high-speed corner, the Honda feels extremely light, nimble, and comfortable.

The overall handling of the new CRF250R was great. Given the outstanding handling characteristics of the other CR models in the past, this came as no surprise. The Carlsbad circuit is made up of a number of elevation changes, with the biggest drop coming at the bottom of the infamous “Freeway.” Proceeding into a hard left-hand corner, riders brake heavily on the lower portion of the downhill, causing some pretty gnarly braking bumps. The Showa suspension on the CRF, in particular the rear end, soaked up the square edged bumps superbly. The bike tracks straight and smooth, even under heavy braking, and conquered the roughest sections of the track with ease. We’ll cover more detail about the CRF’s chassis and suspension components in the bike test coming up next issue, but I can tell you with great confidence that there’s going to be more than just a motor dual in our 250cc four-stroke shootout. Our initial tests on these bikes prove that they handle great, too!

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Speaking of the motor… how was it, right? Well, once again, because of the extreme track differences we’ve encountered this past week, a power comparison may be deceiving. That said, the CRF250R felt fast… real fast! The biggest difference structurally between the Honda and the other 250cc four-stroke machines is the cam(s). The CRF is the only one of the bunch that features a Unicam rather than dual. Wait a second… before you jump to conclusions and assume that two is better than one, that’s not necessarily the case. The Honda engineers have certainly done their homework and decided on the Unicam for a reason. Just like in its big brother, the CRF450R, the Unicam layout allows Honda to run four valves in a lighter cylinder head and also has the benefit of a narrower valve angle than is possible in a DOHC configuration. The result is maximum power output at all engine rpm. On the track, the CRF250R has a powerful punch right off of the bottom and carries it strong through the mid-range. The majority of our test riders agreed that the Honda tended to rev out quicker than the Yamaha and Kawasaki, but a quick shift and it doesn’t miss a beat. The overall power output didn’t feel as linear and smooth as the KX250F, but the power’s definitely there, and in the hands of an aggressive rider can be put to great use!

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Be sure to check out the full race test in the December issue of TransWorld Motocross (due on stands in September), as well as the shootout in a later issue.

Click the link on the top right to see a Quicktime video of TWMX tester Rich Taylor in action aboard the CRF250R.