MO BETTA! – 2005 HONDA CRF250R

Without a doubt the most highly-anticipated bikes in 2004 were the slew of new 250cc four-strokes that hit dealer floors in late summer/early fall. With the Yamaha YZ250F already well established, the masses couldn’t wait to see how the new entries from Honda, Kawasaki, and Suzuki would stack up. When the dust settled and the smoke cleared at our grueling 250cc four-stroke shootout, it was the Honda CRF250R that stood atop of the heap. That’s right… Honda knocked one out of the park at their very first at-bat with the CRF250R, and as a result, the TWMX staff has spent countless hours aboard our test bikes throughout this past year. Whether it be our stock unit or one of the many modified versions that we have had the good fortune to test, the 2004 CRF250R is hands down one of our favorite bikes to ride. With that said, we all got pretty anxious to throw a leg over the 2005 version come test morning. Could Honda actually make their class-leading steed even better? Would the CRF250R remain the king of the tiddler-class four-strokes? These were questions we all pondered on our way out to the track. And while we still can’t answer all of them until the conclusion of our ’05 shootout, we can tell you without a shadow of doubt that, yes, Honda can and did succeed in making the best even better.

FLASHBACK

The 2004 CRF250R pleased its pilots for a number of reasons. In the power department, the CRF boasted a very well-rounded motor package. In stock condition the bike was 100% competitive and put out more than enough power for riders of all abilities to have a blast with. While the motor worked well, it was in the CRF’s handling characteristics that most riders got geeked. With a compact, slim feel, the ergonomics were inviting and welcomed riders with open arms. Many testers proclaimed the ’04 CRF to be among the best-cornering bikes they’d ever ridden. Tracking was straight and predictable, and the bike required only minimal rider input to put it exactly where you wanted it to be. Both ends of the Showa suspension proved compliant, well balanced and very plush, and along with a great set of brakes, helped to make the 2004 CRF250R our Bike of the Year in the 250cc four-stroke category.

TWEAKIN’

Like most of your favorite MXers, the development of last year’s amazing machine didn’t just stop once it was delivered to showroom floors. With guys like Travis Preston and Nathan Ramsey pushing its every limit during the 2004 racing season, the CRF250R took on a number of improvements that have been incorporated into the 2005 machine. While these changes are not drastic by any means, they are more than noticeable and have no doubt made the 2005 CRF even better than before.

When setting out to fine-tune the powerband for 2005, Honda engineers put their focus on improving one major area of the CRF, the mid-range. To do so, a new crankshaft was developed, a new intake port shape was utilized, and cylinder head porting was revised. New ignition mapping and a new exhaust system compliment the motor changes, all yielding big improvements from 6,000 rpm all the way through the top. According to Honda, dyno charts indicate a distinct power advantage right where it was missing in ’04 (6,000 rpm to 9,000 rpm), as well as a hint more up top. In addition, a number of other minor improvements were made to the 2005 engine to reduce its overall weight.

In the chassis department, refinement was also the name of the game. The most notable improvements include a redesigned, lighter swingarm, a relocated rear shock mounting point, a lighter and stronger rear hub, and a new front axle offset to improve front fork action. After all of the massaging and tweaking was completed, the new Honda weighed in at a full two pounds lighter than its predecessor. And like all of Honda’s motocross bikes year after year, the CRF250R is finished with immaculate detail and remains one of the friendliest bikes to maintain.

TRACK TALK

Our inittial test on the new CRF250R took place at a new outdoor-style motocross track in Adelanto, CA. Located in the California high desert, Adelanto Raceway is made up of some of the softest fine-grained sediment we’ve ever ridden on. Without the assistance of our 2004 CRF250R to perform a head-to-head comparison, it probably would’ve been extremely difficult to get a good feel for the claimed motor improvements on this power-robbing surface. Lucky for us, we came prepared! Even still, our ’04 test bike is now fitted with a White Brothers Carbon Pro exhaust system as well as an iCAT, so to be fair we had to take the modifications into consideration when comparing the two bikes.

How did the new CRF stack up? Even with the mods made to last year’s power plant, the ’05 boasted a noticeable power increase off the bottom and through the middle of the powerband. So much so that our pro test rider, Pat “High Sierra” Foster, was convinced that our ’04 must have had a faulty clutch as it felt like it wasn’t pulling him as hard out of corners and off of jump take-offs. The fellas on hand from Honda quickly pulled our bike apart to investigate, only to find that our ’04 clutch was just fine. Although the ’05 CRF comes in at two pounds lighter on the scales, in the soft terrain the newfound power made it feel even lighter and more nimble than the ’04. The improved snap and power off the bottom and through the middle is complimented well, especially in sand, by new, stiffer clutch springs, which helped keep the momentum driving forward. Up top, power improvements are minute, but the CRF was already pretty solid in that category. One tester commented that it felt like the ’05 bike had the tendency to rev out quicker, but in all actuality, with the power improvements made down low, it simply pulls you through to the high rpms quicker, and the dyno charts prove it!

The handling characteristics of the two bikes are nearly identical, just as we expected them to be. With the new power complimenting the two-pound weight savings, the ’05 has a slightly nimbler feel. The rider compartment is still roomy and comfortable, as there were no changes made to the ergonomics of the bike. Cornering and maneuverability is excellent! The CRF250R is right at home in a myriad of turning situations. Whether it be tight ruts or high-speed off-chambers, the Honda is still a stellar cornering machine. While the track we tested on didn’t get that rough, the CRF felt great on everything the track had to offer. It inspired a ton of confidence while skimming a long (but tamed down) set of Supercross-style whoops, tracked straight and true through the braking bumps, and soaked up hard landings effortlessly. Due to the soft terrain at Adelanto, our testers fiddled slightly with compression and rebound adjusters, but all in all the CRF comes stock as a brilliantly-suspended machine. The ’04 CRF250R was one of the best-handling bikes ever made, and the ’05 is even better. As a package, the CRF handles incredibly!

TOP OF THE CHARTS?

The CRF250R impressively swept through our 2004 250cc four-stroke shootout. If there was one category that it didn’t clearly come in as the hands down favorite it was the power category. Don’t get us wrong, the motor was impressive, but it battled against a YZ250F power plant that was just about flawless. Still, the CRF reigned supreme. For 2005, the CRF boasts significant power gains, it weighs in at two pounds lighter, and it remains one of the finest handling machines on the market. Is it enough to remain at the top of the charts? Only time will tell, but our guess is that it will be tough to beat.