UNLEASHED FURY: Realizing the 2004 Honda CR250R’s True Potential

By the Testing Staff of TransWorld Motocross

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When we first threw a leg over our 2004 Honda CR250R test bike, we must admit that we were slightly disappointed. Ever since Honda switched to the electronic power valve and case-reed induction systems on the CR250R, the bike has lacked low-end torque and roll-on throttle response. With a wide-open rider like Ricky Carmichael at the controls bottom-end power might not be that important, but for the rest of us, having to struggle with the bike’s lackluster low-end leaves much to be desired.

With each new model year come refinements and improvements, and we were sure that the CR250R would be a torquey monster in ’04. Honda claimed that revised engine settings produced a stronger overall powerband, but our experiences on the track seemed to be quite the opposite. The ’04 CR250R has even less low-end power than the ’03, and we weren’t about to put up with it. It’s obvious that the Honda has plenty of hop-up potential, and we were on a mission to realize that potential.

WHERE’S THE BEEF?

Enter motorman Terry Varner. With a full (and we mean full) stable of Alessi bikes to take care of, Varner has figured out how to make each and every Honda CR and CRF go faster. Just days after we concluded our 2004 250cc Shootout, Varner contacted us about trying out Mike Alessi’s personal CR250R race bike, which he coaxed an additional five horsepower out of. Knowing an opportunity when we hear it, we suggested instead that Varner perform those same mods on our test bike. Apparently, more low-end and mid-range power was what Michael also desired out of the CR250R, and Varner granted his and our wishes by modifying the cylinder port timing, increasing the compression ratio, changing the piston-to-head clearance and altering the transfers and exhaust ports. Remarkably, no low-end modifications were performed, and the finishing touches included only an FMF Fatty exhaust pipe and Shorty Titanium 2 silencer. Varner feels that the FMF exhaust system is the perfect compliment to his motor work, and Alessi relies on FMF systems exclusively on his entire stable of machines.

With the bike jetted to run on VP Racing MR2 fuel, the Honda had a crisp, clean feel from the moment we fired it up. Gone was the blubbery, hard-to-jet personality of the stock engine, and in its place a quick-revving character that sounds just as good as any factory bike we’ve heard. It took less than a lap to realize that the CR250R engine that came back to us was nothing like the one we initially tested. The most impressive thing about the modified motor was that it gained a super-smooth, easy-to-ride powerband that felt absolutely “electric.” Throttle response was crisp, strong, and predictable, and the monstrous low-end pull transferred smoothly into a mid-range hit that was adrenaline-inducing, yet manageable. Most modified 250cc two-strokes we’ve ridden in the past had pipey, hard-hitting powerbands, but the Varner/FMF CR250R was a dream-come-true for all of our variously-skilled test riders. Top-end overrev was the only area in which the bike left a bit to be desired, but we dropped a couple teeth on the rear sprocket and found that this helped immensely. Most impressively, the bike maintained its torquey low-end throttle response, even with the taller gearing installed.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we decided to slap on the iCAT, a product we had been testing individually for the Product Report section of this issue. A bolt-on electronic device that alters the intensity and duration of the spark plug spark, the iCAT had impressed us immensely on stock bikes, and we were curious to see what it did for our modified rocketship. In a word, the iCAT was gnarly! By simply installing the iCAT in between the ignition coil and the spark plug cap, the power output of the CR2R seemed to be boosted considerably, while at the same time maintaining that excellent “electric” feel that we loved. No jetting changes were required, as the bike ran cleanly throughout the rpm range.

FANCY FOOTWORK

In stock condition the ’04 CR250R is a fine-handling machine, but a couple months of hard riding rendered our stock fork and shock clapped-out and loose feeling. Over the past couple seasons, we’ve learned that the best thing for improving the feel of the aluminum-framed CR250R is a RG3 4-Post Triple Clamp, which helps absorb engine vibration and take the jolt out of hard landings. While we were on the phone begging Ian and Rob for another clamp, they suggested that we bring the fork and shock down, as well. Heck, who are we to argue?

RG3 determined that increased low-speed dampening, both front and rear, was in order to hold the bike further up in the stroke and out of the mid-stroke stiff point that many heavier or faster riders struggle with. Resistance to bottoming in G-out situations was addressed, as was the loose initial feel that the stock forks suffered from. Mid- to high-speed dampening was reduced to decrease the mid-stroke spike and help with acceleration bump absorption and traction. The shock valving changes were designed to hold the rear end up further in the stroke when braking into turns, thus allowing it to better absorb square-edged braking bumps without kicking or deflecting.

The stock spring rates were maintained, (5.1kg rear, .44kg Front), but the fork pressure springs were changed from the stock 1.76kg to a lighter 1.6kg rate to allow the bike to settle better into corners and offer plusher initial fork action.

While RG3 tailored our suspension to suit our jump-laden home track at Lake Elsinore MX Park, we also tested it at the super-rough soft terrain course at Cahuilla Creek MX Park and the tight and technical Perris Raceway course. At all three facilities, we were quite pleased with the overall action of the RG3-modified suspension. Both ends were pleasantly firm in big-hit situations, yet comfortable and plush in the small stuff. We most appreciated the suspension modifications in the Supercross section of the LEMP track, which features plenty of low-speed compression landings. While the stock settings allowed the fork to blow through the entire stroke, the RG3 set-up inspired added confidence with its firm response to the impact.

In the rough, choppy conditions at Cahuilla Creek, the CR proved to be a trustworthy slider in the hacked-out conditions. Because the loose, soft dirt requires the rider to be extra aggressive in the corners, having trust in the rear end of your bike is extra important at Cahuilla. The bike soaked up everything thrown its way–even when the impacts came with a side load–and the bike tracked straight and true even in the worst surface variances.

As a package, the FMF/Varner Racing/RG3 Honda CR250R is without a doubt the best project bike TransWorld Motocross has ever put together, and one of the best 250s we’ve ever had the pleasure of testing, works or otherwise. If you’re a late-model Honda CR250R rider, we encourage you to look into the performance modifications we’ve made; you’ll be glad you did.

 

PARTS IS PARTS

Varner Racing cylinder and head mods $375.00

Varner Racing cylinder decking $75.00

FMF Racing Fatty Pipe $249.99

FMF Racing Titanium 2 Shorty Silencer $149.99

Wiseco Piston $TK

RG3 4-Post Triple Clamp $279.95

RG3 Fork Revalve $177.50

RG3 Shock Revalve $177.50

Torco suspension fluids $25.00

RG3 Front fork pressure springs $40.00

N-Style Team Graphic Kit $TK

iCAT?

CONTACTS

FMF Racing 310/631-4363 www.fmfracing.com

Varner Motorsports 909/608-2103 www.varnermotorsports.com

RG3 Suspension 714/630-0786 www.rg3suspension.com

Wiseco Piston 440/951-6600 www.wisecoposton.com

N-Style 800/831-9043 www.n-style.com

 

ACTS

FMF Racing 310/631-4363 www.fmfracing.com

Varner Motorsports 909/608-2103 www.varnermotorsports.com

RG3 Suspension 714/630-0786 www.rg3suspension.com

Wiseco Piston 440/951-6600 www.wisecoposton.com

N-Style 800/831-9043 www.n-style.com