If you're a reader of our TransWorld Motocross magazine (and if not, why?), then you've likely seen the addition of off-road motorcycles into the pages of our print product. The inclusion of the trail riding segment came as we saw so many track riders around us switch their focus to the endless hours that can be spent in the saddle without a worry of lap times or massive jumps. Over the past year or so we've had quite a few adventures through the brush and sands of California, and the motorcycle manufacturers have included us in a number of their off-road specific bike intros.
One recent ride day was for the debut of the updated 2017 Honda CRF250L dual sport motorcycle. Wildly popular in 2016 (Honda stated it is one of the best-selling bikes in their lineup), the standard 2017 Honda CRF250L features a single-cylinder liquid-cooled four-stroke engine with a 249.6cc displacement that's fed by a fuel injection and a 38mm throttle body and is matched to a six-speed manual transmission. The sturdy steel frame features Showa suspension on both ends and the absorbers offer over nine inches of travel (9.8 inches at the fork, 9.4 inches at the shock). Full-sized wheels and tires (21-inch front, 18-inch rear) offer stability at speed can handle anything along the path, and are wrapped in all-terrain tires that are equally matched for on and off-road situations.
With such a successful release with the original CRF250L and a deep history at Dakar and Baja events, Honda has added a second model to their dual-sport line up with the CRF250L Rally. This bike has many of the features at the CRF250L but with a few additions that make it a scaled-down version of the CRF450R Rally that is raced by the team around the world. These add-ons include a large windshield with headlights, hand guards, skid plate, revised fairings around the radiators, larger fuel tank (0.6 gallons more than the CRFL), and increased suspension travel (11 inches at the fork, 10.3 inches at the shock). Both the CRF250L and CRF250L Rally are powered by the same engine and chain drive components, have the same wheels and tires, and have an anti-lock brake system option.
The added features of the CRF250L Rally make the bike 24 pounds heavier (341.7 pounds) and 750-dollars more expensive ($5899) than the standard CRF250L (317.5 pounds, $5149).
On The Trail
Honda had two special routes set up around Temecula, California, that traversed a variety of terrains, from public streets to isolated dirt roads through the mountainside. We spent equal time at the controls of the two bikes, as we started the day on the CRF250L Rally and then switched to the standard CRF250L for the final loop. Since the two bikes are meant for long rides, it comes as no shock that their ergonomics are incredible comfortable with cushioned seats, mellow handlebar bends, and easy to operate controls. With a turn of the key and push of the electric starter, we were roaring down the road on the CRF250L Rally. The windshield caught our attention instantly because it was just tall enough to divert the air around the rider's area without being a distraction. A motocross rider might not think much of air blowing over their body during a moto, but take our word when we say that it can become a nuisance after being subjected to it for hours on end.
Although the curb weight of both bikes is well over 300 pounds, the load is evenly distributed and does not negatively influence the handling at all. We were able to carve trails with confidence that the bike would not tuck or toss unexpectedly and even felt comfortable catching a little air over "jumps" that we found along the way. Honda and Showa have very good base settings for the suspension, yet you must keep in mind the bikes are not true race machines. The only times we bottomed both ends of the suspension out was after a rather high-speed launch off a fire road roller on the CRF250L Rally and when we tried to double a few sand jumps on the standard CRF250L, two scenarios that one won't encounter on their ride to the office. In our opinion, there would really be no need to send either piece of the suspension off to a hop-up shop for a revalve or setting change.
How's the performance of a 250cc street engine? In a word, impressive. The single-cylinder four-stroke powerplant is designed for durability over performance, so you won’t be able to claim a holeshot against a field of motocross-specific small-bore thumpers, but the 250L's engine has enough power to hold its own on the street and dirt. Both CRF250L bikes can cruise comfortably at 55 miles per hour and top out well over legal speed limits, which meant we never had concerns of getting run down by cars on the street. The bikes come equipped with spark arrestors installed in the exhausts and the fuel injection system works flawlessly in all situations. The action of the six-speed transmission feels seamless and we went through the gears smoothly with each shift.
During our 120 miles of riding, we felt that both bikes would be perfect additions to our personal garages. With the right mix of performance and comfort, the CRF250L and CRF250L Rally are great bikes to zip around town or even trek through off-road terrain aboard. With so much emphasis being put on introducing new riders to the sport, we think that Honda's two bikes might be the best option for someone looking to learn to ride because they are so easy to ride and are not limited to just one type of terrain. If we were to walk into a shop to buy one, though, we'd definitely lean towards the Rally edition, just because it comes standard with accessories we'd likely spend money to add on late the and has performance to match its looks.
Engine: Single-cylinder four-stroke
Bore X Stroke: 76 mm X 55 mm
Displacement: 249.6 cc
Compression Ratio: 10.7
Valve Train: Four-valve, dual overhead cam
Fuel Delivery: Programmed fuel injection, 38 mm throttle body
Ignition: Computer-controlled digital transistorized with electronic advance
Final Drive: #520 Chain, 14T/40T
Front Suspension: 43 mm Showa fork, 9.8 inches of travel (CRF250L Standard)/11 inches (CRF250L Rally)
Rear Suspension: Pro-Link Showa shock, 9.4 inches of travel (CRF250L Standard)/ 10.3 inches (CRF250L Rally)
Front Tire: 3.00-21
Rear Tire: 120/80-18
Front Brake: 256 mm disc
Rear Brake: 220 mm disc
Wheelbase: 56.9 inches (CRF250L Standard)/57.3 inches (CRF250L Rally)
Rake: 27* 60′ [Caster Angle](CRF250L Standard)/ 28* 10′(CRF250L Rally)
Seat Height: 34.4 inches (CRF250L Standard)/ 35.2 inches (CRF250L Rally)
Fuel Tank Capacity: 1.7 gallons (CRF250L Standard)/ 2.7 gallons (CRF250L Rally)
Curb Weight: 317.5 lbs [includes all standard equipment, plus fluids and fuel] (CRF250L Standard)/ 341.7 lbs[includes all standard equipment, plus fluids and fuel] (CRF250L Rally)
MSRP: $5149 (CRF250L Standard)/ $5899 (CRF250L Rally)