Perfection Driven – 2004 Varner Motosports/RG3/iCAT Honda CRF250R

The boys at Honda killed it right out of the box with their first entry into the 250cc four-stroke class. The CRF250R won our 250cc four-stroke shootout in convincing fashion, thanks to a great motor, superb suspension, and handling characteristics that are second to none. All that have had the opportunity to throw a leg over our stock machine during the past couple of months have raved about what a fine-handling bike this thing really is. In fact, some have even commented that the CRF250R is among the best-cornering machines they have ever ridden. The rigidity of the aluminum chassis provides a stable foundation for the Showa suspension to work its magic, and has proven itself friendly for riders of all ability levels. Plush, compliant, and easy to ride, the CRF250R is a great machine!

With every great machine comes a desire to achieve perfection, however, so along with the excitement of a whole slew of new production 250cc four-strokes in 2004 comes a fresh new vision for engine builders everywhere. While some are new to the four-stroke motor arena and some possess previous genius, there’s no denying that some just have a knack for making things go fast—no matter what the stroke. So when the opportunity arose to test a Terry Varner built/RG3/iCAT Honda, we were all over it! We had a pretty good feeling before we even laid eyes on the bike that it would handle like a dream. In stock form it’s already great, and with some of RG3’s race-proven modifications and refinements, it could only get better. The real question was in the motor department. Although the stock power of the CRF250R leaves little to complain about, there’s always room for improvement, right? The snappy low-end hit followed by a meaty mid-range pull is certainly appreciated, but like most of you, we like to experience more. So, if it gets better… We’ll take it!


Just as we’d expected… The RG3 suspension and handling modifications did nothing but make an already great-handling package work even better. For the aluminum framed CRF250R, an RG3 upper and lower clamp set do a great job of dampening any transmitted vibration that may be present. In addition, we went with an offset change to correct any of the CRF’s steering shortcomings—Not that there were any of real significance, but everything can be better, right? The stock offset is 24mm. By changing to a 20mm set-up we improved the bike’s ability to steer in and out of corners. While we didn’t have any major complaints previous to the new offset, all of our testers agreed that far less rider input is required to make the bike track wherever you want it to go. In addition, and this is something that is often overlooked when changing the offset of your triple clamp, it actually adds stability to the bike. This is achieved simply because the additional weight of the motor is now positioned closer to the front wheel.

Even though it is one of the better set-up production bikes on the market, the stock CRF250R suspension can still be improved. And as we’ve said before, if it gets better, we’ll take it! A rough Cahuilla Creek circuit remains our venue of choice for most bike tests, especially when suspension is concerned. With a number of rough uphills and downhills to negotiate and a wide variety of corners to rail, Cahuilla is a worthy proving ground. To do this thing properly, all of our test riders rode the modified test bike back-to-back with our stock version. The findings after a full day of testing were unanimous. The RG3 suspension mods not only make the suspension action much plusher in the initial part of the stroke, but they help to settle the bike properly in turns to allow for better, more precise cornering, and yet still progressively resist bottoming. Suspension mods will obviously vary dramatically depending upon rider weight, ability, and preferred riding conditions, but given the parameters we set, RG3 hit the nail on the head. In addition, we opted for some of the trick anodizing to give our stuff that works-finished factory look. No… The anodizing really doesn’t do much for performance, unfortunately, but we sure did feel faster.


Before hitting the track on our modified new steed, we asked Varner to walk us through his horsepower-driven creation to find out what we had in store. Here’s what he had to say…

The CRF250R is really a great bike for the first year out. They have solid reliable engine parts that take modifications very well. The intake and exhaust valves don’t fall apart after a few hours like some, so getting more power from the Honda does not end up with complications. The key to making good power is to weigh each part on its own merit, and be sure all of the parts will work well together. With that in mind, we did our four-stroke head mods that include cleaning and inspecting the entire head. We set the valve clearance, and we used a cutter finish in the intake tract and a polish finish in the exhaust for the best flow and to keep the carbon build-up down. To get the compression up I decked the cylinder and re-cut the piston. I am in the process of having Wiseco make a special Varner-only piston to replace the modified piston we had done in this bike. Next, we complemented the motor mods with carburetor modifications to improve peak power. The cam was ground to “Alessi” specs, yielding big improvements over stock before and after the peak torque. We also did testing to dial in the Vortex ignition, which gave gains throughout the entire rpm range, but most notably added overrev over stock of about 350rpm. We also took much care to be sure the right valve seat pressure was achieved. To accomplish this we used the Ron Hamp Valve Spring Kit to keep the valves in control at the higher rpm. The FMF exhaust system helps right off of idle and then again up and over the peak horsepower range. The whole package is put to the ground with the Varner High Performance Clutch Spring Kit that helps give the bike a stronger yank off the gate and out of corners.

Sounds great, right? But did it work?

You bet it did! After riding the Varner motor up against our stock unit, which featured only an exhaust system for a mod, it quickly became apparent that these two machines weren’t even in the same league. That bottom-end snap that we enjoyed so much on the stock CRF250R is even better on the Varner ride, and the power doesn’t stop until…well…we’re still not sure. The mid range improvements are significant, but that’s not even where the stock unit fell short. It was the top-end and the overrev where testers in our 2004 250cc four-stroke shootout claimed the Honda fell short of the YZ250F, but fear not as the Varner mods, Vortex Ignition, and iCAT pumped new life into the CRF. The jetting was spot-on, and the power gains were smooth and controllable. This motor rips!

Our final verdict is simple. There’s absolutely no denying the fact that the Varner Motorsports/RG3/iCAT CRF250R is head and shoulders above the production unit. When considering the significance of this statement, keep in mind that the production unit won our 2004 Bike of the Year Award. That’s how impressive this bike really is.

Varner Racing head and cylinder mods $395
Varner Racing cylinder decking $100
Varner Racing modified piston $50
Varner Racing carburetor mods $120
Varner Racing cam mods $280
Varner Racing High Performance Clutch Spring Kit $59
FMF Racing Titanium Power Bomb System $475
iCAT $200
Vortex Ignition $395
RG3 forks & shock revalve $355 (both)
RG3 shock parts (seal head cover, spring collar, bumper housing) $100Torco fluids $25
RG3 Gen 2 clamps (20mm offset), upper $279.95
RG3 Gen 2 clamps (20mm offset), lower $199.95
RG3 steering stem & bearing $99.95 (if needed)
RG3 front fork tube anodizing $150
RG3 front axle carriers anodizing $150
RG3 rear shock anodizing $100
RG3 SUSPENSION: 714/630-0786
iCAT USA: 918/441-1215
FMF RACING: 310/631-4363
VORTEX (MT RACING): 909/353-1253
RG3 SUSPENSION: 714/630-0786
iCAT USA: 918/441-1215
FMF RACING: 310/631-4363
VORTEX (MT RACING): 909/353-1253