More power, faster, more agile and a bike you don’t want get off – Honda is aiming at the jugular…
With their re-vamped 2017 CRF450R Honda turned the 450 MX market a slighter darker shade of red (and a bit less orange) and brought them back to the forefront with a great new bike.
Honda is hoping for the same results with the 2018 CRF250R. Following the philosophy behind the CRF450R, the new 250 copy-cats the ‘Absolute Holeshot’ performance aim for engineers. Improve every aspect of the chassis and engine performance and make it quicker out the gate and therefore faster everywhere else is the idea.
Basically the 2018 250 frame is identical to the 450 with a 3mm shorter overall wheelbase and swingarm (distance between rear wheel and swingarm pivot is 15mm shorter) plus shorter rake and trail (27.5°/116.8mm). The 340g lighter frame is the seventh-generation twin spar alloy frame on the CRF and the extruded aluminium subframe is 20% lighter, lowering weight up high and reducing the centre mass.
Launched at the Ponte Sfontado hard-pack track it doesn’t take long to figure the 2018 CRF250R is more agile and easier to ride. Showa’s air forks on the old model have been replaced by fully adjustable, 49mm sprung forks return to the new model. They mean feel for front grip is back and adjustment does something useful again.
A fully adjustable Showa shock sits lower in the new chassis (39mm lower top mount) which maintains the legendary Honda/Showa Pro-link design. The new forks and shock soak some fearsome drop-offs around the Ponte Sfontado all day long without feeling harsh or vague. Across rougher sections of the track they feel controlled with feel for grip.
Honda Europe’s Off Road Racing Manager and former MXGP race winner, Gordon Crockard, introduced the CRF250R’s now DOHC, 249cc engine changes: 9% more top end power with 900rpm higher rev-ceiling, power spread more broadly (by 2000rpm) across the revs, bigger bore and shorter stroke (79×50.9mm), larger titanium valves (33mm inlet/26mm exhaust), increased valve lift (10.5mm inlet/9.5mm exhaust) to improve ‘gas flow’ and throttle response, plus reduced air friction help it suck air better. The tighter and more compact engine design had an over-square bore and stroke figure (79 x 50.9mm) and a lighter crank (350g less).
The transmission on the 2018 CRF250R is now also simplified with a single oil system (instead of separate engine and gearbox as previous) which reduces weight too with 350cc less oil capacity. The clutch now has different friction plates across the clutch to blend performance with durability.
Honda says the new model has shorter gear ratios to help access the improved power and this should make the bike more broadly capable across different terrain – not just mx tracks. On this track that helped hit the power through the revs where you need it more and feel like you’ve got the right gear more often.
Where you might expect a 250F to be bogging and lacking guts, the new engine pulls better and keeps momentum going. The power is clearly there higher up and it creates a buzz on track.
It’s taken Honda a while to get with the programme but they fitted an electric start at last and ditched the kickstart. The new model’s electric starter motor and battery adds 1kg overall but thanks to the new weight distribution of the chassis you can’t tell where it went. The lithium ion battery weighs just 0.65kg and sits snug under the seat at the back of the air box.
Three power modes are also new to the 2018 CRF250R. Adjustable by a simple handlebar button you can switch between ‘standard’, ‘smooth’ and ‘aggressive’ modes. They make an appreciable difference depending on your abilities and riding conditions.
Around Ponte Sfondato track ‘standard’ map had broader spread of power and a straighter power curve. The ‘aggressive’ mode sharpened things up and would be good for soft or sandy riding but needed more careful throttle control. Conditions weren’t really there to test the ‘smooth’ mode but it would likely work best in slick and sloppy conditions when you are struggling for grip.
It is hard not to walk away from this motocross test wanting more time on the bike, truth is it was hard to leave off any of the riding sessions, such was the addictive nature of this little wonder. With more power in an easier to ride chassis and some great suspension the new CRF250R is looking good for 2018.
Honda CRF250R Specifications
Engine: DOHC, liquid-cooled, FI, four stroke, single
Bore/stroke: 79 x 50.9mm
Transmission: five-speed, chain
Seat height: 957mm
Ground clearance: 327mm
Weight: 108kg (claimed, wet)
Fuel capacity: 6.3litres