2016 Honda CRF250L

Editor Score: 84.75%
Engine 17.0/20
Suspension/Handling 12.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.5/10
Brakes 8.0/10
Instruments/Controls4.5/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.0/10
Appearance/Quality 9.25/10
Desirability 7.0/10
Value 9.5/10
Overall Score84.75/100

Probably every time I “road-test” a scooter, I go on about how convenient and economical it is to keep a medium-sized scoot around the house for all those short trips and small-item errands. And if my kid is also around the house, he rolls his eyeballs and tells me how gender-preference-indeterminant I look every time I ride around on one. A couple other pals who are less secure in their manhood can also be counted on to come up with some sort of snide comment. Come to think of it, I haven’t had a date in quite some time…

2013 Honda CRF250L Review

I think we have the solution to the cool vs. convenient conundrum in the form of this here Honda CRF250L. What could be mas macho than a dirtbike? The little Honda looks just like a real CRF MXer to the unbroken-collarboned eye, but it gets 60-plus miles from a gallon of gas. It weighs a feathery 327 pounds, you don’t need a stepladder to climb on, the old Wolfman tail bag I’ve had since the Clinton administration bungees easily onto the back seat thanks to the four stainless attachment points Honda provides, and then the bike carries quite a few comestibles. It even has a helmet lock (!) that’s easy to get to and a (tiny) locking storage compartment big enough for one cheese sandwich. The price has gone up a bit since Honda launched the CRF250L in 2013 (uprated from the previous CRF230L), but retail is still just $4,999 thanks to production taking place in Thailand rather than Japan – that’s $1,600 less than Honda’s Forza scooter.

Looks like somebody whose name rhymes with “Tom” could use a bit more rear preload (the only adjustment you get), but people under 180 pounds or so will find the CRF’s 8.4 and 9.7 inches of front and rear suspension travel perfectly adequate most of the time. Tom is 5’11”, but far shorter people can reach the ground easy enough on the CRF. The 34.7-inch seat sags about two inches as soon as you climb on.

Looks like somebody whose name rhymes with “Tom” could use a bit more rear preload (the only adjustment you get), but people under 180 pounds or so will find the CRF’s 8.4 and 9.7 inches of front and rear suspension travel perfectly adequate most of the time. Tom is 5’11”, but far shorter people can reach the ground easy enough on the CRF. The 34.7-inch seat sags about two inches as soon as you climb on.

The kicker is, even though the CRF is every bit as convenient as a scooter except that you have to shift gears, you can also take part in the latest craze all the 50-year-old kids are into – adventure riding! No, it’s not a KTM 500 EXC, but if you’re not Taddy Blazusiak, it may not make much difference. It’s also less than half the $$$. If you’re only going to potter around the local mountain fire roads (like what I do when I say I’m going “off-roading”), the CRF is a surprisingly effective little tool on its big-boy 21-/18-inch spoke-wheel combo, able to climb steepish, rocky trails easily enough and pick its way slowly back down them as well. If you’re tall, a taller handlebar for standing up will be a good swap, and hand guards would be good while you’re at it. If you’re heavy, it’s not hard to bottom the fork. But the bike comes with a toughish plastic skidplate to protect its underbelly (with a nice hole to access the oil drain plug), so it’s really ripe for mild abuse right out of the box.

This one uses almost the same latest-tech liquid-cooled Single Honda put in the CBR250R (before it became a 300), where it produced around 23 horsepower last time we dyno’d one; the CRF gets a 36mm throttle body instead of the CBR’s 38mm one, and a longer exhaust header of smaller diameter to shift the meaty part of the powerband a bit lower. At no point will it yank your arms off; then again, it always seems willing to attack bigger things than it should, like an undershot lapdog. The rest of the time, it starts up instantly, runs great, and again, got 63 mpg during the course of the last few weeks in mixed on- and off-road use. I have seen 83 mph on its digital speedometer, maxed out in top cog on flat freeway.

020416-2016-honda-crf250l-IMG_5338

The transmission’s not the slickest, but it’s fine and is still breaking in at 1488 miles. In fact, it’s the same gearbox as the CBR’s, feeding power to a 40-tooth rear sprocket instead of a 38T. We hate to judge motorcycles by their ancestors, but if the CRFs turn out to be anything like the XR series, this bike should be as close to indestructible as modern motorcycles get. Clever roller rockers slide to the side for easy DIY valve adjustments. Change the oil now and then, clean the air filter. Done.

2013 Honda CRF250L vs. 2013 Kawasaki KLX250S + Video

Unlike an XR, it gets a nice bright headlight, a surprisingly wide, comfy seat for a “dirtbike”, and a swell LCD display with a clock and a fuel gauge. So, you’ll never be late or run out of gas again. Not that you usually have anyplace to be when you roll out into the urban fringe on the CRF, except maybe home before dark.

Everything you need to know is right there. No, there’s neither ride modes nor ABS. The fuel gauge isn’t too accurate, but the tripmeter will go a bit more than 120 miles on each 2.0-gallon tank.

Everything you need to know is right there. No, there’s neither ride modes nor ABS. The fuel gauge isn’t too accurate, but the tripmeter will go a bit more than 120 miles on each 2.0-gallon tank.

For all you sad sacks who want to know where all the cheap, simple, inexpensive little bikes like the ones we used to ride have gone … here it is, better in every way and probably even cheaper if you have time to go all Dick Rubble and look up the list price of an XL250 and the consumer price index from 1977 or whenever it was. Almost makes you want to forgive Honda for the RC213V-S, especially since roosting around in the dirt a bit on this thing got my juices flowing a little; I feel faint stirrings, my mojo re-emerging. Maybe I’ll roll around to the Senior Center after my siesta and give the ladies a break? I think the CRF might be the cure for the common scooter.

Wheelie!!

Wheelie!!

2016 Honda CRF250L Specifications
MSRP $4,999
Engine Type 250cc liquid-cooled four-stroke Single; DOHC; four valves
Displacement 250cc
Bore And Stroke 76mm x 55mm
Induction PGM-FI, 36mm throttle body
Ignition Computer-controlled digital transistorized with electronic advance
Compression Ratio 10.7:1
Transmission Six-speed
Final Drive #520 chain; 14T/40T
Front Suspension 43mm inverted fork; 8.7 inches travel
Rear Suspension Pro-Link single shock; 9.4 inches travel
Front Brake 256mm disc with twin-piston caliper
Rear Brake 220mm disc
Front Tire 3.00-21
Rear Tire 120/80-18
Rake 27°35′
Trail 113mm (4.4 inches)
Wheelbase 56.9 inches
Seat Height 34.7 inches
Wet weight (MO scales) 327 pounds
Fuel Capacity 2.0 gallons
Fuel economy 63 mpg
Available Colors Red
Warranty One year transferable, unlimited mileage

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  • Old MOron

    I’ve done dirt roads, double-track, single-track, and even some side hilling on dirtbikes of different shapes and sizes, from 250 to 600 cc. Had the most fun on the smallest bike. When I buy another dirt bike, it’ll be a 250.

    • Craig Hoffman

      Ever ride modern 2 stroke? Those are crazy fun. I have an old CR250 with a license plate on it that is “legal enough” and while you do not want to ride far on the street, it is perfect for connecting trails on forest service roads that require a plate. The CR is of course a fringy cheater bike when it comes to its legality. I wish two strokes could be widely available in street legal form. 2T outboards run very clean – the technology exists.

      • Old MOron

        Don’t think I’ve been on a 2T since the little Vespa I had in high school.

        • Craig Hoffman

          KTM 300s are so awesome off road, it is like cheating. They weigh nothing, have great suspension, the engine can grunt and it can rip, and modern 2Ts are very durable and far less fuss than comparable racing 4Ts. Great bikes all the way around :) The only fly in that pie is they do cost some money.

  • sgray44444

    Honda Golden Retriever? I think it fits. I still want a CRF500L from the CB500 platform.

    • kawatwo

      It’s called a CB500X. I am thinking moving from my 650 Ninja to a 500X. I don’t see why Honda can’t get a 300 version of the CRF out though and a Rebel 300 while they are at it maybe.

      • frankfan42

        Close, but no cigar for my money. The 500x is more a adventure style bike than a street able dirt bike imho.

      • sgray44444

        It’s not a dual sport, it’s an adventure bike with cast wheels.

        • kawatwo

          That is true It is 95 percent street. I can’t think of too many lager soft core off road bikes other than the KLR 650 and DR650 whcih are both bigger and heavier (and older) than something like that would be.

  • major tom

    Convert it to an ‘adventure bike’ with a center stand, about a 5 gal tank and go up to the 300cc motor and this would be my next bike! Besides there is no Royal Enfield dealer within maybe a thousand miles from me though the new Himalayan model is cool. Oh well………

  • Craig Hoffman

    This is the perfect “bumper bike” for an RV. Yes, it is not a 500 XCW, but one can go anywhere on one of these and have a whole lot of mild mannered hooligan fun in an empty business park on the weekend, all for a very reasonable cost.

    Would love to see a 500cc version of this bike. It would be a worthy competitor for the ancient DR650/KLR. They are awesome bikes, but not everyone is committed enough to buy a KTM/Husky. Would prefer a single for off road worthiness and low cost, but dropping in the existing 500 twin engine would work I suppose.

    • frankfan42

      Yes to the 300cc upgrade and YES to the 500cc request. A 500cc size would be about perfect to have a little extra in reserve for highway use and more “Fun factor” roosting, yet remain cheap to run. Why nobody seems to think this “Middle market” exists is beyond me. I’ll bet the Chinese will be the first to exploit this niche!

      • sgray44444

        I have to agree. Can you imagine how great a KLR type bike with a 2 cylinder 500cc motor would be? I know it would be somewhat heavy, but I don’t think it would matter for the intended usage, which is a true 50/50 on/off road bike. Even better yet would be a 90 degree twin, but only Suzuki and Ducati seem to want to build those for some reason. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to take a DL650 motor and put it into a true dual-sport chassis. I know some have done it.

        • Ian Parkes

          Why would you want a (heavier) twin when 500 is not pushing it for a single and why a v-twin? They are heavier still; it’s harder to centralise the weight, which makes them feel even heavier, and they are an awkward shape to fit airboxes and other gubbins around. There are a lot of trail bikes and enduro bikes that fit the adventure bill, save for a couple of luggage hooks.

          • sgray44444

            Why would I want a twin? The way it delivers power in the midrange and top end. V-twin? narrow package like a single. It’s just a preference, I suppose. For a bike that can do a little bit of everything I think it’s a good compromise to have the smoothness of an L-twin or a counter-balanced parallel twin. A KLR weighs what, 430 lbs? Why not use a twin? I would bet there are many that would like that type of a bike with a higher-revving twin that actually makes some decent horsepower and isn’t quite so primitive.

          • sgray44444

            Food for thought: a CB500F, ready to ride, weighs 414 pounds. A KLR weighs 432 pounds ready to ride.

          • Craig Hoffman

            Find an blown up 450 MX bike’s suspension, add the stiffest springs available, shorten it down to 10″ of travel, and graft it onto a CB500x. Sounds like an interesting ADV bike. 😉

          • sgray44444

            A little expensive, but the idea is the same:
            http://www.rally-raidproducts.co.uk/honda-cb500x-cb500f?product_id=648

          • Craig Hoffman

            That is bad ass! A lot of work, but it is all turn key and figured out for you. Too bad they don’t come this way from the factory.

          • sgray44444

            Yeah, Honda should take a hint. I bet they would fly out of the showroom.

    • sgray44444

      I think you’re right. With the 500 twin they could build a KLR killer. It might be heavy, but hey, so is the KLR.

  • mcgalligan

    Great review John! There are quite a few CRF250L’s going the distance… http://amsterdamtoanywhere.nl/en
    http://www.stephmoto-adventurebikeblog.com/p/blog-page.html
    http://neils.in
    I’d add “easy to pick up too!”
    See you at the Senior Center…

  • bigus brainus

    I’d like to see a reputable magazine/web site do a side-by-side road/trail test of the CRF250L and the new CSC TT250. I’ve got one of CSC’s RX3’s and the quality is very good.

    • Kenneth

      Could “bigus brainus” be… the importer of CSC motorcycles, again? The guy who never stops promoting his one-man-show?

      • bigus brainus

        No Kenneth, I am not Joe Berk the CSC evangelist. I am an RX3 owner and a person with a deposit down on the new CSC TT250. I’d like to see a comparo done between the two bikes because their specs are so similar. You must have a suspicious nature.

        • Kenneth

          And you must be the opposite, my friend, to buy bikes from a company with no U.S. history or investment in a dealer network, completely dependent upon just one man (getting up in years) for future product support. I’ve seen this kind of act before. I hope you’re learning Mandarin.

          • bigus brainus

            Kenneth, I do believe I am the opposite of you as I don’t have a suspicious personality and I at least try to research and understand something before I post in a public forum. Your statement about CSC having no history is blatantly false, as they’ve been in business for many years and have a well established relationship with the Zongshen factory. True enough, they do not have a dealer network, but this is not an issue for folks like me who have the skill to maintain and repair our own motorbikes. Lastly, as I own a home in China and have been there many times, rest assured I have at least a modicum of both Mandarin and Cantonese.

          • Kenneth

            Steve Seidner, the “President and CEO of CSC Motorcycles” (as he never fails to proclaim) once said this:
            “We know that the Cyclone’s quality is as good as or better than any other motorcycle on the market today, including expensive European imports that cost 8 times as much as the Cyclone.”

            Nope, no siree, no reason for ANY suspicion about statements like that! And yes, I know about their history of selling slightly-modified, little “Mustang” bikes. ‘Glad you can obtain parts from China when you visit.

          • bigus brainus

            Hmm. A CEO who is proud of his product? Who would have guessed! I do agree with your implication that an intelligent person would not take Mr Seidner’s comment at face value.

            That is why I exercised my brain and 1) Researched CSC’s and Zongshen’s history (Zongshen makes components for both BMW and Harley Davidson, among others, by the way), and 2) I sought out the opinions and experiences of folks who actually owned the bike and had dealt with CSC’s customer service department before I took the plunge and ordered my RX3 early last Summer.

            Now, I can’t verify CSC’s claim that they stock all spare parts for these bikes in their California warehouse, but I can say that each time I ordered an accessory from them it was sitting on my door step within 3 days of ordering.

            Since I haven’t had any mechanical or component failures as of today (~5,000 miles of trail and tarmac riding so far), I haven’t had to order any replacement parts.

            I have stocked up on the usual failure suspects for the upcoming ride down to Baja next month (Spare cables, levers, etc.) All of which were in stock in California on the day I ordered them, again arriving within 3 days.

            I’ll stack my actual experience up against your uninformed opinion any day. However, my intuition tells me that no matter what I write in reply to your misinformed statements that you will continue on your blind course, so I won’t bother to reply further.

          • Born to Ride

            Damn son, get owned.

          • Buzz

            Is it THAT much cheaper to not just get a Honda?

    • Bill Boinkr

      I have been looking at getting this for my sons first bike. I am a little concerned about the quality. like you I would like more info/reviews of it.

  • Born to Ride

    Needs a fairing, touring saddle, semi-rigid bags, center stand, and a 5+ gallon tank. Africa Single anyone?

  • Alexander Pityuk

    That is one bad-ass wheelie, JB!

  • Carolina Rider

    I love my CRF250L. If ever there was a “do anything bike”, this is it. True, freeway riding is not this bike’s forte. But for the little money I paid ($3300 for a very gently used 2013 with 300 street miles), I got a street legal dirt bike with a light for nightime riding and LCD display. I ride my Harley during the week, and my Honda on the weekend. What a fun bike for around town! And off road handling is excellent. Honda has a winner here and the price is right! I was looking for a dirt bike. The CRF is more fun than I hoped it would be.

  • SRMark

    Got to borrow one of these for a week’s ride around Salida and Crested Butte. What a great little bike. Yanked me up some nasty bolder strewn hills, bopped around some country lanes. It didn’t like the highway much. No air for that little thing at altitude. Could use a half gallon larger tank. Thanks for the loaner Mr. Bob!

  • Paul Dendinger

    i’ll keep my xr650l its only 20lbs heavier. 50+ mpg sounds cooler won’t make you feel like a woman and is assembled in a first world nation by well paid people who aren’t forced to live at the factory.

  • Gabriel Owens

    I want one