2008 Honda CRF230L Review - Motorcycle.com

Out past the cemetery, beyond the PGA golf course, only 10 miles beyond the corrections facility lies a sweet little spa in just about the middle of nowhere, perhaps in the middle of NowhereLand, California. The only other time I had ever been to California City, CA, was during MO’s Rocket Touring comparison when my ride for that day went bone dry a few miles shy of Mojave. Former Motorcycle.com wordsmith Gabe Ets-Hokin saved my ass that day (thanks, bud) because there’s nothing out there, not even trees. I used the motorcycle to shade my body while I waited.

Many great travels pass through this rail and highway hub. Mojave itself has the distinct honor of being the landing spot of the Voyager (the first aircraft to circumnavigate the globe without refueling – talk about fuel efficient!) as well as an airplane graveyard. After 9/11, when passenger airplanes were forced to park for a while, they went into cold storage in the dry climes of the California high desert amongst the retired and decaying planes of yesteryear.

A remote high-desert location near California City served as the backdrop for our testing of Honda’s new CRF230L dual-sporter.

Honda chose this remote landscape as the backdrop for CRF230L press introduction. It was an ideal locale; they call it the Dual-Sport Zone. An RVers and Jeeper’s paradise, it's bordered by the historical Mojave Road and within hiking distance of Jawbone Canyon OHV area that leads into the beautiful Kennedy meadows. The perfect spot for a lightweight, city-ready, dirt-capable motorcycle willing to run cross-country or play around in the more technical trails.

Our home for the night (and site of the Honda Mini Golf Playoffs!) was the Silver Saddle Ranch & Club, nestled into the hillside Galileo Park. The club sits along the famed twenty-mule teams trail where, in the 1880s, Francis Marion Smith and his brother had shipped borax from the Death Valley mines to what was the nearest railway spur in Mojave 165 miles away. It took 15 days to haul 10 short tons of borax ore to the awaiting dirty hands and scientists of the world.

Studying the area and the 20 Mule Team prompted me to wonder what the horsepower of a mule might be. But my intent to compare how many CRF230L machines it would take to pull the borax from California City to Torrance in a timely manner quickly waned when I got distracted by the Lowes Motor Speedway guy who races Legend Cars but relaxes on mules. Or was it the definition of a mule? Mules have more endurance and show less impatience under the pressure of heavy weights. Sounds like me as a contract worker in America, but I digress.

For 2008, Honda brings us a street-legal version of its CRF230R off-road playbike. Bolt one to the back of your RV for $4499.

Returning to the Honda line-up after a 17-year hiatus, the dual-purpose 230L is making waves in the sales department, surfing the rising public interest for just such a bike. Honda’s last entry-level street-legal dirt machine was the 1991 XR250L. Having immediately sold all available CRF230Ls to their dealer base, you may need to make a friend at your local Honda dealer soon if you hope to get one before the dealers are sold out, too.

Call it what you will, a D-P bike, a D-S bike or trailie, one thing you can’t call it is stale. With street-ready lighting and turnsignals to its deep-lug Bridgestone Trail Wing tires, the CRF230L is a bike that is ready to go everywhere you want to go, on or off the pavement.

Within the family line, the CRF230L is a more versatile step up from the off-road-only CRF230F. Both bikes share the same 65.5mm x 66.2mm bore and stroke, 223cc air-cooled SOHC two-valve Thumper, but the street-capable L model inhales through a larger 30mm CV carb while the F model uses a smaller 26mm piston-valve carb. Both friendly machines put power to the ground via a 6-speed tranny. They also share the same 37mm leading-axle Showa fork with 9 inches of travel up front. The L’s preload-adjustable Pro-Link Showa shock differs in that it offers just 6.3 inches of rear travel versus the 9 inches on the F model.

Although you’ll want to steer clear of motocross-style double jumps, the CRF230L is capable of tackling plenty of off-road terrain.

The frame is a semi-double-cradle steel construction piece providing plenty of durability, and dicing the line between necessary strength and weight-savings is the aluminum swingarm. Braking duties are pretty similar on both bikes, with a dual-piston, sliding-pin caliperspinching a 240mm disc up front, but the L ups the ante with a 220mm disc out back instead of its sister’s drum brake. Each bike runs a 21-inch front wheel and 18"-inch rear with the aforementioned pavement-ready Trail Wings spooned onto the L.

The CRF-L is a willing accomplice for light-duty off-road trail exploration.

Though both bikes seem similar mechanically, the L, with its 26.8-degree rake, 4 inches of trail, 52.7-inch wheelbase and 31.9-inch seat height reveals its urban slant. The F has milder rake, trail and wheelbase figures, but its 34-inch seat height and 11.7" inches of ground clearance (9.5 inches on the L) clearly indicate a dirt-only capacity. Yet, in my mind, this lower seat height is what makes the L perfectly suitable for everyone wanting two-wheeled fun everywhere they go, dirt or street. And I do mean everywhere. The L is a 50-state model with a USDA-qualified spark arrestor/muffler combo. [Is it safe to eat? – Ed.]

This street-legal 230L features the ever-popular CRF-R-inspired bodywork in the famous Honda red (the red ones go faster I hear), flex-mounted turnsignals, steel folding pegs, slim-line retractable passenger pegs, and feather-light steering. That extra streetable gear which includes a 3.0-gallon tank (2.3 gals. on the F) equates to a ready-to-ride weight of 267 pounds, an 18-pound gain over the F. There's got to be a trade-off somewhere, right? All told, the CRF230L is a perfect starter bike.

As a compact, adventure-loving, dual-sport machine that loves your bank account as well as the trip ahead, the $4499 CRF230L serves well as a city commuter, campground pit bike, or a lightweight trail expedition mount. It left a smile on my face all day, as you can see by the photos of me hucking it in the backcountry boulders of Kern County.

Beyond The Beaten Path

Sometimes the best times of your life are found beyond the beaten path, as evidenced by the high desert trail system near Mojave. Our ride route had us stopping in the old mining town of Randsburg – a living ghost town as they call it. “Where the hell is Randsburg?” you might ask.

“Where the hell is Randsburg? “

A ghost town, mining town and stop-over for the 20 Mule team as well as the 20-journo team out for a joy ride, Randsburg, named after the Witwatersrand of South Africa,lies along the gold and silvermining belt of Kern County. A worldly place to showcase a motorcycle currently built and used around the world, it’s a D-P biker haven. Motorcycle parking, rustic and authentic western history, parts stores for the needy, gift shops for the wanton, and even an opera house for the bored.

We made it our lunch stop and had some killer handmade milkshakes at the general store; very refreshing on a windy but hot day, even in February. Only a quarter mile long, exploring the few nooks and crannies of Randsburg doesn’t eat up too much of your ride time. "Please, thank you. I’d like to buy this or that," and it’s back to the trail before the storm hits.

On the trail, the CRF230L is fully capable of throwing this 200-pound rider around the desert with a smile-inducing thump. Sporting a mild grunt in the exhaust note and suspended enough to fly high without bottoming out the ride, the overall package is a hit. Its dual-cradle frame and chassis dimensions offer a flickable ride without sacrificing the whole bike to the wind gods when they come knocking on the trail. The MX style seat is perfect for the changing conditions of trail as well as the street, and handlebar height gives plenty of room for stand-up riding for this 34-inch inseam rider.

As you’d expect from an air-cooled, two-valve Thumper, arm-yanking power isn’t the CRF’s bag of tricks.

At speed in the sand, or pushing over an indicated 70 mph on the street, the Trail Wings keep their shape and purpose without needing to "air down" for the trail. Over hill and dale, attacking the undulating desert whoops is a breeze as the 230L has enough torque to pick up the front end. When a stray abandoned automobile halts the going, the two-pot wave rotor brakes make quick work of stopping before you become road kill to the deceased auto carcass.

With an MSRP of $4499, the 2008 CRF230L is plenty of bike for the motorcycling first-timer who needs a do-it-all-er, or even for the dusty, trail-whipped two-wheel vet who's looking for a versatile second bike with that traditional Honda reliability.

Honda’s first dual-purpose machine in 17 years, the 2008 CRF230L is just as at home on the trail as it as on the road. You may be surprised just what this bike can do.

As the interest to get away from the city lights and traffic increases, the dual-sport segment will continue to grow. As testimony to that claim, we only need note a collective 75% increase in market growth between 2003 and 2006. Let’s just hope we have a few more years before there’s a traffic signal at the trailhead.

The Perfect Bike For...
The casual or beginner rider who wants multi-terrain versatility in a reliable rider-friendly package.
Highs: Sighs:
A perfect companion to dad’s XR650 on the family outings Smooth transmission, quiet running and rider-friendly. Easy starting and a handy choke lever right at the clutch lever. Only $400 less than the new, higher-performance Kawi KLX250S Minimally adjustable suspension Few aftermarket parts yet

Related Reading
2008 Yamaha WR250R & WR250X Review

Alfonse "Fonzie" Palaima
Alfonse "Fonzie" Palaima

More by Alfonse "Fonzie" Palaima

Join the conversation