2011 Honda CRF250R Review

A Jack of all trades

Flashback to 2010. When we tested the 2010 Honda CRF250R last year we were impressed with its prowess. The screaming fuel-injected 250 four-stroke was easy to ride, and most importantly easy to ride fast. But it left us a bit confused on the track. The suspension felt a bit soft at both ends for hard charging motocross and the engine lacked the instant bark that pros crave.

When we took it off the track, for a lap of our local national hare scramble course, we found the bike’s best niche. In bone stock condition, right down to the suspension settings, we found the little Honda had the potential to be one of the best off-road race bikes of the year. With that in mind we were anxious to try the 2011 on our local track…and trails…and anywhere else we could think of riding it!

2011 Honda CRF250R

For 2011 Honda made a few changes, the biggest falling right into line with our discovery of the bike’s high fun factor last year. Quiet is good anywhere, but nowhere is it more important than off the track. For 2011 the CRF250R comes with a (huge round of applause!) 94dbA muffler! Although it doesn’t feature a spark arrestor, the exhaust note is refreshingly quiet at lower revs while sounding powerful but not obnoxious with the throttle pinned. Nice.

2011 Honda CRF250R

The mapping of the battery-less fuel injection system has been changed to suit the new exhaust, with the end result being a claimed increase in power. Further helping matters is a change in final drive gearing, with a larger 49-tooth rear sprocket making life easier for the clutch and the rider.

In the chassis department, the 227-pound machine has a 48mm Showa fork with a revised damping curve to smooth out last year’s mid-stroke harshness. The shock has also been updated for 2011, with damping rates intended to balance out the overall feel of the bike. The steering damper has also been updated with a new, larger piston.

The fuel-injected engine takes a few kicks to light when cold, partially because the EFI system needs a bit of a spin to charge it up but also just…umm…because? In 2010 we were amazed at how easily the bike started, for a 250F or anything else for that matter. This year it was a little more reluctant to fire, normally taking about three kicks regardless of engine temp. Weird.

2011 Honda CRF250R

The transmission and clutch work great, making full power shifts quick and easy with or without the clutch. In fact, during the course of our test we never missed one single shift on this bike! The change in gearing, fuel-injection calibration and new exhaust system makes a world of difference, with less clutch abuse necessary to keep the bike on the pipe than last year. If anything the bike has a little more midrange than in 2010, but it is still a revver. Consider it an exceptionally smooth, torquey 125 or (if you’re old enough to remember…) a really fast KDX200 and you’ll have the right idea. It pulls hard, but in a workmanlike fashion that our novice and intermediate test riders loved but left our Pros wanting more.

Where it works great is on slippery, technical terrain. In the woods, and even on our little Endurocross track, the ultra-smooth low and midrange power were great, letting us poke around at low rpm like a trials bike with great traction. Overall the engine is very confidence inspiring, even if it’s not the fastest bike in its class. It never farts or flames out, never overheated and never did anything other than run great for the duration of our test.
In 2010 we thought the suspension was a bit soft for full-on motocross. Our novice to Pro test riders range from 150 to 200 pounds, if you’re wondering. For 2011 we felt the same way, thinking we could use stiffer fork springs no matter where we rode the bike. These are the suspension settings we ended up using most:

Our Preferred Suspension Settings
Fork Compression, stock 6. We ran at 4 clicks out.
Rebound, stock 10. We ran at 5 clicks out.
Height: We preferred the bike’s cornering with the fork raised 7mm in the triple clamps.
Shock HSCD, stock.
LSCD, stock 8. We ran 5 clicks out.
Rebound, stock 10. We ran 6 clicks out.

2011 Honda CRF250R

During our test the bike stayed tight and kept its good looks. Nobody complained too loudly about anything, but everyone raved about how easy the bike was to ride. For a smaller rider moving up from the minis to the 250F class the Honda is a prime choice. It’s revvy, feels light and small and is never, ever intimidating. Hard core play riders will love it. For off-road racers the CRF250R just might be the magic ticket. If it were ours to keep we’d throw in stiffer fork springs, add some armor, an o-ring chain and our number plates on it and aim for the nearest race. MX, Off-road, Endurocross, whatever, the 2011 CRF250R is simply a really good all-around dirt bike. Really, really good! Thanks to Honda Canada and Machine Racing for providing our test bike!

2011 Honda CRF250R

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2010 Honda CRF250R Review
2010 Honda CRF450R Review
2009 Honda CRF230M Review
2008 Honda CRF230L Review
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