2015 Honda CRF250R First Ride Review

Scott Rousseau
by Scott Rousseau

Key upgrades make it more adjustable than ever before

Honda’s CRF250R may not have enjoyed the hype that Yamaha’s YZ250F did in 2014. Even though the Honda was practically an all-new design, its thunder was effectively stolen by the radically revised Yamaha, which dominated the conversation – and the majority of shootouts – in the 250cc motocross class.

2015 Honda CRF250R

Editor Score: 92.0%
Engine 16.0/20
Suspension/Handling 15.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 10.0/10
Brakes 9.0/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.0/10
Appearance/Quality 10.0/10
Desirability 9.0/10
Value 9.0/10
Overall Score92/100

Fine, says Honda, but if the YZ was truly that great, where are its championships? In the hands of Justin Bogle, the CRF250R earned another AMA 250cc Eastern Region Supercross championship in 2014. Honda 1, Yamaha 0. Perhaps even more importantly than a championship title, though, is the statistic that the CRF250R was also the most prolific model on the Monster Energy AMA Supercross circuit last season. An impressive 53% of all main event qualifiers in the 250cc class rode CRF250Rs, including an amazing 124 of 198 starters (63%) in the East series alone. The Yamaha may have won shootouts, but the Honda more than held its own on showroom floors.

But rather than rest on its laurels, Honda’s CRF250R returns in 2015 with key revisions that make it even more adjustable than before. The changes emphasize quality over quantity, with updates to its engine that include an all-new Engine Mode Button that allows the rider to change fuel/ignition curves virtually on the fly. The CRF250R’s suspension has also joined its CRF450R sibling in the “air force” with the introduction of a new-generation 49mm Showa Separate Function Fork, Triple Air Chamber (SFF-Air) fork.

The CRF250R offers excellent fuel-injection manners and delivers plenty of low-end power along with a healthy mid-range kick before flattening out on top. It’s fast, but it’s also an easy 250 to ride.

Honda gave us the chance to spin laps aboard the 2015 CRF250R at Competitive Edge Raceway in Hesperia, California, and the time we spent aboard the machine convinced us that the bike should be a force to be reckoned with once again in 2015.

The CRF250R’s liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, SOHC single-cylinder engine was already pretty potent last year. Its oversquare 76.8mm x 53.8mm bore and stroke offer good low-end torque and a hearty mid-range punch for a 250cc motor, but it doesn’t build top-end thrust like some of its competition. Honda engineers attempted to up the CRF250R’s peak power output in 2014 with a new Unicam cylinder head and new piston, and it helped, but it wasn’t enough to dethrone the Yamaha in the horsepower sweepstakes.

In light of that fact, it’s surprising that Honda’s engineers chose not to try and extract more peak power out of the CRF250R for 2015. Instead, the goal was to unlock the existing design’s full potential via a some ECU remapping and the addition of a new Engine Mode Button that offers the rider a choice of three EFI/ignition map settings to alter the power delivery to suit various track conditions and rider preference.

The CRF250R’s fuel-injected four-stroke Single is now easier than ever to tune to track conditions, thanks to a new Engine Mode Button feature that allows the rider to switch between three different EFI/ignition maps. Mode 1 is for the stock ignition and fueling, Mode 2 is for slick surfaces, and Mode 3 is for tacky or deep surfaces.

Honda calls its Engine Mode Button an industry-first – and it is, for dirtbikes. Basically the button is Honda’s “better idea” answer to the plug-in ignition modules found on the Kawasaki KX250 and Suzuki RM-Z250. The Honda system features three modes: Mode 1 is the standard ignition and fueling maps; Mode 2 pulls timing and fuel away from the motor to make it more manageable in slick conditions; Mode 3 is the most aggressive and responsive map, altering the timing and fueling to emphasize more top-end power.

To change modes, the rider simply stops with the engine at idle and then depresses the button found next to the throttle on the handlebar, a blinking LED light signals which mode the rider is in – one blink for Mode 1, two rapid blinks for Mode 2, and three rapid blinks for Mode 3. It’s far less of a hassle than returning to the pits to replace a module. And, like last year, the Honda still allows custom-tweaking of Modes 2 and 3 via HRC accessory mapping hardware and software; Mode 1, the stock setting, cannot be altered.

Pressing the button switches modes with a blinking LED identifying which of the three modes you’re currently using.

On the track, our test crew, which included expert test rider Ryan Abbatoye, preferred the Honda in Mode 1, while others preferred Mode 3, the most aggressive mapping of the three. For heavier, less aggressive riders, Mode 3 simply allows the CRF250R to hold a gear longer between shifts, which actually makes it easier to ride. Mode 2 was our least favorite, as it simply robbed throttle response and mid-range grunt too much for our tastes on the long and fast Competitive Edge track, although we can see its value for dry-slick or muddy courses. Regardless of mode, the best way to characterize the CRF250R engine is that it favors smoothness over aggression. Throttle response through its Dual-Timing PGM-FI fuel injection system and 46mm Keihin throttle body is plenty crisp, but even in Mode 3 the engine doesn’t feel as brawny as some others we have sampled.

But even though Experts may not be impressed by the CRF’s non-aggressive nature, that doesn’t mean that the Honda is weak by any means. Its broad low-end torque transitions into a smooth yet forceful mid-range thrust, and it isn’t surprising that the Honda was a popular supercross mount. But on the long Competitive Edge track, some of our testers were wishing that the Honda had just a tad more top-end overrev. Abbatoye’s only main gripe was that he felt as if he needed to land off jumps on the gas in order to keep the CRF driving at high rpm.

On a higher note, the CRF250R’s clutch action and the shift quality of its five-speed transmission are superb, in case you do find yourself short-shifting the bike to stay in the meat of the powerband. The CRF250R certainly sounds mean enough when you’re up on the cams, but that’s partially because Honda redesigned its dual mufflers by increasing the right-side outlet diameter from 22 to 23.8mm and the left-side outlet diameter from 23.4 to 26.6mm.

The CRF250R’s handling is darn near perfect, with excellent steering precision and tremendous stability aided by the Honda Progressive Steering Damper system. It carves like a knife, yet it remains as stable as an arrow at speed.

It may not be the fastest bike on the straightaways, but where the CRF250R really shines is in the corners and when the going gets really rough. Its aluminum perimeter frame steers with amazing precision, and its low center of gravity really lets the CRF250R hunker down in ruts or berms. Its 58.6-inch wheelbase, 27 degrees of rake and 4.6 inches of trail are unchanged from 2014, and changes made to the subframe and airbox last year still contribute to its light and compact feel underneath the rider.

Its slim cockpit makes it easy for the rider to put his or her weight where it is most effective to hustle the CRF250R around any bend, whether bermed, flat or off-camber. However, some of our testers noted that they were catching their knees on the CRF’s pointy radiator shrouds, and we learned from Honda insiders that some of the factory team’s riders secure their shrouds inward with zipties for that very reason.

A new Showa 49mm SFF-Air fork gives the CRF250R more adjustability up front than ever. Not only that, but its on-track performance began to make believers out of some of us who are skeptical of the benefit of air springs.

Honda replaced the 2014 CRF250R’s excellent Showa Separate Function Fork (SFF) with a new-generation 49mm Showa Separate Function Fork, Triple Air Chamber (SFF-Air) air fork for 2015. The SFF-Air shaves 2.8 lbs. of weight from the bike while also claiming to offer a wider range of adjustment than a conventional coil spring fork. The right fork leg houses the damper mechanisms for compression and rebound control, while the left fork leg contains a three-chamber pneumatic spring system. The right leg offers 16 positions of rebound damping and 16 positions of compression damping adjustability as well as practically infinite spring rate adjustability.

In the left fork leg, the balance chamber affects the spring rate at the initial portion of fork travel and at low speed, while the inner chamber affects spring rate throughout the entire range of fork travel. The outer chamber contains fork oil and air at ambient pressure; adjusting the level of oil in this chamber only affects the spring rate when the fork is almost completely compressed. Static sag and preload are changed by adjusting air pressure in the inner and balance chambers via a Schrader valve on the fork cap, and by changing the oil volume in the outer chamber. The pressures in the balance chamber and inner chamber can be fine-tuned at the track, using Honda’s accessory pump, to suit riding conditions. As the SFF-Air uses such high-pressure settings – a maximum of 189 psi – Honda notes that any increase in pressure that may occur as the fork heats up during use is negligible percentage change.

Once we had the fork set to our liking, we appreciated its compliance over small bumps and big hits alike. Honda’s Pro-Link rear shock and linkage are unflappable, delivering a plush ride all around the track.

Out back, the CRF250R’s Showa piggyback reservoir single-shock gets a slightly stiffer and also lighter spring for 2015. The shock body itself is unchanged, offering 17-position rebound adjustment, along with 13-position low-speed and 3.5-turn high-speed compression damping adjustment.

We have yet to be completely won over by air forks in general because we see potential issues with their use in the off-road environment, a place where lots and lots of motocross machines end up spending the majority of their lives. That said, the CRF250R’s SFF-Air is a definite improvement over the SFF on last year’s model. It takes a while to get used to adjusting it, and Honda officials warned us that constantly fussing with the air pressures as a way to dial in compression and rebound compliance is not the correct procedure – use the clickers! One thing that we did notice, however, is that a single click on either the compression or rebound knob could be the difference between feeling perfectly dialed-in or slightly out of sorts. But when it’s right, it’s right, and the fork offers tremendous feel over small ripples and excellent bottoming resistance over monster jumps.

With its excellent chassis, the CRF250R is a hoot when subjected to aerial mischief.

All the while, the Honda’s Pro-Link rear end tracks straight and true through the whoops, ruts and square-edged bumps. That stability is aided by Honda’s Progressive Steering Damper (HPSD). Attached to the lower triple clamp, the HPSD’s damping action progresses as the speed of the handlebar deflection increases, to help the Honda retain its quick steering action while resisting head shake at high speed.

Coming down from speed is said to be easier on the 2015 CRF250R, thanks to an increase in the front wave rotor size, from 240mm to 260mm. Honestly, we didn’t notice much of a difference in braking power, as last year’s 240mm front rotor was already excellent. Dunlop’s Geomax MX52 motocross front and rear tires are also new on the Honda for 2015. Designed to excel on intermediate/hard surfaces, they work well across a wide spectrum of off-road.

The CRF250R also has a different look for 2015, thanks to new fork covers that are claimed to offer better rock protection. The front brake guide, rear brake disc guard and radiator grill are now finished in black to complement an all-new CRF graphics package.

The bottom line here is that the Honda CRF250R is definitely worth its $7599 asking price, which just happens to be the exact same price as last year despite the new Engine Mode Button feature and more sophisticated SFF-Air fork. At the end of the day, we would love to get hold of a long-term model to see if we can extract more top-end power out of the little Honda’s motor.

But honestly, that’s all we think it really needs. The rest of the package is pretty darn good.

2015 Honda CRF250R Specifications
Engine Type249cc liquid-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke
Bore and Stroke76.8mm x 53.8mm
Compression Ratio13.5:1
Valve TrainUnicam®, four-valve; 30.5mm intake, titanium; 25mm exhaust, steel
InductionDual-Timing PGM-FI, 46mm throttle body
IgnitionFull transistor with electronic advance
TransmissionClose-ratio five-speed
Final Drive#520 chain; 13T/49T
Front Suspension49mm inverted Showa SFF-Air fork with 16-position rebound and 16-position compression damping adjustability; 12.2 inches travel
Rear SuspensionPro-Link Showa single shock with adjustable spring preload, 17-position rebound damping adjustability, and compression damping adjustment separated into low-speed (13 positions) and high-speed (3.5 turns); 12.3 inches travel
FrontSingle 260mm wave-style disc with twin-piston caliper
RearSingle 240mm wave-style disc
FrontDunlop MX52 80/100-21
RearDunlop MX52 100/90-19
Wheelbase58.6 inches
Rake27° 23’
Trail118mm (4.6 inches)
Seat Height37.4 inches
Ground Clearance12.7 inches
Fuel Capacity1.7 gallons
Claimed Curb Weight*231.0 pounds
*Includes all standard equipment, required fluids and full tank of fuel – ready to ride.
Scott Rousseau
Scott Rousseau

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 1 comment
  • Craig Hoffman Craig Hoffman on Aug 07, 2014

    I will insert my standard come on Honda, update the "X" line to include all this goodness. Most of us ride off road you know. This bike would be sweet with a bigger tank, lighting coil flywheel and a WR trans. The engine tune sounds good to go as is...