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Honda CRF250L and 250 Rally review: On- and off-road adventures on a budget

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It’s a wide world out there, and Honda has a motorcycle that’ll help you jump into it.

If you’re new to moto riding, either on the street or in the dirt, or if you rode in the ancient times of drum brakes and unsophisticated shock valving, you will be pleasantly surprised with the latest pair of Honda CRF250Ls.

“These bikes are made for the rider who wants to get away from the city for local adventures,” said Honda’s Jason Abbott. “Whether you’re exploring around town or out riding the local fire roads, it’ll keep you entertained on- and off-road.”

For 2017, Honda offers two versions of the popular CRF250L: the “standard” 250L and the more featured Rally model. Both are powered by 249 cc DOHC liquid-cooled upright single-cylinder engines with a host of improvements for 2017 — everything from larger throttle bodies and revised air boxes to larger exhaust and a new ECU. The standard model rides on a long-travel 43 mm inverted fork in front and a single-shock “Pro-Link” rear suspension. The Rally model gets a 30 mm longer inverted telescopic front fork and an updated rear suspension with a new link and connecting rod.

Both are styled after bigger bikes. The standard 250L takes cues from the CRF450 motocross bike, while the Rally edition mimics the CRF450 raced in Dakar by Team Monster Energy Honda.

Honda CRF250L doin’ a wheelie

The Execution

To give us a taste of these bikes’ versatility, Honda took us to 11-time Baja 1000 winner Johnny Campbell’s shop in the high chaparral of southwest Riverside County, California. Campbell himself was there, dispensing wisdom and telling a few stories. His last Baja race was in 2008 (he won it, of course), and he now owns JCR, Johnny Campbell Racing, fielding teams across the country and deep into Patagonia for the Dakar. Even so, he likes these 250s.

“It’s not intimidating,” he said. “The power’s subtle enough that it’s not going to rip out of your hands. It’s a very easy bike for you to ride.”

Then, as we were ready to set out he added, “Try not to roost my (gravel) driveway.”

Our ride route was an adventurous 120-mile loop that included both on- and off-road sections. It was what Honda called “an all-day adventure.”

Honda CRF250L rooster

The Honda CRF250L has enough torque to do the occasional rooster tail

We started out on the CRF250L. First thing you notice is the lower seat height compared to larger-displacement adventure bikes like the KTM and BMW. It’s far easier to get on and off this littler Honda. Next, there’s the clutch — so light and easy to operate. You won’t get cramps in your hands grabbing this lever all day. And the ride: OMG, this thing has tons of suspension travel, at least compared to that dirt bike you might have ridden in high school. See a huge divot or rain washout gully? Don’t fret, just power through it and let the forks soak it up. Motorcycles today are completely confidence-inspiring, even here at the entry level. In the dirt, I might have preferred less tire pressure, particularly in front, but Honda had to balance out the pressures for both asphalt and sand. I found the front tire sliding a little sideways a few times during the day, but it wasn’t too hard to control. The 250L is very enjoyable, very easy to ride.

The engine seems happiest between 7,000 and 9,000 rpm, which is a pretty narrow powerband. At first, I was thinking the gear spacing was too far apart, but after a few shifts, it became clear that it was the narrow powerband of the engine I was feeling. Whaddaya want from a single cylinder? Other 300 cc singles we’ve ridden seemed to have slightly wider powerbands, but they also have 50 ccs more displacement.

For the afternoon, we got on the Rally edition, and I can say for sure that it’s the better bike, both on and off the roads. Its standard windscreen was a relief on high-speed pavement runs, and its longer suspension travel was welcome every time I schlumphed into a washed-out gully. The Rally only costs $750 more, and it’s well worth it. For an extra $300 above that, you can get ABS. I recommend the Rally with ABS if you can swing the cash. 

Honda CRF250L open road

The road beckons

The Verdict

Either way, the new Honda 250s are easy bikes to ride. They’re made for beginners or those just returning to motorcycles after a few decade’s hiatus — and at that task, they succeed admirably. For complete and rank beginners, though, I would seriously recommend the smaller! Honda Grom. The Grom is lighter and even easier than the 250 to get the hang of dirt dynamics. From the Grom, you can graduate to this, and from this, you can go to a 450 or 650. But I enjoyed sliding the rear around just a bit here and there on this 250. If you try that with the bigger-displacement bikes, you need to be more in control just because of the added torque you’ll get — the back tire might get lose. With these two, the bike’s more in control. 

There are hills and trails all over this great country of ours; get out there and explore!


On Sale: Now

Base Price: $5149

Drivetrain: 249-cc single cylinder, manual transmission, rwd

Curb Weight: 346 pounds

Pros: Fun and cheap!

Cons: You will graduate to a larger-displacement bike as you master what this one teaches you

honda-crf250l-and-250-rally-review-on-and-off-road-adventures-on-a-budget

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