The 250cc sportbike segment has never exactly teemed with choices. For years there was just one: Kawasaki’s ubiquitous Ninja 250. Then, in 2005, the class size doubled when Hyosung entered the American market with its GT250R. Now, with the introduction of Honda’s new CBR250R, the options list is at an all-time high of three, confronting neophytes and other would-be buyers with a multiple-choice challenge they’ve never faced before.
All three of these budding sportbikes share the same $3999 price tag (in base trim; our Ninja’s special-edition black/white/red paint cost an additional $250), come within a few horsepower of barely enough and take far too long to cover the quarter-mile. Yet despite their frugal cost and power figures, they each have enough sporting DNA to provide new riders with room to grow and experienced hands with enough performance to work up a smile. Each is an excellent motorcycle in the right context, offering easy locomotion, outstanding fuel economy and a fair share of fun. Which one takes the cake as the King of the Quarter-Liter Sportbikes? We gathered the entire class together to find out…
“With loads of low-end torque, this bike sprints away from stoplights and is the quickest
American Honda hasn’t had a 250cc sportbike in its lineup since the VTR250, last seen in dealerships some 20 years ago. Unlike that bike’s V-twin, the CBR250R’s heart is a single-cylinder engine that cranks out a modest 22.3 rear-wheel horsepower at 9000 rpm. Its piston reciprocates below a four-valve head operated by dual overhead cams, and the whole compact assemblage is water-cooled and fuel-injected for reliability and efficiency. Just thumb the starter button and go.
Honda’s new 250 may carry the CBR moniker, but everything about our testbike screamed VFR. From the color and shape of the bodywork to the dash and do-it-all practicality, the CBR250R is a VFR1200F in miniature. In Asian markets, where this bike is expected to sell well, the VFR is viewed as the pinnacle of performance, so the objective is clear. While the Kawasaki’s 130mm-wide IRC rear tire is silly-skinny and the Hyosung’s 150mm Shinko too chunky, the Honda’s 140mm IRC looks just right, and keeps the bike’s proportions in line with that of its bigger brothers. Fit and finish are typical of the Japanese manufacturer, even though this bike is assembled in Honda’s Thailand factory, in operation since 1967.
The CBR feels nimble, ultra-compact and punchy. It has the same seat height as the Ninja but a softer perch and some extra legroom. A slightly shorter reach to the lower, clip-on handlebars makes the Honda’s riding position sportier than the Ninja’s while still remaining comfortable, and you’re close enough to the windscreen to let it do its job. With loads of low-end torque and a light, cable-actuated clutch, this bike sprints away from stoplights and is the quickest and easiest to ride around town. The single- cylinder engine exhibits a distinct power pickup at 5000 rpm that tapers off after 9000 rpm, but keep it thrumming in the midrange and you’ll keep a smile on your face. The Kawasaki is faster, but the Honda goes nearly as quickly with less effort. Handling is completely neutral, and at just 355 well-centralized pounds—a full 59 lbs. less than the Hyosung—this featherweight changes direction with a thought. The single front disc brake with two-piston caliper slows the little bullet quickly and with very little effort. For even more braking confidence, the CBR is available with ABS for an additional $500.
Commuting to work and running errands become fun aboard this little thumper, and no matter how hard we rode it, mileage never dropped below 60 mpg. Softer suspension soaks up surface imperfections better than any other bike here, yet because the CBR is so light, it doesn’t hold you back on the back roads. In sixth gear, 70 mph puts 7500 rpm on the analog tachometer. You can squeeze another 25 mph out of the bike before the 10,500-rpm redline, but at higher revs vibration blurs the mirrors, tingles your feet and makes the engine sound painfully overworked.
Like all Hondas, the CBR250R is built to last. The owner’s manual suggests letting the engine stew for 8000 miles between oil changes, and after the initial 600-mile inspection, the valves don’t need attention again until the 16,000-mile mark. That leaves you with a lot more time and gas money with which to ride and master this small-scale CBR before moving up to the real thing.
Look familiar? If you’ve ever ridden a VFR1200F, it
will. The little Honda’s dash combines
The CBR250R’s light weight means its single front
disc brake is more than adequate for com
The 250cc engine is an innovative, all-new design.
The 43-bhp single from the CRF250R moto
Off the Record
Age: 26 Height: 5’10”
Weight: 175 lbs. Inseam: 33 in.
The old adage that it’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow is as accurate as Jack Lewis behind a carbine. Flogging these 250s is a hoot—and you can do so without breaking the speed limit! Of the three, the Honda and its torquey thumper proved the most entertaining. It was also the most comfortable and had the most balanced suspension. I wasn’t a fan of our testbike’s VFR-derived appearance at first, but it grew on me. I’ll be giving the thumbs-up to any CBR250R pilots I see in the future!