Just imagine the board meeting at Honda: “We need to replace the basic, air-cooled CRF230L... any suggestions?” Nods all around as the enthusiast engineers sketch out a fuel-injected, liquid-cooled, dual overhead cam engine with six speeds and a counterbalancer, dual disc brakes, roughly 10 inches of travel and an inverted fork attached to a perimeter frame. Now picture the accounting department when marketing suggests it should sell for $500 less than the 230! Using this much technology to reduce the price of a new model is equivalent to choosing an atomic bomb to solve an ant infestation.
Honda has pulled off a $4499 price point for the CRF250L, which is astounding for a bike with this amount of tech. It saved money by choosing steel for the frame, but the cast aluminum swingarm operates the piggyback shock via an aluminum linkage, and the fork tube size would have been cutting edge moto a few years ago. As modern as the rolling chassis is, it doesn’t break any new ground. Actually, the engine doesn’t either, since it is a dirt-refined version of Honda’s CBR250 street bike mill. The air box, intake and exhaust are different due to chassis layout, but the pipe is smaller in diameter, and throttle body size is reduced to 36mm. The L also has a dedicated ECU. The aim was a little more grunt at low rpm and reliability under off-road abuse. Interestingly enough, transmission ratios are the same, but the gears are wider, with stronger dogs. The spacing and spread actually works just fine.
The roots of this bike run to the 1972 Honda XL250, but other than displacement and rim sizes, the only other thing the two share is horsepower output—the 1972 engine had a true four-stroke feel that revved willingly for the time. The liquid-cooled L is no powerhouse, but the engine is vastly more civilized than its predecessors. A light touch on the starter makes it purr to life, and it has ample torque to get away from a stop with a 200 pound rider on board. From take-off the power is supremely linear: more rpm, more zipping forward. No matter the rpm, the engine spins so smoothly that it’s completely unobtrusive. And even in spirited riding on road or off, the engine is always willing.
And the almost vibe-free running isn’t all. The EFI is flawless, the clutch is smooth and light, shifting is accurate and it will always make you look good. On pavement, the bike effortless with smooth, powerful braking, light steering and a ride that sits tall enough to provide good visibility. The lamps in general and the turn signals and brake light in particular are bright and easy for other drivers to see. Get onto rural roads and twisties, and the fun begins. The do-it-all tire pattern deals with pavement just fine, and the bike stays composed. Even with pressures at 15 psi to suit the off-road sections, the tires didn’t do anything odd.
In the dirt the bike offers more performance than the tires can handle. If the terrain is slippery, it likes going up better than down, but honestly, this would be a reasonable adventure bike if you keep extended freeway running out of the equation. Handling is still accurate and steering is light. The riding position and seat are ready for long days.
The claimed seat height is nearly 35 inches, but once you’re on it, the soft, supple suspension settles, and the CRF250L becomes a reasonable straddle. This bike is a U.S. version of a worldwide model, so the controls and riding position are focused at compact riders. We know it will fit a rider over six feet, but shorter folks will be happier.