2008 Honda CRF230L - First Ride

Big Red's Little Wonder

By Jimmy Lewis/Dirt Rider, Photography by Jesse Ziegler, Jimmy Lewis

It was only logical for the CRF230L to show up Stateside. Honda has been selling it in Japan for over a year. Are people lining up at U.S. dealers to buy one? No, but Honda says the dual-sport market grew 75 percent between '03 and '06. So even if this one doesn't break any new technological ground, it fills a hole in Big Red's '08 lineup. With Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha in the game now, there may be something to this entry-level dual-sport thing.

Essentially, it's a CRF230F with a steel gas tank, lights, softer suspension, compromise tires and tuning that lets it survive long stints at wide-open throttle. Honda has stringent durability standards for anything that carries a license plate, which is what makes it an "L" model. And 90 percent of the time, it's simply a CRF230: a bike any first-time rider can get on and have a good time.

On the street, it can scoot along as quickly as most sub-compact cars. Fuel economy should be great. The electric starter is a plus, but that 30mm CV carburetor needs some encouragement from the choke in the morning.

Beyond that, the 223cc single has the sort of linear power that won't impress or surprise anyone. But it's enough to have fun. You can be as wacky or malicious as you like with the throttle and the motor refuses to flutter, sputter or cough. It doesn't much care what gear you're in. There's usually enough torque to plug along. Top speed is on the high side of 70 mph if conditions are right.

The gearbox shifts easily through six nicely spaced ratios. Serious dirt work will be easier with a larger rear sprocket to close the gaps and make first gear a crawler. The chassis feels long and low by modern dirtbike standards, with a seat height just under 32 inches. There's a weighty feel when pushing it around that isn't an issue while riding, and a stable, planted feel underway that makes even nervous novices smile. Predictably basic suspension erases ripples and small bumps, but you should go around the big ones.

In the end, the 230L is a great way to explore the two-wheeled world, on- or off-road. It's also a great motorhome bumper bike, and a cool scooter alternative for students in search of basic transportation-check out that optional rear rack. And it's an easy answer for trail riders wondering how to finagle a license plate onto a CRF230F. There are plenty of buyers out there for bikes like this. With any luck, they'll be back in the showroom for a 2010 CRF450X, or even a CBR600RR.

By Jimmy Lewis/Dirt Rider
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