2009 Honda CRF230M

Starter Motor

By Ari Henning, Photography by Joe Neric

Even the most timid, short-legged riders will smile when they sit on Honda's new CRF230M. A natural offshoot of the popular CRF230L dual-sport, the road-going M-model is a low-seated slice of greenhorn heaven, and a cool supermoto-style alternative to the Honda Rebel cruiser and Kawasaki Ninja 250 sportbike.

The CRF-M has all of a beginner's concerns covered. At just 31.7 inches above the pavement, the narrow, motocross-style seat is invitingly low. Once weighted, the long-travel suspension (9 inches front; 6.6 inches rear) settles and lowers the seat further still, enabling 5-foot-tall pilots to plant both feet firmly on the ground. Accompanying that low seat height is the lightest curb weight we've seen for a streetbike. Fully fueled and ready to ride, the CRF tips the scales at a claimed 276 pounds-100 lbs. less than the Ninjette.

The steel frame is the same as the 230L's, but 17-inch wheels shod with Dunlop street tires and a stronger swingarm ready the 230M for the road. A longer shock shifts weight onto the front wheel for a more planted feeling, while steep rake and reduced trail make for more agile handling.

Apply some choke via the handlebar-mounted lever, thumb the starter button and the little 223cc single burbles to life. Power-wary riders needn't worry as acceleration is far from overwhelming. The gearbox retains off-road ratios, and first is too short for most street riding. Clicking into second from neutral and twisting the throttle to the stop is the most effective way to get the holeshot from stoplights, and the only way to get any performance out of the SOHC, two-valve mill. Even with the 30mm Keihin carburetor at full yawn in top gear, the 230M tops out at an indicated 75 mph-and it takes its sweet time getting there.

During less demanding situations, carburetion is smooth and consistent, and the engine provides tractable power with almost no discernible vibration. Spool it up near redline, however, and the ensuing high-frequency buzz will leave you rubbing your backside to rouse deadened nerves.

Despite nearly 3 feet of spongy rubber hose, the front brake is surprisingly solid, although the reach to the lever may prove too far for the smaller riders to whom this bike will appeal. The dash is as rudimentary as they come, with only an analog speedometer and the most essential indicator lights. Luckily, Honda left room in the budget for an ignition-switch-operated steering lock, which adds peace of mind when leaving the bike unattended.

After riding the squirt to and from work all week, there's still plenty of gas sloshing around in the tank, and it hasn't even hit reserve yet. At the current rate, the CRF's miserly 2.3-gallon payload should be good for around 200 miles.

The CRF230M is a viable option for entry-level riders, but the antiquated engine design leaves something lacking-namely power. Unless seat height is their foremost concern, newbies will be hard-pressed to choose the CRF230M over the faster, more sophisticated-and cheaper-Kawasaki KLX250SF.

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