2011 Honda CBR250R | First Ride

A sure bet

By Bekah Snyder, Photography by Kevin Wing

Welcome, entry-level riders, to the 21st century! Unlike its carbureted competition, Honda’s all-new CBR250R is fuel-injected so there’s no more fiddling with the choke while your riding group leaves you in the dust. The rest of the bike is equally modern, consisting of a clean-sheet, single-cylinder engine and all-new chassis that together resulted in 27 new patents. With innovative forked roller rocker arms that simplify maintenance by allowing valve adjustments without removing the cams, as well as optional ABS, the CBR is especially sophisticated considering its low $3999 price.

Easy to operate, reliable and inexpensive—these are essential traits, as American Honda expects 70 percent of CBR250R buyers to be first-timers, and 30 percent to be women. I’m no first-timer, but I am a 5-foot-2, 115-lb. woman, so I was happy to take the CBR for a spin. To my delight, the 360-lb. CBR is unexpectedly easy to handle. Lifting it off its kickstand the first time, I heaved it well past center like some overpowered superhero, minus the spandex. The low, 30.5-inch seat offers even someone my height positive footing at stoplights. The upright handlebars offer extra leverage for small-framed riders too, though tall tank cutouts and low pegs accommodate taller riders as well.

The liquid-cooled, 249cc single boasts four valves, dual overhead cams, and a crankshaft-driven counterbalancer. Oversquare engine geometry, a short-skirt piston and a cylinder bore offset in front of the crankshaft to reduce friction give this engine a lively character, allowing for higher revs, more power and, ultimately, longer engine life, Honda claims. The company didn’t divulge output, but torque is said to peak at 7000 rpm, significantly earlier than the competitive Kawasaki Ninja 250.

The powerband is as inviting and accessible as the ergonomics. Our 100-mile test ride covered everything from city traffic to white-lining the freeway to bumpy, pot-holed mountain roads. In every scenario, the power output proved sufficient to evade trouble without intimidating an inexperienced rider. It’s not going to outrun your podiatrist’s Porsche, but when commuter traffic gets suffocating, the CBR has no problem jetting ahead of the crowd.

The compact single allowed Honda’s space-conscious engineers to create an especially narrow twin-spar steel frame, which made the CBR feel almost like a motorized bicycle in the tight curves of Latigo Canyon. A simple suspension consisting of a non-adjustable, 37mm fork and a preload-adjustable Pro-Link shock provided passable comfort and control. Badly pocked canyon pavement revealed the limited damping ability of this cost-conscious setup, but this was at a pace beyond what any beginner will taste. For the CBR’s intended use, the suspension works fine, and excellent cornering clearance only enhances confidence.

On the subject of enhancing confidence, Honda—largely in response to European consumer demand—has made its excellent Combined ABS a $500 option. The system is linked back-to-front, so it only engages when the rear brake pedal is depressed. The front brake can be used alone. The base-model CBR’s single front caliper, mated to a 296mm disc, stops the lightweight bike well enough, though we would prefer a sharper response and less sponginess at the lever. Then again, perhaps a slightly delayed response is less dangerous for a newbie. The lightweight CBR gave no hints of instability, even at interstate speeds, withstanding the windblasts of passing commercial trucks without worry. The budget-minded IRC Road Winner tires gripped well enough and didn’t wander in freeway rain grooves. There was plenty of fuel left in the 3.4-gallon tank when our ride concluded, suggesting this will be a miserly commuter, even if you’re spending a long time near the 10,500-rpm redline. It’s a smooth ride, too—that gear-driven counterbalancer eradicates virtually all vibration below 6000 rpm, and just the littlest bit transmits through the handlebars beyond 7500. More annoying was the seam where the tank and seat meet, which irritated my inner thighs during aggressive riding.

Honda says the CBR250R will be in dealerships by early April. It should be on the short list of any beginning rider, as well as an experienced rider looking for a fun, light commuter or playbike that won’t put too much pressure on your wallet or your ego. It’s been a while since there’s been an entry-level bike worth getting excited about. With advanced technology like programmed fuel injection and available ABS, the CBR250R seems a sure bet to make lifetime enthusiasts out of a new generation of start-up riders.

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