2013 Honda CRF250L | First Ride

The Ultimate Low-Dollar Dual Sport?

By Ari Henning, Photography by Kevin Wing

They say: “It does everything.”
We say: “And does everything well!”

We’re still brushing the dust off our gear after a fantastic first ride on Honda’s new CRF250L. Big Red’s last excursion into the small-bore dual sport segment was with the CRF230L. Its reedy little air-cooled, SOHC crossed over from benign to lethargic, and its chassis wore the low-buck origins like a rusty badge. And so the 230L struggled to fulfill its intended purpose.

It’s a new day, and the 250L is a more capable adventure companion in every way. Honda built the 250L around the fuel-injected, water-cooled single from the CBR250R, and in so doing blessed the bike with a wide spread of power and perfect throttle response. The engine is slotted into a new chassis that boasts an inverted Showa fork, aluminum swingarm and Honda’s Pro-Link rear suspension. It’s all draped in attractive CRF250R-style bodywork and retails for just $4499—that’s $500 less than the 230L, last sold in 2009.

Honda invited us up to Santa Barbara to sample the new bike, setting up a route that included in-town riding, canyon strafing, and some excellent OHV trails high in the Santa Ynez Mountains. The CRF is an impeccable suburban transporter, offering a high vantage point from which to assess traffic. But it’s not perfect: The seat is hard and narrow, and the radiator wafts warm air onto your left leg in traffic. Even so, the CRF’s peppy power, agile handling, and a claimed 73 miles per gallon (on regular unleaded) mean this is destined to be top choice for college students and frugal commuters for those reasons alone.

Riding up the into the Santa Ynez Mountains, the little CRF did a fine job of untangling the twisty, scabby pavement thanks to its wide bars and big wheels shod with narrow IRC rubber. Once at the summit we enjoyed some 30-plus miles of off-roading on loose fire roads and rough, steep single track. The CRF took it all in stride, though the front tire didn’t offer as much grip as we’d like for fast-paced dirt riding. Still, the CRF proved to be the perfect vehicle for adventure, and considering how well it worked in town and on the canyon roads coming up, it’s really impressive how versatile this little bike is. And all for just $4499! Yes, we mentioned that once already, but it bears repeating. In the CRF250L, Honda’s turned out a capable, remarkably inexpensive bike that doesn’t have to make many excuses for its performance.

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