August 2, 2012
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By Tom White

1981 was an interesting year for Honda. They went all “Star Wars” on the cosmetics, plus they water-cooled the CR125 and CR250, introduced the ill-fated CR450, and unveiled the most stupid front number plate in motocross history. The 1981 Honda CR250 tried to bring as much exotic works bike technology to the production line as possible. It was the first-ever water-cooled 250cc production bike. Borrowing works technology, the 1981 CR250 shared the works bike’s long-stroke engine design, center exhaust ports, semi-double-cradle frame and single-shock Pro-Link suspension. Although Honda wasn’t the first manufacturer to put a single-shock system on a production bike, the Pro-Link setup proved to be a precursor for all future linkage designs. It has held up to the test of time. As for the water-cooling, Honda’s research showed that in the first 20 minutes of a race, an air-cooled engine would lose more than 20 percent of its peak horsepower.

In 1981, Honda broke away from Showa to outfit the CR250 with Kayaba components. Honda wasn’t ready to go to disc brakes in 1981, but they did equip the CR250 with a double-leading-shoe front drum brake that worked very well. There were problems, though. The frames had a tendency to break, the clutch slipped, the pipe hung below the frame, and the transmission popped out of third gear constantly. Even worse, the 1981 CR250 weighed a ton, and the wing-like front number plate, designed to get more air into the two small radiators, was so ugly that nobody ever raced with it. The supply of unused 1981 front plates should be immense.


As the 1981 model was the first year of the single shock, a very nicely restored one could probably bring as much as $8000. Seems like a lot for a bike that used to go on the used bike market for under $1000, but the typical restoration runs over $4000.


The 1981 model’s fire-engine-red engines started with serial numbers ME033E-2300045. The first of the water-cooled 250s, the CR250 was joined in the Honda lineup by the water-cooled CR125 and air-cooled CR450 (which was a 431cc, four-speed bike that was perhaps the worst Honda ever built).


The 1981 Honda CR250 is collectable because of its unique place in history and its aesthetically
displeasing cosmetics. The 1981 CR250 has value as an oddity. The original front number plate, double-leading shoe front brake and remote-reservoir, four-click adjustable shock are must-haves.


It is possible to find some mechanical parts at old-line Honda dealers and at swap meets.

For more info on classic bikes go to

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