MXA RETRO TEST: WE RIDE COLE SEELY’S 2011 LUCAS/TLD HONDA CRF250

Cole Seely’s 2011 Lucas Oil/TLD Honda CRF250.

We get misty-eyed sometimes thinking about past bikes we loved, as well as ones that should remain forgotten. We take you on a trip down memory lane with bike tests that got filed away and disregarded in the MXA archives. We reminisce about a piece of moto history that has been resurrected. Here is our test of Cole Seely’s 2011 Lucas/TLD Honda CRF250.

Any smart businessman with half a brain wouldn’t fund a professional motocross race team. Why? The return on investment is often nil. One big-name privateer team benefactor described his 2010 season as “putting three million dollars in a pile and setting it on fire.” Inevitably, team investors end up tapping out with a bad taste in their mouths. There is no doubt that it is a sketchy proposition to fund and maintain a race team. Yet, each year new entrepreneurs pony up the moola for a shot at the brass ring (note we said brass, not gold). New sugar daddies replace old sugar daddies so fast that many in the motorcycle industry don’t even bother to learn the financial wizards’ names. To put it bluntly, funding a race team is at best a tax dodge, rich man’s plaything or a way to get Junior a ride. Fielding a race team is a sink-or-swim venture, and many teams sink within three years.

We can fully understand why Pro Circuit has a race team. They make motorcycle parts, hopped-up engines, works suspension and high-end exhaust systems. Their race team is an extension of their hop-up business. But, Troy Lee makes clothes. He doesn’t need a race team any more than Thor, O’Neal, Fox, Answer, One Industries or Fly need a race team. In fact, none of them field eponymous race teams. Nope! They pay riders on other teams to wear their clothes or sponsor the teams of other millionaire team owners.

Troy Lee is not normal; nowhere close to that. He does things differently. So, in 2008, the first Troy Lee Designs Honda team rolled into Supercross with riders Justin Keeney, Chris Gosselaar and Gavin Gracyk.

In its first two seasons, the team focused on the 250 West Supercross series, but expanded into racing the 250 Nationals in 2010. And, unlike so many squads before his, Troy’s team has continued to gain strength and momentum despite the volatile American economic conditions. Troy has reinvested in his team every year and, in the process, gained a legion of sponsors from within the industry, as well as outside. 

Seely’s engine was built by Pro Circuit.

With the exception of Pro Circuit Kawasaki and Geico Honda, which are funded to a large extent by the factories behind them, success for privately funded race teams is fleeting. Even financially sound teams, such as Joe Gibbs, suffer from teething problems. Troy, like his bill-paying compatriots, wanted to knock one out of the ballpark. Originally, he hoped his riders would qualify. Then, he wanted them to make the top 10. Eventually, he was looking for a podium. But, deep inside his racer’s heart (Troy was, coincidentally, a member of the Pro Circuit team 25 years ago), he wanted a race win. 

Troy’s dream became a reality at Dodger Stadium. On that night, Troy Lee Designs’ rider Cole Seely holeshot the main event and led wire to wire to capture the team’s first-ever 250 Supercross win. It was a monumental night, not only for Troy but also for Cole Seely. Several years before the night of his greatest triumph, Seely had pondered quitting the sport. Although still young, he was burned out on racing. After taking time off, Cole rediscovered the enjoyment in riding. From there, his competitive spirit grew. 

There are two disclosures that MXA needs to make. First, before Cole Seely joined the Troy Lee team or even the Fun Center Suzuki team, he was the guy you saw in the MXA bike test photos railing berms and whipping it over jumps. We recognized his immeasurable talent immediately and became not just friends but fans of Cole. We knew that he would go far once he was given the opportunity. In 2010, Troy Lee gave Cole that chance, and Seely rewarded the team with several podium finishes. His 2011 Los Angeles Supercross win was icing on the cake. 

The second disclosure is that MXA and Troy Lee go way back to the good old days—long before Troy painted helmets or became a clothing magnate. Troy, Jody and Mitch Payton all live in the same town, and have been pals since the 1970s. Thus, this test is a double whammy! We are friends with both Troy and Cole. For us, it was only logical that we test Cole Seely’s Troy Lee Designs Supercross-winning Honda CRF250. 

SHOP TALK: WHAT PARTS WERE USED?

Through decades of testing virtually every pro rider’s bike, we’ve learned that there is something unique about each and every one. Need examples? James Stewart’s bike has the stiffest front-suspension setup of any bike we have ever tested. Ricky Carmichael’s bike setup was completely unbalanced with a dead shock, low-rider handlebars and a pipey powerband. Mike LaRocco’s clutch lever was wildly out of whack with his brake lever. Did the MXA wrecking crew discover any unique quirks in Cole Seely’s setup? You betcha. 

Cole runs 18mm offset triple clamps on his CRF250. Yes, you read that right. This change drastically increases the bike’s trail. Past experience with trail changes hinted that Seely’s Honda would be very lazy at turn-in, stabilized at center-out and relaxed on the exit of the turn. Basically, Cole traded turn-in and exit for a more comfortable feel in the center of turns. It’s also worth mentioning that Seely had the races kicked out 1/4-inch. 

We weren’t surprised to discover that Seely utilizes Showa A-Kit suspension. These are the best suspension components that privateer money can buy—and it costs a team the size of Troy Lee Designs about $60,000 to outfit three riders. With Pro Circuit’s Bones Bacon in charge of dialing in the suspension, Seely is in good hands; however, we were shocked to learn that Cole pays very close attention to his suspension setup. Whereas other riders aren’t very perceptive about the servicing of their suspension, Cole could tell us how many hours were on his Showa A-Kit units. After five hours of riding, he notices that the oil begins to break down. He tends to like the suspension best when it’s really fresh, because it feels firmer and has less tendency to blow through the stroke. Hence, Cole’s suspension is rebuilt every five to six hours of riding time. 

Cole used an oversized QTM front rotor.

The Lucas Oil/Troy Lee Designs team has a bevy of companies helping the cause. Since its inception, the team has received support from Pro Circuit. Mitch is another person who thinks that Troy should be sponsoring riders not a team, but if his buddy is going to go racing, he wants to help him. Pro Circuit takes care of the footpegs, axle blocks, shock linkage, Ti-4R exhaust system, head porting, cams, high-compression piston, Ti valves, radiator hoses, 18mm-offset triple clamps, bar mounts, holeshot device, heat thermostrips, hour meter and aluminum throttle tube. 

Additionally, Pro Circuit’s Bones Bacon provides all things suspension related, including re-valving the HPSD steering damper. Instead of the damper working at turn-in and turn-out, it only damps at turn-out (when coming out of corners). This is to prevent the front end from kicking back too fast. Virtually all of the Pro Circuit parts are straight off the shelf, including the longer-linkage pull rod. 

Other aftermarket supporters include Hinson (complete clutch and engine plugs); Renthal (999 bend Twinwall handlebars and Cole’s 13/49 gearing); ARC (folding levers, with the clutch lever having a 29.5 pull-ratio leverage); LightSpeed (case guard, front brake clevis, rear caliper guard, chain guide, and sleeve that holds the transponder to the left fork leg); Cycra (plastic); D.I.D. (chain); O.D.I. (white half-waffle grips); Excel (Dirt Star ST-X rims and spokes with spline nipples); Talon (carbon fiber hubs); QTM (oversized front brake rotor); Moto Tassinari (Air4orce intake system, which the team has been using since the Unadilla National last year); Hammerhead (shifter, rear brake lever and case saver); Twin Air (air filter); N-Style (graphics and seat cover); VP (MR Pro5 racing fuel); Injectioneering (tuned throttle body); Boyesen (water pump); Zeta (clutch arm bracket); Lucas Oil (racing oils and lubricants); and Mettec (complete titanium fastener kit).

The Lucas Oil/Troy Lee Designs Honda team has a laundry list of outside sponsors that don’t necessarily provide racing components, but instead offer support through promotional avenues. These sponsors include Silly Brandz (rubber-band fashion accessories), Adidas (shoes), PPG (manufacturing), Wings For Life (spinal cord research foundation), Skullcandy (headphones), Epic (action video cameras), Mattel (toy products), Rossignol (technical mountain equipment), Selle Italia (bicycle saddles), Seaspan (container ship charters), New Era (hats), Kasey Kahne (NASCAR driver), McQueen Racing, (motorcycle classics), Primm MX (more motorcycle classics), Pacific Collision Centers (vehicle repair), and BioLytical Laboratories (HIV testing). There isn’t any other racing team in the pits that even comes close to having  the number of outside sponsors that the Lucas Oil/Troy Lee Designs/Honda team has.

TEST RIDE: HOLD ON TO YOUR HELMET

This wasn’t our first rodeo on a Cole Seely bike. Having tested Cole Seely’s 2009 Fun Center Suzuki RM-Z250 250 West Supercross bike, we knew that he was particular about his bike setup. His most fickle areas on the TLD Honda CRF250 are the handlebars that are 5mm farther forward than stock (thanks to Pro Circuit bar mounts), clutch and brake levers that are rotated down from parallel to the ground, and his tire choice (the Troy Lee Designs team receives works Dunlop rubber). 

Because Seely is a shade under 6 feet tall and 160 pounds, his subframe, seat foam and footpegs were all in their stock positions. The MXA test riders immediately felt comfortable on Cole’s steed. Thanks to a plethora of extremely light Mettec titanium fasteners, the Troy Lee Designs bike felt lighter than a stock CRF250; however, durability didn’t go out the window. Numerous LightSpeed carbon fiber components protected the engine cases, rear brake caliper and chain.

When we tested Seely’s RM-Z250 two years ago, we raved about his suspension setup. It was plush enough to allow the sharp-turning Suzuki chassis to carve like a downhill skier. In the years since we rode that bike, Cole has picked up speed; and, due to his new riding style, his suspension settings are stiffer. The Showa A-kit suspension was firm but still progressive enough to keep the wheels in contact with the ground through chop (as opposed to hopping). If we had to rate the stiffness of Cole’s suspension, we’d say that it was on the manageable side of stiff. Maybe if we test another Cole Seely bike in two more years, the suspension will be stiffer yet (but never as stiff as Bubba’s). 

We’ll admit that we had trouble coming to terms with the handling, which we attributed to his 18mm-offset triple clamps. We can understand the benefits of increased trail in tight bowl corners where the CRF250 front end would otherwise knife and dive, but that seemed to be the only place where this setup worked well. It took test riders several laps to figure out we were sitting too far back in the saddle, forcing us to turn with the rear wheel. Once we moved forward on the saddle, the front end felt more planted, but the turning characteristics on flat turns were still somewhat vague. We’ll chalk up the quirky triple clamp offset to Seely being light years faster than we are around a Supercross track. We learned years ago that riding a Pro’s bike doesn’t reveal flaws in his preferred setup; instead, it offers clues as to how that rider goes fast. 

Cole Seely’s Lucas Oil/Troy Lee Designs Honda CRF250 engine was reminiscent of a stock CRF250 powerplant in that it had ample midrange power; however, it blew the stocker away in terms of bottom-end explosiveness and top-end power. This is a do-it-all type of engine. It can be lugged if needed, but it shined from the midrange to the top end. We weren’t surprised to learn this, because we knew that Seely likes to keep his bike in the meat of the powerband. Thanks to the breadth of the powerband, Cole is able to do nearly every section of a Supercross track in second or third gear (aside from the whoops, where he shifts up to fourth). 

CONCLUSION: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK? 

We’ve been impressed with Cole Seely ever since he was a photo rider for us. Not only does he have tremendous talent on a motorcycle, but he’s very good at diagnosing problem areas as a tester. His Lucas Oil/Troy Lee Designs Honda CRF250 is a team effort. The end result comes from the successful blending of a highly skilled rider, a highly motivated team owner and support from some of the most powerful aftermarket players in the industry.

Had Troy listened to his old buddies, he might well have had his racing gear on the top step of the podium with some big-name rider on someone else’s team, but he lived his Frank Sinatra dream and did it his way. That’s gotta feel good.

cole seelyhonda crf250Lucas Oil/Troy Lee Designs Honda teammitch paytonmorocrossmxa retro testpro circuitSUPERCROSStroy lee designs