The MXA wrecking crew is old enough to remember the good old days, when Honda built 250cc two-strokes to die for. Those glory days delivered American motocrossers Honda CR250s that had engines that weren’t so much about peak horsepower as incredibly usable powerbands. In the good old days everyone wanted a Honda CR250–at least the engine. Unfortunately, the Showa suspension of the era defined the phrase “midstroke harshness” and the handling went downhill after 1993. But, we still get misty thinking about the old-school Honda powerbands.
Unfortunately, we get misty when thinking about the late model Honda powerbands, but this mist is caused by actual tears. Paradoxically, as the CR250 engine got worse (put the blame on the case-reed design), the suspension and handling got better (after abortive starts with the first- and second-generation aluminum frames). The 2004 Honda CR250 is a terrific rolling chassis; durable, reliable, accurate and well suspended. What an amazing turn around. Honda went from great engines and bad suspension to bad engines and great suspension. Who would have thunk it?
THE 2004 CR250 WAS THE LARGEST SELLING TWO-STROKE MOTOCROSS BIKE IN THE WORLD. THAT USED TO MEAN SOMETHING, BUT THAT WAS BEFORE THE 800-POUND GORILLA OF FOUR-STROKES ROARED OUT OF THE JUNGLE.
In 2004 the CR250 was the largest selling two-stroke motocross bike in the world. That used to mean something, but that was before the 800-pound gorilla of four-strokes roared out of the jungle. Being the best selling two-stroke doesn’t mean much when Honda sold four times as many CRFs as CRs. Four-stroke sales caused a decline in two-stroke sales for every manufacturer. It is just that the CR250 had more sales to lose that some other brands–CR250 sales were down more than 50 percent from 2002 to 2004.
Back in 2004, what the MXA wrecking crew wanted to find out, and Honda and Pro Circuit were willing to help us discover, was whether people abandoned the CR250 because of the engine deficiencies or because it wasn’t a four-stroke.
THE TEST REGIME WAS SIMPLE, WE WOULD PUT PRO CIRCUIT’S CR250 UP AGAINST THE TWO BEST BIKES IN THE 250 CLASS. THE RESULTS WOULD TELL US WHY LOCAL RACERS WERE ABANDONING THE CR250.
So how did we find the answer? That was the easy part. Honda kindly dropped a brand spanking new 2004 CR250 off at Pro Circuit and told them to do everything they could to make it the best it could be. When Pro Circuit finished the project, the MXA wrecking crew rolled into the shop and swept the revitalized CR250 out to the race track for a month of hardcore testing (side-by-side with a 2004 Suzuki RM250 and a 2004 Honda CRF450). Why were the RM250 and CRF450 going along? The Suzuki won virtually every 250 Two-Stroke Shootout in 2004 and the Honda CRF450 won every 450 Four-Stroke Shootout. The test regime was simple, we would put Pro Circuit’s CR250 up against the two best bikes in the 250 class. The results would tell us why local racers were abandoning the CR250.
THE END RESULT? IT WAS FAST. VERY FAST. VERY POTENT. VERY AGGRESSIVE. BUT, IT STILL RAN LIKE A CR250. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? IT HAD A TENDENCY TO GO “WAAH-WAAH-WAAH” BELOW 5000 RPM.
We have to give credit where credit was due. Pro Circuit spent the farm trying to turn our 2004 CR250 into a silk purse. They ported it, piped it, milled it, Moto Tassinari’ed it, Hinson’ed it, VP C-12’ed and Renthal’ed it. The end result? It was fast. Very fast. Very potent. Very aggressive. But, it still ran like a CR250. What does that mean? The prototypical 2004 CR250 lacks low-end power. Not only is it weak off the bottom, but it has a tendency to go “waah-waah-waah” whenever the power falls below 5000 rpm. Until you hit five grand and flick the clutch, the CR250 just lays down. On the plus side, above the break-even point, the power kicks in like an Army mule and the bike tries to wheelie over backwards. For Pros, it was a very rewarding experience. Not relaxing. Not easy to use. Not fun, but blazing fast. If you were fast enough to keep the CR250 percolating it was the fastest thing on two wheels. But, any depreciation in skills or fitness resulted in the “waahs” catching you off guard.
The CR250’s tremendous power potential was ruined by its lack of bottom. It is not a two-stroke thing. The 2004 Suzuki RM250 ran cleanly off the bottom, required no clutching whatsoever and produced a solid, surging and potent midrange. Equally obvious is that the 2004 Honda CRF450 ran from the crack of the throttle all the way to 11,200 rpm.
THE ENGINE DIDN’T HAVE ANY BOTTOM END, AND ONCE YOU ACCEPTED THAT FACT, YOU COULD GET ON WITH YOUR WORK. YOU DON’T MAKE LEMONADE WITH ORANGES—YOU MAKE ORANGE JUICE!
Pro Circuit made the best of what was available. The engine didn’t have any bottom end, and once you accepted that fact, you could get on with your work. You don’t make lemonade with oranges–you make orange juice! Pro Circuit gave the CR250 more gusto…much more. Yes Virginia, it did run like a hyper-active 125, but when it came on and you could stay on–it was a rocket.
Pro Circuit wasn’t content to just do our engine. Bones Bacon gave the suspension a complete tune up and we’d have to say we were impressed. Over the years we’ve had lots of experience working with Bones, and we have often accused him of making his settings for Pro-level riders only–he must have been listening to us, because he nailed the Honda CR250 fork and shock
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