MXA BIKE TEST: HONDA CRF250F TRAIL BIKE
Q: FIRST AND FOREMOST, IS THE 2019 HONDA CRF250F BETTER THAN THE 2018 MODEL?
A: We don’t know, because it is the first of its kind. We have tested numerous CRF230Fs in the past, as our old MXA compatriot John Basher insisted that they were the greatest bikes on earth. John will be sad when he finds out that his favorite bike is getting the ax in 2020. The CRF250F is its replacement. The people spoke. They wanted more torque, better brakes, fuel injection and improved overall handling, which is exactly what Honda gave them with the 2019 CRF250F.
Q: WHY ARE WE TESTING A LOW-LEVEL TRAIL BIKE?
A: We are as concerned about where the sport will find new blood as anyone. Everyone has to start somewhere, and it isn’t going to be on a $9000 superbike. To our way of thinking, learning to ride on the 2019 Honda CRF250F is one of the smartest and safest ways for a first-time rider to hone his off-road skills. A lot can go wrong with a first-timer behind the bars of a full-blown, 58-horsepower 450 race bike. We have all seen the whiskey-throttle crash videos that populate YouTube. A bike like the CRF250F is a great family bike. And even though the MXA wrecking crew is made up of racers, most of us have family and kids that we would like to share the sport with. This bike is a great way to do that on our off weekends.
Q: WHAT ARE THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 2019 CRF250F?
A: The Honda CRF250F is not a race bike. It may have close to 9 inches of travel, but it doesn’t feel like it. The forks and shock are built for cruising around. There are no suspension clickers front or rear to adjust. Having said that, the CRF250F is almost half the price of the race version of the CRF250 motocross model. You have to accept a lower range of performance if you want the lower price tag—although this bike does have its charms.
(1) E-start. We like the electric start on the CRF250F better than the electric start on its bigger brothers, as you don’t have to pull in the clutch to start the bike. Just push the button and off you go. Well, you do have to make sure that the key is flicked to “on.” You also have to pull in the clutch to start the bike in gear for safety reasons.
(2) Low fuel. Next to the key, in front of the handlebars, there is a low-fuel idiot light. Since the bike is fuel-injected, there is no petcock, meaning there is no reserve fuel. When the fuel gets low, the light pops on. We love it so much, we wish we had it on all our motocross bikes. There are still times when we forget to top off our bikes. There’s nothing better than a bright reminder.
(3) Fuel injection. This is the first year Honda has brought fuel injection to its trail bike line. The three bikes that got upgraded to a Keihin fuel-injection system are the CRF250F, CRF125F and CRF110F.
(4) Gas cap. The CRF250F’s gas cap is something we have been longing for on other bikes. We have had issues over the years with gas caps that get so tight that we have to use pliers to get them off. The Honda CRF250F gas cap is similar to the one on your Toyota. It has a set torque, so that when you tighten it too much, there is an audible ratcheting noise. This makes it impossible to over-tighten it. It gives you peace of mind of knowing it won’t come off while riding but will come off when you want to put fuel in your tank. Nice touch.
(5) Engine. Honda’s four-valve, single-overhead-cam engine is not meant to be fast—and that is okay. The performance package has an amazingly broad powerband. The engine puts down serious torque for climbing hills or getting out of bad situations. The four-speed tranny’s gears are spread apart with plenty of power to lug each gear.
(6) MPG. We lost track of how many hours we rode on the 1.6-gallon tank. We kept thinking the low-fuel light was broken, but every time we checked the gas, it never seemed to have gone down.
(7) Durability. This engine is based on the design of the ultra-long-lasting Honda XR250 engine. The XR250 is gone, but the engine is still around, albeit modernized. This engine can take a serious beating with very little maintenance. It is like the Energizer Bunny; it just keeps going and going and going.
Q: WHAT DOES IT COST?
A: The MSRP for the 2019 Honda CRF250F is $4599. For comparison, the Yamaha TT-R230 is $4399, and the Kawasaki KLX250 (which is street-legal) is $5349. The race version of the Honda CRF250 costs $7999.
Q: WHAT WAS THE WRECKING CREW’S FAVORITE TERRAIN TO RIDE THE CRF250F ON?
A: As usual, we test every off-road bike we get in our natural environment, which means on a motocross track. We were strictly told by Honda not to ride or jump it on a motocross track, but we suffer from selective hearing. When someone tells us we can’t do something, we want to know why not? Are the wheels going to buckle? Are the forks going to bend? Will the bars break? We know it is a heavy bike. It is 30 pounds heavier than the CRF450. With the weaker wheels and forks on the CRF250F, we could imagine what might happen if we cased a big double.
Truth is, it wasn’t that bad. Most test riders got bored on the motocross track. They were able to jump the smaller jumps and manual through the whoops. It didn’t even feel that heavy, as most of its weight is low to the ground. The worst part about riding it on a motocross track was the forks and lack of a bar pad. The 41mm conventional forks offer zero adjustment. The same goes for the Showa shock. Both have a soft setup for trail riding, but we wish the forks and shock offered some setup options for varying weights and skill levels, even for the trails. We had a blast on backyard, pit-bike tracks on this bike. When the test riders took to the trails, however, they found the bike’s niche. The bike is great for cruising on fire roads as well as on tight single-track trails—just as long as the trail isn’t too rough for the soft forks. Climbing big hills was made easier by the solid torque numbers and terrific rear-wheel traction. In all honesty, the best thing about this bike was sharing it with the whole family.
Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?
A: The hate list:
(1) Handlebars. We don’t like the cheap bars, but we can live with them. What we can’t live without is a bar pad. There is no reason any bike should come without a bar pad, especially when it is geared towards entry-level riders. That cross bar can hurt!
(2) Forks. We knew the forks would be soft and plush, but we’d like a fighting chance to make them stiffer.
(3) Weight. Losing weight costs money. But at 265 pounds, we could make money selling them to a metal recycling yard.
Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?
A: The like list:
(1) Engine. It might not be breakneck fast, but it offers an extremely broad and easy-to-ride powerband. It also offers enough torque to get you just about anywhere you want to go.
(2) Gas cap. We wish motocross bikes came with this made-for-dummies gas cap. It is impossible to over-tighten.
(3) Disc brakes. We love that Honda drop-kicked the drum brakes on most of its trail bike line for disc brakes that actually work.
(4) Durability. The engine will stand the test of time.
(5) Low-fuel light. When you are having fun on a dirt bike, time gets away from you. The low-fuel light reminds you when you need to refuel the tank.
(6) E-start. Electric start is a must in this day and age.
(7) Price. It is half the price of the race bikes.
Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?
A: This is a superb entry-level dirt bike for neophyte off-road riders. It’s the perfect bike to put your wife, aunt Louise or grandpa on for a little spin in the woods. We love the price. At $4500, it is affordable for a blue-collar worker. A step up to its bigger brother, the CRF250 motocross bike, will cost you almost double the price, which unfortunately is over most household budgets for recreational toys. Also, this bike has its limitations—mostly the inability to make the suspension softer or stiffer. We felt right at home on the 2019 Honda CRF250F, because it allowed us to tame our testosterone-fueled motocross muscles and enjoy off-road riding like we did when we were rank beginners.
There is no doubt that if the CRF250F had a few upgrades and Honda were able to keep the cost down, we could see this bike selling in droves. As it sits, it is one of the best family bikes on the market. That’s nothing to sneeze at.