One motorcycle has dominated Cycle World‘s Best Motocrosser category for seven consecutive years: Honda’s CRF450R. Accolades can be extended 200cc fewer in displacement to its CRF250R stablemate, as well, as its many qualities make the CRF a front-runner in any Lites-class comparison.
Unlike the big bike, the 250R didn’t receive a comprehensive redesign for 2009; no fuel-injection or sleek new bodywork—although a new white rear fender slightly alters appearances. Most notable among the changes is the shape of the cylinder’s combustion chamber, which functions in conjunction with a longer exhaust header pipe to improve low-end to midrange power output.
That crisp bottom-end throttle response puts more snap into the CRF’s step, leading to better drives out of soft berms and less chance of bogging when dumping the clutch leaving the gate. The only drawback is that the added power can make the rear end snap out if the rider is ham-fisted exiting flat, slick corners. Top-end power wasn’t sacrificed, resulting in a feeling similar to that of the previous model. Typical of a 250 four-stroke, the CRF still requires frequent shifts to stay on the juice. Our only complaint is that extremely hard landings caused the carbureted engine to hesitate slightly when the throttle was reapplied.
The transmission features new gears with four shift dogs each, and a new shift drum and shift drum arm are said to create more positive gear changes. We didn’t have any issues with tranny performance in the past, but improvements were made nonetheless.
It’s what Honda didn’t change that we still love the most: the same great ergonomics. This is a motorcycle we felt at home on from the first lap to the last. Handling provided by the fourth-generation aluminum twin-spar frame is stellar. Kudos also to the Showa 47mm inverted fork, Pro-Link shock/swingarm and progressive steering damper. Excellent chassis balance keeps the CRF on-line, even when the track is at its roughest.
Anyone looking for the sheer power of a 450 will clearly miss the potential of a 250 four-stroke. Better turning and handling make the 250R easier to ride at a fast pace longer, no doubt aided by its 217-pound dry weight. Less effort is needed to be in total control, and it’s easier to recover from mistakes, giving the rider more confidence.
In sum, the $6549 CRF250R retains all of the qualities that made it so great while gaining a broader spread of power from the updated engine. The 250R’s balance continues to push the performance envelope, making us think that it may not be too long before a 250cc four-stroke steals the Best Motocrosser award away from the almighty CRF450R. Perhaps this is the one!