Amidst the fallout of financial ash created by the global economic meltdown simmers a post-apocalyptic price war. Smoke wafts from registers ringing up $12,000 middleweight supersports, and volatility at the pump has driven even a few flannel-clad meat eaters into hybrids. There’s hope, however, because beneath the mire lies a price reprieve and breath of fresh competition at entry-level.
Kawasaki’s Ninja 250Rhas long monopolized the quarter-liter sportbike segment, enjoying great acclaim and very little competition in the niche. Honda aims to re-enter the small-arms race with its all-new, whiz-bang-for-the-buck CBR250R sportbike, a long-overdue follow-up to the 1989 VT250F. Big Red has flexed its vast resources and formulated a plan of global proportion by amortizing the production cost of this new model, which is built in Honda’s Thailand facility, through worldwide distribution. This has allowed American Honda to match the $3999 MSRP of the popular Ninja 250R.
Before we saddled up for a ride starting at American Honda HQ in Torrance, California, the PR folks proudly pointed out that the new bike incorporates 27 patented technologies within the engine and chassis. I was also told that great attention went into ensuring ease of maintenance, thus bolstering the value passed along to the customer.
Honda aims to re-enter the small-arms race with its all-new, whiz-bang-for-the-buck CBR250R sportbike, a long-overdue follow-up to the 1989 VT250F.
The CBR’s liquid-cooled, four-stroke Single is a clean-sheet design specifically built for this model. It shares the same 76.0 x 55.0mm bore and stroke of the CBR1000RR for a displacement of 249cc. A short-skirted piston rides in the cylinder bore, which is offset 4mm forward of crankshaft centerline for reduced friction on the power stroke. A gear-driven counterbalancer shaft located very close to the crankshaft slots its balancer weight between the dual crank weights for a more compact engine arrangement. The input and output shafts of the six-speed gearbox are also stacked vertically in support of the same cause.
Fed by a PGM-FI with a 38mm throttle body, the dohc four-valve head inhales through 30mm valves (only a half-millimeter smaller in diameter than those in the CBR1000RR) while the 24mm exhaust valves match the diameter of the RR’s. The valvetrain features forked roller rocker arms and lash shims that can be adjusted without removing the cams, reducing maintenance costs. Thinking outside the box, the fuel filter is located externally for easy service and also increases gas-tank capacity.
While I can’t verify Honda’s claim of a 200-mile fuel range, plenty of gas was left in the 3.4-gallon tank after I logged 100 miles of mixed freeway, city and canyon roads. Engine performance, however, was a bit of a letdown. The little CBR forces you to check any fantasy of pavement-rippling roost like you might get from a race-ready motorcrosser’s powerplant, such as the one in the CRF250R. But have you ever seen the maintenance program on one of those things? So, ultimate power is sacrificed for durability, refinement and price point. The claimed full-tank, ready-to-ride weight of 359 pounds is competitive in the class, while fit and finish meets Honda’s typical high standard and exceeds expectations for the price.
Even though this bike is no GP refugee, my senses soon acclimated to the light and nimble Single, and any lingering prejudice instilled by the liter-class inline-Four on which I’d been commuting was vanquished.
How does the CBR compare to its like-sized competition? While a direct shootout with the Ninja 250R is imminent, I can’t resist unlatching the safety and squeezing off a few rounds of speculative comparison to brand K’s penny-pincher based on my past experience aboard the green machine.
To the best of my seat-of-the-pants recollection, the CBR feels as though it holds a low-rpm torque advantage over the Ninja. This, along with an estimated 23-pound weight advantage, made pulling away from stops quite relaxed. Its light-effort clutch and shift action combine with very subdued engine vibes below 6000 rpm for silky-smooth in-town running. While Honda didn’t divulge the engine’s actual output, torque is said to peak at 7000 rpm, nearly 3000 rpm lower in the rev range than the last Ninja we had on our dyno. The 10,500-rpm redline is also about 3K lower than the Ninja’s, making the CBR a bit less busy while cruising in its sweet spot, but that also means it is unlikely to match the green machine when running WFO.
Keeping pace with the 70-mph freeway flow was well within the CBR’s comfort zone as revs in top gear approached 7500, leaving 3000 rpm of headroom. Cruising at that pace presented a moderate level of vibration felt in the grips and tank, but it was not of finger-numbing proportion. Wind protection offered by the VFR1200F-inspired fairing and well-sculpted windscreen also proved worthy of longer-range comfort. Same goes for the spacious riding position, which, despite its novice-friendly 30.5-inch seat height, offers abundant legroom. Shallow, contoured knee cutouts in the tank allowed the bike to accommodate a lanky 6-foot-4 member of our group.
Tackling the swoopy canyon roads above Malibu, I was pleased to find the chassis was up to the task of spirited romps in the twisties with decent cornering clearance and trustworthy tire grip.
Chassis specs for the twin-spar steel-tube frame are similar to those of the CBR600RR, with a 54.9-inch wheelbase and 25 degrees of rake. A 37mm fork and Pro-Link single-shock rear suspension provided solid stability that was impervious to rain-groove wiggle. Suspension calibration favors comfort, and the only adjustment is spring preload via a five-step collar on the shock.
Tackling the swoopy canyon roads above Malibu, I was pleased to find the chassis was up to the task of spirited romps in the twisties with decent cornering clearance and trustworthy tire grip. Even a very bumpy stretch of Latigo Canyon Road failed to unravel the sense of control I felt whistling through corners aboard this light-mannered machine. I’m favoring the Honda’s steering characteristics to the over-eager tip-in I recall from my last ride on the Ninja.
Downhill runs were, naturally, exhilarating, while steeper ascents demanded a whole lotta throttle and high revs to keep the scenery moving along at a brisk frame rate. Although the suspension is lightly damped, the fork never bottomed with a bang, even when hammering the single brake discs that are fitted front and rear. The CBR is also available with Honda’s combined anti-lock braking system, a $500 option that performs on par with ABS-equipped bikes that are far more expensive.
These days, price matters most for many consumers, and Honda has found opportunity born out of adversity. The CBR250R is a timely response that’s ripe for the economic recession. This is a compact stimulus package that just about anyone can support.