Riding Impression: 2009 Honda CRF230M

Beginners, commuters and supermoto sliders will all find something to like in the CRF230M.

Photography By Brian Blades

2009 Honda CRF230M - Riding Impression

2009 Honda CRF230M - Riding Impression

In a long-overdue move, all of the Japanese Big Four have finally recognized the potential of the growing supermoto market segment. Suzuki was first to toe the waters with its DR-Z400SM back in 2005, and Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha just recently joined the road-rubbered dirtbike movement. They all now offer budget-conscious, fuel-efficient, non-competition-oriented street motards of their own.

When the CRF230M was introduced last fall, its $4749 price tag promised big savings, but that was before the global economy went in the tank. Honda has since reassessed the bike's pricing and currently pins it at $5399. Ouch! That makes the smaller-displacement, air-cooled, 223cc Honda a tough sell alongside Kawasaki's $100-less-expensive but better-performing, liquid-cooled, 249cc KLX250SF.

Actually, in power production, the Honda falls far short of both its quarter-liter-class competitors. The CW dyno says the CRF manages only 15 horsepower compared to 21 for the Kawasaki and 27 for Yamaha's WR250X—although the latter bike goes for a whopping $6190. But the Honda isn't about competing in a horsepower race; it's about offering a valuable combination of predictable, easy-to-manage power, nimble handling and light, easy control operation.

All of this makes the CRF230M ideally suited for beginning riders. It's incredibly easy to ride, almost effortlessly so; and, unlike most dual-sport-based machines, it allows short-legged folks to achieve firm footing at stops astride its narrow dirtbike-style saddle. Seat height is just 31.9 inches unladen and sinks nearly 2 inches when compressed under the weight of a 150-pound rider. The clutch engages smoothly and predictably with only a light pull at the lever, although shifting through the six-speed gearbox can be a bit notchy. The single-disc front brake provides good feel and consistent stopping power when hauling the 261-pound (without fuel) CRF down from speed.

Thanks to the Honda's plush suspension, which provides 9 inches of front-wheel travel and 6.6 inches at the rear, CRF riders need fear no pothole; after all, this is essentially a CRF230L dual-purpose bike fitted with grippy sport tires so it has dirt-road roosting in its DNA. That also helps make it an excellent mode of inner-city transportation. But with a full-tuck top speed of just 75 mph and a tendency to weave and wiggle atop rain grooves, the CRF has limited freeway appeal. It did, though, get an impressive 69 mpg average fuel mileage when mixing city and highway use, delivering a 159-mile range from its 2.3-gallon tank.

So, if you're looking for a basic, beginner-friendly bike or a fun little petrol-pincher in cool supermoto guise, the CRF230M fits that description from stem to stern.