2017 Honda CRF250L and CRF250L Rally - FIRST RIDE REVIEW | Cycle World

2017 Honda CRF250L and CRF250L Rally - FIRST RIDE REVIEW

Daydreaming done cheap

Honda suggests that the vast majority of small dual-sport bikes spend much of their life on the pavement. And maybe that’s true; they do make for fantastic daily commuters. That doesn’t mean their riders don’t still dream of big adventures and dusty trails though. Dreams of Rally flash through their mind at every glimpse over at rolling hills to nowhere, and we can't blame them for it.

We all do it. There we are, standing on the pegs, a trailing backlit dust cloud shoved against a setting sun, all happening below a golden sky in some far away land. That’s the dream. And it’s that sort of vision that comes to mind when you first look at Honda’s newest on-road/off-road offerings, the CRF250L and CRF250L Rally. Onboard the Rally, you even feel it.

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

Honda's CRF250L Rally does a good job of looking the part. It's quite fun in the dirt, so long as you ride at a pace that doesn't overwhelm the suspension.

Courtesy of Honda

The Bike(s)

Updated for 2017, both CRF250L models see the same handful of changes over the previous 250L. Most significant is a 2mm increase in throttle body size (from 36mm to 38mm), which comes as an attempt to improve throttle response and increase power in the low to mid rpm range. Honda claims a weight savings through the use of an exhaust with larger header pipe and lighter weight, two-chamber muffler. The airbox has been revised and new graphics have both machines matching their bigger siblings, the CRF450R and the Team HRC CRF450 Rally bike.

One look at the Rally and you will notice the most obvious differences over the L, those being the Dakar Rally-inspired bodywork and frame-mounted dash tower, with windscreen shape that’s nearly identical to that of the Team Monster Energy Honda CRF450 Rally bike. A creatively styled asymmetrical headlight, taller suspension, plastic skid plate, and standard black hand guards round out the list of other significant differences over the standard model.

There are less noticeable—but still very important—changes throughout. The .6 gallon larger, 2.7-gallon fuel tank and 40mm larger front brake disc (296mm vs. 256mm) are a perfect example. Both motorcycles come standard with a non-adjustable inverted front fork and Pro-Link rear shock. The Rally is equipped with 30mm longer fork, the front end offering up 11 inches of travel and the back a total of 10.3 inches. Compare that to the 250L, which offers up 9.8 inches and 9.4 inches respectively. This all adds up to a claimed 24mm more ground clearance for the Rally.

Greater fuel capacity and additional bodywork has the Rally weighing close to 25 lbs. more than the standard CRF250L (317 lbs. vs. 341 lbs. for non-ABS versions). Meanwhile, peak power is around 24.4 hp.

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

Want to get outside? The CRF250L Rally will get you there.

Courtesy of Honda

Riding Impressions

Thanks in part to its .8-inch taller seat height, the CRF250L Rally feels immediately more grown up as you throw a leg over it—like an adventure bike but at a more manageable weight and size. The difference, of course, is that where those bikes have packed on the pounds with the growing demand of horsepower and various creature comforts like heated seats and built-in phone chargers, there are no such luxuries on this adventure seeker. There's a little extra weight over the standard L model, sure, but it feels negligible at best.

What are the bikes like from in the saddle? Or should we say up on the pegs, seeing as how that's where you'll be when you realize that the biggest downside for smaller dual-sport bikes isn’t the lack of ponies, but the elongated reach down to the handlebar? Well, admittedly, the standard CRF250L still gets to feeling on the small side when tarmac turns to terra firma. On the other hand, with its taller suspension and tall dash tower, the Rally has an improved posture. When standing on the pegs, fully up and out of the saddle, it feels like a natural off-road motorcycle.

2017 Honda CRF250L

Less travel and smaller brakes, but the CRF250L can still be good fun off-road.

Courtesy of Honda

Our ride day was split in to two routes, one for the Rally and another for the L, with a lunch stop in between. For the first part of the day I was onboard the Rally, tackling pavement, and then ducking off toward a medium-paced dirt road scattered with rain bars. There, I learned how easy it is to override the suspension. But while bottoming out at either end was a reminder that this was not a “rally bike” or even a bike intended to be ridden in anger, it was only a momentary setback to the good times.

I found a pace that the Rally was happy with by rolling out of the throttle a bit. Wide gear ratios between first/second and second/third kept me busy, and I was still hunting pretty feverishly for proper revs, but find the right gear and it was nothing but good times. Some sections of the trail required fanning the clutch like I was on a two-stroke, but other, mellower sections were fine.

2017 Honda CRF250L

New graphics have the CRF250L and CRF250L Rally matching their bigger siblings, the CRF450R and the Team HRC CRF450 Rally bike.

Courtesy of Honda

The wide bodywork and the Dakar-style windshield tower are not just cool looking, but actually provide more wind protection than the sleek design would suggest. This even at speeds greater than 70mph. Unfortunately, the CRF250L's optional ABS wasn’t as friendly, especially in off-road riding situations. The system can be switched off at the rear wheel, but stays engaged at the front wheel. The system has its benefits on pavement, but I still feel that, in the dirt, an experienced off-road rider will find it a little unnerving. The ability to switch the system off at both the front and rear would be an improvement, in my opinion.

As for the L, I’d say that if going off-road is not fully your thing, then the bike will suit your needs just fine. A 10-mile section of tight, twisting road that we ran was a combination of broken asphalt, with some corners lightly dusted with sand and gravel. In this type of riding the L was quite impressive. More power would have been appreciated, but this is a 250cc single after all. Keep that in mind and you’ll be plenty happy. Handling was quite good, too; I could have ridden that section over and over again, and enjoyed every last minute of it.

2017 Honda CRF250L

Standing up on the L (shown) reminds you that this is still a small motorcycle. However, with its longer suspension and additional tweaks, the Rally feels like a taller, more comfortable motorcycle from up on the pegs.

Courtesy of Honda

So what’s the verdict? Both bikes are a true bargain for fun seekers. They provide a smooth, comfortable all-day riding experience and terrific fuel economy for your daily commute. The CRF250L has a very attractive $5149 point of entry, but I’m a daydreamer trying to keep that Dakar fantasy alive. I would spend the extra $750 for the Rally and all its added features, but opt out of the ABS.

Regardless of which side of the gravel road you might fall on, the reality is that these are two great options for the dreamer in search of a big adventure, on the budget of the typical weekend warrior.

CRF250L SPECS
ENGINE TYPE Liquid-cooled single-cylinder
DISPLACEMENT 249.6cc
BORE & STROKE 76 x 55mm
SEAT HEIGHT 34.4 in.
RAKE 27°60'
TRAIL 4.4 in.
WHEELBASE 56.9 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 2.1 gal.
CLAIMED CURB WEIGHT 317.5 lbs. (321.9 lbs. ABS)
PRICE $5,149 ($5,449 ABS)

CRF250L RALLY SPECS
ENGINE TYPE Liquid-cooled single-cylinder
DISPLACEMENT 249.6cc
BORE & STROKE 76 x 55mm
SEAT HEIGHT 35.2 in.
RAKE 28°10'
TRAIL 4.5 in.
WHEELBASE 57.3 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 2.7 gal.
CLAIMED CURB WEIGHT 341.7 lbs. (346.1 lbs. ABS)
PRICE $5,899 ($6,199 ABS)

Scroll down for even more photos of the CRF250L and CRF250L Rally

2017 Honda CRF250L

2017 Honda CRF250L

Courtesy of Honda

2017 Honda CRF250L

2017 Honda CRF250L

Courtesy of Honda

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

2017 Honda CRF250L

Courtesy of Honda

2017 Honda CRF250L

2017 Honda CRF250L

Courtesy of Honda

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

Courtesy of Honda

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

Courtesy of Honda

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

Courtesy of Honda

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

Courtesy of Honda

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

Courtesy of Honda

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

Courtesy of Honda

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

Courtesy of Honda