On first glance it might look like an unassuming CRF250R but this prototype is the most significant indication yet of Honda's preparations for an electric motorcycle of the future.

Revealed at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show, the CR Electric prototype does indeed use the CRF250R as its basis, but instead of a 249cc DOHC single there’s an electric motor, power controller, and battery pack snuggled between the frame rails. While the firm is keeping schtum when it comes to precise facts and figures, it says the intention is to create a clean, rechargeable bike with performance equivalent to the petrol-powered CRF250R.

CR Electric prototype
Honda unveiled a CR Electric prototype last week at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show. Honda claims there are no plans for a production version at this time.Courtesy of Honda

There are no plans for production or even a public demonstration of the prototype but it’s already been tested and is intended to provide Honda with valuable lessons toward the development of both on- and off-road electric bikes with a far more performance-oriented slant than the scooters that it has so far put into production.

“Honda will use technical knowhow gained from the CR Electric prototype to continue development of on/off-road electric motorcycle sports performance. Honda aims to tackle EV’s unique characteristics and issues and apply knowledge gained in future development of retail EV motorcycles,” the firm says.

Look closely and you’ll notice another familiar logo above the Honda badge on the transmission. That’s the Mugen badge, and it’s there because Mugen—winner of the last five TT Zero races at the Isle of Man TT with its Shinden electric race bikes—is behind the development of the power unit. That’s a pretty strong heritage and further reinforces widely held beliefs that the Mugen Shinden project has been quietly backed by Honda ever since it first appeared at the TT back in 2012. After all, Mugen was founded by Hirotoshi Honda, son of Soichiro Honda, and has always been closely tied to the company bearing his name.

Like the Shinden racer, the CR Electric prototype features a Maxell battery pack, using lithium-ion technology. On the Shinden, which makes more than 160 hp, the battery is a massive 370-volt unit, but the CR Electric’s pack doesn’t need the same range or peak performance so can afford to be significantly lighter and smaller. To meet Honda’s target of matching CRF250R performance, the motor will need to make around 22 kilowatts (30 hp), and keeping weight to a minimum—as close to the CRF’s 238-pound (107.8 kilograms) curb weight as possible—will be vital. Although Honda isn’t talking when it comes to specs, the electric motor is clearly water-cooled, using a similar radiator to the stock CRF250R.

While motocross is a sensible starting point for an electric bike—it’s a field where the instant torque of an electric motor will be a huge advantage, and where outright range isn’t important—it also offers benefits when it comes to testing prototype components. Any power unit that can cope with the vibration, impacts, and regular soaking a motocross bike endures is likely to be more than capable of dealing with the rigors of day-to-day road use.

CR prototype
The CR prototype looks to be using the same powerplant as the Mugen E.REX.Courtesy of Honda

The use of a mildly modified CRF250R frame also reveals the Mugen-designed power unit and its accompanying batteries are designed to fit into a conventional chassis. That suggests Honda will be positioned to eventually offer electric versions of existing petrol-powered bikes. It’s a tactic the company already adopts for its electric scooters, like the PCX Electric, and could help hugely reduce R&D costs as electrification spreads through the range.

Mugen's Version Of The Electric Honda

A couple of years ago Mugen hinted at the off-road potential of electric power by showing the E.REX concept bike at the 2017 Tokyo show. This year it has followed that up with a second-generation E.REX that’s mechanically identical to Honda’s CR Electric prototype.

Like Honda, Mugen isn’t handing out power figures or technical details on the E.REX but its very existence shows that multiple, identical prototypes have been built based on the same combination of a Mugen motor and Honda CRF frame.

Mugen’s E.REX
Mugen’s E.REX differs in only the bodywork from the Honda CR Electric.Courtesy of Honda

Mugen’s version differs only in its bodywork. Where Honda has stuck with standard CRF panels, Mugen has changed the front number plate, side panels, and tailsection to create a toned-down evolution of the dinosaur-inspired look from the original E.REX concept.

Mugen Shinden Hachi

It’s fair to say that Mugen has dominated the world’s most prestigious electric bike race—the TT Zero—with its Shinden project.The firm first entered in 2012, with John McGuinness finishing second to Michael Rutter on the then-dominant MotoCzysz. The result was the same in 2013, with Motoczysz just hanging on to the advantage over the fast-improving Mugen, but from 2014 onward there has been no sign of anyone beating the developing Shinden machines.

2019 Mugen Shinden
The 2019 Mugen Shinden was revealed at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show.Courtesy of Honda

John McGuinness took Mugen-mounted wins in 2014 and 2015, Bruce Anstey repeated the double in 2016 and 2017, and Michael Rutter took the helm in 2018 to bring the Shinden home to another win.

This year Mugen has hired both Rutter and McGuinness to help ensure it wins yet again, and it revealed the 2019 version of the Shinden at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show. Changes compared to the 2018 bike are hard to spot—only tweaks to the nose, side panels, and tail can be seen—suggesting the firm is reaching a level of development where it’s harder to make huge steps forward. Performance at the TT also suggests that a level of perfection has been found. Ever since its first win in 2014, when McGuinness averaged more than 117 mph, it seemed the 120-mph mark must be within easy reach, but in fact it took until 2018 before it hit that landmark with Rutter’s 121.824-mph circuit.

Mugen Shinden
Another view of the 2019 Mugen Shinden electric racer.Courtesy of Honda

Now that the electric bike development ties between Honda and Mugen have officially been confirmed with the appearance of the CR Electric prototype, surely it’s only a matter of time before we see a Honda prototype packing the 163-hp motor and 370-volt battery from the Shinden...