2020 Honda CRF 250L Rally
Honda's Small Adventure Bike
- Comfortable, and easy to relax on
- Predicable power with little vibration
- A very stable and controlled riding feel
- A heavy, and sluggish feel
- Aesthetics took priority occasionally
- Performs as expected for a newer model line
- Supposedly ready for everything
The 2020 Honda CRF 250L Rally is the brand's take on a small-displacement adventure, mostly unchanged from its 2012 introduction. According to Honda, this bike is ready for anything and will perform well whether it's on a night out on the town, or an exploration camping trip off-road. They boast a long-travel suspension setup, Dakar styling, and more fuel capacity. Here at Dirt Bike Test, we like to put claims like this to the test in real-world situations.
- A lack of changes over the years
- Based on the 250L, but with a few additions
Considering it has been around since 2012, the Rally model line has not gotten many changes. The 2019 and 2020 versions are nearly identical, with all the numbers matching. However, the Rally line is based on the CRF 250L, with a few added features. Aside from the obvious 20 pounds in rally-style plastics, the engine and the transmission are the same, and the suspension got a slight improvement. Other small changes include a slightly larger front brake and a new Storage box on the side opposite of the muffler. Honda also claims it has added fuel capacity, but more on that later.
- Smooth, predictable power
- Great gas mileage
The power of this bike is not half bad considering the size. On your first ride, it feels very under-powered and quite honestly sluggish, but that changes quickly. This is not a race bike or a competition motorcycle of any sort really, but instead, it is a small adventure bike. It has the power to get from place to place, whether that’s on-road or off, and it can have some fun on the side. Based around a 250-cc liquid-cooled motor that is counter-balanced to make a very smooth power-band with minimal vibration, this is a good start for an entry-level rider and ultimately one of the better motors in this category. It is a very reliable power source that has long service intervals.
The delivery starts right off from the initial twist of the throttle, there is a fair amount of flywheel mass to keep some chug as you let the clutch out. It builds smooth and there is a very flat torque curve yet most of the power seemed to be at around six or seven thousand. It can happily hold high RPM's and keep going strong, but still has no issue producing plenty of low-end torque--while still getting great mileage either way. It ended up being fuel very efficiently when ridden lightly, getting easily over 50 miles to the gallon, but still got around 25 MPG when pushing it hard, with the throttle wide open, for long distances. The wind resistance of the fairing could easily factor into that.
Many other factors influenced this, such as the weight and the knobby tires we threw on, which also seemed to weigh this motor down. The throttle response was not as snappy as more performance-oriented bikes, but it worked well for the setup. It has a tamed feel while still being able to have fun. A rider just has to let the torque pull as opposed to expecting rapid throttle response. It isn't fast but it isn't slow either. You can keep up with traffic as long as you are not on the interstate but on the back roads you'll be fine.
The clutch has a very connected feel--smooth on the pull, and it works very predictably. This assists the transmission in its smooth-shifting considering you end up shifting more often than on larger bikes. With many dirt bikes, you seem to shift at a very specific point in the RPM, but with this bike, there is more shifting happening depending on the mood of the rider. It isn't critical for cruising around but for speeding along you need a quick foot. The six-speed transmission gives plenty for low speed, and makes the sixth gear feel extra sort of like an overdrive, but managed to keep a tolerable gap throughout the gearing. This makes all gears feel like they are where they should be and seem like they can be used to their potential.
- Non-adjustable suspension.
- On the soft side in the rear, but ideal for the target rider.
- The front forks make the rear shock seem lacking, and it is.
The suspension setup can make or break a dirt bike and an adventure bike alike. It can change how the bike feels. On this particular motorcycle, it is decent considering its non-adjustable nature. There are no dials or clickers, meaning it must be run how it came unless you modify the suspension. In our world, it worked extremely well for the lighter riders when riding adventure and dual-purpose while still managing the tougher situations. The front forks create a very planted and stable feel thanks to the way they are set up. We found the rear a little soft for our style of riding. And with adding weight like luggage in the back it can become a little problematic.
The shock does not feel like it has enough damping in compression or rebound, so the back of the bike can bounce whenever it is pushed. It makes it hard to predict sometimes. However, the good side of the way it feels is that when riding down rough roads or sand washes it soaks up all the bumps, and makes the ride very comfortable. If we were to ride this bike as aggressive as we found ourselves, we would look into the readily available aftermarket suspension options, likely a set that can be adjusted.
Chassis - Handling
- Looks like a rally bike but...
- Very controlled feel--Oddly comfortable!
- Feels like a dirt bike.
The way this bike handled was surprising, to say the least. Going by the looks, one would expect a racy type of feel, but that is not how it acted. Most motorcycles are predictable in the way that they look compared to the way they seem to perform. The CRF Rally seems to laugh at that. It looks very sporty and has a big solid frame, as well as the aesthetics to wow anyone you ride by, yet it handles like the light-duty adventure bike it truly is.
Many of the handling characteristics are due to the weight at around 347 pounds. We found that the stock tires were horrible off-road and swapped them out for heavier STI knobby tires that ended up having a wallow-y feeling in turns under the weight of the CRF. Controlled while turning despite that feeling from the tires, the stability is what stands out. As with most bikes that are a little heavier, they tend to feel stable in motion and give a comforting feeling to novice riders. More experienced riders can push the bike and feel when the weight has limitations on the handling, but again, for the target rider, this isn't an issue. Well, unless the bike falls over. Then anyone will feel the weight.
The comfort of the CRF 250L Rally is excellent, especially for anyone familiar with a "dirt bike" riding position. For anyone who may have started riding off-road, the CRF, having the reassuring feel of a dirt bike, is an easy fit and proportioned for a smaller rider. Including the taller seat height than more street-oriented setups. The handlebars are easily rolled forward, opening up the rider compartment, and the foot-pegs are in a position more closely relating to a dirt bike.
Being fully street legal, the muffler keeps the bike extremely quiet and the engine gets nearly silent with wind noise. There is no loud 'bark' with this exhaust, and it doesn't have any uncomfortable noise either. A good thing about having that 20-pounds of plastics is that it gives plenty of wind protection. When it is super cold out, the windshield and side plastics manage to keep that wind chill a little more manageable and make it nicer to ride. On a few occasions, we have had other test riders want to ride it instead of a dirt bike home from the trail because of this.
The headlight on it is a solid design and works well. It is not necessary to replace it or add off-road lights to the bike because the one does the job. It has high and low-beam for road use, but shines on enough trail for comfortable night riding. It also has the added feature of saying rally in the headlight itself for novelty purposes.
The mirror and side compartment are my two most disliked things. The mirror has to be tightened well or it likes to loosen itself and start swiveling on the threads by its own free will. There are great aftermarket options specifically the DoubleTake Mirror. The side compartment does not seal up or handle much weight well. It has cost us a chain guard when a leash for a dog slipped out and wrapped around the wheel (yes, we may have used this bike to air in dog walking...). Honda claims you can keep small items safely in the storage box, but you cannot fit so much as a water bottle in and things like a dog leash we found on the trail can easily slip out of the very poor hinge on it. Not only that, but it has no water or dust seal whatsoever. It is solely for appearance in our opinion.
- A solid do-it-all bike
- Great looks, even if slightly misleading.
In all, this bike was meant to do a little of everything and get from point A to point B comfortably and reliably while looking good. It did that and more, impressing even someone who has ridden many types of dirt bikes of all ages and sizes. We mostly rode it above the intended level and it shows in our review. But we understand now who this bike is for--it fooled this author in the beginning. The naming and looks are misleading in a way but end up masking the true potential of this motorcycle. It does what it needs to do, it does it well, and it keeps doing it for a long time. This is a great bike to keep in the garage and take on fun explorations and adventures, even for a newer rider. This bike is perfect for anyone that is newer or maybe even uncomfortable with the feel and weight of a larger adventure bike. And most will find that the 250cc engine size is not an issue in getting you where you want to go.