XC Contender, Perception Bender
Photos by Drew Ruiz
The 2019 Honda CRF250RX is a surprise. Not that it is an all-new model for Honda but more of what the company was able to morph the bike into. The formula is simple to take an MX bike and turn it into an off-road racer. You add an 18”-rear wheel and then some other things depending on the company. It might be a side-stand and an larger capacity gas tank with improved ECU settings to tailor the power for the intended purpose. Some manufacturers do more, some maybe less. But Honda has the mold they formed with the CRF450RX and it is mimicked on the 250cc version of the bike. So much so that almost all of the off-road equipment is exactly the same save for the width of the rear wheel. The Honda philosophy is to make the bike as off-road race ready with the minimum amount of changes from the motocross version of the same bike. It’s business smart and cost effective, but does this really produce the best bike for the job?
To say we were surprised would be a bit of an understatement. Knowing the character of the motocross CRF and its high strung and rev happy engine, we were not expecting it to successfully transition over to an off-road job description. Yet the changes to the internals of the motocross bike for the claimed “increased torque” and the different tuning on the ECU for ignition timing and fuel mapping obviously worked;however, one thing also struck us. In riding the bike on the motocross track, a good rider will never let the bike really get into the part of the powerband described as low end. In fact, on the track, it is rare the 250cc machine is ever ridden at an RPM where the foot-pounds of torque is lower than the foot-pounds of horsepower. In off-road use, this spot in the powerband seems to be the glorious zone of traction and control as long as the engine is lively pulling across this zone and further up in the revs. We’d say that Yamaha has figured this out and KTM is catching on, but now Honda engineers have focused in.
The power is overall about average for what a 250F should be. But the spread and the different mapping switch options for the RX are what make the Honda versatile. Although, one big complaint is that it’s difficult to change the maps on the fly. In order to change the map, it takes the motor being at idle speed RPM and a near three second hold on the map switch button to make the change in a 1-2-3 order. Then waiting for the confirmation blink is even more time consuming so it is not an on the fly operation as far as we are concerned. The different maps (especially Map 2 (less aggressive) and Map 3 (more aggressive)) are excellent and both do what they claim. Even at a level that is more defined and out of character for Honda to have as drastic a change between the options compared to the past. Standard or Map 1 is just that and has a very progressive spread all the way through the powerband. Light on the bottom and building stronger and stronger to a top-end pull that isn’t as aggressive as the motocross bikes lunge. The less aggressive map is not exactly that but it gives the bike better torque feel and better roll-on with just the throttle that it is very noticeable in how much less you need to use the clutch coming out of turns. In Map 2, if you get the bike out in the open, you can feel the slower revving in the upper mid but the bike isn’t slower because of it. Map 3 drops the bonus pull on the bottom in favor of a delivery that makes the rider keep the bike spinning up high in the RPM as the pick-up is sluggish without the use of the clutch.
The clutch took plenty of abuse when we dished it out and had a consistent feel. The motocross tight-ratio gearbox will be just fine for most racing applications, though trail riders would want more of a spread on either end. Racers get two gears for any occasion and that is more important in this application. There are also three launch control start modes which we did not mess with just yet — it was not a priority since not too many off-road races start like a motocross race. Yet, we will test fully when we test the bike fully.
Simply put, Map 2 was excellent on the singletrack trails and map 3 made the bike rip like the motocrosser on the track. No problem if these are two different riding times, but if you are on a sprint enduro or GP race where the conditions intermix and require switching, the rider is better off just suffering with a blend of those excellent maps in map 1. Unless you want to take the time to try and switch them on the fly…
The suspension components are sprung (one step lighter) and valved for off-road use but still on the aggressive side. At 185 pounds, our rider was able to get the right sag with stock springs but in the end might be happier on a stiffer set, or at least in the rear. Yet clicker changes were minimal and it was just for the sake of getting the balance better and a little more weight on the front end in turns. The initial action was on the stiffer side but what we call a race level plushness. Where you feel the ground and the traction without a mushy feel. The bike holds itself up and resists bottoming to the level we have come to expect from Showa — meaning it is some of the best. Even used for motocross, this suspension will do the job and still not beat up a trail rider knowing this is a race bike to start with.
Another excellent trait of the CRF RX is the light handling feel. It feels more like a 125 than a 250F and that is saying something. Even with the larger tank (it looks way larger than it feels but somehow looks take the lead impression here) and the off-road parts that sometimes add a few bonus pounds to the bike, none of this distracted from the nimble handling of the bike. And as the RPMs grow the bike does not pick up weight like some of its competition does. All of the ergonomics are spot on, a middle-of-the-line zone that does not attract attention and functions just as it should. Brakes are solid and controlled and the rear took a lot of dragging before squeaking but never faded.
As you can read, we’re were not only surprised by the 2019 CRF250RX, it impressed us as a great entry into the Lites off-road racing class. It certainly warrants a comparison with Yamaha’s YZ250FX and KTM 250XC-F and we hope to do that soon. However, for those looking at this class or just this Red option, there isn’t any reason to be shy about it. In fact, we feel this might be a better motocross option for riders who’s skill level has them riding a Vet track more than the Main track at your riding area too. Now that we’ve given the latest generation Honda 250F motor a chance to let its RPM’s drop and show us what it’s got, it may be an excellent option for trail riders looking for that lightweight off-road mount also. We’ve got some spark-arrestors on order already!
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