Photos By Drew Ruiz and Jimmy Lewis Story by Ryan Nitzen with Jimmy Lewis
It’s no secret that the Honda CRF 250Rs have been lacking in the power department. Whether hampered with a bottom-end-focused tune with the previous Uni-Cam design or with the newer DOHC and being top-end power heavy, the engine in this power dependent smaller four-stroke class is king. For this year, Honda has revised the entire bike for 2020. Just like it did for the CRF450R in 2019. A new frame and swingarm (shared with the 450R) accompany an updated engine and suspension package aimed at making the bike more competitive in the bottom to mid power ranges. New graphics and black wheels are also nice touches for the visuals. We took to Fox Raceway to see if the race-inspired looks were as good as they are claimed to be.
The engineers at Honda seemed to really have their ears open to test riders when revising the 2020 250R. This is a tough task since the engine design is inherent to producing only high-revving top-end power (DOHC and double exhaust ports). Second and third gear (new altered taller second gear ratio) seem much more usable than years prior and help the improved hit off the bottom, good pull through the mid-range, and lasting power near the red-line. Fox Raceway is a fast and flowy track with only a few sharp 90 and 180 degree corners. It allowed our riders to leave the bike in mainly second and third gear. Without the need to shift as much as the ‘19 model, we felt that the bike was overall easier to ride. It has a more lively throttle response feeling but not necessarily more power in the mid-range. Map number three (aggressive) seemed to be a test-favorite for its snappy nature and the way it advances through the rpm range. Once again we were able to leave the bike in a gear just that much longer and really ride the bike to it’s potential. Additionally as a rider learns that the engine will allow big throttle openings and pick up better when the RPMs are up, less clutching and shifting really work out. The more time you are wide-open at and speed the more you will like this bike, throw throttle control out the window and just let it sing. We noticed the clutch pull was a little stiffer than the past but the action was just as good with better bite and less slip. The power is fast and usable in nearly every range but it is for a more advanced rider. There is not the roll on or pull from the lower end, a characteristics that we admire in the popular Yamaha power plant. But Honda is aware and trying.
For the Suspension new valving was received with open arms from the Dirt Bike Test crew. Our riders ranged from 170 – 210 pounds and all felt comfortable on the CRF 250R. It absorbed smaller choppy bumps with ease and also maintained strong bottoming resistance when overshooting or casing some of the bigger jumps. DBT Chief Jimmy Lewis felt the suspension lacked hold-up in whoops or steeper rollers as the rear end blew through the travel and seemed to upset the balance of the bike, but he is definitely on the heavier side of the range for the standard spring. There was also the tendency for the shock to rebound a little quickly when fully compressed. A couple of clicks of compression and rebound damping on the shock really helped both of these feelings. No other complaints were noted but the track never really got rough enough to test it in extremes.
The updated chassis on the CRF 250R is slim and tracks like a hot knife through butter. Our riders were able to confidently weight the front end when cornering and pick lines with ease. The bike feels nimble and a flat seat / tank rider cockpit aids in this feeling. Our riders were able to change lines while standing simply by weighting a peg and easily coercing the motorcycle through the next corner. The front wheel also feels very connected to the handlebars allowing riders to pick lines with confidence and turn the bike with ease. Through all this the bike stays stable if not just a little light on the rear. The CRF 250R feels planted under load and didn’t seem to deflect or dance around in the choppier sections of the track.
Overall the new revisions for 2020 have kept the Honda competitive with the rest of the 250 class. This machine is fast and super fun to ride, but more reminiscent of a high-strung 125cc two-stroke to draw a comparison. Power is more usable and gears last longer than the previous model year, but it still takes attention and skill to ride it smooth and fast. The chassis and suspension create a balanced feel that inspires confidence in the rider to corner and jump to their full ability and here the bike is definitely more near the top of the class. Electric start and a holeshot setting are just icing on the cake, even if choosing the setting between the three standard maps via the handlebar mounted button is one of the worst thought out methods know to man (It can’t really be done on the fly). With professional riders driving this class in one direction and hobby riders and amature racers needing something completely different, this bike is in a balance of trying to make everyone happy and that is a tough place to be.
Support DBT, Shop and search for products through the link below: