MotoOnline.com.au rides and rates Honda’s updated Lites bike for the new year.
Honda has always been a popular choice in the 250cc four-stroke motocross category, and last year, the CRF250R ranked as the highest selling motocross model in the country.
For each of the 1182 bikes sold last year, you can almost guarantee that all of them would have been ecstatic with the performance of their new ride, but for 2012 Honda has decided to raise the benchmark once again.
MotoOnline.com.au was lucky enough to get our hands on both the 250 and 450 from Honda over the Christmas holiday period, with the majority of our testing taking place at both the Mt Kembla and Appin clubs during that time.
Although the bike looks very similar cosmetically, the 2012 CRF250R features a revamped engine and revised suspension settings that are intended to further improve it for what is a packed class of 250Fs. Any small advantage counts in this category, which is why manufacturers take it so very seriously year in, year out.
According to Honda, the new CRF250R engine has been developed to have a wider powerband and additional low-end and mid-range torque, among other upgrades for 2012.
A change in the rear shock linkage allows a softer start and a stiffer finish. The new rear linkage not only allows the CRF250R to respond better over the small stuff whilst resisting bottoming over the really big hits.
The fine-tuning of the rear-end also helps with steering during hard braking and on long, fast downhill sections. We’d have to say Honda can tick its box for achieving these aims, because the shock reacts exactly as claimed.
At just over 70 kilograms the spring rate and settings in the rear are fine for me, however if I was to ride quicker or weigh five or 10 kilos more, I’d probably have to stiffen it up at the top part of the stroke. Still, once it is down further in that stroke, it performs and stiffens up just as Honda says it will.
New suspension settings on the 48mm Showa front fork and Showa rear shock keep the balance right and enhance steering precision, according to Honda. I’ve always been a fan of the CRF250R’s steering prowess and this year is certainly no different. You just have to set up for where you want to go and the bike responds accordingly.
It may seem like a small detail, but a new chain roller helps keep the rear suspension more active during braking and the bike more calm and composed. That’s how detailed Honda got when working on the rear suspension revisions!
Handling of the Honda Lites bike is up there with the best – if not, rating the very best – and part of that is because of the seamless ergonomics package. Whether you’re my size at under 170cm or a taller, heavier guy, the ergos just feel right.
What Honda has works, which is possibly why it has remained so similar for all these years. Wider, longer footpegs are also appreciated, especially when landing off bigger jumps.
The Dunlop MX51 tyres that come standard on the bike do work quite good for these conditions we’re experiencing during summer, however the rear does tend to wear quickly on hardpack surfaces.
Engine-wise for 2012 is where we expected the most changed to be put in place. While Honda no doubt has the runs on the board when it comes to race results (2010 AMA Pro Motocross 250 Class Champion, anyone?), its smooth nature has lacked the excitement of its competitors.
Well, with a new cylinder head and camshaft matched to a new throttle body, airbox and intake boot, it is all designed to give more user-friendly power from what Honda’s sales pitch reads.
Don’t expect to climb off your 2011 model onto the ’12 and feel like all of a sudden you’re on a factory race bike, because the improvements are broad and can’t necessarily be felt in one section or another. What you will experience is a stronger motor all-round, that’s got plenty of torque, but is still so smooth that you could be fooled into thinking it’s not ‘that’ powerful.
A real positive of the CRF250R is that you can ride it with aggression and work every last inch of power out of it, or you can cruise around and take advantage of its friendly nature. The thing is, if you’re not one to rev the bike much, you’ll probably want to add another tooth on the rear just to boost that initial burst of power exiting tighter turns in second gear. Otherwise, a bit of clutch helps.
What is exceptionally good about the motor is its over-rev capabilities. If you come out of a turn and want to hold second or third gear for an upcoming obstacle (a jump or even another turn), it allows you to do so with relative ease. The power seems to peak, but the response remains and works with you as you approach the obstacle.
At $10,590 retail, you’re getting a very solid bit of machinery from Honda for the Lites class, revised and optimised to make the most of your efforts on track. As with all Hondas, quality and their ability to retain that new feel is a huge plus as long as you look after it from the beginning.
Armed with the new CRF250R, 2012 should be a big year for Honda racers worldwide. As for the rest of us, well I’m sure many of us will keep buying the model and loving every minute of it.
Jersey/Pants: 2012 FOX 360 Future (Green)
Gloves: Deft Family Artisan SkullCandy (White/Blue)
Helmet: FOX V3 Carbon
Goggles: Oakley Mayhem
Boots: Alpinestars Tech 10
Neck brace: Alpinestars Bionic Neck Support
Knee brace: PodMX K700