Honda’s CRF250R has been around since 2004 and Big Red’s four-stroke quarter-litre (250cc) motocrosser has the reputation of a bike that’s easy to get along with for both pro riders and amateurs. Yet it was only in 2015 that the MX2 CRF won its first world title in the capable hands of Tim Gajser. And now there is a long awaited, totally new version…

Pic: Honda

The fact that a large motorcycle brand revamps its motocross bikes is nothing special at such. Most updates to MX bikes are no more than that. Slight evolutions if you will. And that allows MX bikes gradually to improve year after year. The new CRF is much more than an update.

Honda fans may even call it sacrilegious. Because for the first time Honda walks away from the Unicam system. The advantages of the single overhead camshaft were mainly in limiting the dimensions of the cylinder head and the power at the bottom. Yet Honda is now getting rid of it. Especially because the modern quarterliters go so fast that the engine needs to produce higher revs to be competitive. And that was not possible with the Unicam construction. The limits of this design principle had been reached. And Honda had to move and push in a new direction. Enter the double overhead camshaft.

Pic: Honda

But that’s not all. The 2018 Honda CRF250R has other unique features. There are two exhausts (so not just two silencers, but in effect two complete exhausts). Another important aspect of the 2018 CRF250R is the arrival of the electric starter (and the absence of the good old kickstarter) and the choice of three mappings. Soft, standard and aggressive. The new and high-quality Showa fork and the fourth-generation aluminum frame complete the list of the most important innovations.

Pic: Honda

And yes, if you have a new engine, different frame, suspension, electronics and an electric starter, it’s fair to call this a completely new motorcycle. But did Honda manage to keep that typical CRF feeling and the excellent handling characteristics intact?

We were keen to find out on the glorious old-school Pontesfondato track close to Rome. On the menu: steep hills, table tops and step ups. A nice fit for both amateurs and faster guys. There was one dude with the number 243 on his bike who seemed rather crafty…

So off to Pontesfondato. A bit of indian summer never hurts and we were spoilt in more senste than one. Because Honda at one HRC mechanic at hand for every testbike. Although that measure was overkill for us. No need to dial in the handlebars or levers, all was good to go as it was. For the first run we chose the standard mapping. Rather surprisingly the engine packed some serious punch even in in this trim, with sufficient torque and a nice linear power curve. And I couldn’t help but notice how much longer this CRF250R keeps on pulling compared to the previous version. Almost 1.000rpm more thanks to the aforementioned DOHC. This means the limiter now arrives at 14.400 rpm. On top the 2018 CRF250R produces 9 percent more power. Without a doubt this is the strongest CRF250R we ever rode. Stamp it.

Pic: Honda

Even during the second run when trying the Soft mapping, we feel that the engine is going fast. While this might be considered tame for the ambitious pro, it allows us to push and it feels as a fun setup for the weekend warrior. Powerful and usable. In the most aggressive mode, the CRF250R is a real killer. From the slightest throttle twitch the reaction is instantenous. The bike keeps on pulling straight to the top. It’s exactly this kind of agressiveness that Honda’s MX2 bike lacked to upset the powers that be in its class.

Pic: Honda

Yet it is comforting to note that Honda has retained the typical CRF feeling, despite the clearly increased potential. The bike is wonderfully agile, easy to ride and change direction and has the best front suspension we already experienced on the CRF250R. It is the same as that of the CRF450R. Progressive from the start and with a lot of feedback. Confidence-inspiring in corners, both when entering a berm or when you enter a corner drifting into an off-camber. Whatever you do the front instills instant confidence. Pontesfondato has two drop-offs throwing you some ten metres below at high speed. Well, the fork didn’t even flinch one bit and not even once did it react sketchy.

Thanks to a completely re-designed rear end, Honda claims a huge improvement in terms of traction. After thirty metres, this model offers an advantage of a complete bike length over the 2017 bike. Loads of traction courtesy of a shorter swingarm and modified frame geometry. And that’s how it feels. To get a bitter feel for the improvement in performance this calls for a shootout against a 2017 model. That’s when we lined up against 2016 world champion Tim Gajser. We suspect that the cheerful Slovenian let yours truly win. If not, he should be reaching for the panic button for the coming season!

Pic: Honda

Anyway, we left Rome with a good feeling about the new CRF250R. As far as we are concerned, this is – for now – the pinnacle of CRF. Without a doubt it’s the best 250 motocrosser that Honda has ever built. Time will tell whether he is ready to take up the gauntlet against the powers that be ​​in the MX2 class. At least Honda will have three exciting prospects in the World Championship for 2018 with Hunter Lawrence, Calvin Vlaanderen and Bas Vaessen.

Pic: Honda

During our first out outing there was little or nothing to complain about. And after a day of hard labor, the plastic with in-mold technology graphics still looked as good as new. The mappings actually give you the choice between three different motorcycles That is exactly why the CRF250R is more than ever suitable for both pro riders and weekend warriors. Honda can pride themselves in what they have achieved. The new CRF250R is available now and is priced at £7249.

Pic: Honda

 

Text: Thierry Sarasyn
Photos: Honda

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