There’s nothing like a dual sport bike for everyday practicality and fun — from the comfortable upright seating position, to the long-travel suspension, to the stress-free handling — and the 2014 Honda CRF250L is a good example of why these inexpensive on- and off-road motorcycles are so popular.
Of course, there is a trade off for the functionality of a bike that can take you from the asphalt to the dirt, and that starts with the seat height; dual sport bikes are taller than their street-only counterparts, though shorter than pure dirt bikes (like the Honda CRF250X).
However, at 34.7 inches, the Honda CRF250L’s saddle is shortest in its class. If you don’t have a long inseam, you will have to adjust your expectations for being flat-footed at a stop, but the good news is the bike is lighter than your average street-only 250cc motorcycle, so the tallish ride is quite manageable.
Once aboard you’ll enjoy the extra cush of suspension that is built to absorb off-road excursions. Most city and suburban roadways have their shares of lumps, bumps and potholes, and the Honda CRF250L’s suspension handles it all. The front end doesn’t complain or get out of shape when it encounters these asphalt shortcomings, so if you didn’t see that crack or ripple, carry on.
The taller saddle and neutral seating position of the CRF250L provide a great vantage for keeping an eye on surrounding vehicles. Whether traversing local streets or commuting on the freeway, it’s great to have a head-up over the four-wheeled traffic; plus, it improves your visibility to drivers.
As a casual commuter motorcycle, the CRF250L shines. The Moto3-based fuel-injected, DOHC, 4-valve, liquid-cooled 250cc single’s power is in the accessible low- to mid-range that will take you from the neighborhood lane to the boulevard, and onto the highway with ease.
Both the clutch and gear shifter activate with a light touch, and the transmission engages flawlessly. If you are taking advantage of the CRF250L’s easy maneuverability by lane-splitting the traffic, you’ll appreciate not having to dodge car mirrors, thanks to the high riding mirrors.
On the freeway, the CRF250L’s IRC Trail GP tires are fine, unless you’re pushing the speed limit. The bike is capable of 80+ mph, but the dual sport rubber feels a little insecure at this speed. Also, with no windscreen, you’ll also get quite a face-full of windblast.
The single front rotor is adequate for slowing the bike down, but you won’t be stopping on any dimes. Of course, hard and fast riding is not what the bike was built for — it’s designed for low-key fun. Ridden within those parameters, it is capable and enjoyable.
To truly appreciate the CRF250L’s versatility, get it out on the dirt. Having been sidelined from any off-road activity for the better part of a year due to ACL replacement, I was a little dirt-shy when it came to bouncing around on the natural terrain. The CRF250L was a welcome opportunity to roll off the tarmac and progress at whatever pace felt comfortable. Armed with an off-the-shelf Össur CTi Custom brace — for mental as well as physical security — on my reconstructed knee, I aimed the dual sporter toward fire roads initially.
The IRC Trail GP semi-knobbies handle the hard pack nicely, the rubber finding decent grip despite the loose sand and light debris scattered along the road. Both ruts and grooves are taken in stride, and I found myself kicking the CRF250L up a couple of gears, standing on the pegs, and letting the suspension soak up the stutter bumps. Both foot and hand controls are easily accessed from a standing position.
The Honda CRF250L’s nimble handling inspires confidence. Checking out the local single-track trails, the bike’s fuel-injected low-end power delivery shines. On narrow tracks where you’re continually adjusting your speed, the feather-light action at the clutch pull makes finessing your way an enjoyable challenge. The 21-inch front-tire rolls well over moderate sized rocks and is not easily knocked off line if you misjudge your track.
Although nowhere near a race bike, the CRF250L is a capable trail bike on the black diamond trails in the Angeles National Forest. Highly technical trails with tight turns, short-run hillclimbs, tricky downhills, and unpredictable terrain do challenge you. However, as long as you aren’t in a hurry on the CRF250L, it will take you on almost any trail you like in first gear.
The suspension soaks up smaller obstacles at low speed, yet doesn’t wallow. Turning is happily accurate, though you will want to keep you speeds in check.
As useful as first gear is in the tight stuff, I found that when the trail opened up and I could add a bit of speed, second gear was a little too tall. Slightly lower gearing would make the CRF250L more of a dirt-worthy ride.
Hillclimbs are fun, too, thanks to the tolerant nature of the 249cc engine. It pulls well, even if you’re not in the right gear. Just twist the throttle a bit harder, or click the slick tranny down a cog.
If you do blow it and drop the bike or stall it while tackling a tricky section, enjoy the fact that you can simply push the electric start button and get right back in the groove. With EFI, you don’t have to worry about a flooded carb, which is a huge advantage in tricky situations.
As fun and easy to handle, as the bike is off-road, it is hampered by a bit of a weight problem. Like that stubborn 20 pounds that just won’t go away, the CRF250L is at least that much heavier than its competitors — the Yamaha WR250R, Yamaha XT250, and Kawasaki KLX250S — and there’s no hiding it. You will get fatigued on the tighter technical trails, and the weight taxes the suspension at higher speed.
I did drop the bike in a rocky streambed. Much to my dismay, the white plastic muffler shield shattered, littering the trail. An off-road capable bike should not have brittle plastic. Further, the shield has more parts that it should — simpler is better off-raod.
Of the four dual-sport 250s, the Honda CRF250L shades toward the street. The heavy motor, which has street roots, holds it back a bit. The suspension is fairly short and basic, though the advantage is a lower seat height. Again, if you’re patient, you can take the CRF250L on difficult trails, so it is off-road worthy. As a commuter, it’s a flawless 250. You can see above cars and zip through traffic effortlessly, and it’s fully freeway capable. Plus, it has EFI at a bargain price of $4999. Be realistic about your dirt needs, and you may find the 2014 Honda CRF250L is the dual-sport bike that fits the bill.
Photography by Don Williams
Helmet: HJC FG-X Talon
Goggles: Spy Optic
Communications: UClear HBC100 Plus
Jersey, gloves and pants: Fly Racing Kinetic Girl’s Raceware Blue/White Race
Knee brace: Össur CTi Custom
Socks: Alpinestars TechStar Coolmax
Boots: Alpinestars Tech 6
2014 Honda CRF250L Specifications
Engine Type: 249.6cc liquid-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke
Valve Train: DOHC; four-valve
Bore x Stroke: 76mm x 55mm
Induction: PGM-FI, 36mm throttle body
Ignition: Computer-controlled digital transistorized with electronic advance
Compression Ratio: 10.7:1
Final Drive: #520 chain; 14T/40T
CHASSIS / SUSPENSION / BRAKES
Front Suspension: 43mm inverted fork; 8.7 inches travel
Rear Suspension: Pro-Link single shock; 9.4 inches travel
Front Brake: Single 256mm disc with twin-piston caliper
Rear Brake: Single 220mm disc
Front Tire: 3.00-21; IRC Trails GP-21F
Rear Tire: 120/80-18; IRC Trails GP-22R
Rake: 27° 35′
Trail: 4.4 inches
Wheelbase: 56.9 inches
Seat Height: 34.7 inches
Curb Weight: 320 pounds
Fuel Capacity: 2.0 gallons
Ground Clearance: 10.0 inches
Warranty: One Year, transferable, unlimited mileage limited warranty; extended coverage available with a Honda Protection Plan.
2014 Honda CRF250L MSRP: $4999.