Honda CRF250R vs. CRF450R

2010 CRF250R & CRF450R

As a kid I was hooked on motocross. I ate it, drank it, and slept it. But, like so many devoted moto-heads, adulthood crept into the picture. I put aside boyhood fun for the pursuit of career and grown-up concerns. Before I knew it, sixteen years had passed during which time I didn’t drop the clutch on a motorcycle. I missed it deeply.

So, in my forties I took the plunge and dove back into the hobby that had given me so much joy. I now realize there is a large contingent of people like me who have decided to get back to the sport that gave them so much excitement and so many memories. To help usher erstwhile motocrossers back into the sport, Ultimate MotorCycling did a side-by-side fun ride of the Honda CRF250R and the CRF450R to put some perspective on the new realm of off-road motorcycles for those thinking about a return to their youthful pursuits.

First off, Honda’s off-road motorcycles represent the zenith of technological evolution. Any old-school riders from the two-stroke era are going to be astonished at the level of performance offered with today’s fuel-injected four-stroke motorcycles. The raspy, on-off powerband of screaming two-strokes has been replaced by smooth, controlled power delivered with a pleasantly sonorous exhaust note. Suspension has evolved to render sublime control and comfort, smoothing out the toughest, most grueling of terrain and easily absorbing the once disastrous consequences of coming up short on a double jump. The result is a more enjoyable, less physically taxing experience.

Dimensions between the Honda CRF250R and CRF450R are fairly close, with only slightly differing rake and trail numbers that give the motorcycles strikingly similar steering and handling characteristics. Weight difference is modest, the CRF450R tipping the scales at 234.8 pounds ready-to-ride, as compared to the CRF250R’s weight of 226. The CRF450R felt more stable in the rough stuff. Whether it was under hard braking over the stutter bumps at corner entry or on the throttle tracking over the whoops, the motorcycle was very controllable. Despite the numbers putting the CRF250R at only some nine pounds lighter, it feels much more agile and flickable, making it more compliant to physical muscling through deep sand and changing lines mid-corner. However, there was a slightly skittish feel on the front end in the stutter bumps.

The real difference between these two motorcycles, obviously, is the power. The Honda CRF250R motor has a broader rev range, which puts out solid response all the way through the throttle pull. The motorcycle, though possessing healthy low-end torque, likes to rev, making it a more active riding experience with more shifting required to keep the motorcycle in the sweet zone. By comparison the CRF450R is a stump-puller. In this regard the motorcycle is very forgiving. If a rider wanted to they could leave the motorcycle in second or third gear and flog around all day.

However, the CRF450R powerplant doesn’t necessarily make it the better choice. The down side here is that the CRF450R will tire a rider out more quickly. Hanging onto the motorcycle will definitely require some arm strength and endurance. Wick the throttle hard and the motorcycle will tug your arms from their sockets. The less intimidating Honda CRF250R motor (don’t get me wrong, the motorcycle hauls) helps build a rider’s confidence and makes it a great re-entry motorcycle and is a welcome mount for simple backwoods riding. Both motorcycles will accommodate either a serious, go-fast approach to riding and competition, as well as being perfectly suited as play motorcycles for just messing around in the dirt.

Experienced riders as well novices will find things to like about both motorcycles. In the end, it’s a matter of being honest with yourself about what you want, and what you need. The CRF450R is going to be more of a workout, requiring some conditioning to hang onto the bars. Get tired and the CRF450R will bite you. The CRF250R is a lot of fun, with a broad rev-range. Lug it around or keep it pinned, the motorcycle is a gas to ride.

Most importantly, the CRF250R is perhaps less intimidating for a returning rider. One advantage is that the CRF250R drinks a lot less fuel. On that note-for the people who grew up with two-strokes-either motorcycle you choose, it’s a welcome practicality that you don’t have to pre-mix your gas any longer.

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