The trend toward larger, Super-Size-Me engines on so many motorcycles in recent years has given us quite a few liter and liter-plus options to choose from. Honda is riding against the grain with the CBR250R – a not surprising move, given the global economic climate. It is a bike getting a worldwide push, and is billed on its international website as “Sport Quarter for One World.”
The Thai-built CBR250R is a friendly, stylish and spunky sport bike that is so well packaged, it is not difficult to root for its success. Sidle up to the pony-sized frame, stroke a hand over the shiny red tank and admire the angular silver accents.
The family resemblance to the flagship VFR1200F is obvious, but with the slimmer build, the CBR250 R actually carries the layered fairing and megaphone muffler features much better than its beefier sibling. The grown-up styling forestalls any dismissive views of the bike, until the number 250 is uttered.
The CBR250R’s semi-aggressive seating position confirms the 250 is serious about having fun. The ergonomics are sufficiently sporty to enhance riding on winding roads, but strike a comfortable balance for enjoying the scenery at a casual pace.
Controls on the instrument panel are basic and easy to read; an analog tach sits front and center above a large digital speed readout that is flanked by a tripmeter, clock, odometer, coolant temp, and fuel gauge indicators.
Any concerns that the CBR 250’s liquid-cooled, four-valve, DOHC, fuel-injected, short-stroke single won’t be able to pull off idle are immediately dismissed; you do not have to rev it out to get off the line, though good acceleration depends on late shifts. Less-experienced riders will appreciate the dependable controls and never find themselves in trouble due to an overly excitable throttle hand.
As expected, the CBR250’s light weight and slender frame make it nimble and easy to maneuver. With a claimed curb weight of 359 pounds, there is an immediate self-assurance in handling the bike. On busy boulevards, the CBR250R easily slips through the congestion without the rider breaking a sweat. Shifting is smooth through the six-speed gearbox, though neutral is sometimes difficult to find at a stop.
On the freeway, the fully faired CBR250R cruises comfortably at the speed limit, and a counterbalancer keeps vibration at bay. Twisting the throttle to its stop will encourage the bike up beyond the posted limit – I managed 85 mph – but if a quick maneuver is called for, downshifting is mandatory. While the bike will make a decent commuter in most locales, on extremely busy and fast-moving freeways with aggressive drivers, it can leave the rider feeling vulnerable. Rain grooves on some freeways produced a bit of nervousness in the IRC tires, and that was magnified by the bike’s light weight, and 53.9-inch wheelbase.
The suspension is less compliant than I might prefer, but it keeps the rider connected to the road in a way that seems entirely fitting for the bike. Firm, yes, but it holds its line over well-used roads and the sticky IRCs never lost touch with the asphalt.
So the quarter pony can handle errand-boy duties, light commuting, and steadfast beginner buddy status, but how does it hold its own on the weekend with the big boys? Sure, it cannot hang with a larger-displacement bike over a quarter mile dash, but it is surprisingly fun to try chasing your buddy through the canyons and mountains.
In the tight stuff, the CBR 250’s smaller stature and light weight are a plus, allowing it to move comfortably through the turns. That inherent maneuverability is held in check by a relatively relaxed 25-degree rake and IRC Road Winner tires that slow down the handling a bit. Honda rightfully recognized that novices do not need razor-sharp handling. Instead, they need a bike that is forgiving and predictable.
You might think a sportbike with more than quadruple the cubic centimeters would leave the 250 completely in the dust, but that depends on the road. For maximum effect and keeping up with the Joneses on full-sized bikes, you have to wring it out to 10,000 rpm before shifting to maximize the CBR’s acceleration on uphills.
There is at least one ambitious Ducati Multistrada owner who is thinking he was passed by a VFR1200F on the intimidating tight portion of California Highway 27 coming up from the beach. Conversely, on downhills, the CBR250R can be short-shifted to good effect-ride it like a road bicycle.
The 296mm single front disc has no unpleasant first-bite-another novice-friendly feature-and provides complete confidence. Despite a budget-looking rear brake pedal, there is nothing low-tech about the braking system. The optional Combined ABS system is something of a brake-by-wire system, where a computer controls the feed of hydraulic pressure to the brakes via a modulator.
The front brake lever operates the front disc only, but the rear brake pedal tells the modulator to send pressure to both the front and rear discs. ABS is handled by the same system, though it doesn’t work as smoothly as the celebrated system on the CBR1000RR.
Because the CBR 250 handles the twisties so well, and revs more like a twin than a single, it is hard not to start thinking how much fun the bike would be at the right race track. The specs of the new CBR250R match up very nicely with the coming Moto3 race class, and that’s no coincidence. Along with Honda’s presence in MotoGP and, as the engine supplier for Moto2, it’s a natural fit that HRC will be competing in Moto3. Cross your fingers that you will sometime soon be able to buy the NRS250 coyly touted on HRC’s website.
Larger, faster bikes are a blast to ride and have a studly factor that is hard not to enjoy. The Honda CBR250R cannot compete on that level, but if you check your ego at the door, even an accomplished rider can have some good fun on this bike. Novices looking for a confidence-building first date can’t go wrong with the forgiving, but spirited, 250 and it is a great stepping stone to faster sportbikes. To the gentleman commenting on the CBR250R when I stopped at the post office–yes, it’s a single; and, no, that’s not a shame at all.
Photography by Don Williams
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