2013 Honda CRF250L | Review

2013 Honda CRF 250 L Motorcycle Test

Honda is on a mission to bring as many new riders as possible to the sport of motorcycling. To this end, they are focusing on real world riding, bringing us accessible, practical bikes with highly competitive price tags across a broad range of models, including the all-new 2013 Honda CRF250L dual sport bike. For those of us who already ride, this is very good news as the more people at the two-wheel party, the better.

While not the tallest kid in its class, the 2013 Honda CRF250L’s 34.7-inch seat height (two inches shorter than the Yamaha WR250R) fits a broad range of inseams, and the upright seating position is friendly and welcoming to newer riders. The light-pull clutch and reliable shifter combine with well-spaced gearing for easy handling around town. The mildly tuned bike won’t get a novice in trouble, but is far from being stodgy.

Built in Honda’s Thailand factory and sharing the same engine as the CBR250R allows the CRF250L to benefit from significant cost savings without cutting corners on performance and durability. The 249cc DOHC single has been tuned to enhance low and mid-range torque for its off-road adventures. Better still, this new generation dual sporter is liquid-cooled and fuel-injected.

The CRF250L’s short stroke engine is capable of lively performance if you twist the throttle and there is enough power to keep up on the freeway. However, at the top of the six-speed gearbox, you won’t have a lot left for quick acceleration, but that isn’t the job of this bike.

Even so, the Honda CRF250L handles well at speed; it’s stable on the freeway, and sticks well when ridden enthusiastically through paved winding mountain roads on its semi-knobby IRC Trails GP tires. The dual nature of the tires and the lack of windscreen will naturally keep one from pushing beyond the bike’s capabilities, but the 256mm single disc up front is fully capable of reining things in without unsettling the bike should you forget the CRF250L is a fun bike, not a race bike.

Speaking of which, commuting to work on the 2013 Honda CRF250L will certainly make going to the office a lot more fun, and the bike is well suited for this chore if long freeway rides aren’t in the mix.

Narrow and light on its feet–320 pounds is light for a street bike – the Honda’s easy handling and upright seating position make it a slam dunk for lane-splitting on the freeway, or sneaking to the head of traffic on congested streets. The 220mm rear disc works well in this slower speed environment. With a Prius-beating 77 mpg fuel economy (claimed) and a lockable two-gallon tank, we expect the CRF250L won’t be sitting idle in many garages during the week.

On the weekends, of course, the real fun begins. Taking the CRF250L on an urban-to-dirt adventure makes the most of the bike’s potential. On my first first-ride in Santa Barbara, Calif., a town I’ve ridden through many times without ever actually exploring off-pavement, it felt like a trip down memory lane, as I owned a Honda XL250R in the 1980s.

When the IRCs transitioned from pavement to dirt, I stood on the pegs and let the slender bike move freely under me. The dirt and gravel of the fire road crunched under the CRF’s tires, and thoughts of long-past dual sport rides in the California mountains and deserts came flooding back.

My old XL250R was a forgiving bike, and the new CRF250L is even more tolerant of error. With close to 10 inches of travel in the 43mm inverted fork, and nearly as much in the rear, the bike handles the rocks, gravel, dips and ruts of the fire road with ease. When I missed a better line and slowed momentarily to hit a half buried squared-off rock head on, the 21-inch front tire absorbed the impact and the CRF still had enough torque in third gear to respond to my twist of the throttle without bogging down. Nice.

The stock IRCs handled the sand sprinkled hard packed dirt roads surprisingly well, but we look forward to swapping out for real knobbies to further test the off-road prowess of the CRF250L, along with some challenging single-track trails. It will be interesting to see how the CRF250L’s relatively heavy weight (over 20 pounds more than the Kawasaki KLX250S and nearly 30 pounds heavier than the Yamaha WR250R) handles tighter, rougher terrain. On fire roads and the pavement, it’s not an issue.

The 250L looks cool with its angular red and white bodywork, narrow red seat and black gas tank. The styling cues are borrowed from the dual sporter’s motocross cousins – the CRF250R and CRF450R – ridden by the likes of Justin Barcia, Eli Tomac, Justin Brayton, and Trey Canard. The Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship and Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series have brought motocross bikes front and center to America’s living rooms. Who doesn’t want to be a part of something that looks so fun?

Honda has never been the low-price leader in the market, but with its very inviting $4499 ticket price–$500 less than the low-tech/low-spec 2009 CRF230L it replaces, and significantly less than the fuel-injected Yamaha WR250R ($6690) and the carbureted Kawasaki KLX250S ($5099)–and with its easy going, fun personality, the 2013 Honda CRF250L is sure to make a lot of new friends.

2013 Honda CRF250L Specs:

  • Engine Type: 249.4cc liquid-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke
  • Bore and Stroke: 76mm x 55mm
  • Compression ratio: 10.7:1
  • Valve Train: DOHC; four-valve
  • Induction: PGM-FI, 36mm throttle body
  • Ignition: Computer-controlled digital transistorized with electronic advance
  • Transmission: Six-speed
  • Final Drive: #520 chain; 14T/40T
  • Suspension 
Front: 43mm inverted fork; 9.8 inches travel
  • Suspension Rear: Pro-Link single shock with spring preload adjustability; 9.4 inches travel
  • Brakes Front: Single 256mm disc with twin-piston caliper
  • Brakes 
Rear: Single 220mm disc
  • Tires Front: 3.00-21; 
Rear: 120/80-18
  • Wheelbase: 56.9 inches
  • Rake (Caster angle): 27°35′
  • Trail: 113mm (4.4 inches)
  • Seat Height: 34.7 inches
  • Ground Clearance: 10.0 inches
  • Fuel Capacity: 2.0 gallons
  • Estimated Fuel Economy: 77 MPG
  • Color: Red
  • Curb Weight: 320 pounds (w/ full tank)

Riding Style:

  • Helmet: HJC CL-X6 Hydron
  • Goggles: Progrip 3400 Dual Race
  • Pants, jersey, and gloves: MSR Starlet
  • Boots: Sidi Discovery

Photography by Kevin Wing