2014 Honda CRF250L Test
Honda has been, on-and-off, making 250cc four-stroke singles for over 40 years. The latest bike to fill that niche, the 2014 Honda CRF250L, features technology never before seen on a Honda dual sport bike, including fuel injection in the Moto3-derived powerplant.
The aesthetics on the Honda CRF250L are very cool and race inspired – the headlight/number plate units is especially cool and modern looking. If I were a new rider I would be impressed – this looks like the real deal. I would also be proud to have this bike lined up against “real” performance bikes in the garage or the back of the truck. As new riders don’t have a baseline to evaluate bikes on performance, so how a bike looks is very important.
Thanks to EFI and a 36mm throttle body, the 2013 Honda CRF250L fires right up – even at 32 degrees in the morning and a 1/4 inch of frost on it. It is perfectly aspirated, with no gas to turn on or choke to pull. The switchgear and digital supply are high quality and easy-to-read.
My first test was to put the Honda CRF250L through its paces off-road. Not impressed with the stock streetish tires, we installed a set of dirt-gripping Dunlop D606 street-legal dual-sport tires. I then rotated the handlebars up for a more comfortable standing position, and adjusted levers to suit. The suspension is not adjustable, except for sag/shock preload – the stock setting was fine.
I have a 43-mile test loop that I run all off-road bikes on for a thorough thrashing. Big adventure bikes won’t make it, but I had little doubt the CRF250L would be up for it. There’s a little bit of everything – black diamond technical single track, sand wash, whooped out trails, hillclimbs and fire roads.
The 2014 Honda CRF250L motor runs very crisp. Though it lacks the low-end of an off-road only bike, it revs out well. With stock gearing, it was hard to loft the wheel more than a couple of inches in first gear, which can be a problem on challenging single-track.
For 50/50, dirt and tarmac, the tranny is geared too tall. In single track, 24 mph is the magic speed where fun and flowing riding happens (as any enduro rider); on the CRF250L, that is between first and second gear. Clutch action is great, very smooth and easy pull, so that helps deal with the odd gearing. Liquid-cooled, when run hard, I was able to get the radiator fan to turn on in tight conditions, despite the 45 degree outside temperature.
The suspension surprised me, as it is forced to deal with a portly (for a 250) 320-pound chassis at the curb. I can pin the throttle and go through small whoops and bumps in a standing position with complete comfort and quite fast. Bigger whoops require that I slow down and respect the limited suspension travel – 8.7 inches in the front, and 9.4 in the rear – but this is not a competition bike. It’s a trail bike.
Once I was on open fire roads, both fifth and sixth gear top out around 60mph – sixth gear is reserved for tarmac only. The wave rotors look cool, though the stopping power is nothing special, though perfectly adequate. Keep in on two wheels, as if you had to pick it up, it will take some adult strength!
Back on pavement, the 2014 Honda CRF250L feels very stable at speed, where the stretched out rake (compared to a dirt bike) is evident, however it still shines in the tight twisties.
We also fitted the CRF250L with a Corbin Dual Sport Saddle. This is a great seat for street riding, as it is much wider and more supportive on long rides. It restricts movement off-road, so it’s better for a boondocker, rather than a racer. Also, it’s quite a bit heavier that stock and, being a seat, it sits high on the frame. Again, this is more of an issue on the dirt when riding hard than it is on the street or when casually trail riding, which is what the CRF250L is designed for. We think the Corbin seat is a good one .
It’s the Honda CRF250L’s go-anywhere ability (thanks to the license plate and its abilities) that makes this bike really fun. Although the bike is heavy – much of the weight is in the motor – it trail rides very well, and the weight and 27-plus degrees of rake actually make it very comfortable on the highway as well. The smooth, the counter-balancer lets it rev well and keeps in nice and comfortable on the street.
As a commuter, the 2014 Honda CRF250L is totally fantastic. It doesn’t have the power and acceleration of your average streetbike, but it is zippy and fast compared to my Toyota Tundra, and it gets about 70 miles to the gallon. This would be a great urban courier bike!
Tall gearing and counter balancer keep the CRF250L freeway fast and smooth. 82 mph is about tops, downhill with a tailwind; cruising at 70 is the sweet spot, which is less about the bike and more about the comfort with wind resistance in the absence of a wind protection. That said, you will still probably find yourself shift between sixth and fifth over hills to maintain 70 mph.
The locking steering stem, gas cap, storage compartment, and helmet hook are cool for commuting and urban parking.
If Honda could strip about 50 pounds off the 2014 Honda CRF250L, they could have a serious off-road dual-sport bike on their hands. However, they’ve left that to the Europeans and given us a casual off-road bike that still has more capability than you might expect.
On the street, it’s nimble, sits high for a good view, and is miserly with gas, while still capable of freeway flying. As a world-model (it’s made in Thailand for distribution around the globe), the 2014 Honda CRF250L works quite well for this American’s taste.
Photography by Don Williams
- Helmet: Bell Moto 9
- Goggles: Smith Optics
- Pants and boots: Axo Keith Haring
- Gloves: Axo Padlock
Boots: Sidi Adventure