There are entry-level motorcycles, and there are truly entry-level motorcycles. Few, if any, motorcycles over the last 50 years have launched more motorcycling careers than Honda’s 50cc dirt bikes. The latest version—the 2017 Honda CRF50F—remains an ideal way to get a new young rider on a motorized two-wheeler.The motor is legendary. Using a simple undersquare air-cooled, SOHC, two-valve horizontal single design, the Honda CRF50F has plenty of torque for any rider who will fit the diminutive machine.
It’s worth noting that Honda’s lawyers only recommend the CRF50F to riders 13 year of age or older—in reality, that makes not a single bit of sense.Whether or not a youngster is ready to ride a bike should be determined by the rider’s size, strength, skill, and judgment, all of which should be evaluated by the parents and other adults who know the child.With a seat height of 21.6 inches and a curb weight of 111 pounds with the three-quart fuel tank filled, it doesn’t take a long inseam or extraordinary strength for a youngster to handle the CRF50F.To be sure, there are some skills the rider needs to have—the ability to balance the bike, operate the throttle with awareness, and, at some point, shifting the auto-clutch three-speed transmission. Beyond that, it’s all about learning to pick a good line to avoiding bottoming out the six inches of ground clearance.[Visit 2017 Motorcycle Previews]While the suspension is low-tech, it’s also quite capable—nearly four inches of fork travel and three inches of rear wheel travel is respectable. To be expected, the inverted forks and cantilevered shock are adjustment free, but that’s how it should be—if a child is ready to challenge the suspension, it’s likely time for a more sophisticated dirt bike.Test rider Skylar Carrillo (age 7, 4′ 3″, 58 pounds) has experience on dirt bikes, and had no trouble adapting to the 2017 Honda CRF50F. The power builds fairly slowly and predictably, so it didn’t spook her in any way.Even with 10-inch wheels, she was able to take the CRF50F through technical sections, with the guidance of helpful adults. The drum brakes are equally unintimidating and intuitive for her. Steering is easy, the chassis is predictable, and the Cheng Shin tires provide all the traction needed.Kids love dirt bikes, and the CRF50F worked perfectly for Skylar. The bike is nice and quiet, so it will be welcome anywhere—even on backyard courses.Outside of how happy the Honda CRF50F makes the rider, it also satisfies most of the expectations of the adults. However, there are two things on our wish list.The leaned-out Green Sticker legal carbureted 49cc engine can take a few adult kicks to start when cold, so we’d like an electric starter. Beyond that, the engine is very cold-blooded and will take a while to warm up to operating temperature on a cool day. EFI may be too much to ask for on a $1499 dirt bike, but that doesn’t stop us from wanting it.Still, once warmed up, the CRF50F is a first-kick starter for kids once they get the hang of the process, and it will idle through a tank of gas with no complaint.Maintenance is simple, and the CRF50F won’t need it often. You have to remove two screws to get to the air filter (we would prefer tool-free), the oil is easy to change, and adjusting the chain takes a couple of wrenches.Yes, there are other maintenance chores—valve clearance and oil strainer cleaning, for example—but many people never do them. Even with benign neglect, a CRF50F is likely to last through multiple generations of new riders.There may not be a more reliable motor in motorcycling, and Skylar’s parents, Joseph and Tori, were more than happy to have it in their garage.With a pedigree that stretches all the way back to the 1968 Honda Mini Trail, the 2017 Honda CRF50F is a proud successor to a legendary line of dirt bikes—every youngster should get at least one ride.Photography by Don WilliamsRiding Style
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.