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2017 Honda CRF250L Rally |
Street and Dirt Tested

Of all the new bikes in the 2017 Honda lineup, the CRF250L Rally was the most intriguing from a marketing standpoint.

While adventure bikes are well established and understood by United States motorcyclists, Monster Energy Honda Team racers Joan Barreda, Paulo Goncalves, and Kevin Benavides are hardly American household names, even in dedicated off-road homes. Regardless, the 2017 Honda CRF250L Rally stirred our interest, as it is definitely something out of the ordinary for Honda.

1. Despite its name, the Honda CRF250L Rally is not a rally bike. Yes, it has Rally in the name and cool HRC stickers, but this only looks like a rally bike. Honda says the CRF250L Rally is “inspired by the factory CRF450 Rally.” While the HRC race bike is certainly the inspiration, the reality falls far short of the naming and HRC graphics.

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally Review
2017 Honda CRF250L Rally Review
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2. Honda does say “the CRF250L Rally is ready for weekend adventure, long-distance touring, or the daily commute.” There is much more truth to that description of the Rally’s actual capabilities, than to the Rally naming.

3. Honda did upgrade the motor, but it didn’t get the change it needed. Compared to the standard 2016 CRF250L, the 2017 Rally has a larger throttle body, new airbox and intake boot, new exhaust system, a gear-driven counterbalancer, and lighter aluminum crankcase. That’s all very nice, but what it really needed is the longer-stroke 286cc motor used in Honda’s 300-class street bike line. One of the biggest drawbacks of the Rally is the timid powerplant, and a bump in displacement is needed.

4. The Rally chassis is changed from the standard CRF250L. The suspension has about an inch more travel at each end on the Rally, a bit more rake, a longer wheelbase, 40mm larger-diameter front disc, a 2.4-quart larger fuel tank, a seat nearly an inch higher, and the styling pieces that go with being a “rally” bike—windscreen, dual asymmetrical headlights, handguards, and full coverage plastic. The cost of all this is $750 and a weight increase of 34 pounds.

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally Review on Street
2017 Honda CRF250L Rally Review

5. The standard CRF250L is a better off-road bike than the Rally. Almost everything that makes the CRF250L a Rally makes it less appealing in the dirt. The standard CRF250L’s shorter seat height, lighter weight, and compact chassis more than make up for the extra inch of soft suspension travel the Rally gets. Single-track riding is much better on the standard CRF250L, and you don’t want to drop the Rally in the dirt with all that plastic.

6. The 2017 Honda CRF250L Rally excels as an urban motorcycle. If you don’t mind a higher seat that gives you a superior view of the road, the Rally works great around town. The suspension that feels vague in the dirt is just right for soaking up the worst roads Los Angeles has to offer—and LA has some nasty, deteriorating asphalt.

7. To make the Rally work best in town, be prepared to rev the little single. Again, we wish it had the 286cc single in the CB300F and CBR300R, which don’t require such an aggressive right wrist. EFI and DOHC are great, but there’s no replacement for displacement. Be prepared for higher revs to avoid getting swallowed up by higher-performance automobiles charging away from stoplights.

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally jump
2017 Honda CRF250L Rally Review

8. Honda’s description of the Rally as “ready for…the daily commute” is true, if it doesn’t include high-speed highway runs. You won’t get much more than 80 mph out of the Rally, and when you’re at 70 mph, acceleration is very slow. That’s not ideal when trying to deal with five lanes of traffic and the need to immediately get out of situations that can arise quickly. We hate to keep harping on this, but that 286cc motor is essential for this bike.

9. Honda’s claim of “ready for weekend adventure [and] long-distance touring” is optimistic. With a limited top speed, you aren’t going to want to put a ton of touring miles on the Rally over a weekend. Compared to an adventure bike, though, the CRF250L Rally is outstanding off-road.

10. The IRC Trails GP-21 rubber is better than typical adventure tires in the dirt. The IRCs work best on hardpack, but quickly get squirrely when hitting a sandy stretch of road. Performance is good in mixed conditions, though be prepared to air down to 20 psi or so. With the relatively weak sidewalls, you don’t want to air down too much, especially in rocky terrain.

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally Price
2017 Honda CRF250L Rally Review

11. Canyon riding is certainly doable on the CRF250L Rally. The Rally mods are a mixed bag on mountain roads. The longer wheelbase and additional rake improve stability, and the wind protection is welcome. However, the increased weight and higher center of gravity are a liability compared to the standard CRF250L. Be prepared to wring out the motor if you have friends on 650 adventure bikes, or even something like a Kawasaki Versys-X 300 twin. The Rally might just be the slowest adventure bike on the market and its knobbies aren’t as street-friendly as adventure rubber.

12. Specialized tires would help the CRF250L Rally quite a bit. If you’re using it primarily for the street, we would get something like the Pirelli Scorpion MT90 A/T, or a Metzeler Lasertec—pavement performance would be far more predictable and smooth. For off-roading, Dunlop D606 rubber is a great street-legal choice. The stock IRCs are a decent choice for truly all-around riding.

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally horsepower
2017 Honda CRF250L Rally Review

13. We like the look of the headlight and instrument pod, but it’s a missed opportunity. This is a Rally, and it would have been fitting for Honda to find a way to put a GPS unit behind that windscreen. Instead, we just get the standard minimalist readout.

14. Think of the 2017 Honda CRF250L Rally as a street bike. Once we accepted that the Rally is not a rally bike, we figured out what it does best. For us, it’s a fantastic urban rally bike. You can handle the worst roads, jump curbs when necessary, and do it on an incredibly sexy bike. If you’ve only seen photos of the CRF250L Rally, they don’t do it justice—it looks much better in person.

Now that we’ve been teased by the 2017 Honda CRF250L Rally, we challenge Honda to put out a CRF450RX-based CRF450L Rally! That’s a bike that would do HRC stickers justice.

Photography by Kelly Callan

Riding Style: Rural

Riding Style: Urban

  • Helmet: HJC DS-X1 Lander MC-5
  • Eyewear: Sikk Shades by Eddie Bauer Jr. Qualifier Gloss Black/Blue Iridium
  • Jacket:Axo Aria Mesh WP
  • Body armor: Alpinestars Nucleon
  • Gloves: Axo ST-X
  • Jeans: Alpinestars Pro Denim Copper
  • Boots: Sidi Apex

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally Specs:

ENGINE

  • Type: Single-cylinder
  • Displacement: 250cc
  • Bore and stroke: 76 x 55 mm
  • Compression ratio: 10.7:1
  • Cooling: Liquid
  • Valve train: DOHC, four valves
  • Induction: EFI w/ 38mm throttle body
  • Ignition: Computer-controlled digital transistorized w/ electronic advance
  • Transmission: 6-speed
  • Final drive: 520 chain

CHASSIS

  • Front suspension: Non-adjustable inverted 43mm forks; 11.0 inches of travel
  • Rear suspension: Linkage-assisted non-adjustable shock; 10.3 inches of travel
  • Front tire: 3.00-21; IRC Trails GP-21F
  • Rear tire: 120/80-18; IRC Trails GP-22R
  • Front brake: 256mm disc w/ twin-piston caliper
  • Rear brake: 220mm disc

DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES

  • Wheelbase: 57.3 inches
  • Rake: 28.1°
  • Trail: 4.5 inches
  • Seat height: 35.2 inches
  • Ground Clearance: 10.6 inches
  • Fuel capacity: 2.7 gallons
  • Curb weight: 346 pounds

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally Color:

  • Black/Red/White

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally Price:

  • $5899 (standard)
  • $6199 (ABS) MSRP

2017 Honda CRF250L Rally Review | Photo Gallery

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