2018 Honda CRF250R Review | Zaca Station MX Tested

We’ve been waiting to ride the 2018 Honda CRF250R since we first saw it in July. Well, it’s late October but we swung a leg over the CRF250R for a day of real-world motocross riding at the legendary Zaca Station MX facility on California’s Central Coast.

If you haven’t seen our tech rundown of the 2018 Honda CRF250R, check out our 2018 Honda CRF250R First Look story. Let’s take a quick look at the bike and go roosting!

2018 Honda CRF250R motocross1. The 2018 Honda CRF250R is all-new, yet very familiar. Although it is an all-new CRF250R, the chassis—frame, suspension, wheels—is almost identical to the CRF450R, which was redesigned last year. While the suspension components are the same at the CRF450R, the 2018 Honda CRF250R gets its own settings, and the rear tire is narrower.

2. The engine is an all-new 250 with a major change in architecture. Honda has abandoned the Unicam design that it has had since 2004 and gone with a traditional DOHC motor that is more oversquare than ever. As you can guess, this change is about getting more revs out of the 249cc powerplant.

3. Honda was fully successful in getting more horsepower out of the CRF250R. Without any doubt, the 2018 Honda CRF250R revs higher and more quickly than the motocross motorcycle it replaces—and we had last year’s CRF250R on-hand to confirm that. Part of the magic is the two independent exhaust systems, a trick culled from the Moto3 roadracing motorcycles. The 79mm bore and 50.9 stroke take care of the rest, with the new DOHC controlling the valves directly.

4. There are three power modes, and they make a difference. The modes are Standard, Smooth, and Aggressive. The power delivery modifications come from changes in ignition and fueling. They are easily selected with a button on the left handlebar and a flashing light confirms you choice.

2018 Honda CRF250R skidplate5. Aggressive isn’t what you might think it is. Intuitively, we would expect Aggressive to be the most powerful performer on top. Instead, it gives you more power down low and quicker revving. On a beautifully loamy track such as Zaca Station MX where traction is abundant, this was the choice of both our Novice and Intermediate riders. The 2018 Honda CRF250R rips in Aggressive, yet it is fully controllable. If it is a bit softer on top, we hardly noticed. Without a doubt, the extra snap helps on jumps and accelerating hard out of corners—when you have the traction.

6. Smooth is smooth, and that’s not exciting. The smooth mode makes the 2018 Honda CRF250R easier to ride. The power comes on softly on the bottom, and it’s less fatiguing for the rider. In low-traction situations, it could easily outperform the Aggressive setting, but at Zaca we didn’t have any way to test that. Smooth ramps up on the top, but we weren’t pinging the rev limiter all day long, so we preferred the hit of the Aggressive mode.

7. Standard mode splits the difference. This is the mode the 2018 CRF250R is in when you start it up. It’s a compromise between Aggressive and Smooth. For us, the modes were more about the track and the traction on hand, rather than the skill of the rider. If you’ve got traction, go Aggressive. If traction is at a premium, Smooth is the way to go. In mixed conditions, or a truly medium-traction track, the Standard mode definitely has a purpose.

2018 Honda CRF250R test8. We loved the CRF450R suspension, and Honda nailed it on the CRF250R. The 2018 Honda CRF250R’s Showa suspension is perfectly balanced. Each end works in harmony, as they both suck up the small stuff while taking care of harder hits. There are no huge jumps at Zaca, so we had to make do with missed landings. Bottoming never happened and most of the time the CRF250R floated over the terrain. There’s no diving during hard braking, or squatted when getting Aggressive. Suffice to say, we didn’t miss the high-maintenance airfork, as performance was very similar.

9. The suspension action is a big part of Honda’s Absolute Holeshot effort. Getting the power to the ground is as important as how much power is produced. The 2018 Honda CRF250R felt like it was putting more power to the ground off starts than its predecessor. Additionally, around the track, the excellent Dunlop MX3S tires just felt glued to the surface. Again, it’s a tacky track, but the CRF250R made the most of it.

10. Cornering is sharp. The 2018 Honda CRF250R is willing to take corners as they come. On fast corners, it stays put against the berm, and settles in exactly how you would want. When diving in and squaring off the apex, the CRF250R responds without the need to sit on the gas cap. You can steer with the back end coming out of corners, should the conditions call for it, such as in flat corners. When in the Aggressive mode, the CRF250R hooks up and shoots out of corners.

11. At speed, the 2018 Honda CRF250R is stable. Headshake isn’t an issue, so you are encouraged to go fast, even in choppy conditions.

2018 Honda CRF250R tires12. Airtime is no drama. The CRF250R feels light when launched and can be moved around in the air as needed. Even when botching landings, the suspension and chassis can be counted on to mitigate your mistake.

13. Braking is completely intuitive. Smooth on initial bite, the braking increases progressively and confidently—this is true for both the front and the back. Honda got the pads and ratios just right.

14. The clutch is flawless, and the transmission is close. We like the ratios in the five-speed transmission and didn’t feel any need to alter the final gearing. Our Intermediate rider noted an occasional notchiness when shifting between 2nd and 3rd gears when hard on the throttle. Otherwise, there were zero complaints. The clutch action is excellent, and the motor gave us no cause to abuse the clutch.

15. Ergonomics are impeccable. Even with having to make room for two independent exhaust systems, the 2018 Honda CRF250R’s ergonomics are perfect. The grips/seat/pegs triangle was exactly to our liking. Moving around on the comfortable seat is no problem.

16. We love electric start! Nothing beats pushing the button to get the motor fired up in the pits, and it is absolutely essential while racing. With a lightweight lithium-ion battery and a centralized starter system, the additional weight was of no concern.

With the success of the latest-generation Honda CRF450R, there was no reason the 2018 Honda CRF250R wasn’t going to be a winner. With useful power modes, wonderfully balanced suspension, intuitive handling, and a confident feel, the 2018 Honda CRF250R is categorically race-ready.

Photography by Don Williams

Team Cullins contributed to this article.

Riding Style

  • Helmet: Bell Moto-9 Carbon Flex
  • Goggles: Fox Air Defence
  • Jersey + Pants: Fox 360 Preme
  • Gloves: Fox Airline Race
  • Boots: Fox Instinct
  • Number plate backgrounds: Throttle Jockey

For specs and a photo gallery, click to page 2