2019 Honda CRF250F Review: A New Kind of Trail Motorcycle
Just as Honda rewrote the rules for dual-sport motorcycles this year with the CRF450L, the all-new 2019 Honda CRF250F redefines what a trail bike is. It took us some time to understand the CRF250F, and now that we get it, we like it. While it is tempting to compare the CRF250F to the CRF230F (which is in its last year), it’s truly a different kind of motorcycle that stands on its own.1. The 2019 Honda CRF250F is genuinely all-new. The motor and chassis are entirely new. The CRF250F is part of Honda’s redesigning of the CRF-F line, which also includes the CRF110F and the two flavors of CRF125F. The most obvious change is EFI, but there is much more to the CRF250F than simply an upgrade in fuel delivery.
2. Ergonomics on the CRF250F are a bit tight if you’re used to full-on enduro motorcycles. Consider it a 7/8th size off-road motorcycle. The seat height is below 35 inches, and it drops when an adult climbs on board—only the rear shock has spring-preload adjustment. This gives a standard-sized adult more of a feeling of authority over the CRF250F that the rider would not get on a CRF-X. It’s just right for the trail-riding crowd.3. Riding the 2019 Honda CRF250F will confound experts, yet please lesser experienced motorcyclists. This is not a motorcycle for fast guys. If you want that, check into a Honda CRF450X or a Yamaha WR250F. Many of the techniques used for going fast do not work on the CRF250F. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t ride at a nice clip. You can, but you have to do it on the CRF250F’s terms.4. The Green Sticker compliant oversquare four-valve motor revs up nicely and doesn’t have a hit anywhere in the powerband. That lack of punch means the CRF250F likes to keep both wheels on the ground. If you’re used to lofting the front end over obstacles, the CRF250F isn’t going to cooperate. Yes, if you rev up the motor and drop the clutch, the front end will come up. However, if you are tooling along down the trail, a quick blip of the throttle will give you forward, not upward motion.5. With about nine inches of decent quality wheel travel at both ends, the Honda CRF250F soaks up trail irregularities nicely. At the moderate speeds the CRF250F’s motor likes to propel you at, the suspension does an impressive job of smoothing out rough trails. No question about it, the suspension is ultra-plush. Still, at moderate speeds, even on rough trails, that is going to be plenty for a CRF250F owner. While you will want to pick lines carefully, the CRF250F’s suspension is willing to bail you out should you hit a rock or log unexpectedly.6. Riding at a good clip on the CRF250F is easy if you pick the right lines. The motor is always willing to make power, so it’s just a matter of twisting the throttle and finding the smoothest path. If you do that, you will be surprised at how much performance you can get out of the air-cooled motor, the chassis, and the excellent Pirelli Scorpion XC Mid Hard tires. Its insistence on selecting good lines make it a great learning tool for those on the way up.7. While it is not a motorcycle for horsepower-devouring hillclimbs, the CRF250F will make its way up a technical black-diamond hill with much less effort than you would expect. The soft suspension means great traction, and the sweet motor makes the most of it. On tricky low-speed hillclimbs with variable traction—sand, hardpack, rocks—the CRF250F finds its way through without drama. You never fall off the cam, so you can always dial in more power when needed without worrying about the revs dropping. The EFI performs magic that carburetors can’t on the CRF-Fs. This flexibility gives a rider all sorts of confidence, which is precisely what a trail bike should do.8. Cornering is a strength for the 2019 Honda CRF250F. The low seat height, compact sub-56-inch wheelbase, aggressive 26.5 degrees of rake, and Pirelli Scorpion XCs all make the CRF250F willing to change direction. You don’t steer with the throttle, as the smooth motor doesn’t willingly break traction. Instead, you point the 21-inch front wheel where you want to go, and the CRF250F takes you there. It is impressive how fast it will corner, and the Pirellis give you plenty of warning when you’re about to exceed their limits. The soft suspension comes to the rescue again, doing its part to aid traction.9. You don’t want to jump the Honda CRF250F. Even on small water-bar jumps on trails, the CRF250F will land with a thud. It blows through the travel quickly upon touchdown. This is a side-effect of the traction-delivering soft suspension.10. The lesson a 2019 Honda CRF250F rider needs to learn quickly is to keep the wheels on the ground. The upside is the CRF250F works great as long as you ride it the way it wants to be ridden. Forget wheelies and jumps on the trail—you’re trading them for traction. Once you get used to it, the trade-off Honda engineers made makes total sense. Those who want a higher performance off-road ride will be pointed toward the CRF450X (at least until the CRF250X returns to the Honda lineup).11. You will notice the airtime and wheelies in the photos. Well, that’s Associate Editor Jess McKinley having some fun before we figured out how to make the most of the CRF250F. That is the risk in shooting photos while the motorcycle still looks nice and new—we haven’t ridden it much yet.12. Braking is excellent, with discs at both ends. Again, traction is your friend, and the CRF250F delivers. With great traction comes excellent braking. The brakes are friendly to use, with a soft initial bite, yet they have all the power you will need on big downhills and when scrubbing off speed for a corner.13. At 265 pounds with a full fuel tank, the 2019 Honda CRF250F is not a lightweight. It weighs just 10 pounds less than the CRF450X. Fortunately, the CRF250F carries the weight much lower, and you won’t really notice it on the trail. However, if a rider with less upper body strength falls, the rider will realize that it takes some effort to right.14. We were a bit skeptical of the five-speed transmission, but it won us over. Honda was saving a few bucks and pounds here, we’re sure. Still, with the ultra-wide powerband, the five-cog tranny is adequate. The motor never finds itself between gears, and you have to botch a shift to find a false neutral. However, if Honda wants to slip a six-speed in the bottom end at some point, we won’t object. Also, the clutch lever effort shouldn’t bother anyone large enough to ride the CRF250F.15. Gone are the days of an extended warm-up period in the morning. The carbureted Honda CRF-Fs are notorious for taking a long time to get up to rideable operating temperature, especially on chilly mornings. Now, regardless of conditions, just hit the button and the 2019 Honda CRF250F is ready to go. The EFI takes care of things immediately, and you will never miss monkeying with the choke.16. Maintenance isn’t as easy as we would like. It takes two tools—Allen socket and Phillips head screwdriver (four screws) to get to the air filter. We’d replace the Phillips with the same 8mm Allen head that holds the side cover on. Inexplicably, you will need a screwdriver to remove the dipstick to check the engine oil, unless you have strong fingers. Draining the oil is no problem as the drain bolt is easily accessible. However, that means the skidplate is a bit short and the cases exposed—an issue if you ride in rocks. The oil filter is easily accessible, and the snail chain adjuster is fine, though you’ll rarely need to touch it.17. The styling is thoroughly contemporary, which helps eliminate the stigma of riding a trail bike. The CRF230F looks a bit ungainly and makes sure you know it is not a high-performance off-roader. While the CRF250F doesn’t quite look like a CRF450X, it still looks cool with its twin-spar steel-tube frame and CRF250R-inspired graphics. On the downside, instead of indestructible molded-in graphics, the CRF250F has old-fashioned stickers.18. The 2019 Honda CRF250F redefines the trail bike genre. As long as you respect its demands on how you ride it, the CRF250F is an amazingly capable off-road motorcycle. You might not be used to keeping both wheels on the ground, yet the CRF250F rewards your diligence with a smooth ride, great handling, and the power to tackle any trail with ease. It is a huge leap forward.Photography by Don WilliamsRIDING STYLE
This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the all new Ducati Monster. Big changes have been made by Ducati–has the company ruined the considerable heritage of the iconic Monster–or are the changes worth it? In the second part of the show, we chat with Nick Ienatsch, Founder and Head Instructor at the Yamaha Champions Riding School. He says: “We aim to change your riding life by introducing you to Champions Habits: The techniques, approaches, skills, and the mindsets of the best riders in the world. These Champions Habits are the foundation of safety and consistency to whatever speed you ride, in any venue on any bike. Street riders, this is just as much for you as track riders. The best way to make safe riders is to make good riders.“ We hope you enjoy this episode!