The new dual stage – or should we say “dual charge” - fuel-injection system livens things up off the bottom.
Last year it was the all-new 2013 CRF450R that got all of the attention. This year it's the all-new 2014 CRF250R that's making all of fuss in Honda's latest motocross lineup.
Many of the changes that the 450 got last year have been carried over to the new 250 this year, such as dual exhausts, revised frame, shock and engine mods, and plastic. In fact, many parts, like the side panels, radiator shrouds, fenders, airbox, subframe and (larger) fuel tank, are interchangeable between the 250 and 450 now, which is good news if you follow the amateur scene and ride dual classes. The 250 did not, however, get the 450's new air fork. Honda's reasoning for that is that the 250's original 48m Showa cartridge fork was already the perfect match for the bike's size, weight and power characteristics and they didn’t want to break up that marriage.
Honda went to great lengths to lower and better centralize weight. We noticed the difference, so will you.
Honda spent a lot of effort centralizing weight and mass with the new 250, like lowering the headpipe, radiators and shock, and going back to its dual exhaust system, which the 250 had for the 2006-'09 model years. Honda reverted to the single-exhaust design in 2010 when the bike got a new frame and other changes that they thought was better benefited by the traditional single muffler design. But with more emphasis being put on mass centralization these days, Honda has revisited the dual exhaust system again with its all-new 2014 chassis. The dual mufflers allow the exhaust to be tucked in tighter and lower in the chassis for improved handling, but Honda also says that there are now power gains as well. Noise is also an issue with dual mufflers supposedly being better in the decibel department.
The 250's motor also got some pretty big changes. Compression ratio has been bumped up, and there is a new cylinder head, piston and porting specs, and perhaps most notably a new dual-stage fuel-injection system. Honda's Dual Timing PGM-FI system works slightly different than you might think. Instead of using “dual” injectors, the 250 still uses one injector in its 46mm throttle body but delivers two separate shots of fuel - the first, a pre-shot of fuel that is intended to cool the intake track, and the second shot - a larger charge of fuel that lights off the combustion. There is no adding of fuel overall, but Honda says that the more efficient way that it delivers the fuel now does add a bit more power when the throttle is first twisted and provides crisper and quicker response.
Despite sticking with last year's front suspension, the Showa fork did get internal refinements and new settings to coincide with the new chassis.
We got a chance to ride the bike recently when Honda introduced it to the media at a private track in Southern California, and we came away extremely impressed with the new CRF250R after our one-day sampling.
Although the bike isn't any lighter on the scale (in fact, it’s gone up a few pounds), it certainly feels lighter on the track.
Our first impression? Overall torque and power delivery (mainly bottom and mid) is noticeably improved over last year's model. In a way, the CR feels a bit more aggressive than before. Bottom-end power is more responsive with a more assertive and distinctive delivery that leads into a wide and very usable midrange, yet the overall powerband remains very broad and linear. You can hold third and fourth gears seemingly longer, as the top-end holds its own, providing plenty of pull down the long straights without falling off drastically if left in a gear just a bit too long.
Throttle response is fantastic - crisp and instant. However, the bikes might be a tick more difficult to start than last year's. Sometimes it would fire right up; sometimes it would take a couple of kicks. We wouldn't say it's a hard starter, just a little finicky perhaps.
Changing gears is super smooth and positive, seemingly more so than last year’s. With the additional power now, Honda strengthened up the five-speed transmission, and you’ll notice that the cases are a little wider, but you won’t feel that. (However, due to spacing issues, you can’t swap the rear wheel with older CRFs. Even though the wheel will bolt right up with later models, the chain won’t line up properly with the sprockets.)
Clutch pull is ultra light and we noticed minimal fading during long sessions on the track.
The cockpit has a neutral feel when sitting down in the corners or standing up down the straights. We like the Renthal 971 aluminum handlebars, and everything is right where you want it to be. The bike is just simply easy to adapt to. You just feel at home right away on it, which isn't anything new when it comes to the CRF250R, really. Moving around on the thin and neutral-feeling Honda is a breeze and requires little effort to do so.
The 2014 CRF250R shares many of the same components as its bigger brother: plastic, fuel tank, airbox and subframe are all interchangeable with the CRF450R.
Overall ride is very Honda-like plush, and the bike feels well balanced once you get the sag set for your weight. We found the magic number to be 105mm. The fork, however, seemed to be maxed out for my 180 pounds, as I experienced the front end riding a little low in the stroke than I would have liked in a few situations. I went stiffer on fork compression and it helped keep it up in the stroke better, but it also made the fork feel a tad on the harsh side as well as affected some cornering sensitivity. In my case, going up a spring rate might be the ticket for a wider range of adjustments.
The shock, however, worked great at keeping the bike straight in the rough and soaking up the big hits. But the track we rode on wasn't exceptionally rough, so we're anxious to get the bike on something a bit more hammered out.
Overall handling is very predictable and stable over a variety of terrain that we experienced, and the bike just feels lighter and more agile than ever. All that mass centralization does seem to add up to a better-handling machine.
Cornering hasn't changed much, however, but that's okay, as it was already a great-turning machine. The track had mainly softer bowl turns, which it loved, but it tracked well through all the corners, without a hint of knifing, allowing you to get in and out with ease, and when you add in the better bottom-end response, the Honda really knows how to get in and out of the turns quickly.
Another day of testing came and went all-too soon, and we're looking forward to spending more time on the bike very soon. But, again, our first one-day impression of the 2014 Honda CRF250R was a good one. It is again an all-around great and easy-to-ride package, but what stood out in our minds most was its improved bottom-to-mid engine performance and light and agile feeling on the track. But, overall, from what we can tell so far, the new Honda is also an improved Honda.