The 2015 Honda CRF250R joins the fork wars with its new Showa TAC SFF-Air fork. Photography by Kit Palmer
Even though Honda made few changes to its latest CRF250R, the changes they did make are all very noticeable and all welcomed ones. We found this out recently after riding the bike for the first time at Competitive Edge Raceway in the Southern California high desert.
Honda made three important changes to the 2015 CRF250R, the first and most significant being the new 49mm Showa Triple Air Chamber (TAC) Separate Function Fork (SFF-Air) fork that has replaced the previous spring fork. The new fork has two main advantages—it’s 2.8 pounds lighter and is far more adjustable than the old fork. The Showa TAC SFF-Air fork on the CR is nearly identical to the ones that Trey Canard and Justin Barcia run on their Honda Muscle Milk factory race-team bikes. It is a very high tech piece of machinery, just like the triple-chamber air fork now found on Kawasaki’s new KX450F. They both share the triple-chamber concept but go at it a little differently by design.
Compared to Kawasaki’s TAC SFF-Air fork that houses the inner, outer and balance air cartridges in the right leg and the damping system in the left leg, Honda’s TAC SFF-Air fork houses them in the opposite legs with the air chambers in the left leg—the same side as the front-brake assembly—and the damping assembly in the right leg. Honda’s theory is that, with the lighter of the two fork legs positioned on the heavier brake side, the front end will be better balanced and, as a result, the bike will handle better overall on the track. We asked if the factory Honda riders really notice a difference having the lighter leg on the same side as the brake and the Showa rep said, “some no and some say they do.”
As always the CRF250R is a solid-handling machine that does everything well.
Another difference between the Honda’s fork and the Kawasaki’s is that the balance chamber is mounted internally instead of externally. Why? It’s simple: Because Honda just wanted it that way, according to the Showa rep. No other reason was given.
Unlike the Kawasaki’s fork, the Honda’s outer chamber, which holds ambient pressure compared to the inner chamber’s 174 psi and plays a small roll in the fork’s overall performance with both bikes and is also where the fork seal resides, is not equipped with a valve for adjusting. However, there is a plug where a shroeder valve can be installed if you want to add a little pressure to the outer chamber for fine-tuning, but then you’re risking blowing seal if the fork tube gets nicked by a rock or damaged by contact with another bike during a race. Even then, a blown seal won’t result in a DNF, just a small difference in performance. Honda, it seems, doesn’t want to risk any performance change during a race.
Perhaps the second-most important change, or addition, to the 2015 Honda CRF250R is the Engine Mode Select Button that is now on the right handlebar that allows you to change ECU mapping on the fly…well, almost on the fly. With the motor at idle, you can, via the button, toggle between three pre-programmed settings: standard, soft and aggressive. Adjustable mapping isn’t new anymore but the way Honda goes about it is with the CRF250R is new.
The third biggest change is the Honda’s new 260mm oversized front-brake rotor. We haven’t been great fans of Honda’s previous brake lately, so we are happy to see the change.
A few other notable differences between the 2014 CRF and the 2015 are revised EFI/ignition settings, a lighter throttle return spring, and larger-diameter exhaust openings for the dual mufflers to improve low-end and torque performance. The CR is also fitted with Dunlop’s new Geomax MX52 tires.
Small changes to the mufflers and ECU livens up the motor a bit.
As mentioned, a few things stood out right away when riding the new Honda for the first time: the new front brake is, as we had hoped, a big improvement, the new fork is awesome, and the motor is livelier (but not necessarily faster).
Our first experience with the Honda’s fork was much like our first experience with the KX450F’s fork—a bit of a disappointment, really. Not because it is not good, no, far from it, but because you expect so much from it right away. After all, this is essentially a “work” fork! But after a few laps you come down to earth again and realize that they actually do work pretty darn well, even though it is set up for someone else’s weight and riding style right out of the crate. Like all suspension components, the Honda’s TAC SFF-Air forks need some customizing and it doesn’t take long for things to start coming around. After just a few trips back to the pits for adjustment with both air pressure and clickers, we had the Honda’s fork working extremely well and, like the Kawasaki’s fork, we felt we were just scratching the surface when it comes to the fork’s potential. Admittedly, the Competitive Edge track was far from rough and wasn’t too difficult finding the just-right setting, so we’re anxious to get this fork on rougher ground.
Overall, though, the Honda has excellent suspension, both front and rear, but maybe a little soft for the fast guys. Hardly worth worrying about, though.
The Honda is still a solid-handling machine and is well balanced. One of our testers who had little previous experience aboard the CRF250R noted that the bike felt very light up front and steered quickly. The back-end, he said, felt a little heavy but quickly got used to it.
The Engine Mode Select Button is slick. Making changes is simple: you simply pull over to the side of the track, let the motor idle, press and hold the button, wait a couple of seconds for the blinking blue LED light on the button to tell you what mode you’re in (one flash for standard, two for soft and three for hard), and, ta-da, you just changed the mapping, it’s a simple as that. And each mode is noticeably different. Our test riders pretty much preferred the standard and the aggressive settings, especially on this track, which was mostly damp and deeply disked.
Not only is the 49mm TAC SFF-Air fork more adjustable but is 2.8 pounds lighter.
Our testers said that the Honda and its Unicam motor isn’t the fastest bike in the class but is still “pretty fast” overall. Compared to the 2014 CRF250R, one of our testers said that the ’15 definitely feels snappier and pulls a wee bit harder off the bottom and on top. He also likes the new mufflers that are noticeably louder than the ’14 but not “obnoxiously” louder.
They also like the lighter throttle pull. As slight as it may seem, it does make a difference—the easier-to-turn throttle means less work for the rider and we’re all about less work.
Our first day on the Honda came and went too fast, but we will, however, be able to spend some more quality time on the 2015 CRF250R in the near future. From what we can tell so far, though, the 2015 CR is a meaningful improvement over the ’14. The fork is a big upgrade, the motor is spunkier and the front brake is more powerful, and we love the convenience of the new handlebar-mounted Engine Mode Select Button. We would, however, be a little happier with even more mid-to-top power from the Honda, but what it may lack in the outright horsepower department will, for many, be made up for in just about every other department.