2018 Honda CRF250R First Test
The 2018 Honda CRF250R First Test from Cycle News will try to answer a lot of the questions that are coming up about Honda’s latest motocross machine. Or, at least we’ll try to satisfy some speculation and, likely raise more questions. So join the conversation in the comments below.
After we revealed the details of this bike in the 2018 Honda CRF250R First Look story, we’ve been waiting patiently for a ride.
We wanted to feel the new top-end-priority power. We wanted to feel what the 49mm A Kit-style spring fork felt like. We wanted to absolutely holeshot the Absolute Holeshot philosophy that claims this bike would be precisely 3% better at start performance.
Well, we did all that. And we’re here to report about it. Oh, wait… we actually forgot to do practice starts. Probably because we were having too much fun jumping over the Honda Racing Corporation’s Ridgeline
2018 Honda CRF250R First Test – Engine Performance
Honda promised more power with the 2018 Honda CRF250R. Specifically, they promised increased top-end power. And that’s undeniably here.
During our day at Zaca Station—a natural terrain track from your dreams with some decently high-speed sections and plenty of fun turns, off-cambers, lifters and excellent dirt—the 2018 Honda CRF250R put big power out at high rpm. It does not sign off abruptly. In fact, it will frankly take a longer straightaway for us to find out if it signs off at all.
Honda CRF250R riders of the past will experience a surge of acceleration in the rpm range like they’ve never really felt.
Initial power output down low is softer and less impressive, but the bike is making up for it in a top end-biased power and torque curve.
It’s really refreshing to ride a 250cc four-stroke with this power bias because to go faster, you just keep it pinned. And you can. There is no violent interruption to your body or the chassis when the power is on tap, it doesn’t deliver with a great big hit. It delivers power that prefers to flow, and flow wide-open.
Here is where the 2018 Honda CRF250R will be competitive—all the way upstairs, making a ruckus and taking you along for an awesome ride.
The 250-class has become a top-end battlefield for the fastest in the class. This bike now fits into that group better than ever.
Just because the 2018 Honda CRF250R is high-rpm biased, doesn’t mean it won’t accelerate from the bottom. True, the bottom-end range isn’t full of torque or capable of carrying an extra gear in a rut with a lot of excitement. But, this bike accelerates out of the basement well into the mid quickly and then like a rocket onward towards the magical top.
What kind of power can you expect from the 2018 Honda CRF250R? Power that accelerates faster than ever to a top end that never stops.
With a stock power and gearing setup designed to deliver the type of full-throttle performance we experienced, final drive gear ratio changes can be very interesting.
The 2018 Honda CRF250R is equipped with 13/48 final drive gearing. Internally, all the transmission gears are taller, as well.
Gear ratios were a big discussion point back at the truck with a lot of journalists in attendance quizzing Japanese engineers on the tall-and-short of it all. You should expect to see plenty of opinions coming out with sprocket swaps. Especially for those looking for some torque or more of a hit down lower in the rpm range. Of course, we’ll try to play with them, too.
Since the Honda MX bikes come with three fuel injection maps built-in, and you can access them anytime via the handlebar switch, we just had to try them all.
Admittedly, we rode around most of the day in the aggressive map. Zaca Station’s hills and deep soil made it an appropriate place to do so. The smooth map left the CRF wheezing a bit too much—killing the excitement of the mid-range acceleration into the forever top. But the stock map was really good. Not as fun as the aggressive map, since it doesn’t have the same mid-to-top surge, but it was capable of turning laps and clearing jumps.
The aggressive map setting was the one for this day. The bottom end and lower mid-range is nearly identical feeling to the stock map, but the acceleration through the mid is amplified in a few spots in particular. This made it a really fun ride off the drop-offs at Zaca where you accelerate off a downhill edge. The CRF would be really singing when you hit them and that, alone, was worth the aggressive map.
2018 Honda CRF250R First Test – Dual Exhaust
The engine features two totally independent exhaust headers; each respectively linked to either the left or right side exhaust ports. There is no mixing of exhaust gasses here. Once the fuel is burned and pumped out of the cylinder, it is completely segregated past the exhaust valves through pipes and until it barks out the mufflers.
This seems odd on a single-cylinder bike to many. But Honda staff and project leaders pitched us on the configuration as nothing but higher performing. And here’s why in their terms.
As exhaust gasses flow past the valves and come together in a single-pipe or traditional single-cylinder head, there is resistance. Honda calls this friction.
According to Honda, independent exhaust gas routes like those on the 2018 Honda CRF250R eliminate this and improve flow. Also, by bending exhaust pipes around both sides of the engine with narrower diameter tubing than one single header, they can incorporate more gradual bends to enhance exhaust flow further. The result is a net gain of exhaust gas flow efficiency.
Additionally, the dual exhaust system on the 2018 Honda CRF250R moves the entire system 24mm more forward, further centralizing mass and following along nicely into their “Absolute Holeshot” project mantra.
You’ll notice one exhaust header chamber on the right side of the 2018 Honda CRF250R. The reason for that is one of necessity and noise. Surely, the chamber is there to mitigate excessive decibels but, according to the Engine Project Leader from Japan, it has a positive effect on enhancing lower-end power, as well.
This benefit does sacrifice a bit of top-end pull. By having two headers to manipulate in design and tuning, Honda engineers claim they can precisely dial in the right bottom-end power and sound benefit of a chamber, without over-affecting the over-rev power delivery.
Honda test riders were overheard stating test models with two chambers, no chambers and this one-chambered production version, were in development and ridden. The net result from their testing was the power character wasn’t changed significantly by any of the configurations so; Honda went with one chamber, likely to improve sound levels.
Clearly, this bike has great top-end power. It rips for a long time. And clearly, the dual exhaust system will be a polarizing component to the 2018 Honda CRF250R. Some of you love it and appreciate the design and style, others see it as unnecessary and excessive. The jury will be out on this one for a while!
2018 Honda CRF250R First Test – Chassis and Suspension
The move away from an air spring fork was a positive one for Honda. Their 2018 CRF450R flew to the top of our shootout rankings in large part to the improved suspension ease-of-use and addition of e-start. The CRF250R seems to be following suit with a much more well-received and easier to set-up suspension program this year. And the e-start is just great. Bikes without it are becoming inconvenient.
The 49mm “A Kit-style” spring fork works really well. We used clickers effectively to dial in some front-end performance (it’s a little soft out of the box) and it was much less complicated than Honda’s previous air fork.
The chassis as a whole is familiar as it’s almost identical to the CRF450R. The only difference being small tweaks to the aluminum cradling the engine.
What this means is there is much more rear tire weight bias compared to previous CRF-R’s. The overall wheelbase is shorter and the front end has more of a slacker geometry. The shock is mounted lower and trail is brought back to the bike by 2mm, as well. This adds up to a more compact ride with a goal of keeping the front tire on the ground under acceleration. And it does that well.
Rear tire traction seems superb. When ruining perfectly good berms with over-anxious amateur skills, the bike’s reluctance to fully “step-out” and swap us into the dirt was appreciated. Instead, the bike hooked up more (it seemed) in conditions where others might slide out from lack of rear tire traction.
The 2018 Honda CRF250R feels slim, light and maneuverable despite gaining a few pounds via e-start components and springy forks. It’s a planted ride, once you get it settled with a suspension setting for you.
2018 Honda CRF250R First Test – Suspension Settings
A point of attention for anyone getting to ride a 2018 Honda CRF250R soon: The suspension and chassis performance can be very particular about rider sag, fork compression and fork height out of the triple clamp. Having these three elements dialed in really made the bike work great at our first test. Our two test riders are within one turn of each other for proper rider sag. That’s a 3mm swing. And riding the others’ setting, it just didn’t work. So, using some due diligence in setting it correctly and making changes to get the bike to feel right for you is strongly recommended.
At stock recommended settings, we felt the fork was soft for riders over 160 lbs. and the front end felt unstable at speeds when not accelerating. Basically, the rear-weight bias of the chassis overloaded the front when we shut off the gas. Nearly anytime we weren’t throwing roost, the bike’s front wheel could feel unsettled. On braking and corner entry situations, the bike stopped being unsettled and started to push or grab for most of our test laps before we adjusted a few things.
To address the unsettling and push, we started with fork compression, and that helped. The bike was more stable overall but the corner performance wasn’t totally there yet. It was pushing here and biting there. So, we dropped the sag a lot (in the 109 mm range) to keep the fork from being overwhelmed even more. And that worked really well. But, at 109mm of sag, we knew we were skirting the edges of negative shock performance.
Zaca Station wasn’t a rough track by any means so we didn’t feel it that day, but we’d rather get this chassis working with less sag regardless of bumps. So, we dropped the forks in the triple clamps 2mm (from 5mm to 3mm above the top clamp) and put the sag back to a normalized spot of 106mm. That was the magic setup for Zaca that day—adding three clicks of fork compression, dropping the fork 2mm in the clamps and running shock preload at 106mm sag.
This same setting could have possibly been accomplished with some shock compression and rebound tuning, but we didn’t have an issue with the shock all day, so we felt it was prudent to adjust up front and with chassis balance. It worked well for us. We’re looking forward to a few more bumps on the next tracks to see how the bike reacts there.
The setup story for the 2018 Honda CRF250R ends with this: the bike needs a proper base setting to be close to perfect. Then, it responds well to small inputs. That’s a great sign that the bike is going to work for a lot of people, in our minds.
2018 Honda CRF250R First Test – Final Thoughts
There are a lot of good things going on with the new Honda motocross bikes and the CRF250R is following suit. A great suspension package and intriguing motor performance look to keep it competitive in this year’s shootouts as well as on the racetrack for pro teams and average riders alike. We can’t wait to ride it again and stack it up against the rest of the 250 class!